Acquisition reform proves slow-going, panelists say

WILLIAMSBURG, VA. – After about 15 years of efforts to reform federal procurement through different types of contracts and different ways of thinking about acquisition, the government has not made as much progress as advocates of change would like, according to members of a panel who spoke today at the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

“Before we can think outside the box, we need to know what’s in the box,” said Adm. Dick Ginman, deputy director of defense acquisition policy at the Defense Department.

But agencies must continue to enter into contracts wisely, he said. In the government, “We have a significant pressure to spend money,” he said. “That does not equate to not doing it well.”

Steve Kelman, a professor of public management at Harvard University and a former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said federal policymakers should find new ways to encourage agencies’ procurement officials to spend money more effectively.

“Their solutions really rely on an incredibly impoverished vision of how you fix these problems,” he said. Solutions too often revolve around oversight and punishment rather than encouragement, inspiration and positive incentives, he said.

Contracting models such as pay-for-performance and share-in-savings have built in rewards and penalties, he said. They need more visibility and policymakers should encourage agencies to use them, he said.

“The environment has moved too much into a ‘gotcha’ environment,” said Steven Kempf, deputy assistant commissioner at the General Services Administration’s Integrated Technology Services division.

The Executive Leadership Conference, designed for federal officials to gain insight into issues they must deal with as agency leaders, is jointly sponsored by the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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