Editorial: The devil's details

The SARA panel's report is a good starting point for the debate about the road map to a next-generation procurement system.

This is a difficult time for government procurement. Ten years after the dramatic reforms of the procurement process in the 1990s, questions remain. And the new leaders in Congress could raise additional questions.

The Acquisition Advisory Panel, more commonly known as the SARA panel, seemed to have captured many of the concerns of the community with its draft final report.

Some parts of the report are fascinating. The panel’s efforts to assess and define the new issues facing government procurement are especially valuable. Diagnosing a problem is the first step to finding a cure.

What is missing, however, is a mission statement for the next generation of procurement reform. The group was not given the resources to conduct a wholesale review of the procurement system. And to be fair, the panel probably did not see that as its task.

Unfortunately for the panel, that is what many people were expecting. There is a longing for someone to lay out a road map for the next generation of procurement reform. The SARA panel report is more about details than an overarching belief that could be the basis of an effective government procurement system.

For us, that belief is in markets. The more the government can create a commercially based procurement system driven by markets and competition, the better off it will be. Markets are remarkably efficient at creating efficiencies. There will still be issues that arise — and even cases where there may be waste, abuse or  fraud — but the net result will be a more efficient system for getting the best products for the best prices.

An increasingly market-based system would also enable more businesses to participate in government work. It could spur greater competition and thereby improve the services that agencies buy.

The government spent years creating a bureaucracy-based system, one that accommodated the intricacies and quirks of government contracting. That was an abysmal failure.

The SARA panel’s report is a good starting point for the ongoing debate about that road map for the next-generation procurement system, and the panel members deserve our thanks for their work. But it is just a start. There is more work ahead.

We look forward to the debate.

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