Michael P. Fischetti, National Contract Management Association 2:06 p.m. EDT April 21, 2016
As the current administration heads to the finish line, political appointees are focusing on leaving a legacy in concrete accomplishments from their agendas. But what can the acquisition community expect for the remainder of this presidential term?
We know that acquisition change will semi-repeat through authority transfers between users and membership due to legislative mandates under the National Defense Authorization Act, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, and individual agency authorizations. The administration’s acquisition legacy will likely include initiatives in workforce professionalism, such as wider use of the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s entire tool kit and longstanding supply-chain practices, such as strategic sourcing and category management. It will also include the partial restoration of restrictive common-sense communications between government and industry, and a “nuts and bolts,” back-to-basics education policy that redevelops fundamental skills in analysis and judgment with the ultimate elusive goal to ensure “critical-thinking skills” throughout the process.
However, finding measurable improvements in significant acquisition program performance indicators or long-lasting cultural progress is difficult for sure. The acquisition workforce faces the continued reality of a risk-averse culture encouraged by multiple levels of post-game quarterbacking; a political climate fixated on punishment; lack of or challenging hiring processes; the incredibly dispersed and uncertain nature of government budgets, oversight, and management execution; and several new Executive Orders affecting socioeconomic goals.
The federal market continues to shrink in the short-term, along with the diversity of industry choices that supplies those customers. Industry consolidation appears to have run its course in terms of efficiency, and now simply means fewer choices for government managers. Uncertain strategies by government agencies — owed partially to congressional gridlock — challenges agencies and industry to see and prepare for future requirements.
Different or “innovative” approaches, when attempted by contract managers, continue to meet resistance from one community or another. The “Lowest Price Technically Acceptable Armageddon” hasn’t yet arrived, but neither has a sense of the federal market as a place that offers opportunities for mainstream business. Attempts to bring a fresh outlook and business approach will struggle when faced with the realities of what is expected by government customers.
However, despite this dour perspective, strategically and globally significant social, political, cultural and economic trends are unfolding that will dramatically affect the lives of all citizens and raise the expectations and challenges to our government and its responsiveness. The huge stakes involved with who wins near-term elections; gridlock that continually frustrates program solutions; the effects of an accelerating, technologically disruptive economy; globally influenced trade and business behavior; price and form of energy; tension, instability, and protracted human crises; and dramatic climate and ecological change points to the role and proactivity of government increasing, not the other way around. Whether through humanitarian relief, military engagement or stepped up research and development, the need for, and results from, effective contracting knowledge, policies and practices supported by all levels of government will be mandated by both its leaders and citizens.
How that occurs will require a combination of leadership and strong management pressure from the top, but more important it requires thought-through, informed and well-executed best-practice planning and implementation from a world-leading, 21st-century acquisition workforce that is up to the challenges of a 21st-century world. These responsibilities cannot be wished or legislated for, nor walled out.
While significant policy change will occur next year regardless of who takes control of various levels of government is an easy prediction to make, those working within today’s contracting community can expect to be called to task to get things done fast and effectively. Within public-sector contracting, all its many constituencies define that success differently and almost never achieving true consensus. That’s why it is more challenging, and yet ultimately more rewarding.
Strategic sourcing and category management are not difficult concepts to grasp, but it takes very effective leadership to make them work in the public sector. As in all business, there are winners and losers. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Recent moves to implement more traditional supply-chain solutions practiced worldwide can’t be disagreed with, but must be tailored to the reality of the U.S. federal government. The contracting community didn’t design the government, but must align good business practices to succeed within it. If only it were as simple as buying faster/cheaper/better, perhaps this conversation wouldn’t be never-ending.
Michael P. Fischetti is the Executive Director of the National Contract Management Association. His earlier federal career includes time at the Defense and Energy departments, and the General Services Administration.