Supporting risk takers

The announcement recently by the National Institutes of Health's contracting office that it would launch a large, multiple-award contract for services sparked a great deal of comment and interest from many parts of the government. To some, it represents turf encroachment. They worry that if NIH is successful, it will mean another agency's program is not. It could also mean a loss of jobs. When you emulate commercial buying practices, you often live by commercial guidelines of success.

Others are concerned that splintering the government's buying into smaller pieces will reduce its ability to negotiate the best prices.

We have also heard concerns about how small business will be affected. If there are easy ways to acquire services quickly, one of the traditional advantages of using a small or minority firm will be reduced.

However, the government needs to find ways to reward risk takers such as those at NIH. Not every new project will work—or even be a good idea. However, if the culture beats down everyone who steps forward with a new idea, then the whole purpose of procurement reform will be defeated. The rules will have changed, but buying will be done the same old way.

We have heard from many in industry that contracting offices are reluctant to change. The bureaucracy is protected by its way of doing business. In one way or another, the message needs to get out that times have changed and so has the way the government purchases goods and services.

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