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Vern Edwards

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  1. Money, Politics, and Public Contracts

    Now that President?Elect Obama has announced his intention to launch a massive public works program to fight the recession, we can look forward to more entries in the perennial debate about whether or not Congress should repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, 40 U.S.C. ? 3141 et seq., 29 C.F.R. Part 5, and FAR 22.403-1 and 22.404. Davis-Bacon, enacted in 1931 and applicable to construction contracts priced at more than $2,000, principally provides as follows: ? 3142 (a) The advertised specifications for every contract in excess of $2,000, to which the Federal Government or the District of Columbia is a party, for construction, alteration, or repair, including painting and decorating, of public buildings and public works of the Government or the District of Columbia that are located in a State or the District of Columbia and which requires or involves the employment of mechanics or laborers shall contain a provision stating the minimum wages to be paid various classes of laborers and mechanics. "( The minimum wages shall be based on the wages the Secretary of Labor determines to be prevailing for the corresponding classes of laborers and mechanics employed on projects of a character similar to the contract work in the civil subdivision of the State in which the work is to be performed, or in the District of Columbia if the work is to be performed there." The Act was written by two Republican members of Congress (that's right, Republican): Representative Robert Bacon of Long Island and Senator James J. Davis of Pennsylvania, who were prompted to do so out of fear that low cost black labor would undercut the wages of white workers in competitions for government construction work. See: Bernstein, The Davis-Bacon Act: Let?s Bring Jim Crow to an End, Cato Institute, 1993, http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-017.html. It has inspired an extensive popular and scholarly literature. There are two main schools of thought: (1) The Davis-Bacon Act is an out-of-date law that inflates the cost of government construction projects and discriminates against low-skilled non-union workers. (2) The Davis-Bacon Act is essential to the protection of workers on government construction projects. It?s easy to find expressions of the anti-Davis-Bacon school of thought. See, e.g., the 1995 article posted to the Heritage Foundation website: Four Reasons Why Congress Should Repeal Davis-Bacon, by Mark Wilson, http://www.heritage.org/Research/GovernmentReform/bu252.cfm. See also Bringing Home the Davis-Bacon, by Ivan Osorio, at the American Spectator website, http://spectator.org/archives/2005/09/13/b...the-davis-bacon. For a recent scholarly and extensively documented critical analysis, see Glassman, et al., The Federal Davis-Bacon Act: The Prevailing Mismeasure of Wages (2008), available at http://www.beaconhill.org/BHIStudies/PrevW...080207Final.pdf. In that study the authors conclude: ?Since its creation in 1931, the Davis-Bacon Act has required the Department of Labor to calculate and enforce a ?prevailing wage? for workers employed on federally funded construction projects. We find that the WHD [Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division] employs unrepresentative survey and measurement methods that produce wages estimates that are biased upward. Moreover, the burden of calculating prevailing wages is beyond the ability of the WHD, despite recent increases in resources. The methods used by the WHD to calculate the prevailing wage produce estimates that are biased upward, resulting in a 9.91% overpayment on all federally funded construction projects, costing taxpayers $8.6 billion annually. The BLS [bureau of Labor Statistics], another branch of DOL, also routinely calculates wages for hundreds of occupations. We find the BLS methodology to be much stronger and timely leading to more accurate wage measurements than under the WHD methodology. ?The ideal solution would be to repeal the DBA. However, if it is the wish of voters and taxpayers that construction workers get the wage that prevails in the community, rather than the wage that workers might get if contractors brought in outside labor, then the government should make an accurate determination of the prevailing wage. To this end, the WHD should utilize the BLS survey data to determine the prevailing wages.? See also, Bernstein, The Shameful, Wasteful, History of New York?s Prevailing Wage Law, George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal, Spring 1997: ?Davis-Bacon and New York's prevailing wage law had a devastating effect on the employment of African-Americans in the New York construction industry. Prevailing wage requirements meant that there was no economic benefit to