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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.

What do you think? Post a comment on this blog (registration required) or send an e-mail to and we will post it for you.

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

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Reader comments

Wed, Oct 8, 2008 Emile Monette

All true. The community also probably owes you a debt for your leadership during your tenure at OFPP. No offense meant to the folks who have followed you in that office, but...It seems these days we, as a community, are lacking the type of visionary leadership that we need. And who in their right mind wants to stick his or her neck out with the level of politicization of the procurement process and the "gotcha" environment encouraged by Congress and enforced by the Inspectors General? All that gets you recently is an all-expenses paid trip to visit Mr. Waxman and his gang.Better to hunker down and make sure all your i's are dotted and t's are crossed. We've all got too much work to do as it is...who wants to answer another congressional document production?Is this living up to the policy in FAR Part 1?...probably not, but until the acquisition workforce is given the shot in the arm it needs, we are likely stuck here.

Fri, Oct 3, 2008 phil bail

Unfortunately, most contracting people, whether government or contractor never read Part I of the FAR. Maybe even more unfortunate, is many contracting professionals don't even read to understand the intent and meaning of the most basic FAR clauses like inspection or termination for convenience. Until the contracting workforce, both government and contractor start to treat their responsibilities from the perspective that understanding of the FAR clauses themselves is necessary to be a viable contracting person,the profession will continue to be subject to criticism.

Fri, Oct 3, 2008 Michael Del-Colle

Steve - As a retired Fed now working in industry I offer some additional thoughts. Part 1 is liberating and gives a sense of opportunity and possibility not found in any similar set of codes or regulations. It empowers people to make good decisions, not just the right decisions. But it's a scary empowerment for both the individual and the organization - it is channeled freedom with a lot of accountability. It is the fear of accountability, particularly by leadership and organizations, that prompts them to narrow the channels within which the freedom is exercised. While there is clear evidence that some bad decisions are made, and therefore some corrective and restrictive constraints applied, there is even greater evidence that good business decisions are made every day by those who honor the vision of Part 1. When I used to interview candidates for open positions I would always ask "... How many pages can you summarize the FAR in?". I would struggle with selecting anyone who responded with anything greater than a page. Why - because the guiding principles of Part 1 laid it out and the rest filled in the spaces, but too often were used to build walls.Good business decisions are not always seen in the same light. Views will differ, but that doesn't make them wrong, just different. The challenge is for leadership to: 1]nuture skills needed to make good business decision,2]provide the protective cover of their position to allow skills and talent to develop, and 3]establish a goverance model that weeds out the bad decision [and they do occur]while continuing to focus on the vision of Part 1.

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