Editorial: The devil's details

This is a difficult time for government procurement. Ten years after the dramatic reforms of the procurement process in the 1990s, questions remain. And the new leaders in Congress could raise additional questions.

The Acquisition Advisory Panel, more commonly known as the SARA panel, seemed to have captured many of the concerns of the community with its draft final report.

Some parts of the report are fascinating. The panel’s efforts to assess and define the new issues facing government procurement are especially valuable. Diagnosing a problem is the first step to finding a cure.

What is missing, however, is a mission statement for the next generation of procurement reform. The group was not given the resources to conduct a wholesale review of the procurement system. And to be fair, the panel probably did not see that as its task.

Unfortunately for the panel, that is what many people were expecting. There is a longing for someone to lay out a road map for the next generation of procurement reform. The SARA panel report is more about details than an overarching belief that could be the basis of an effective government procurement system.

For us, that belief is in markets. The more the government can create a commercially based procurement system driven by markets and competition, the better off it will be. Markets are remarkably efficient at creating efficiencies. There will still be issues that arise — and even cases where there may be waste, abuse or  fraud — but the net result will be a more efficient system for getting the best products for the best prices.

An increasingly market-based system would also enable more businesses to participate in government work. It could spur greater competition and thereby improve the services that agencies buy.

The government spent years creating a bureaucracy-based system, one that accommodated the intricacies and quirks of government contracting. That was an abysmal failure.

The SARA panel’s report is a good starting point for the ongoing debate about that road map for the next-generation procurement system, and the panel members deserve our thanks for their work. But it is just a start. There is more work ahead.

We look forward to the debate.


About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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