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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Government contracting: Where's the value?

As I’ve been thinking about good contract management, I’ve seen a couple articles recently that illustrate a fundamental challenge of good management in the government.

One was a blog by GSA’s Mary Davie talking about how the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative has driven savings of 27 percent in wireless spending due to a group of blanket purchase agreements.

Our sister publication, FCW.com, had an article this week about a GSA-Salesforce BPA to consolidate how the government buys customer relationship management software.

Nextgov.com has a column by Kevin Merritt, CEO of Socrata, talking about the challenge of innovation in the government.

Nextgov also has an infographic listing government priorities for 2016. In a nutshell, these priorities include improved citizen services, greater transparency and improved service delivery.

All of this leads me to one final article by Zach Noble at FCW, looking at the challenge government chief financial officers and CIOs have in measuring success.

That article gets to what I’ve been thinking about – how exactly do you measure success in the government? And as I look more at good post-award contract management, your measure of success is critical.

A lot of people talk about the need to look at outcomes over process, but what is the ideal outcome?

As I look around the government, I see many worthy, but competing values:

  • Cost savings
  • Greater efficiency
  • Better citizen service
  • More security

The list can go on and on.

Achieving any goal needs to be balanced against available resources. I suppose that’s the critical skill good government managers need.

Another skill is being able to identify the ultimate goal or goals and being able to communicate that to the contractor community.

A risk, I suppose, is being too narrowly focused and losing sight of other impacts. Cost savings is great, but what if the product or service that is delivered is inferior?

So, what is the best way to determine the value you are trying to deliver, and then managing against that?

Is that a good parameter for talking about good management? I look forward to your comments.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 22, 2016 at 9:29 AM

Reader Comments

Tue, Jan 26, 2016 Thomas White Washington DC

Having managed federal services contracts and contractors for many years as an agency line manager (not CO), the true measure of success is: Does the contract effectively and efficiently support you to achieve your organization's mission requirements in the agency. That's it in a nutshell.

Sat, Jan 23, 2016 Mel Ostrow

All good, worthy points. We could, and some of us did, make these 30 years ago. Little has changed. Both contractors and their client overseers have presided over some good and many bad, subpar deliveries of services (am not even addressing hardware of any kind). Everyone seems to get paid and suffer no business or career penalty for poor performance of contractors or of government in any stage of the cycle. There are millions of jobs involved, including a couple of hundred thousand government job. One can only conclude that all concerned like the current environment, with all its flaws. Even the business of "reform" and "performance improvement" is a bell-ringer for more contracts, more time on the job, govt promotions. We can only expect change in narrow circumstances where extraordinary waste, negligence, criminality, and Harm to the National Interest are readily apparent. But there is no denying that all waste and malperformance of govt and contractors is hurtful. One final note: even the most skilled media organizations have made only occasional and slight contributions to baring the extent and pain of the problem to the public. False claims are a broad plague that is only barely covered, and often misunderstood, by the hapless "media." They, too, or so it seems, like the current situation too much to generate the information that might trigger change. Ask yourself which presidential contender could make a dent in this? Certainly not Hillary, Bush or most of the rest of them.

Fri, Jan 22, 2016 Prof. Samuel D. Bornstein Oakhurst, Nj

In 2010, GSA applied the procurement procedures of Strategic Sourcing to GSA Schedule 75-Office Supplies. The resulting cost savings have been touted for the 10s of millions of dollars of "savings". Unfortunately, GSA failed to consider the true cost to this small business federal contracting community. In effect, a Cost-Benefit Analysis was never performed. Lacking this CBA there was no way of knowing whether this Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) was doing more good than harm. The harm would be identified as the Economic and Social Cost of Job Losses which resulted from the basic precept of FSSI which is to award contracts to a select few, while subjecting the vast majority to business distress, closures, and job loss for their employees. In this time of economic uncertainty, small businesses and jobs are critical. My fear is that the federal government is being very shortsighted when it is driven by savings, without considering the cost of these savings.

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