REPORT

Acquisition survey finds guarded optimism

Federal acquisition leaders are confident about the future of workforce capabilities and see they positive trends in communication and collaboration, a Professional Services Council and Grant Thornton survey found.

The eighth biennial Acquisition Policy Survey was released at the AQUIRE tradeshow presented by Washington Technology’s parent company, 1105 Media.

“This an opportunity to get the voice of the workforce out into the public in a way that provides both useful information but also a little bit of anonymity to those who provide insight,” said David Berteau, CEO of the Professional Services Council, at the presentation during ACQUIRE. 

The survey asked 80 leaders in federal acquisition about their experiences in five key areas.

Workforce:

While 48 percent of respondents reported that trends and changes in acquisition workforce capability remained the same over the last two years, 49 percent believed that capabilities will improve in the next two years.

“One of the things we did this year because it’s an election year is we wanted to have a sense of where are these issues trending today… and as we looked into those numbers, we saw some level of optimism looking forward,” said Phillip Kangas, a principal in Grant Thorton’s Global Public Sector.

Seventy-four percent of respondents said that it was either difficult or very difficult to hire people with the appropriate skill sets, which could be a response to the vague skill set requirements in the acquisition workforce, Kangas said.

Budget:

Budget uncertainty is “the new normal,” Kangas said. Forty-two percent of survey respondents said budget stability has worsened over the last two years, and 41 percent don’t expect this trend to change in the next two to three years.

“With budget uncertainty comes a squelching of access to training, new hiring, development of employees and ultimately inability to move forward, but just to fall back on what is the minimum baseline that has to get done rather than what should be done,” he said.

According to the survey, respondents reported using more bridge contracts, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts and firm-fixed price contracts to combat the budget uncertainty.

Communication and Collaboration:

Respondents agree that communication and collaboration between government and industry are on the upward swing, with 70 percent saying they expect communication to improve in the next two to three years. However, 24 percent expected no change. 

"I think that too reflects some of the uncertainty, some of the risk aversion in the marketplace and some of the inconsistent messaging,” said Alan Chvotkin, the executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council.

Access to Innovation:

Respondents remained positive about the future of innovation in the industry. Forty-three percent said innovation has improved in the last two years, and 57 percent believe it will continue to improve in the next two to three years.

Twenty-nine percent said agency workforce skills were a barrier to innovation, while 26 percent believed a fear of oversight and protests were an obstacle.

“It’s clear that despite the energy from the talk around innovation, there is still no organized and certainly no centralized comprehensive strategy for pursuing innovation by, for and within the government or from its contractors,” said Chvotkin.

Oversight and Compliance:

Fifty-five percent of respondents reported that oversight and compliance has remained stagnant in the last two years, and 46 percent said they didn't expect to see change in the next two to three years.

“That is a troubling number, that they still see oversight regimes that exist both in the regulatory and the oversight communities to be a significant barrier,” said Chvotkin.

Facing the Future:

The survey also asked respondents about the initiatives and practices instituted during the Obama administration and how they would fare after the November election.

“Of course, when you’re in the eighth year of an administration, there’s a lot of initiatives that are underway, and the general feel was, ‘Don’t throw those out,’” Berteau said. “They’re starting to work, they’re starting to take effect, if you will.”

According to the survey, a popular suggestion among respondents for the next administration was to freeze procurement policy changes.

About the Author

Hannah Lang is an intern with Washington Technology. You can reach out to her at hlang@1105media.com.

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