Survey outlines procurement concerns

Professional Services Council

A newly released survey shows that federal acquisition officials are concerned about the workforce, best-value and performance-based contracting, and competitive sourcing.

The Professional Services Council (PSC) and consulting firm Grant Thornton conducted the survey late last year. They interviewed 22 key players, including agency contracting officials, congressional staffers and Angela Styles, administrator of Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget.

The survey, released April 21, is intended to be a summary of the officials' concerns, not a quantitative analysis, PSC President Stan Soloway said. As such, it includes no charts, graphs or rankings of the issues it covers.

Furthermore, its results validate previously identified concerns, Soloway said.

On the human resources issue, officials worry that as employees retire and as the role of contracting officers evolves from simple purchasing to making strategic decisions, agencies won't be able to maintain adequate staffing levels, the report shows.

Hiring new federal workers continues to be a challenge, the survey found, hampered by "a compensation and reward system that does not widely recognize performance and talent over longevity, and the continued criticisms and second-guessing of decisions made by government acquisition professionals," according to the report.

The interviewees expressed a variety of opinions about whether performance-based and best-value contracting are being effectively implemented. Too many overseers are still conditioned to look for the lowest bottom line, Soloway said.

Contracting officers often determine that the lowest bidder isn't necessarily offering the best value, he said, but they wonder if they have the support to do what looks like — on paper — a higher cost.

Agencies sometimes make more cautious decisions than they might because they fear having to justify less conventional choices, added Paul Wohlleben, a partner at Grant Thornton.

Agencies also are struggling to implement procedures that allow private-sector competition for work performed by government employees, a requirement under the President's Management Agenda. OMB's Circular A-76, which governs such competitions, doesn't allow for best-value analysis, the report states.

Although the survey was carried out before proposed revisions to A-76 were issued in November 2002, the revisions may not solve the problem, Soloway said. "The whole idea of applying best value to A-76 is treated as this alien concept," he said.

Agencies are unsure how to measure performance for work they do in-house, the survey showed, a factor that influences performance-based contracting.

"They have a better grasp of contractors' performance because you have a contract," Soloway said. "There is no corollary on the other side." Agencies lack the expertise, and often the information technology infrastructure, to measure their own performance as they would a contractor, he said.

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