Acquisition issues await next president

Americans go to the polls this
week, and after the votes are
counted, one of the most extensive
U.S. government transitions will be
under way. Although the outcome is not
yet known, some realities ? and related
imperatives ? are becoming clear.

In September, Democratic presidential
candidate Barack Obama gave a speech
in Green Bay, Wis., in which he outlined
the key elements of his management
agenda. Although Republican presidential
candidate John McCain has not
given a speech specifically focused on
management issues, his record and many
comments he made before and during
the campaign offer pretty good insight
into his priorities.

Obama's speech was reasonably balanced.
Consistent with his views on government
in general, he spoke about
increasing the transparency and accountability
of government operations and the
need for a greater focus on performance.
He also advocated creating a federal
chief technology officer position, which
would build on the Bush administration's
progress on e-government initiatives.

Contrary to some headlines, Obama did
not call for reducing contractors per se.
Rather, he asserted that some $40 billion
? less than 10 percent of all contracting
dollars ? could be saved through
improved contracting procedures.

It appears that McCain shares some of
Obama's views. He co-sponsored
Obama's latest government transparency
legislation. And, as shown in part by his
outspoken and long-standing views on
fixed-price contracting, McCain also has
strong feelings about accountability in
contracting and government in general.

McCain is the only candidate to speak
directly to the issue of outsourcing, of
which he is a strong proponent, but a
careful look at Obama's management
agenda suggests that the role of the private
sector would also increase on his
watch. For one, his goal of dramatically
increasing the use of technology to
improve government performance at all
levels and his focus on cybersecurity
would require a strong and likely
enhanced public/private partnership.

In other words, both candidates
appear to recognize the new face of government.
And therein lie two key imperatives
that must be at the forefront of the
next administration's agenda.

First and foremost is the need to genuinely
empower and enable the federal
acquisition workforce. That community
plays a vital role in the execution of an
increasing range of critical government
missions. Neither candidate can achieve
his agenda without that workforce. Yet
the community has been undervalued
and lacking in sufficient resources for
too long. It's not just about numbers.

It's about doing the tough but necessary
work of evaluating ? and changing,
where necessary ? current agency
management structures; linking and
building the broad skill sets involved in
acquisition, including program management;
and elevating the stature of
that workforce in a way that acknowledges
its unique role.

Second, this is the time to open a new
dialogue on how to improve contracting
and acquisition. For the past two years,
harsh partisan rhetoric and legislation
by headline have dominated the discussion.
As a new administration takes
office, a real opportunity exists to open a
healthier and more substantive discussion
than has been possible of late. It is
long overdue.

Government management agendas
have little influence on who wins elections,
but they have a direct effect on the
government's relative success or failure in
meeting the vast array of mission challenges
it faces and restoring public confidence
in government itself. Both campaigns
have given us reason to be optimistic
that the conversation is moving in
the right direction. When it comes time
for the winner to govern, that conversation
must continue.

Stan Soloway (soloway@pscouncil.org) is
president and chief executive officer of the
Professional Services Council.

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