By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: The 'core guiding principles' of the FAR

There is a great article in the current issue of Contract Management, the monthly publication of the National Contract Management Association, a professional association in the contracting community. The article, "Guiding Principles: FAR Part 1," is written by three Michigan-based contracting professionals, two of whom work for the Veterans Affairs Department.

Noting that, especially for the new generation of contracting professionals, "there is a need…to be grounded in the basics," the authors point out that the unifying vision and mission statement presented in Part 1 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation sets a context for everything that follows, the forest amidst the trees, or, as the authors put it, "a beacon to illuminate the way." The basic statement in Part 1, which the authors elaborate phrase by phrase in their article, is that "the vision for the Federal Acquisition System is to deliver on a timely basis the best value product and service to the customer, while maintaining the public's trust and fulfilling public policy objectives." This language reflects the proper relationship between the system's goal -- which is to achieve best value for the government -- and the constraints the system must also respect.

The article also notes that the guiding principles state that customers and contracting professionals should work together as a team, and should be empowered to make decisions. And there is a good discussion in the article of what the authors call -- sad to hear this -- "the most overlooked statement in the FAR," which states that if a procurement policy or practice is not prohibited by the FAR, and is in the interests of the government, it should be considered to be allowed. "Although there's no way of knowing what changes the future will bring for the acquisition profession," the article concludes, "there is one constant that will never waiver, and that constant is in FAR Part One."

The acquisition community owes an eternal debt to Colleen Preston, then the Defense Department official in charge of acquisition reform, who pushed the idea of a set of core guiding principles and drafted them, with help from David Drabkin, one of the government's premier procurement professionals, now of course at GSA.

Every contracting professional, along with their customers, should read this article. Is it fair to assume that the Defense Acquisition University, the Federal Acquisition Institute, and private training vendors include a good discussion of FAR Part 1 in training for new contracting officers?

The challenge is to realize the vision of Part 1 in the current environment. I would be interested to hear from government contracting professionals who have been influenced by or made use of Part 1 in doing their jobs, particularly from young people entering the field.

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Posted by Steve Kelman on Sep 30, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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