Procurement reform: A grand experiment with good prospects

In attempting to radically change the institutions processes and cultures of the federal procurement world the government has embarked on what is probably the most ambitious reorganization experiment in history. Of course many previous and unsuccessful attempts have been made to "fix this problem " but this time I believe will be different.

One reason for that is Steven Kelman. When he surfaced a few years ago as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy few gave him a snowball's chance of making any real improvements to "the system." He was perceived as an academician with almost no relevant experience or credentials except a book on procurement and a few political friends.

Boy were we wrong! With evangelical zeal he has accomplished things far beyond anyone's expectation. Actually his lack of real hands-on experience may have been more beneficial than detrimental allowing him to look at the situation with few preconceived notions.

And he found a great deal of support for his crusade on Capitol Hill. Congressmen John Conyers and Bill Clinger senators Bill Cohen and John Glenn and their staffs (notably Paul Brubaker and Ellen Brown) were instrumental to the procurement reform process. In fact all the stars in this universe - Congress the administration and industry - lined up in just the right formation for this remarkable experiment.But an experiment is what it is and there is no guarantee of success.

To begin with it is a trial for using new procedures based on a set of assumptions and hypotheses and it's important to know what they are in order to gauge the possible threats to the continued progress of the experiment if they are not met.

There are three major assumptions driving this experiment:* Government officials can and will make "wise" decisions when left to their own judgment.* Industry in general will accept significant protection reduction - rules procedures protests etc. - that formerly ensured them equal access to business opportunities and fair treatment.* The oversight community that represents the taxpayer - auditors inspectors general Congress and the news media - will accept some mistakes waste and maybe even a little outright fraud as the cost of global improvement.

Even defining what the success of the experiment means is extremely difficult because many players will be taking part and each has his own definition of what success means.

The list of players is extensive and each of these stakeholders will be affected by the outcome of this experiment. You better believe that each will be looking after his own interests.

Most people seem to be enthusiastic about the prospects for this experiment but there will be many difficulties to overcome before we reach the end.

Knowing where threats lie will minimize any potential damage.Dornan is senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. McLean Va.

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