SARA panel draft report: Key recommendations

Acquisition Advisory Panel: Final draft report

Here is a quick look at the key findings and recommendations of the final draft report of the Acquisition Advisory Panel. Comments on the report, released Dec. 22, are due Jan. 5, 2007. The following points are largely based on language in the executive summary, although numerous passages have been edited for length and clarity. To read the executive summary or the full report, click here.

Findings: According to the panel’s discussions with agencies and their inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office, government frequently fails to invest in requirements definition, which the panel found is crucial to achieving the full benefits of competition.

Recommendation: Agencies should establish centers of expertise in requirements analysis and definition -- and they should make it a policy to express advance approval of the requirements from the main stakeholders, including program managers and contracting officers.

Recommendation
: The General Services Administration should establish a market research capability to monitor services acquisitions by government and commercial buyers, collect publicly available information and maintain a database of information regarding transactions.

Findings: Although commercial buyers rely extensively on competition, government agencies often award task orders without seeking competitive bids. In other cases, agencies fail to clearly state their requirements, which is a prerequisite of meaningful competition.

Recommendation:
Civilian agencies should follow the Defense Department’s policy of notifying all eligible contractors of order opportunities available through multiple-award task order-based contracts.

Recommendation: In the interest of transparency, agencies should notify other contractors after making sole-source task order awards.

Recommendation:
For single orders with an expected value in excess of $5 million, in which a statement of work is required, agencies should provide a clear statement of the requirements, disclose the significant evaluation factors, provide a reasonable response time for bids and document the selection decision. In these cases, agencies should also arrange post-award debriefings for the losing bidders.

Recommendation: GSA should establish a new services schedule for information technology that would reduce the burden on contractors that usually results from a lengthy process of negotiating labor rates when the pricing of most services is requirement-specific.

Finding:
Commercial buyers rely on competition for the pricing of goods and services, using well-defined requirements that facilitate competitive, fixed-price offers.

Recommendation: The government should restore the statutory definition of commercial services as first provided in the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act. Commercial services are those bought in substantial quantities in the marketplace. In such cases, the government should use the streamlined purchasing process defined by Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 12. More specialized services should be acquired using the process outlined in FAR Part 15.

Recommendation: The government should revise its regulations to provide a more commercial-like approach to determining a reasonable price in cases where competition is limited.

Recommendation: Government agencies should avoid the use of time-and-material contracts, which are based on fixed hourly rates, and instead rely on performance-based acquisitions, which are based on fixed-price solutions.

Finding: Government buyers and contractors are not on a level playing field.

Recommendation: Congress should pass laws that ensure that contractors and the government enjoy the same legal presumptions of good faith and regularity in the execution of contracts. In most cases, both parties should work under the same rules for contract interpretation, performance and liabilities.

Finding: To a large degree, government procurement lacks accountability and transparency, particularly in the case of cross-agency and governmentwide contracts.

Recommendation:
The Office of Management and Budget should establish processes with which agencies formally authorize the creation or expansion of multiagency and enterprisewide contracts.

Recommendation:
OMB should conduct a survey of existing multiagency and enterprisewide contracts, which will provide a baseline for monitoring the proliferation of these vehicles.

Recommendation: The government should improve the quality of its centrally managed procurement database and make that data available to the public online.

Findings: Agencies are largely uncertain about how and when to conduct performance-based acquisitions, and the government lacks the data needed to assess the success the performance-based acquisitions that have been done.

Recommendation: Guidance is needed, including an opportunity assessment tool that helps agencies decide if a performance-based acquisition makes sense, a best-practices guide on developing metrics, and improved guidance on the use of incentives.

Recommendation:
Contracting officers should receive training in performance-based acquisitions -- perhaps through a program jointly developed by the Federal Acquisition Institute and the Defense Acquisition University.

Recommendation:
The Office of Federal Procurement Policy should provide more oversight on the use of performance-based acquisitions using an acquisition-specific variation of OMB’s widely used performance assessment rating tool. OFPP should also undertake a systematic study on the challenges, cost and benefits of performance-based acquisitions.

Findings:
The increased complexity of the procurement environment -- one of the offshoots of earlier reform efforts -- has put a strain on the federal acquisition workforce. The government does not have good information on the size and composition of that workforce, which makes it difficult to assess what training is needed now and for the future. There is not a good measure of the extent to which contractor personnel augment federal acquisition staff.

Recommendation: OFPP should provide a single governmentwide definition of the acquisition workforce. This definition should address the broader understanding of the functions outside procurement that must be addressed, but it should provide a count that does not overstate the resources available to conduct and management procurement.

Recommendation:
OFPP should create, implement and maintain a mandatory governmentwide database of the acquisition workforce. A procurement commission originally suggested this in 1971, the report states.

Recommendation: The government’s chief acquisition officers should develop a workforce strategic plan specifically for the acquisition workforce.

Recommendation: The government should identify and eliminate obstacles to the speedy hiring of new talent and should establish a governmentwide acquisition intern program to attract that talent. At the same time, incentives should be used to retain qualified, experienced employees.

Recommendation: OFPP should convene a 12-month study to consider whether to establish a governmentwide Federal Acquisition University or similar options.

Findings: Agencies lack a basic set of rules governing the use of various small-business preference programs. To make matters worse, agency officials generally do not understand the rules that exist or the benefits of contracting with small businesses in the first place. Current regulations also do not provide clear guidance on how small businesses fit into otherwise full and open competitions for multiple-award contracts.

Recommendation: OFPP should coordinate the development of a governmentwide small-business contracting training module for program managers and acquisition team members. This training should address the requirements and the benefits of small-business contracting.

Recommendation: Existing laws should be amended to allow contracting officers to set aside opportunities for small businesses in full and open multiple-award contracts.

Findings:
The government is relying more on contractors for many services. This has left agencies with a blended workforce in which in-house staff and contract personnel sit side by side. In the acquisition field, this has created more potential for conflicts of interest, because contractors often gain access to priority information that could help them in future bids.

Recommendation:
OFPP should update the principles that agencies should apply in deciding which functions government staff must perform. Beyond their use in conducting A-76 studies, those guidelines will help agencies manage the blended workforce.

Recommendation:
Although agencies might be tempted to add more requirements on contractors to enforce ethical conduct, this should be avoided. Instead, general ethical obligations and guidelines should be included in contract clauses. Over-regulation could discourage vendors, especially small businesses, from doing business with the government.

Recommendation:
The FAR Council should review existing rules and regulations and to the extent necessary, create uniform governmentwide policy and clauses to deal with potential conflicts of interest and the protection of proprietary data.

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