By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Are we wasting the talents of contracting staff? (Part 2)

After the somewhat depressing meeting with contracting newbies I discussed in my last post (“Are we wasting the talents of our new government contracting hires?”), I went on to have a meeting with somewhat more senior people, though generally not supervisors, at the same agency. These folks were more upbeat, and they had interesting stories to tell. (To retain the anonymity of the agency from my last blog, I am going to be somewhat vague about the specifics of what I write here, so as not to reveal details of what these folks were buying and hence identify the agency.)

I asked both groups to tell me one thing they had done professionally over the past year or so of which they were proud, and to share one thing that frustrated them. The newbies told only of frustrations. The more-senior folks emphasized achievements of which they were proud, and there were some interesting patterns in responses.

One source of pride (mentioned by two of the people around the table) was working with program people to persuade them of the value of competition in recompeting a contract. One person told about a customer who wanted to recompete a contract as a sole source, in a situation in which many firms that could have been able to do the work. The contracting person persuaded the customer to test the marketplace, and the result was a good vendor, with whom the customer is satisfied (not the incumbent) at a 20 percent lower cost.

Two people also talked about working to better understand what was being bought, so the contracting person could contribute more to the procurement process. Listening to both these people, it became clear that they were quite knowledgeable about the marketplace in the area where they were buying.

And two people talked about strategic sourcing (neither involving information technology). The first challenge of strategic sourcing is identifying products or services that are common across different customer bases, and then learning more about the market for those products or services to see if there opportunities to save a significant amount of money. The next challenge is doing the work to persuade customers to go it jointly. The two examples cited were both works in progress, perhaps at least somewhat inspired by the administration's healthy push in this area.

These folks sounded pretty upbeat and positive. They had nice gleams in their eyes -- seemed to enjoy their work.

Now the challenge is to bring the newbies to where these people are.

Finally, this agency has made interesting use of the federal occupational category 1101 ("business analyst") to bring people on board to work with customers on improving how requirements (statements of work or performance work statements) are formulated. Poor requirements is a really common theme in lots of discussions of contracting these days (actually, forever), and it will be interesting to see if this approach produces improvements. Stay tuned -- I'll try to follow up and learn more.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Feb 26, 2010 at 12:08 PM


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