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The dangers of checklists

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Improving the acquisition workforce is a key component of Better Buying Power 2.0, but a reader cautions against a compiance-based approach. (Stock image)

To our story on DOD's Better Buying initiative, a reader wrote: I think the government bureaucracy has lost the forest while looking at the trees. Contracts that used to recognize a rough order of magnitude for minutiae now require burdensome justification. (Requiring an itemized list of screws needed in a research assembly… absolutely absurd!) The contracting agent is now happy that his little checklist has all the necessary checks… while the cost of bidding is going up exponentially driven by the inflation of the paperwork!

We need government people who can think, not bean counters looking at an acquisition check-off list.

Amber Corrin responds: Great points – and complaints I hear about frequently from government contractors. I think this ties in with a culture of oversight that focuses on check-the-box approaches to a number of government activities, including acquisition and cybersecurity.

Ashton Carter, deputy defense secretary, and Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, both addressed this idea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week, in the event that occasioned our earlier story. They noted that tackling the oversight-heavy approach to acquisition is a top priority in the Better Buying Power reform efforts.

Kendall said he's "waging a continuing war against non-value added activities" – sounds like excessive checklists might be among those – and that officials want to take that burden off managers and return them to what they should be doing.

"I share industry's concern about an excessive oversight culture. I've long been concerned that the number of watchers was approaching the number of doers in the department," Carter said. "We may in fact be reaching that threshold, especially with respect to things like audits. And we're trying to work internally and work with industry to address these issues."

Posted by Amber Corrin on May 28, 2013 at 12:10 PM


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