By Steve Kelman

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NCMA – What a difference a day makes

The day after I wrote this blog entry on the mood at the National Contract Management Association World Congress in Long Beach, Calif., Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made his announcements about weapons systems rejiggering. The announcements included a plan to hire additional people for the Defense Department’s depleted and overtaxed acquisition workforce. This announcement was the talk of the meeting, and brightened the mood in Long Beach.

Many press accounts emphasized Gates' intent to replace contractors with civil servants. That’s interesting, because that aspect of the Gates announcement didn’t get discussed or mentioned at all at the Congress. What excited the delegates was their perception – perhaps premature – that DOD was finally working to plus-up the acquisition workforce.

Recalibrating the balance between contractor and government personnel in the acquisition workforce is, in my view, a good idea – and it may even be feasible given the bad job market, although the government will need to work on job content and, in some areas, salary competitiveness. However, unless there is a net increase of people (rather than just taking positions from one bucket and moving them into another bucket), it will only produce very limited progress in improving the government’s contracting and acquisition capacity. It doesn’t seem from the Gates announcement as if the net plus-up that delegates at the World Congress were assuming is necessarily in the cards. (Any readers are welcome to correct me if I am misunderstanding something here.)

On another topic, I heard an interesting suggestion at one of the sessions about a way to adapt contracting strategy to the economic crisis. The speaker suggested that in this environment, continued business is especially important to contractors, and that therefore the government in this environment should be making more use of award-term contracting, where contractors are rewarded for outstanding performance by getting a contract extention. It also suggests the government should be signaling that it will be more aggressive in past performance evaluations, aggressive in the sense of seeking increasingly to differentiate outstanding from ho-hum performance. This is a good idea in general, and particularly relevant right now.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Apr 09, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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