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“Re-Engineering” Acquisition Management

This week, the Coalition had the honor of addressing the Section 809 Acquisition Advisory Panel (the 809 Panel).  The 809 Panel takes its name from Section 809 of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorized the establishment of an advisory panel on streamlining DoD acquisition regulations.  It is sponsored by the Defense Acquisition University and the National Defense University, includes 18 current or former government acquisition executives, and is chaired by former OFPP Administrator Deidra Lee. The Coalition appreciated the opportunity to represent the interests of its members before the Panel and assist its vital work of identifying and addressing opportunities to improve federal acquisition to ensure best value mission support for the warfighter.
The Section 809 Panel is just one example of a growing recognition among stakeholders across the procurement community that the acquisition system is in need of innovative “reengineering.”  Notwithstanding the various procurement community perspectives on federal procurement, few would dispute that the review of processes, procedures, and regulations is a necessary and significant element of the reengineering needed to improve acquisition efficiency and effectiveness.  More than ever before, streamlining the process and reducing regulatory burdens are fundamental to increasing vendor market access and providing the government the innovative commercial products, services, and solutions that deliver best value for the American people.
Streamlined, flexible procurement frameworks will not achieve their intended results without a change to, among other things, the current oversight-driven, risk-averse culture that stifles innovation.  Senior management must support acquisition professionals and program managers in exercising their discretion to meet mission requirements.  The current obsession with a “gotcha” oversight ethos destroys initiative and stifles creativity.   Most troublingly, it drives process-driven compliance rather than results-driven outcomes.  Leadership empowers people to take risks to succeed and to fail.  This empowerment is how organizations improve and succeed over the long-term.  My favorite quote on this subject comes from William McKnight, who served as Chairman of the Board of 3M from 1949 to 1966 who articulated this basic rule of management:
“As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way.”
“Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs.”“Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue grow.”


The McKnight Management Principles.

William McKnight reminds us that people matter, leadership is critical, and true leadership is about sustaining an environment where talent can flourish.  Current efforts to “reengineer” acquisition regulations and processes will not succeed in an inflexible oversight environment. We must regain the initiative to foster a culture that tolerates rational experimentation and risk taking.


The Coalition looks forward to continuing the dialogue with the Section 809 Panel and working with all stakeholders across the procurement system on this important issue.

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