Should we be hopeful about acquisition reform? Maybe now is the time

It's often the same old song and dance when it comes to the issues surrounding acquisition reform, but the Professional Services Council and the accounting firm Grant Thornton are bringing something a little different to the table: A glimmer of hope that something can be done about it.

The two organizations released this week their 2014 Acquisition Policy Survey, which covers the highlights and concerns surrounding acquisition reform in the government market.

One troubling finding: 40 percent of the federal workforce has less than five years of experience and another 40 percent are approaching or at retirement age.

“We are going to see in the next several years essentially an entirely new generation of acquisition professionals in government,” said PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway.

But there might be a silver lining. While many consider this to be a problem, it is also a rare opportunity to actually enact change, he added.

Of course, there are some big issues standing in the way. The survey points out “remarkable consistency in perspective” over the years, which Soloway and others consider “a cause for great concern because while, as it’s reported, there is some improvement, the improvement is modest at best.”

For the most part, these issues come as no surprise, but Soloway, along with PSC’s Alan Chvotkin and Grant Thornton principal Phil Kangas, highlighted a few findings worth mentioning.

“Training is not available as needed is one particular finding,” Kangas said.

Because of budget cuts, for example, some agencies have been reducing their training budgets or sometimes terminating them completely, Soloway said. But the problem does not end there; “What we’re getting from folks across DOD is that the workforce improvement is not showing up, they are not getting the training that they need.”

“We’re training them for the world that was, as opposed to the world at is,” he added.

Government also has a hard time competing with industry for talent, often not being able to attract young professionals as well as industry can,” Kangas said.

Soloway said that the survey also probed new issues that it had not looked at in the past.

“When you look at what government leaders are saying across the board, innovation is the word of the day.” However, when the results were in and respondents were asked to rank different possible objectives for procurement, innovation was ranked next to last.

Below that, in dead last, was attracting new, nontraditional firms to the market, Soloway added.

But despite these serious issues, Soloway and company were optimistic that these issues have reached a level of visibility where something can actually be done about them.

For one, Chvotkin said, he is already seeing the new Congress abuzz with talk of procurement issues, which will hopefully lead to streamlined acquisition processes and better outcomes.

Combined with the work that Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, is doing, “there’s the beginnings of signs that folks are recognizing the need for some change,” Soloway said.

In addition to issues surrounding the state of the workforce and innovation, the survey also tackled issues around communication and collaboration as well as oversight and compliance. The complete survey results is available for download here.

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a senior staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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