GSA policy chief takes on acquisition regulations

Turco wants faster, more efficienct processes

The process of amending the government's acquisition regulations runs too slowly for Kathleen Turco, the General Services Administration’s former chief financial officer.

Now, as GSA's associate administrator for governmentwide policy, Turco wants to apply the same tough deadlines to regulatory reform proposals that budget officials face for closing their financial books on time.

In her new job, Turco has been frustrated by the process of changing the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which has often taken years to approve an amendment.

She held a "slam" of senior leaders and government policy experts and hashed out three key areas for improvement:

  • More flexible teams to write and review regulatory proposals
  • Better management processes for making critical decisions
  • Address the learning curve to share the expertise of seasoned veterans with newcomers.

“I said, ‘Golly, what’s the heck is going on here,’ ” Turco said in an interview Feb. 14 about the process for amending acquisition regulations. “In the government, we spend a lot of time thinking and contemplating.”

At the Feb. 9 slam, she gathered senior leaders and government policy experts from GSA, the Defense Department, NASA, and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Martha Johnson, the GSA administrator, brought slams to government. She has led a number of the atypical government meetings where people talk about pertinent issues. Some slams have been described as rowdy and intense and others as polite and orderly. But in all the meetings, the participants are put on the same level to debate the issue at hand and no one leaves until the group reaches the specific goal.

The objective of Turco's slam was to improve the process for reforming procurement regulations. And from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., policy analysts and senior regulatory officials, including Linda Neilson, deputy director for defense acquisition regulations system and chairwoman for the Defense Acquisition Regulatory Council, and administration officials, including Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, debated possible fixes to the eight long steps to changing the FAR.

By the end of the day, they broke down the snags into three areas that need attention.

Officials found that the structure by which teams of analysts write and review regulatory proposals are out of date and rigid, Turco said. They need to be flexible to adjust to the changing demands of agencies. NASA officials will bring back a new proposal for improving the structure by March 31.

The slam also uncovered problems with managing cases. Acquisition officials need to quickly resolve issues and make critical policy decisions. Until officials make their decisions, so much of the procurement process is caught in limbo and it hinders the people working in the procurement field, from contracting officers to government contractors. Turco said DOD officials will propose a fix for the issue by March 31.

Turco and her staff at GSA will deal with the issue of training that is affecting agencies’ procurement policy offices.

At the slam, analysts’ experience ranged from 35 years to seven months. Turco wants to tap the knowledge of the experienced policy analysts to help the newer analysts. In the future, she would like to see a rotation from the contracting offices to the policy offices, so employees can get a feel for writing policy. Right now though, she has to address the learning curve of employees who are new to the policy-writing offices, especially as more experienced workers retire. Her deadline too is March 31.

The FAR Council, which includes executives from DOD, GSA, and NASA and is led by Gordon, will make the final decisions about the proposals.

While some FAR cases have been sitting the queue for several years awaiting a decision, Turco expects the slam will yield a system that can address cases much faster.

“We’re going to reassess this,” she said.

She’s confident, too. As CFO, she made her staff of more than 200 people start moving faster to meet the closeout deadline.

“I think I can move 15 people and a couple more at DOD,” she said.

About the Author

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

Reader Comments

Wed, Feb 16, 2011 Downhill Racer Bethesda, MD

No, don't blame the tower of babble on Congress. Turco inherited a mess that developed steadily since Marty Wagner left the position to do needed heroics in FAS. Week kneed or amateurish execs in the top two GSA positions and GC, abetted by lackadaisical play at OMB, created the current Fubar condition. I agree: this is a commodity business, definitely not rocket science. I am tired of government employees, echoing GW Bush, calling their work "hard" in order to create some excuse for themselves. The more we allow agencies to tailor the process (not the policies), the more waste and abuse, and fraud (by govt employees and contractors) will grow.

Wed, Feb 16, 2011

The regs are a mess. The notion that they need to vary to reflect the detailed interests of every given agency is not sustainable nor desirable. Differences in agency needs in buying commodities and services are grossly overstated. Where they are real they can be managed better than the current $700 hammer results we get whether we do tha calcualtions or not. GSA is precisely the agency to do this. The center of gravity in this problem is the United States Congress and their staffers as well as turf bureaucrats in the Acquisition community. We need fewer regulations by about 75%. And we need standard automation to make the acquisition process consistent, transparent, and EASY across all agencies. This would save billions.

Wed, Feb 16, 2011

One administration "fixes" government acquisition and the next states it is "broken." As they say in programming languages, this is a "continuous do loop!"

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