Winter 2014
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The Public Manager

A Conversation About Acquisition

Monday, December 15, 2014

We have a unique opportunity to transform the acquisition system to reflect both today's changed business environment and the challenges of tomorrow.

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forum
An unusual cross-section of acquisition experts has prepared the articles for the Forum in this issue of The Public Manager. We hear from government, business, and academia: the Small Business Administration's John Shoraka, ASI Government CEO Kymm McCabe, George Washington University law professor Steven L. Schooner and law student Nathaniel E. Castellano, consultant T.E. Winchell, former Defense Contract Management Agency Director Charlie Williams, and IBM Federal's Anne Altman. This procurement Forum offers insights on a wide array of issues from an equally wide array of perspectives.

The importance of this dialogue cannot be overstated. Today, nearly $1 of every $2 of the discretionary portion of the federal budget goes out through a contract; even more is expended through grants. Yet, we would be hard-pressed to find many government managers or frontline professionals who have great confidence in the current state of federal acquisition.

Too often, programmatic failures are placed at the feet of the acquisition system and its workforce when the real, root problems emanated from elsewhere. Nonetheless, there are real problems and real challenges within the acquisition community.

These problems are not the fault of the people, per se. Even a casual observer knows the government is blessed by a committed, mission-focused workforce. We know that the workforce is under-resourced and overloaded, and operates in a world of unreasonable "defect-free" expectations.

We also know that government workers often lack the tools, empowerment, incentives, and support necessary to perform at their maximum potential. The fact that these challenges exist at a time of such profound change both magnifies their impact and opens the door to entirely new ways of thinking about the acquisitions workforce—their roles, their education, and the culture within which they must work every day.

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Pay attention to articles in this Forum that offer tactical and practical insight, such as Schooner's discussion on the emergence of procurement contests, Winchell's advice on how to optimize an acquisition process and leverage outside support, Altman's thoughts on how advances in IT affect engaging and buying, and Shoraka's piece on the role of the Small Business Administration.

Make sure to pay equal attention to those that take the longer view, such as Williams' perspective on building and enhancing the acquisition workforce, or McCabe's compelling essay on thinking about, and planning for, a very different future.

Acquisition success will not come solely as a result of tinkering, although we must and always will tinker. It will only come as the result of a true transformation, as trite as that term might be. So, even as we necessarily continue to tinker, let's look to the long term.

Let's recognize that we have an opportunity now that will not come again for decades. It's up to us, all across the spectrum of those engaged in and passionate about improving government performance, to collectively turn it into a reality.

About the Author

Stan Soloway is president and CEO of the Professional Services Council and the former deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition reform.

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