The Lectern: How not to attract contracting talent

I got an email recently from a long-time contracting official at a civilian agency, calling my attention to a job announcement for a supervisory contract specialist for the Navy. At the end of the position description, the announcement stated: "As a contracting officer, the incumbent may also have personal, civil, and criminal liability for his/her actions and decisions."


No, this time I am not going to complain (mainly) about the bureaucratic language embodied in the phrase "the incumbent," although it remains true that the bureaucratic tone of many government job ads -- starting with the absurd phrase "vacancy announcement" -- discourages bright young people from seeking federal service.


I'm going instead to note the latest sign of the counterproductive impacts of the current fear-laden procurement climate on the ability to create a procurement system that functions well. Almost everyone who has spoken publicly on the topic agrees we need to get 1) more people and 2) more good people into contracting. Good people, almost by definition, have a choice of careers and jobs. And with jobs to choose among, why would a person go into a contracting field that parades front and center with the "personal, civil, and criminal liability" one is lucky enough to obtain for one's on-the-job decisions? There must be more satisfying ways to make a living.


Obviously, if a contracting officer, or anyone else, takes a bribe, throws a contract, or otherwise violates the law, they should have liability for such crimes. But the text doesn't seem to be referring to that -- it is referring instead to business decisions a contracting officer makes on the job.


And what message does this send to people unlucky enough to be in these positions about whether they should ever try anything out of the ordinary or not specifically sanctioned by the regulations?


Thanks, fear industry for yet another superb contribution to taxpayer interests.


PS. I have now finished my Swedish PLO thriller. Actually, it was fairly disgusting. The PLO succeeds in destroying the Israeli Navy, gets its submarine and its PLO intelligence chief welcomed by Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and treats Israeli prisoners with the incredible respect that Israel (in this view) denies Palestinian prisoners. Furthermore, the attack takes place on Yom Kippur, but the author knows so little about Jewish customs that he has people in Israel "celebrating" Yom Kippur -- which is of course a day of solemn fasting and prayer to be forgiven one's sins -- an Israeli sub attacked while the sailors onboard were having a Yom Kippur "party," and, most amazingly of all, news of the attack coming to Condi Rice while she is delivering a lunch speech to the Jewish National Fund in Washington in honor of Yom Kippur. Even more bizarre, at the end of the book the Palestianian PLO intelligence chief is actually invited to speak in front of the U.S. Congress!

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