Is it time to reinvent acquisition?

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Federal IT managers and contractors need an acquisition workforce and relationships that are better equipped to handle shifting technologies and economic uncertainty, a new Professional Services Council study found.

The study, released Sept. 9 and titled "From Crisis to Opportunity," shows federal IT management is not keeping up with technological changes. While 85 percent of the federal IT leaders polled said IT was "extremely important," just 25 percent said their workforce was "extremely competent" in complex IT acquisition skills. More than 50 percent rated such competencies as "average or worse."

In remarks at a Sept. 9 press conference, PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway said three fundamental problems plague federal acquisition:

  1. Difficulties in developing modern acquisition training and maintaining a strong federal workforce.
  2. A lack of collaboration within federal agencies.
  3. A lack of strong leadership at some government agencies.

While there are strong acquisition programs at the Office of Management and Budget and Department of Homeland Security, Soloway said, others are not forward-looking enough when it comes to developing and maintaining acquisition personnel.


Download: From Crisis to Opportunity

Attrition of experienced federal and private-sector acquisition personnel not only continues, according to the study, but looks to be accelerating with increasing retirements among an aging acquisition workforce, as well as an increasingly difficult and complicated acquisition environment.

Mounting bid protests are "clearly impacting agency willingness to make subjective decisions or to use other than the most basic acquisition techniques," the report states. Protests have also "contributed to some of the reticence on the part of government officials to engage in meaningful dialogue with their private sector partners."

Overall, the PSC said federal acquisition needs an overhaul, as quickly as possible, and offered a number of recommendations, from honing business savvy among federal IT contract managers and bolstering online training to looking for ways at PSC to help vet and resolve bid protests.

Ellen Glover, president of ICF International and co-chair of PSC's 2013 Leadership Council, said PSC would create a protest board to try to develop suggestions on how to resolve the issue.

Protests are a double-edged sword for everyone involved, Glover said: They allow for some improvements and access to information on how to make future bids more successful, but can also drive contracts to the lowest common denominator, resulting in less-than-ideal solutions for government customers.

PSC also recommended amending the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act to gives the OFPP statutory authority over the entire government acquisition workforce. A restructured and renamed Office of Federal Acquisition Management and Policy would have clear authority and responsibility for developing career paths and educational development plans for federal program managers, PSC suggested.

Soloway said his organization plans to brief members of Congress on the study in the coming weeks, including at an upcoming House Homeland Security Committee hearing on DHS acquisition. He said government agencies could have an immediate impact by aiming at easy targets such as direct collaboration within agencies on acquisitions; adopting early alternative workforce strategies; drawing up requests for proposals that include explicit scoring for innovation by vendors; and holding more extensive debriefings for contract winners and losers.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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