By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Stimulus spending and contracting redux

In my blog post last week on how the stimulus plan will affect contracting, I wrote that this topic hadn't gotten any public attention to my knowledge. It turns out I had not seen an article on this topic in the Washington Post. In fact, the Post's contracting beat reporter had contributed another nostalgic perspective on contracting from the days when it took four months to order a dictaphone. In an article called, "If Spending Is Swift, Oversight May Suffer," Robert O'Harrow Jr. wrote that it is impossible to spend money quickly--as the economic crisis requires--and responsibly. O'Harrow located a contracting professional with four decades of contracting experience, Kent Goodger, who said it "typically takes 180 days to award a standard firm, fixed-price contract."

Well, this was the case towards the first of the four decades of this expert's contracting experience, but it is no longer true. Pre-negotiated contracts, reverse auctions, and blanket purchase agreements, all allow quick, competitive purchasing of commercial supplies. Indeed, as I indicated in my blog (without being aware of O'Harrow's paean to a procurement yesteryear), without the procurement reforms of the 1990's, the kind of quick spending the economy needs for stimulus seeks would indeed be impossible.

For those nostalgic for a bygone era of molasses procurement and "good enough for government work" lassitude, the changes in the system to make possible buying that is both fast and that gets a good deal for agencies and taxpayers have never been worth much. For the O'Harrows of the world, this is "mere administrative convenience." In fact, molasses procurement shows indifference towards agency missions that procurement supports, as well as contempt for civil servants who labor under these delays. Would O'Harrow -- or Danielle Brian -- put up with a procurement system at the Post or at POGO that made them wait four months for a simple item needed to allow pursuing a story? I doubt it. But they don't seem to mind if mere civil servants have to put up with such things.

(I should note that all these issues are separate from the need for resources for good contract management, especially of service contracts, and also the correct criticism that extra time spent upfront defining requirements better, especially for service contract, is often time well spent.)

It was interesting for me to see that the blog of the Project on Government Oversight, headquarters of the fear industry, (sort of) liked my recent FCW column about the government negotiating lower labor rates during these times of economic distress. However, ever gracious, the POGO blog on the topic was titled, "A Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day."

Posted by Steve Kelman on Feb 18, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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