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By Steve Kelman

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Who will take the pledge?

hand in pledge position

I was speaking with a group of contracting professionals earlier this week when one of them, describing a successful effort to turn around a problem contract, mentioned that he set himself a series of goals for improvement to encourage himself to strive higher.

His discussion took me back a long time ago to my work as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Part of my philosophy then was that if you wanted change and improvement, you could not be content to just talk about it. You had to get started actually doing something. Shortly after I became administrator, I worked with agency procurement executives to sign public pledges. There were two: for the signatory's agency to double use of the purchase card in a year, and to make past performance a significant source selection factor for some specific named procurements that were coming up.

Some thought the word "pledge" was hokey, but looking back on it, the idea of getting started by acting, not studying, was just what was needed to jumpstart the procurement reform efforts of the Clinton administration.

Fast forward to now. I have been gingerly promoting, from my outsider perch in academia, an idea for a new version of "taking the pledge," more individually oriented. The idea is that each contracting professional in the office chooses a contract through which he or she will be buying something over the next year that is the same or similar to something bought in the past. They make themselves a personal pledge – like the goals regarding the contract this contracting professional at the meeting spoke about – to find at least one way to improve the process and (hopefully) the results of the buy the next time it is done. Each employee would make his or her own pledge, and maybe write it down. (Writing down a goal has been proven to improve the chances it will be achieved.)

In the sequestration environment, it is easy for people to see themselves as passive victims, unable to influence their fates. Taking the pledge would not just be good for procurement results in government, it would also be good for the psyches of federal employees.

What do you think? Are there some buying offices – or even entire agencies? – that want to try this?

Posted on Jun 21, 2013 at 9:50 AM

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Reader comments

Mon, Jul 8, 2013

Kind of busy right now to think about a pledge. Maybe once I'm no longer on furlough.

Fri, Jun 28, 2013

To Vern Edward's point- it is a team effort, and a very fragile enterprise that requires excellence from every member of the team. A system that works so long as everyone involved is excellent is doomed to failure. Not everyone is excellent, most people are average (because this is by definition what average is). Even if an agency achieved this kind of excellence, it is short lived.

Thu, Jun 27, 2013

Here's a suggestion....How about OFPP "pledge" to require that any OFPP Administrator, Agency Senior Procurement Executives, Heads of the Contracting Activity, and Agency Chief Acquisition Officers have a solid, credible background in contracting (as a former Contracting Officers, Directors of Contracting, etc.)!!!! The field is full of leaders who have not walked the walk in the federal contracting arena, yet want to make critical decisions about contracts in their organization. The failure to address this issue contributes to the decline of the federal contracting personnel.

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 Vern Edwards

An observation: I don't know if pledging is a good idea, but if it is, then why make the suggestion just to contracting professionals? What about the people who define requirements and write specifications and statements of work, develop proposal evaluation factors, evaluate proposals, provide input to cost analyses, perform contract quality assurance, and manage programs? Acquisition is a team effort, right? Why focus on only one part of the team? What if the technical folks pledged to meet their own schedule milestones instead of coming in late with their input and then pushing COs to meet obligation deadlines?

Mon, Jun 24, 2013 Steve Kelman

I understand the frustrations behind the attitude of this commenter, but these comments are unproductive, both from the perspective of making government work better (which eventually will reduce the stresses the commenter discusses) and also from the perspective of people's own psychological health -- self-vicitimization is not a good place to be.

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