The customer's in the driver's seat

There are hopeful signs lately that agencies are undergoing the changes needed to make acquisition reform stick. High-profile procurements are being awarded and managed with innovative approaches. Agencies and vendors are learning that dealing with each other more openly leads to fewer disputes and better contract results.

None of this happened magically because cumbersome rules went away. Many of these so-called "new techniques" were tested by procurement professionals who in partnership with their customers and suppliers agreed on ways to use the old Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) rules creatively. Fewer regulations won't produce more successful contracts or less litigation unless everyone decides to make the new system work. And we must remember that procurement is only the first step. Successful program management builds on the relationships established in the buying phase.

The absence of procedures - or a protest board - to enforce fair play doesn't mean agencies can make arbitrary decisions about what they buy or what they ignore when they make mistakes. Vendors will only believe they are being treated equitably if customers are forthright. At the same time vendors need to stop behaving as if they are entitled to contracts simply because they submit a bid or conform to the letter of a task order.

Whether you call it performance-based contracting or results-oriented management what it means is that the customer gets to drive the process. Suppliers can cease doing business with customers that are unreasonable. In the commercial world it's called acting in good faith.

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