Eye on performance
- By Steve Kelman
- Dec 03, 2000
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
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,
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.