Eye on performance

Well, as might be expected, the contracting community has stepped out front

again. When fiscal 2001 began a few months ago, federal agencies began gathering

data on a series of contracting performance meas-ures agreed on for the

entire government for each year.

The data will be reported to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy

and published as an agency-by-agency report card on procurement performance.

It is very courageous for contracting people to voluntarily agree to look

in this mirror. And because measurement generally produces performance improvements,

this is great for everybody who deals with procurement.

The measures grow out of the Procurement Executives Council's Performance

Measurement Committee, chaired by David Litman, senior procurement executive

at the Transportation Department. The committee's report, "Governmentwide

Acquisition Performance Measurement Program," appeared shortly before Deidre

Lee left OFPP for the senior procurement policy job at the Defense Department

and will be remembered as an important part of her legacy.

Another first in this new system is that DOD and federal civilian agencies

have agreed on a common set of meas-ures. In the old days, no contracting

people at DOD would feel they had anything to learn from mere civilian agencies.

The measures are a mixture relating to customer satisfaction, quality,

price, productivity, and learning and growth. There are eight measures

in all, reflecting a desire to avoid proliferation. They include examining

the percentage of purchases under $2,500 made using credit cards, contract

dollars subject to competition, administrative costs per procurement dollar

spent, attainment of small-business goals, and purchases of commercial items

and performance-based service contracts.

Currently, there is no government-wide measure for how satisfied program

officials are with contracting folks because many procurement shops were

using existing customer satisfaction surveys. Procurement executives didn't

want to standardize around one survey, so offices are simply urged to conduct

them. In some cases — particularly in classifying contracts as "performance-based" — there's room to improve these measures. But they're still a great step

forward.

The measurement effort began in 1993 when a group of seven civilian

federal procurement executives studied how purchasing operations at commercial

firms measured their own performance. A series of agency-specific measurement

systems followed at those executives' agencies, including what then was

regarded as revolutionary — namely, surveys to see how happy program customers

were with contract-shop performance.

Before then, many contracting officials had almost prided themselves

on poor relationships with program people, who were regarded as enemies,

not customers.

One lesson of the new measures is that big changes often start with

a foot in the door. If anybody had suggested in 1993 that procurement people

should expose themselves to standardized performance numbers that would

be compared with other agencies, they would have been shouted down.

The gradual steps taken to spread the idea of performance measurement

have culminated in this big step. Procurement folks should be proud.

Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from 1993

to 1997, is Weatherhead Professor of public management at Harvard's John

F. Kennedy School of Government.

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