Acquisition pros report optimism despite budget uncertainty

A survey of federal acquisition specialists from the Professional Services Council found positive views of the workforce and communication efforts.

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Federal acquisition specialists are pessimistic about the budget climate, a new Professional Services Council survey found, but there are other glimmers optimism to be found.

The trade group's survey of 65 acquisition officials found that despite challenges on many fronts, workforce capacity is improving and communication inside government and with industry is getting better.

Sixty percent, however, said budget conditions have worsened over the last few years, and with just 19 percent believing that things will get better in the near-term.

When it comes to innovation, opinions were decidedly mixed. Alan Chvotkin, PSC's senior vice president and general counsel, said at a July 18 press roundtable that could be because innovation has not been precisely defined within the federal acquisition process. The term can mean many things, from trying to nail down how to get existing innovative commercial products into the federal government's pipeline to rethinking the ways to draft or develop a contract.

The complicated federal view of innovation, combined with acquisition regulations and contract protest fears, are also barriers for commercial companies from entering the federal market, according to the study.

Chvotkin noted that some existing innovative practices, primarily Other Transaction Authorities (OTAs) and innovation labs, are taking hold at agencies as ways to avoid getting bogged down in traditional contracting efforts.

One survey respondent said that leadership is key to expanding such efforts. " We need leadership at the agency level," the acquisition specialist said. "If something is not prohibited in the [Federal Acquisition Regulation], that means it’s allowed. Someone needs to say, 'Go do it and I’ll have your back.'"

More than 80 percent of respondents said they expect the use of innovative acquisition practices to get better over the next two to three years, while 70 percent said that they expect access to innovative industry capabilities to improve.

The workforce is getting more seasoned, too, Chvotkin said, noting that those brought on board since the federal hiring freeze was lifted in 2014 have had a few years to hone their experience.