Washington, we have a procurement problem
Shortage of trained acquisition officials is coming to roost at the worst time
- By Robert Davis
- Apr 29, 2013
I am not a government procurement expert. While I have attended multiple courses to understand the nature of our federal procurement system and the Federal Acquisition Regulations, there is much that I do not know.
I have been a consumer of the government’s procurement ‘products’ for decades. I have listened to various speakers since the mid-1990s share that the procurement system has serious underlying problems including a looming shortage of qualified personnel. We are now at the precipice.
Government procurement employees, especially contracting officers, contract specialists and COR/COTRs, are over worked, under compensated, have poor or non-existent training and no clear long-term career path. They are often put into untenable situations with unrealistic demands, absurd schedules, shrinking budgets, constant political pressure, no rewards, and ever changing management.
It is no wonder that the acquisition system has a severe shortage of properly trained contracting officers, COR/COTRs, program managers and contract specialists. We have heard about this problem for many years. When you add the recent “starve the beast” governance mentality, a difficult job becomes impossible.
During the bull market that lasted for many years until 2009-2010, our industry tolerated these problems because budgets had been growing annually, and if you bid enough work and won 25-35 percent of your bids, life was good.
But we are now in a bear market now. Budgets are shrinking; opportunities to bid are shrinking; business growth comes from taking business from competitors; and companies are under intense cash-flow pressure. The lack of having an adequate number of competent COs, CSs and so on is severely impacting our industry.
In order for the procurement system, as an open system, to cope and survive, it is natural for government procurement makers to come up with ideas and policies that make their jobs easier and shift costs and risk to industry.
The government does not have adequate staff to write professional program requirements, hold candid discussions with industry, develop thorough bid packages, develop sound evaluation criteria, properly evaluate all proposals that are submitted, or provide meaningful debriefs, as examples. LPTA is one result of this phenomenon; poor or non-existent communications with industry during the procurement cycle another example; too many RFIs are another; there are others.
The procurement system is an open system and will by definition seek mechanisms to allow the system to sustain itself given all of the system’s constraints and obstacles. Given this premise it is logical that procurement executives will generate policies and practices to get the job done regardless. The government is not being capricious. The confusing and burdensome policies and decisions that are being made are not arbitrary; they are indicators of a failed system.
This failed system is not serving its stakeholders. Government agencies that are trying to meet mission imperatives that can change on a dime, our industry and tax payers are losing. More importantly government and private sector employees are losing their jobs and all that this entails.
We are experiencing a tragedy of the commons. Government and industry has the knowledge and yes the resources to address many of these issues if allowed to do so. Now is the time for candid discussion and meaningful change.
Robert Davis is a 35-year veteran of the government IT marketing and has held positions large and small firms in areas such as marketing and sales, program management, business development and market development. He is an expert in business development, marketing, and management.