Discussions about acquisition reform tend to focus on the processes of procurement, and well they should. Despite decades of reform efforts, procurement in the federal marketplace still struggles with challenges centering on issues, like the coordinated management of acquisition and the increased use of commercial terms, conditions, products, and services. As stakeholders in the procurement community continue to address such challenges, there remain less global, but more transactional changes that, if implemented, could go a long way toward bringing efficiency to the contracting process and, thereby, reducing cost and increasing the speed of customer purchasing.
One such change concerns the care and feeding of the contracting workforce at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS). Currently, contracting officers are assigned to work in GSA’s regional offices. Under these circumstances, they operate within the management construct of those regions, often following procedures and practices that are parochial in nature and otherwise implementing local interpretations of law and regulation. In effect, there are contracting “silos within silos,” and their activities often lead to procurement distortions that undermine efficient procurement. Specifically, Coalition members have found regional inconsistencies in the implementation of the contracting process, the timing of modifications, the request for contractor information, and the interpretations of guidance, regulations, and laws. In the meantime, workloads are assigned and administered on a regional basis, impeding the fundamental macro workflow analysis and management that brings speed to the contracting process.
As stated above, we think there might be ways to breakdown the FAS contracting silos, thereby reducing costs and increasing the speed of acquisition. First, there is an opportunity to examine the current chain of command and communication to identify ways to better align contracting practices being implemented across its regions. Second, with the pandemic receding, opportunities exist to encourage in-person training of contracting officers, assuring that each of them receives the same education and messaging regarding the contract administration process as envisioned by the agency. Third, a review of the performance metrics and measures used to assess contracting officers and contracting organizations is in order. The current performance measures have led to unintended consequences that undermine overall performance of the MAS program. For example, refined performance measures around workload and processing time would help FAS balance contract administration across regions, utilizing contracting resources efficiently to expedite contract actions and, thereby, improve the speed of delivery of products and services to agencies. Fourth, there is an opportunity to automate processes to address repetitive, administrative actions across the MAS program thereby reducing the burdens on contracting offices and contractors. Fifth, there is an opportunity to work with industry partners to identify streamlining measures and address divergent procurement practices across the regions. Working together to streamline processes and address consistency will benefit GSA’s customer agencies and the American taxpayer.
It is often said that perfection can be the enemy of the good. In a similar way, the quest for broad, global process reform to apply across the spectrum of government can cloud our vision to immediate opportunities that carry the potential for significant improvement. To its credit, FAS has identified several of the opportunities above and is working to address them. The current inflation challenge, however, has highlighted the need for speed in addressing these opportunities to enhance the MAS program. In particular, enhancing the current chain of command and communication approach will be a multiplier in supporting the care and feeding of the acquisition workforce. The Coalition looks forward to working with FAS as it continues to address these opportunities.