Procurement reform happens

It is becoming clearer every day that writing and passing procurement reform legislation—even though it took years to accomplish—may have been the easy part of changing the way government buys information technology. Making the acquisition reform legislative package known as the Clinger-Cohen Act a reality will take years more and, ultimately, a change in culture.

Chief information officers already know this. Several of their organizations have been reconstructed to reflect the new acquisition world. Many users already see the change, too. They use credit cards to buy IT gear in unprecedented numbers. Schedule sales and blanket purchase agreements also are setting records.

But members of the contracting community have been slow to embrace the change, mostly because it is their jobs that are in danger. It would be easy for them to assume that this phase will pass. If they just hunker down and protect as many jobs as possible, they may believe they can outlive the reform. It is a successful bureaucratic maneuver that has worked for generations.

But it is going to be very difficult to get this procurement genie back in the bottle. Barring some large-scale mess-up that attracts congressional attention, we are going to live in the modern world of acquisition for a long time to come. It's faster, it's simpler, it's cheaper, and so far, it works.

The General Services Administration and the CIO Council realize that change does not come easily, and they are drafting a new training program for executives who will work in the post-Clinger-Cohen world. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy's administrator, Deidre Lee, suggests that the GS-1102 job category, which includes contract administrators, contract specialists and procurement analysts, may not exist in the future.

No one has implied that the current approach is perfect, and everyone has a favorite example of where the system should be changed. But the effort needs to be on putting the pieces in place to make reform work rather than heading to Capitol Hill to ask for changes or trying to ignore the requirements.

Realistically, it will be after the first of the year before the issue moves to the top of the priority list, but new training programs are as good a place to start as any.

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