Panel: Agencies sharpen skills for performance-based deals

Over the next year, government acquisition officials will focus on improving the ability of their procurement workforces to manage performance-based contracts, a panel of experts said this week.

In performance-based contracting, contractors, not government agencies, are responsible for managing projects they are doing for the government, and they receive financial rewards for meeting performance goals.

Today, about 40 percent of the federal government's contracts are or appear to be performance-based, as opposed to around 26 percent in 2001, said Robert Burton, associate administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. He was one of three procurement officials who participated on a panel that discussed interagency contracting at the Government Electronics and IT Association conference Oct. 19 in Falls Church, Va.

Before, government procurement workers were encouraged to keep industry at arm's length, Burton said, adding that OFPP for the past few years has been trying to reverse this mentality.

"Performance-based contracting requires a very close working relationship with industry to be effective," he said. OFPP will emphasize the training of acquisition personnel on how to define performance measures to evaluate contractors, instead of describing in detail how contractors should perform their jobs.

"Our performance must be more outcome focused," Burton said.

OFPP is reviewing agency responses it requested for identifying skills gaps in acquisition workforces, and how to address them. Many agency officials have stressed the need for advanced negotiation skills, especially in performance-based contracting, Burton said.

David Capitano, deputy director of the Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, echoed Burton's call for properly trained acquisition professionals to handle performance-based contracts. He also said the Defense Department offers training for all its procurement officials and specialized training where it's needed.

Table negotiations are an important area for the Defense Department's procurement force.

"We don't want our contract officer just to be a referee between the auditor and the price analyst," Capitano said. "We want them to be a leader in negotiations and negotiation skills."

John Johnson, commissioner of Integrated Technology Service at the General Services Administration, said that as his division moves toward performance-based contracting, it would have to put the infrastructure, systems and people in place to manage the contracts.

"We don't have the systems or the processes to manage those as we would like to," Johnson said.

As for his acquisition workforce in general, Johnson said he is thinking about bringing program managers and technical managers together with customers.

"We can ease some of the burden off the contracting officers and has some of that work be done wile the contracting officers focus on some of the significant programs," he said.

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