Getting Strategic Results through Performance-Based Acquisition: Public Managers Use Eight Management Practices for Successful Contracting

By Gooden, Vince | The Public Manager, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Getting Strategic Results through Performance-Based Acquisition: Public Managers Use Eight Management Practices for Successful Contracting


Gooden, Vince, The Public Manager


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Contemporary public management demands that managers increasingly arrange, negotiate, and contract for goods and services such as child care, elder care, homeland security, defense, and antiterrorism, among many others. Interviews with managers and leaders, field research, and public management literature reveal eight effective management practices for successful performance contracting. Within this set of practices, building cooperative relationships, equitably distributing goods and services, and governing the contracting process differentiate successful managers from those less successful. In many instances, management of contracting is a complex, time-consuming, and even overwhelming process, so managers should rely on proven practices to get organization-specific results.

Successful Proposals

Successful proposals are well-written, adequately describe a need for the goods or services, present a doable approach to get results, propose appropriate staffing and budgets, and use a standard method for measurement of expected outcomes. Conversely, many submitted proposals are badly written, don't address the proposal requirements, are not cost-effective, have inadequate costing and budgets, and propose no method for measuring outcomes. Successful managers rely on effective practices to submit acceptable proposals for funding.

In project management, goal setting and timelines are the key to a successful outcome. For instance, a community mental health and retardation program in Ohio parted with an emphasis on institutionalization and needed a different set of goals, objectives, and outcomes for the mentally ill. Programs were new and required board and management direction to supervisors and staff, who were new to the concept. The state of Ohio and its counties were at the forefront of making this community-based concept successful, and at one point Ohio ranked fourth in the nation for its effort. Today, we have tools such as project management and database management software to assist in managing these projects.

As the director of a community human service program, I regularly evaluated the program and provided a cost analysis for county commissioners and the community. Also, I was the project leader for evaluation and research of a computer-managed instruction program implemented at U.S. Department of Labor Job Corps sites throughout the country. Interviews and evaluation of students, instructors, and administrators' responses to policy decisions were an important aspect of the project.

Beyond the Contracting Process

Successful managers describe the contracting process using terms such as partnership, win-win situation, reliance on social work background, a fair one, we are in this together, etc. While many of them acknowledge their fiscal acumen, they also understand the programmatic needs and aspects of contracting. This direction is evident from interviews and research and, from what current trends imply, will be needed more in the future.

For instance, the importance of cooperative relationship building has already been highlighted in connection with federal contracting. That is, procurement changes make relationships between government and contractors more personal. Also, the contracting and negotiation process for distributional equity and governance has implications beyond human service contracting.

Briefly, for distributional equity, using multiple methods of assessment to determine who greatly needs services increases the probability that appropriate groups will be served. By doing more strategic planning, both short-and long-term needs can be met. Regularly monitoring service flow and use enables managers to be more informed and make better decisions about distribution and redistribution of services. Also, working with providers to make them more capable and reliable increases the capacity to serve and reach more areas. …

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