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Nick Wakeman

Can contracting benefit from our budget woes?

About midway through Amber Corrin’s story on budget cuts and procurement, over at FCW.com, is a quote from Mary Davie that provides a bit of a silver lining in today’s dysfunctional world of contracting.

Davie, acting commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at the General Services Administration, was speaking at an AFFIRM event last week, and she said that GSA is looking at different contracting methods, including shared services.

The idea, she said, is to build a “common infrastructure across government, so that each agency isn’t having to repeat basic infrastructure for data and voice networks.”

If the pain and pressure of the current budget environment makes real progress in the direction Davie is describing, then, maybe, what we are going through won’t be such a bad thing.

The government’s overall spending will go down, which might shrink the contracting market some, but the pay-off actually might be a healthier, more sustainable market, where innovation is awarded.

Davie, and the other speakers that Corrin quotes in her story, talk a lot about how they want to change the way contracting is done. And that’s great and important.

But, somehow, that desire to change has to make it from the top to the bottom, down to the contracting officers, and to the other rank and file procurement officials.

A survey yesterday, released by the Professional Services Council, and the accounting firm, Grant Thornton, revealed that acquisition processes are not improving. Many of the same problems identified 10 years ago still exist.

That suggests “that whatever you’ve been doing in the interim to try to address the problems they raised 10 years ago isn’t working,” Stan Soloway, president and CEO of PSC is quoted in an article by FCW staffer, Matthew Weigelt.

That tells me that Davie’s silver lining isn’t reaching the rank and file.

There is no easy answer, even though many of the problems are easy to spot.

Perhaps some of the moves to centralize more IT power with chief information officers, following the model set by Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, might help.

Creating an atmosphere where contracting officers have more freedom, and are encouraged to try more creative procurement methods, is a statement I often hear. Same with more talking and sharing with industry, when contracts are being developed, and requirements, written.

Somehow addressing bid protests is another familiar topic.

I wonder if anyone has ever looked at the time it takes, from the start of a contract, even from the pre-request for information, until awards are made, to identify why even seemingly straight forward IT procurements take years to develop.

And, of course, there has to be a way to focus contracts more on outcomes than on just buying X amount of something.

Perhaps we’ll have some creative answers as the budget pressures continue for the foreseeable future, and agencies and contractors are asked to do more without more money.

It’s the holiday season, so I’m trying to be optimistic.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 18, 2012 at 7:24 PM


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