A call for action, not studies
A well-trained workforce is the most important ingredient for acquisition success
For years I have deleted the traditional opening line in my congressional hearing testimony — “It is a pleasure to appear before you today” — because I never wanted to lie to Congress. But on Aug. 5, when I testified for the first time as a member of the private sector, I opened with that statement because it was a pleasure to appear before Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) to discuss the multisector acquisition workforce.
I am encouraged by the long-overdue recognition of the important role of acquisition in President Barack Obama’s March 4 contracting memo, which has helped tremendously to focus attention on the workforce. Although modest steps toward strengthening the acquisition workforce have already been taken, much more must be done.
We do not need more reviews or competency studies, further discussions on who belongs in the acquisition workforce, or arbitrary new hiring goals. What we need is action.
The government must plan for and manage a multisector workforce. Strategically established, well-defined approaches for hiring the right people for critical agency functions and awarding and managing the right contracts and grants are crucial to mission success.
The Office of Federal Procurement Policy should define the federal acquisition workforce to include people with the broad range of skills necessary for successful acquisitions — from those who help define the government’s needs to those who award the contracts and those who administer and oversee contractors’ performance.
Congress should legislatively expand the role of the OFPP administrator to include authority for “acquisition” in its broadest context and should ensure that agencies recognize and support the strategic role that acquisition serves at their agencies.
Oversight professionals must be made an integral part of the government’s acquisition team and the government’s continuous improvement process. They should not be outsiders or after-the-fact critics. Acquisition training for people in the oversight and audit communities is essential and must emphasize that they are key partners with the acquisition community, without any hint of compromise to their independence.
To accomplish those changes, we need strong leaders. We need an OFPP administrator and a General Services Administration administrator now.
OFPP must issue clear, executable guidance on the phrase “inherently governmental.” Agencies must then develop strategic plans that reflect a balanced workforce that is focused on hiring for inherently governmental and critical core positions.
Ensuring the proper execution, oversight, accountability and effectiveness of federal acquisition requires policies that balance advance planning, resources and compliance. Those policies must be based on sound data and thoughtful debate rather than on anecdotes or headlines and must focus on actions that will truly improve performance and results rather than adding layers of non-value-added processes or reviews.
The most critical near-term priority must be to focus on the federal employees charged with planning, awarding and managing federal contracts and grants.
Developing a well-trained and well-supported acquisition workforce is the single most important ingredient for success. Delivering on that message will do more to strengthen the federal workforce than almost anything else.
Dee Lee is executive vice president of federal affairs and operations at the Professional Services Council and a former administration of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.