Acquisition workforce gets half-hearted support, survey shows

Survey finds poor communication, conflicting ideas retard progress

In the acquisition community, contractors, policymakers, overseers and procurement officials all want successful contracts, but they are deeply divided and disconnected from each other, several experts said today.

The acquisition workforce and inspectors general don’t talk enough about their work, and policymakers are somewhat disconnected as their policies are seen by employees as neither clear nor practical, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council.

The acquisition community faces the challenge of finding a balance between transparency and the outcome of a contract, said Lou Crenshaw, a principal at Grant Thornton.

Today, Grant Thornton and Professional Services Council released the results of a survey of 33 federal procurement executives on various procurement issues. The biennial survey revealed a widening chasm between the trajectory of acquisition policy and what government acquisition professionals believe will help their missions.

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Conflict of interest rules provide one major point of tension, as do acquisition workforce development and procurement reform initiatives, the survey reported.

In a survey in 2008, more than 90 percent of respondents said that oversight, such as investigations by agency IGs, the Government Accountability Office, and Congress, had increased. This trend continues in 2010, and of those interviewed, 83 percent said more resources are going to oversight activities than to contract administration.

Soloway and Crenshaw said the federal acquisition workforce would be best served with more overall resources to carry out its work. Soloway pointed to the resources put toward work on the economic stimulus law and the results.

Since the first of these surveys in 2002, the government has grown to believe in the acquisition workforce’s important role in operations. However, the flow of resources, whether funds or employees, doesn’t reflect that change in thinking, said Crenshaw.

“I need money to do my job,” said Crenshaw, a retired vice admiral in the Navy.

The survey results also underlined another divide between how policies are implemented and their original intent.

Soloway said the original intent of a number of policies have been skewed, because of a blanket perception of a problem. For example, the Obama administration wants agencies to check whether a project needs a contract with a fixed price or another type that is based more on a company’s performance. However, officials also have said they want the contracts with the least amount of risk for the government, which are fixed-price contracts.

Now agency officials have started to see fixed-price contracts as the only option, leaving little room for innovation, even when another contract type would be better, Soloway and Crenshaw both said.

“We’ll get round pegs in square holes,” Soloway said.

Officials need to reiterate the original intent of policies so agency officials can better understand how to respond when awarding contracts, he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.


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