All of us can probably agree that each year seems to go by faster than the year before. The older we become, the rate at which we age seems to increase. So now, with 2016 upon us, (and without providing a comprehensive listing of new contracting laws, statutes, regulations, personnel changes, or best practices during 2015), perhaps it’s best to simply summarize and reflect on what 2015 might signify regarding acquisition success. Let’s also not use the “R” word even though talking about acquisition reform keeps us blog writers and consultants busy.
Some initiatives that began with great fanfare are no longer around. The government almost “closed” again, although the list of program exceptions to shutdowns is now so large that many don’t notice. Those programs with greater lobbying power are essential, while many very worthy programs are used as pawns. Probably the greatest damage to government contracting, dwarfing any new legislative improvement, is the indecisive nature and short-term environment under which government programs must operate.
GSA launched initiatives in category management, including its acquisition gateway, eBuy Open and other initiatives intended to improve contracting officer market knowledge and vehicles available to meet specific needs and better leverage government buying power.
The Department of Defense says it’s at a 35-year best in controlling costs for major acquisition programs and bestowed a variety of 15 individual and five organization awards for the past year. Heidi Shyu stepped down as the Army’s acquisition executive and off of the acquisition “bus,” where she coined the analogy that all acquisition program “passengers” have a brake and steering wheel, but no gas pedal.
Legislation intended to improve the current process within information technology is underway and new legislation within DoD was passed. It will be sometime before it is clear how well these latest changes have performed.
Discussion with today’s acquisition leaders reveals a determination to do the right thing as best as possible despite the peripheral (beyond acquisition) system challenges at each step. This past year may best be remembered for cyber security breaches; new and enhanced multiple-crises emanating from the Middle East; successful space probes and retrieval; cyclones, earthquakes, and changing climates; gun violence from Tunis to California; and a never-ending political campaign.
For contracting managers, the faster nature of societal change and news cycles may mask the great strides being made to respond more effectively to ever-changing government requirements and outsourcing needs. Ineffective conference, education, and industry communication restrictions appear to be abating. However, lengthy debate over government salary, bonuses, or predetermined solutions to unresearched acquisition problems continues.
From a contracting standpoint, 2015 may not be momentous in terms of single legislation or headlines. However, the complexities and challenges of successfully navigating today’s acquisition environment—from reduced spending to cyber security to Federal Reserve policy to the sheer complicated nature of the business enterprise itself—continues to grow. The requirements are harder, and the solutions harder still. Contractors supporting the government (and indeed the government itself) have a more difficult time understanding how to prepare, respond, and execute to these ever-evolving challenges. From workforce to technology, uncertainty is increasing and proven solutions decreasing. A new workforce is growing up in an environment of more employment uncertainty, from challenges to the education they’ve received to the manner of training and on-the-job experience they need.
However, we should all be impressed by the professionals working within this environment and what they accomplish. They don’t have time to publicly write or promote their efforts, but they are there and are noble. The year 2016 promises to be no easier than 2015. Our contracting leaders and managers are up to the challenge, but let’s understand for ourselves the causes and concerns, offer our advice and support, and be part of the solution.
Michael P. Fischetti
National Contract Management Association