Winter 2014
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The Public Manager

Buying Smartly

Monday, December 15, 2014

Few things are more complicated than federal acquisition regulations (maybe the Internal Revenue Code or U.S. civil service rules), yet the goods and services they help purchase add up to a significant portion of our national economy. Indeed, nearly $1 of every $2 of the discretionary portion of the federal budget goes out through a contract.


So like them or not, those pesky acquisition regulations—and the professionals who administer them—likely affect just about every public manager. We can't get our jobs done without them, but it can sometimes be quite challenging to reconcile those arcane regulatory requirements with the imperative to achieve results.

That's a challenge we place squarely on the shoulders of today's acquisition professionals, and it requires quite a balancing act. As the stewards of the taxpayer, they are the ones we citizens have ultimately entrusted to ensure that our hard-earned money is spent wisely, and they're the ones who must strike a balance between the mandate for economy and efficiency on the one hand, and mission effectiveness on the other. It's no wonder that our oft-beleaguered procurement pros describe that balancing act as Mission Impossible. They have plenty of rules to follow, but those rules don't answer the tough questions or obviate the judgment calls.

But while almost everyone agrees on the need for acquisition reform, there's not nearly as much agreement on what form it should take. Does it mean more rules or fewer, more procedures or more common sense, more classroom requirements or more on-the-job training, more oversight or more personal accountability? Or is the answer all of the above?


Consider the October 2014 report, Defense Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go from Here?, which examines the Department of Defense's acquisition processes and policies in some depth. DoD is the government's largest spender of contracting dollars (it even has its own voluminous Defense Acquisition Regulation), as well as the largest employer of procurement professionals, and it's still trying to figure it all out.

This issue's Forum, put together by my good friend and colleague Stan Soloway (himself a procurement pro par excellence) tackles those tough questions head on. Given the impact that procurement has on the ability of today's public managers to do their jobs, it makes for important and interesting reading.

Ron Sanders
Chairman, The Bureaucrat Inc. Board of Directors
[email protected]

About the Author

Ronald Sanders is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton, and the firm’s first fellow. In that capacity, Ronald helps the firm’s most strategic clients deal with pressing human capital and organizational transformation challenges. Ronald joined Booz Allen after more than 37 years in federal service. Over the course of his career, he served as the U.S. Intelligence Community’s first chief human capital officer,  U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s first chief human resources officer, and the U.S. Department of Defense’s director of civilian personnel and equal employment opportunity. His most recent book is Tackling Wicked Government Problems: A Practical Guide for Enterprise Leaders.

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