hiring non-union labor on public-works projects. As a result, contractors hired the generally more highly-skilled unionized workers. Moreover, because they had to pay the same wages regardless of who they hired, contractors working on large-scale federal construction projects found it most economically efficient to recruit construction workers directly through AFL union locals, which in many cases were overwhelmingly or exclusively white because of discriminatory membership policies. [FN39] By hiring union members, contractors could also avoid politically-motivated investigations into their wage practices. Because the construction craft unions had few or no African-American members, union contractors rarely hired African-Americans for skilled positions.? Footnote omitted. It seems to be harder to find expressions of the pro-Davis-Bacon point of view, but see Davis-Bacon Under Attack, Beware Stealth Strategies, from the April 2002 edition of the IBEW Journal, available at http://www.ibew.org/articles/02journal/0204/p12.htm. A well-documented ?working paper? in support of Davis-Bacon was published by the Economics Department of the University of Utah, Losing Ground: Lessons from the Repeal of Nine ?Little Davis-Bacon Acts?, which assesses the effects of the repeal of state versions of the federal Davis-Bacon Act. The authors summarized the possible effects of repeal as follows: lost wages for construction workers, a slight increase in construction employment, lost income tax revenues, increased construction overruns, a less skilled labor force, slowed economic gains by minority workers, and increased work-related injury rates. To see the report, go to: http://www.faircontracting.org/NAFCnewsite...osingground.pdf. Unfortunately, the authors? objectivity might be considered compromised by the fact that the working paper was funded by the International Union of Operating Engineers and the AFL-CIO. For a nakedly political take on the benefits of Davis-Bacon and the evils of repeal, see the remarks of Representative Owens in the Congressional Record, 142 Cong. Rec. H5996-01, June 6, 1996. Here is a sample: ?Unfortunately, the House Republicans, the Republican majority here in this House, is driven by antiunion hysteria, which I do not understand. There is some kind of contract with an unscrupulous group of contractors, I think, in the case of Davis-Bacon, because they will not let up. ?Certain House Members keep going and they refuse to recognize the facts. They come from areas that are certainly not paying very high wages. If you look at the Davis-Bacon wages of the areas that many of the Republican majority Members come from, you will find that they are very low wages and sometimes close to minimum wages. And they cannot really complain about Davis-Bacon driving up the cost of local construction. But the facts do not seem to matter. There is a kind of hysteria determined to reverse the fair and equitable standards that Davis-Bacon has established.? It is unlikely that Davis-Bacon will be repealed by a Congress controlled by Democrats or suspended by a Democratic presidential administration. (The law permits the president to suspend its provisions in a national emergency. President Bush did so after Hurricane Katrina.) But my intent here is not to advocate retention or repeal of Davis-Bacon or the other prevailing wage law, the Service Contract Act of 1965, as amended, but to point out that government contracting policy is as much a matter of politics as it is good business sense. Maybe more so. Indeed, money, government contracts, and politics are inseparable. Even the presumably objective needs determination/requirements specification process⎯determining what we buy and from whom⎯is political. See Kotz, Wild Blue Yonder: Money, Politics, and the B-1 Bomber (1988) and Sorenson, The Politics of Strategic Aircraft Modernization (1995). And need I mention the struggle over the Air Force?s tanker program? (And over the Army?s M-9 pistol? And over the Army?s black berets?) This is not going to change. Ever. Money, politics, and public contracts have gone together since the days of Periclean Athens, when citizens and politicians complained about fraud, waste, and abuse in the construction of the Parthenon and other public works during the 5th century, BCE. See Professor Loren J. Samons II?s discussion of ?Public Finance: Democracy and the People?s Purse? in Athenian democracy in What?s Wrong with Democracy (2004), pp. 72-99. Ancient Athens will seem remarkably familiar to readers of today?s headlines.
  2. Non-Severable services and Incremental Funding

    I don't understand why you're asking the question. What do you mean when you ask if the contract can be incrementally funded? The contract has already been awarded. It must have been awarded as either fully funded or incrementally funded. Which is it? Are you asking if the contract was awarded illegally?
