The way to better contracts

Writing performance-based contracts might take longer in the short run, but the long-term benefits are more than worth it, writes Steve Kelman.

Steve Kelman is professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

One of the most frustrating things about my almost 20-year involvement in the efforts to improve the quality of government contracting is the slow progress in moving toward performance-based contracting for services.

There has been a push for it for a long time now. It began under Al Burman, my predecessor as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy during George H.W. Bush's administration. That push continued while I was OFPP administrator from 1993 to 1997 and has remained a focus since. The government has made some progress, but it has been excruciatingly slow.

There is one obvious reason for this: If you haven’t included performance metrics in your contract, it involves a lot of work to change it into a performance-based contract when you go to recompete it. And there are other reasons. Sometimes it is genuinely difficult to develop relevant performance metrics for contractors, just as it is for in-house activities — for example, what are relevant outcome-based metrics for State Department diplomacy? Finally, there is the sometimes vexing issue of changing and adding to performance metrics during the life of a long contract as technology and user requirements change.

However, the second and third explanations don't really account for the frequent statements one hears about how hard performance-based contracting is. One is left with the depressing conclusion that we’ve made far less progress than we should have mostly for the first reason — which is the worst of the three.

I am one of the world’s biggest fans of streamlining contracting and shortening the time to award. But program managers need to recognize that some of the things that add to the time it takes to get a contract awarded are good investments that ensure faster and better execution of the contract in the long run. In that case, the evidence is overwhelming that using performance metrics — whether for in-house or contracted activities — can improve performance by motivating and focusing employees and facilitating feedback, which is a necessary tool for organizational learning. We need to bring those benefits to contracting.

To counter the government's long and somewhat depressing track record, new approaches are necessary. I recently heard about a good one from Deborah Broderick, the FBI’s energetic and innovative new senior procurement executive.

She realized that generic training for program managers in how to do performance-based contracting was producing scant improvement in actually doing it, so she decided to try a new approach. When program managers are developing a request for proposals, she brings in trainers to work with them, the contracting officers and the contracting officer's technical representatives. The effort is not an abstract performance-based contracting lesson but a hands-on development of performance metrics and other contract provisions that are specific to the bid in question.

So far, she’s taken this approach on about 15 requests for proposals, and she reports that her program customers are pleased with the innovation. They are producing true performance-based RFPs, and although it's still early, their satisfaction with contractors' performance on the awarded contracts is high.

Frankly, we should all be ashamed that we haven’t made more progress in 20 years on this issue. Let’s put our collective heads together and come up with more ideas like Broderick’s so we can move forward on performance-based contracting.

NEXT STORY: Social media is now mission media

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.