Burton sees workforce problems

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Bush administration efforts to save the government money through more efficient contracting still face obstacles, said Robert Burton, associate administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

"So many of our contracting vehicles do not necessarily foster competition," Burton said today while speaking at the annual Information Processing Interagency Conference.

Burton cited issues including a retiring and insufficiently trained workforce, not enough funding from Congress and internal government problems.

"There does seem to be a consensus that the quality of our acquisition workforce has declined," Burton said. "It probably is true and it is something that we simply have to address."

Declining numbers in the workforce is another problem, he added. More than 50 percent of acquisition workers are eligible to retire this year, he said.

Congress is unlikely to appropriate funds to expand the workforce, Burton said. "But with respect with the morale and the quality of the workforce, these are issues I think we can deal with," he said.

An official mentoring program at federal agencies could be a possible solution, Burton said, adding that "I don't think it's being done as much as it should."

But some acquisition problems can never be cured by training, Burton said. "There will be people who engage in misconduct and there's nothing we can do about it," he said, suggesting the legal penalty for corruption be increased as a deterrent.

As another example of lawmakers not funneling enough dollars toward procurement reform, Burton cited the recently formed Services Acquisition Reform Act panel, chartered to recommend new policy guidance.

"Congress keeps on having these initiatives, but they don't give us any money to implement," Burton said. The panel members are all volunteers and staff support comes from the General Services Administration.

Another unfunded initiative is the Acquisition Center of Excellence, Burton added. The center is an online portal designed to let agencies share acquisition best practices and will offer policy guidelines, tools, and education and training opportunities.

Internal federal government problems include incomplete acquisition data, Burton said. The Federal Procurement Data System "has never been totally accurate," he said.

Performance based service acquisition is a tool not widely adopted enough, Burton said. "It's simply not being used as much as we would like." Although the 2005 goal is for agencies to use performance-based vehicles for 40 percent of their acquisitions, the government is "not anywhere near that," Burton said. "I think we're hovering around 20 percent."

Agencies are capable of reaching the 40 percent goal although it may be lower next year, Burton said.

Among the changes making feasible the 40 percent goal has been a downward revision in the percentage of an award that must be performance based in order for OFPP officials to count it as such, Burton said. The threshold used to be 80 percent; now it's over 50 percent.

Finalized regulations defining performance based service acquisition should also appear later this year, in spring, Burton said. "There has been inconsistent guidance within the federal government," he added.

Greater agency use of share-in-savings contract vehicles is another "area where we need to do better," Burton said. Agency officials have been reluctant in years past to utilize share in savings because there was no incentive to do so, he said. However, under the e-Gov Act of 2002, agencies can retain a portion of the savings. Still, the closer coloration required for share in savings between federal acquisition officials and the private sector requires a change in thinking, Burton added. "There is a paradigm shift here and we're working with our contracting folks to educate them."

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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