Study: Fed execs want procurements based on best value

Senior federal procurement executives strongly support robust, fair competition for federal work, the competitive sourcing process and making purchasing decisions based on best value rather than lowest cost, according to a study released today.

However, the procurement executives are concerned they don't have adequate political support for competitive sourcing - conducting public-private competitions for federal work - or for making best-value determinations, the study found.

They also said their acquisition staff members, as well as agency program managers, sorely need training and additional resources to carry out their responsibilities effectively.

The study was released by the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va., trade group representing services companies selling to the government.

PSC and Chicago-based management consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP conducted the qualitative survey last summer, holding one-on-one interviews with 22 procurement executives in major agencies, only one of whom is a political appointee.

The procurement executives want to do best-value procurements, in which proposed solutions are evaluated according to how they will best meet agency needs, taking vendor past performance, as well as cost, into account, said Grant Thornton's Andrea White. Nevertheless, decisions are often made based upon cost, she said.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to cost," she said. "Procurement executives are not sure their folks feel they are really empowered to do [best value] right or have the tools to do it right. Contracting officers really are afraid to say this organization is a little higher [cost], and I can do that."

Few executives participating in the survey opposed competing government work that is commercial in nature. They expressed frustration that they could not make sourcing decisions based on best value under the current Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, which lays out rules for conducting public-private competitions.

Many said they believed moving toward a process based on the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which is contained in a proposed A-76 revision, would help correct that weakness.

However, many said they felt threatened by the heated politics surrounding competitive sourcing.

According to the study, the executives believe the concerns of individual members of Congress and the political clout of employee unions are major barriers to progress. Many opponents of the competitive sourcing process say it is an excuse to outsource federal jobs.

The executives "said the political pressures make it really difficult to do our jobs," said Stan Soloway, president of PSC.

The report is meant to inform agency and industry executives of the challenges facing government acquisition employees, and to create some momentum for change, PSC and Grant Thornton executives said.

"If a document like this can help get the message out, we can support the agencies and get the message to the Hill," said Paul Wohlleben, a partner with Grant Thornton.

The report will be distributed to procurement executives and a select group on Capitol Hill, said Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel for PSC.

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