NCMA just completed its World Congress in Nashville, where many contract managers and related professionals came together for learning and interaction. A recurring perspective heard from attendees regarding contracting and the current environment: It is gratifying and reassuring to see so many government and industry attendees present who were able to convince their employers and higher-ups of the value of training and keeping current with trends and thought in today’s environment. In fact, many paid their own way or were in attendance while on furlough, PTO, or annual leave. With all the obstacles thrown in front of contracting professionals who are trying to keep up with best practices, their dedication in rising above it is admirable.
The issues being discussed in and out of the training rooms during this event, include themes such as maintaining adequate staffing in the face of hiring freezes, furloughs, and increased attrition. The workload is not decreasing, so who will perform the work? The inhibited communication between government and industry is another concern. Not having time to maintain adequate lines of communication can cause plenty of problems when developing requirements, during the solicitation phase, and during contract performance.
Related to this issue is that of morale. Increasing rules, policies, and legislation; years of pay freezes, combined with today’s furloughs; and continued bashing of the workforce may be chasing away new prospective professionals. Those young enough in their career may consider other alternatives or opportunities. Furloughs are resulting in more than just one day (or 20 percent) of productivity loss each week. Because of the requirement that these professionals “work to the clock,” the actual resulting productivity loss under furloughs may be as high as 40 percent as these folks adhere to a statutorily required “clock-watching” eight-hour day. This is not the way to approach the busiest fourth quarter of the fiscal year.
As a consequence, less overall contracting dollars and increased errors made during the acquisition process is resulting in additional protest activity. The protest process is a legal backstop to ensuring proper management of source selections. There is no short cut or easy workaround (although low-priced technically acceptable source selection evaluations may assist). You have to manage these activities well since everything is subject to later review.
Many prominent speakers complimented World Congress attendees on their professionalism in the face of external events and expressed their appreciation for what they do. We can agree that our leaders from all branches of government and both political parties need to support dedicated professionals that are responsible for executing the multiple programs they themselves have directed to be performed and not tie their hands while they do so. This is accomplished by supporting education and professionalism opportunities; by streamlining and simplifying the laws, policies, and regulations guiding this process; by eliminating conflicting priorities and unnecessary complexity; by providing adequate resources and staff to ensure success; by supporting reasonable risk mitigation strategies and avoiding an after-the-fact oversight mindset; and maybe by saying thank you.
But in the absence of these actions (and most importantly), it will be up to the contracting community itself to come together and demonstrate the professionalism they embody to achieve success against these odds. This is done by displaying the business acumen they are responsible for providing to ensure the business and government they support achieve their goals. Those contracting professionals present at World Congress, by their perseverance in making their way to Nashville, may have demonstrated that professionalism. Against all odds, they obtained 20 hours of contracting education that met all the required training guidelines from OPM, OMB, FAI and DAU. The many thousands of dedicated contracting managers who spent that week (and every other week) working hard to satisfy their customers, stockholders, and citizens, and the many who continue to meet their mission requirements against the many obstacles for not doing so, certainly demonstrate that professionalism.
Thank you to the dedicated contracting professionals who support our government and nation’s economy every day, through the quality of their work and the expertise of their decisions, in managing the programs demanded by our citizens and delivering the goods and services necessary to our nation, even though it often isn’t understood or appreciated!
Michael P. Fischetti
National Contract Management Association (NCMA)