Procurement execs want larger role

As federal procurement reform continues, procurement executives need to play a larger role in their agencies, according to four of them who took part in a panel discussion May 29.

The discussion, held at a meeting of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Bethesda, Md., centered around the role of procurement as agencies incorporate performance-based contracting, competitive sourcing and prepare for the Services Acquisition Reform Act and other changes.

"The bottom line [of all the reform measures] is that it takes acquisition to solve the problem," said Michael Sade, director for acquisition management at the Commerce Department. "We're often frustrated because we're at the tail of the process. We need to change it so that we're at the start of the process."

The changes are driven by the President's Management Agenda, which is a constant topic of conversation, said David Litman, senior procurement executive with the Transportation Department. "It's all PMA all the time," he said.

Acquisition officials should be involved in capital planning, said Debra Sonderman, senior procurement executive with the Interior Department. She sits on the agency's information technology management council as a voting member, she said.

"The theory is that we're trying to add some business perspective so that we don't get trapped in having our technologists buy technology for the sake of technology," she said.

Performance-based contracting, a new concept to many in government, is another place where acquisition executives can get stuck, said Deidre Lee, director of Defense procurement and acquisition policy and procurement executive for the Defense Department.

She said agency officials hear "contracting" and relegate the work to the procurement office, but performance-based contracting requires the agency to define its goals and the right performance measures to gauge a project's progress. That calls for expertise from program managers and other specialists who can define them.

Lee has been using the term "performance-based service acquisition" to downplay the reference to contracting, but recently a colleague suggested "performance-based mission support," she said. "I'm noodling that one," she said, noting that it's a better description and one that suggests a team approach.

Agencies must change their ways to reflect the new attitude they are supposed to have, Litman said. Agencies are asking procurement leaders to act like private-sector businesses. "One of my fears is we're asking them to do that, but we're not changing the environment to let them do that," he said.

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