US Government Procurement: Walking on the Treadmill Without Shedding the Pounds

We talk a lot here at Spend Matters about assessing the role of procurement within organizations so that processes can become more transparent and streamlined, driving efficiency and cost savings. It seems to me, though, that there's a conundrum when it comes to actually doing so. The example comes to mind of how everyone knows how to lose weight (eat less, exercise more) -- yet America remains the most obese nation in the entire world. How, then, do we take knowledge (that we know) and actually transfer it to action items that lead to results? How can we put government procurement processes on the treadmill, so to speak?

MeriTalk recently released a report (you can download it here, but they request information) entitled "Federal Procurement Reform: Change Takes More Than Words." They surveyed the federal procurement community to survey current methods and elicit input on possible improvements. Surprise, surprise -- one of the most common comments ran along these lines:

"It's difficult to work through the current bureaucracy and accomplish goals due to complicated processes and contract vehicles in place." - Contracting Officer / Specialist

The report is, however, somewhat optimistic: "Federal procurement managers estimate they can save 30% of their budgets with more efficient procurement processes," which equates to about $158 billion in one year. These procurement manages know what the problems are, and really want to fix them. Currently, 28% of federal projects are over budget / schedule, and they want to reduce this number to 10%. Only 12% of Federal procurement managers grade their agencies an "A" in procurement process maturity, with the majority falling into the B / C range, top challenges being processes, program / project management, staffing, and accountability.

The report goes on to provide a list of problems, firstly mentioning that government agencies are required to use earned value management (EVM) and capital planning and investment control (CPIC), yet only 17% and 14% implement these strategies, respectively. Next, the report exposes that more than 50% (and 85% with CPIC) of employees lack training in these core competencies. Furthermore, 49% of the surveyed said they want to "increase top-down transparency and management," but only "18% say they plan to leverage technology innovations such as Web 2.0 to report contract ROI" and "only 21% say they plan to encourage citizen participation and actively address inquiries."

Their fix comes in the form of three handy bullet points:

  • Get With It: Use required best practices
  • Get Smart: Invest in workforce education
  • Get Hip: Embrace transparency mandates

...and that's it. Eat less, exercise more. "What's the point in trying to mandate new reforms when we're not funding existing mandates," said Steve O'Keeffe, founder, MeriTalk. "We need to equip agencies with robust, standardized EVM and CPIC tools as well as invest in training for government management professionals if we're going to realize better outcomes for America."

True. But hurling forth on unsurprising survey results isn't enough to get agencies and departments to proverbially give up the morning doughnut and turn off the TV to go for a run, now is it? Nor is walking on a treadmill, consuming as many calories as you burn. Truth be told, we need a Federal procurement diet -- and that starts with executive and legislative direction and oversight, not just acquisition reform.

Sheena Moore

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