Acquisition community is Web 2.0 ready, but scared

Employees are waiting for the administration to lead the way

The acquisition community is certainly ready to use the latest technology to improve government contracting, but the federal employees are scared to start, members of a panel have said.

Acquisition employees — in particular those people who were just hired — know how to use technology, such as social-networking tools, because they’ve been using them in other parts of their lives, said panelist Deidre Lee, executive vice president of federal affairs and operations at the Professional Services Council and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Everything is in place to move forward with the innovations that the technology allows, but people are waiting for the leaders to go first, said government officials and industry experts on a panel at the Open Government and Innovations Conference in Washington said July 21.

“I think the lion’s share is ready, but it’s going to take a lot of courage,” said panelist John Nyce, associate director of the Acquisition Services Directorate.

Employees are scared to start because they're scared to fail. If they fall short, they certainly will face criticism from inspectors general, Congress, the Government Accountability Office and watchdog groups, the panelists said. Acquisition officers often would prefer to shun any attention given to their work and do their job in anonymity, experts and officials said.

To solve the problem of fear, Lee said, the administration’s “leadership has got to step up there and say, ‘Yep, we tried it, made a mistake, noted, move on, let’s try again.’”

The acquisition employees are in a tight huddle, Lee said, and they’ve found it’s easier not to move than to face the criticism that’s sure to come if they take a step.

Nyce said the person who leads the way has to begin “to fight the audits, fight the GAO,” as the acquisition community starts to try new ways to operate.

He also warned those employees unwilling to break out of the huddle. “Quite frankly, if you’re not ready, you’re going to be drug along anyway,” he said. “You may as well join in and fight.”

Washington Technology's owner, the 1105 Government Information Group, sponsors the conference.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

Reader Comments

Thu, Jul 23, 2009 acquisition team member

Perhaps these views were also stated by the panel, but not reported in the article. If not, in the interests of balance, it should also be remembered that failures in acquisitions are often costly to stakeholders in terms of time and effort (and even opportunity), including what it might ultimately take to successfully complete an acquisition. Failure often means re-doing something from some crucial juncture of the process. Another vital factor is the ratio of workload to staffing. How much rework of the acquisition process can the organization absorb before it breaks? In the context of mission-driven timelines, this means taking risks with the customer's priorities; hoping for the best, while being limited in being able to respond effectively to the worst. This is intuitively contrary to what woyld be considered sound business judgment.

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