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Federal acquisition shops shouldn't wait for direction

Shutterstock image (by retrorocket): Caught in red tape.

The next few years may bring significant challenges for federal acquisition organizations. While most agencies will complete the fiscal year 2017 contracting cycle without facing major upheavals, fiscal year 2018 may bring the beginning of a sea change for acquisition and federal agencies at large. As signaled by the Office of Management and Budget Memo 17-22, “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce,” OMB is calling for agencies to take a wholesale look at their performance, cut costs and prioritize programs. As agencies strive to minimize the impact to their mission, support functions will be under the microscope, especially acquisition.

quisition organizations will necessarily be on the front line of supporting this efficiency push. Lower budgets and shifting policy goals will mean mission delivery will be even more reliant on acquisition professionals’ abilities to get flexible and high-quality goods and services at the best cost. OMB M-17-22 specifically calls on agencies to consider governmentwide contracts for common goods and services and to avoid redundant contracting actions. Additionally, the memo calls on agencies to investigate external providers or outsource when the total cost would be lower.

In the wake of OMB M-17-22, offices managing acquisition need to be prepared to take on this extra burden and to improve their own performance. While the effect of these efforts will likely be phased in over time, acquisition offices must prepare themselves now for an increasingly vital role in mission success. Agency executives will call on acquisition organizations to help them through this period of ­­­­­change. There are a set of questions acquisition organizations need to answer to prepare.

1. How efficient are your acquisition practices and where are there improvement opportunities?

Federal acquisition organizations must recognize and be able to articulate their biggest opportunities for improvement. OMB will drive agencies to utilize category management and to reduce redundant contracting. They must be able to respond to OMB’s requirements, acknowledging where there are improvement opportunities and presenting data to defend where there are not. As such, agencies need to take a holistic view of their acquisition processes and policies…not only contracting, but across all stakeholders and stages in the acquisition lifecycle to prioritize and address the biggest barriers to efficient acquisition and high-quality outcomes.

2. How well is your acquisition organization understood internally and externally?

It is critically important that customers appreciate the contracting process, and also that contracting officers and business partners understand how the acquisition organization supports the mission. Acquisition must assess and make its alignment with the mission clear. Too often decision makers view acquisition as a clerical function and become frustrated with the amount of time it takes. Likewise, contracting staff, rather than having a willingness to try new and innovative approaches, too frequently hide behind federal acquisition rules when asked to do something new. If these conditions exist, the only logical outcome is for acquisition to be targeted for cuts rather than to become the value-added business partner it should be.

3. How efficient is your acquisition workforce, especially when compared to peer organizations?

The instructions to agencies in OMB M-17-22 assume that there are significant inefficiencies in operations and that work can be performed with fewer staff. Federal acquisition offices need data to help make workforce decisions based on facts -- not assumptions. Acquisition offices need to have data to quantify the work they accomplish and the resources required to do so. They need to be able to assess how their operational efficiency compares to that of their peers. Data on workforce efficiency and capacity are important for an acquisition organization to show leadership that they are best in class and to quantify the impact of any reductions they may be facing.

To prepare for their agencies' response to OMB M-17-22, acquisition offices must begin answering these questions now. By doing so, they will take actions to drive their destinies, rather than reacting to what will be handed down. With this understanding and data, acquisition offices can be a strategic contributor to the agency planning process.

About the Author

Aram Mazmanian is a principal at Censeo Consulting Group.

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