Stan Soloway

Stan Soloway | Reforms must follow fact, not fiction

Policies, strategies and trends to watch

With only 77 days separating the
election from the inauguration,
the incoming administration
faces daunting tasks. That is
why President-elect Barack Obama had
a large, sequestered team working on
transition issues well before Election
Day. It was not hubris; it was smart
planning. After all, the new administration
must immediately find and appoint
several thousand senior officials, deal
with the economic crisis and two wars,
get agreement on a final spending bill
for the current fiscal year, and be prepared
to submit a full fiscal
2010 budget proposal to
Congress.

The incoming administration
is expected to move on
other fronts, too. One such
area could be federal acquisition.
When he was campaigning,
Obama pledged to save $40
billion through more efficient and effective
contracting. Most experts agree
that opportunities abound to improve
efficiency in hardware and services
acquisitions. Moreover, we have known
the keys to doing so for some time ?
such as addressing the challenges facing
the acquisition workforce, enhancing
the requirements process, improving
the government's use of performance-based
strategies and rationalizing contract
vehicles ? though achieving them
has been elusive. But that does not
mean they are not still the right objectives
? indeed, quite the opposite.

As the new administration focuses
on federal acquisition, any policy initiatives
going forward must be based
in truth, not myth.

For example, the Congressional
Research Service released a report in
October about the cost and size of the
federal workforce. Although the report
was generally informative, it accepted
as fact an outside study that made the
mathematically impossible, wildly
exaggerated and analytically unsupportable
assertion that the so-called
hidden workforce of contractors doing
government work now totals more
than 10 million.

Likewise, many people believe that
noncompetitive contracting has drastically
increased in recent years. But
that belief is rooted in the incorrect
assumption that the terms "competition"
and "full-and-open competition"
are synonymous, which they are not.
Large swaths of federal contracting ?
from task orders on multiple-award
contracts to small-business and other
socioeconomic set-asides ? are highly
competitive, even though they do not
qualify as full-and-open competitions.
All told, the data shows that competition
levels are about the same today as
they were 10 years ago.

Additionally, many critics continue
to pay significant attention to the government's
so-called miscoding of
small-business work, which some
allege results in a dramatic and intentional
distortion of the amount of federal
contracting that goes to small
businesses. Yet few have adequately
assessed the degree to which the supposed
problem is the result of a period
during which old certification rules are
transitioning to new rules. During this
period, one would expect to find
apparent inconsistencies that reflect
coding that was appropriate under the
old rules.

Those are just a few of the
increasing number of myths
that must be disposed of as
the new administration crafts
its acquisition policy initiatives.
Moreover, acquisition
does not exist in a vacuum.
Any efforts to address it must
be linked to aggressive strategic initiatives
to tackle the government's enormous
challenges in competing for talent
in a global marketplace. Otherwise,
progress is likely to remain elusive.

Increasing competition, improving
small-business contracting opportunities
and restoring public confidence in
the federal acquisition system are crucial
objectives. But fact, not fiction,
must underpin policy initiatives
designed to achieve those goals, no
matter how deep the mythology has
been allowed to burrow.

About the Author

Stan Soloway is president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council.

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