Academic journal article The Public Manager

Best Practices in Federal Acquisition: A Former Senior Procurement Executive at the US Departments of Commerce and the Treasury Sets the Stage for a New Series on Government Acquisition Reform and Provides a Wide Panorama of Promising New Directions

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Best Practices in Federal Acquisition: A Former Senior Procurement Executive at the US Departments of Commerce and the Treasury Sets the Stage for a New Series on Government Acquisition Reform and Provides a Wide Panorama of Promising New Directions

Article excerpt

In 2001, the most recent year for which statistics are readily available, federal agencies reported 11,410,869 contract actions, spending over $234 billion. Of that, about $140 billion was spent on services. An additional 24,443,850 purchase card transactions were reported, valued at over $13 billion. Thus, in one year, the federal government expended, through various buying techniques, nearly a quarter of trillion dollars. To put that in perspective, in 2001 only 17 of the 176 nations listed by the World Bank had a gross domestic product larger than that year's federal acquisition expenditures. Clearly, with these kinds of numbers, goods and services in a staggering array of type, quantity, and value moved into the federal realm.

How well did they move into the federal system? Are procurement officials functioning as the business managers as some argue that they should be? Have we finally accepted that results, not process, are the right way to support agency missions?

Six years ago, I wrote an article that was published in Contract Management magazine entitled "The Procurement Manager of the Future." My challenge to the procurement community was to become the master of a new relationship with the private sector. I argued that by the late 1990s we had a dazzling array of new laws and regulations allowing unprecedented creativity and innovation. Through technology, we had far more opportunity for sharing best practices. We knew that the government would continue to devolve functions that the private sector could perform better. I suggested that procurement managers now had the opportunity to form a new alliance with the private sector through partnering, long-term and value-based relationships with our suppliers, and suggested that through this new relationship, we could optimize our contribution to meeting mission needs and satisfying our customers.

Procurement Management Vision

I painted this picture of what a procurement organization of the rapidly approaching 21st century should look like.

   The shop will have a highly respected, senior-level leader with
   access to the head of the organization; significant programs and
   policies to attract, reward, develop, and put people first; teams who
   are excited about finding new best practices and who are empowered to
   make decisions; a passion for mission accomplishment enabled by
   relentless and skillful use of outcome-oriented performance measures;
   information systems that produce real-time management information and
   management decisions made from that information; and clear and
   unambiguous means for holding people accountable.

Are we there? Unfortunately, we are not even close. Although two of the current administration's priority programs (competitive sourcing and performance-based contracting) directly involve procurement and there have been ongoing efforts and concern about improving the acquisition workforce, except for isolated pockets led by innovative leaders who are willing to take a risk and try something different, we are no closer now to my vision than when I wrote the article.

Why? That's not the purpose of this article. You already know why so I won't repeat it here. Regardless of the many reasons for lack of progress, the challenge nonetheless is the need to make progress toward becoming mission-focused, efficient procurement organizations. What I will do here is identify several best practices that are emerging in the public sector with the hope that you will see one or two that have special appeal to you. Try them out or encourage your procurement office to try them out.

Changing Acquisition Environment

In our work with over 70 federal acquisition organizations and our extensive, ongoing research into both government and industry practices, a number of areas have emerged as overarching best practices.

First, let me put these practices into perspective. …

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