We all know that government executives drinking champagne from a Las Vegas hot tub during an agency-sponsored conference is bad. Congress and the president were right to react as they did. However, current education and training restrictions go too far. The relatively small savings gained by prohibiting employees from leaving their desks to learn or interact with industry counterparts is miniscule compared to higher contracting costs due to lack of knowledge and understanding. Poorly written or managed contracts and miscommunications ultimately cost taxpayers. Note that protests are up!
Our government now depends on contractors to do everything demanded of citizens. This increasing reliance evolved under administrations from both political parties. Current hiring restrictions, furloughs, increased missions, and accelerated retirements are exacerbating this trend. Contracting activity is increasing as agencies adjust to new fiscal realities. While there may be fewer contracting dollars, this doesn’t equate to a decreased contracting workload. Denying professional development to contract managers makes this situation even worse.
Government and industry acquisition professionals can meet these challenges by working together. But building that relationship and clear understanding from both sides of the table is best done through face-to-face communication—not by video teleconference or webinar!
National Contract Management Association (NCMA) members take great pride in this work. Contracting managers are responsible for over $1 trillion on contracts, grants, and loans per year. Being trained and experienced is essential to efficient government operations. Contract managers protect taxpayer and ownership interests by managing the laws, regulations, and policies demanded by the president, Congress, and their own organizations’ chief executive officers. OMB’s 25-Point Myth-Busting Plan encourages productive interactions between federal agencies and industry during acquisition: “Industry partners are the experts in what solutions are available in the marketplace.” The FAR also encourages vendor communication. Just as in any other profession, contracting managers require professional development to remain current.
Recent GAO Report 13-231 highlighted the government’s failure to determine relevant metrics, funding, and staff for training. Yet commonly adopted, competency-based principles for this profession already exist. NCMA programming aligns directly to the Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK) and its competencies. This is why the Office of Personnel Management last week again approved employee attendance for NCMA’s World Congress educational event in July. Not unlike bodies of knowledge in other professions, the CMBOK should be widely supported and ultimately adopted, starting with removing current employee training and travel restrictions.
Government and industry acquisition professionals are patriotic and hard-working. They dedicate themselves to a “fair and reasonable price” for the billions in taxpayer dollars they manage each day. Let them professionally develop and ultimately lower government costs for us all!
Michael P. Fischetti
National Contract Management Association (NCMA)