  3. What About A Contracting Think Tank?

    How about a contracting think tank? I recently sat on a panel with Professor Emeritus Ralph Nash and Associate Professor Steve Schooner of The George Washington University Law School, and Paul Dennett, a former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, to discuss the state of government contract administration. The consensus was that the government does not have enough people to do as good a job of contract administration as it should be doing and that the people who do it need more training. There is nothing very remarkable about that consensus, the same opinions have been expressed by nearly every observer and critic of government contracting over the past 20 years. There is a long list of contract administration functions in FAR 42.302, but the key issue seems to be quality assurance, inspection, which FAR 2.101 defines as follows: ??Inspection? means examining and testing supplies and services (including, when appropriate, raw materials, components, and intermediate assemblies) to determine whether they conform to contract requirements.? The critics are concerned about whether the government is getting what the contractors have promised to deliver, or, to put it another way, whether the government is getting what it is paying for. There are other concerns as well, for example: whether contractors are complying with cost accounting standards and cost principles, are fulfilling their obligations under contract clauses that implement the socio-economic programs in FAR Subchapter D, are complying with security requirements, and, generally, are obeying the laws. And there are concerns about organizational conflicts of interest, the implications of ?blending? contractor and government employees, and about contractors performing inherently governmental functions. Now, inspection of supplies (goods) is well understood, and there are countless books on quality assurance for manufactured items and raw materials. But the government spends more on services than on supplies these days, and the inspection of services confronts us with many unsolved problems and unresolved issues. When a service produces a tangible artifact that is, in and of itself, adequate evidence of the quality of the service, then quality assurance can be handled much as it would in a contract for supplies. Thus, the quality of equipment repair services can be determined by examining and testing the items that the contractor claims to have repaired, and the quality of grounds maintenance services can be determined by examining the grounds. But how do we perform quality assurance when a service produces no tangible artifact, or no artifact that is, in and of itself, adequate evidence of the quality of the service, or when the work does not entail observable physical activity on the part of the contractor's employees? There are many such services. Consider, for example, contracts for the services of security guards who perform entry control at government facilities. A government inspector can see people lined up at the entrance, showing their identification to the guards, and the guards looking at it and at the belongings people place in the X-ray devices. But the service work is taking place in the guards? heads, and that work cannot be observed directly. A guard may look at the identification or appear to do so, but does she see it, does she think about what she sees, and does she make the right decision based on what she sees? The government can perform tests in which it tries to get people with bad identification and contraband past the guards, but such tests have to be random. Even if the guards catch the test subject, the government cannot be sure that the guards are not letting others in who should not be admitted. Random sampling is not adequate when performance must be perfect, yet 100 percent inspection is not practical. When work takes place in peoples? heads and the output is an undocumented thought, what do you examine and test? What about contracts for analytical services? Again, the work takes place in the heads of the service employees. Studies and reports, in and of themselves, are not adequate evidence of the quality of the underlying thought processes. While an expert reader might detect obvious errors of fact or reasoning, other errors might go undetected, and disagreements with the conclusions of the service provider are not necessarily indicative of poor quality work. Under time-and-materials contracts, it is common practice for contracting officers to require contractors to submit their invoices to a contracting officer?s representative (COR or COTR) for ?approval.? But what does ?approval? signify? Conformity of the work to contract requirements is not a condition of payment. In any case, work under many such contracts produces no tangible artifact that is, in and of itself, evidence of the quality of the contractor?s work. As a general rule, when contract performance yields no such tangible product, the sight of a contractor employee at his or her desk does not warrant a conclusion that the employee was ?working? at the moment of observation, only that the employee was present. In addition to the intangibility of much service output and the government's inability to directly observe the contractor's work, there are problems associated with widely dispersed locations of performance and side-by-side performance of the same duties by government and contractor personnel. These crude examples reflect just some of the problems that are unique to service contracts. My point is not that there are no solutions to these kinds of problems or that no one has solved any of them. My point is that in many cases the government (1) has not explicitly recognized the problems, (2) has not worked systematically ether to find solutions that others have developed or to develop its own, (3) has not widely reported any solutions that it may have developed, and (4) has not developed appropriate training with respect to the problems for government quality assurance personnel. The advocates of performance-based contracting would have government inspectors use statistical quality assurance methods⎯random sampling and AQLs, methods that were developed for manufacturing. But services do not produce identical units of output. Every output is a somewhat unique response to a somewhat unique set of circumstances. We don?t strive to reduce variability in the output. In fact, we want the output to be varied as appropriate. Statistical inferences based on random sampling might not be valid for such services. In any case, Military Standard 105, Sampling Procedures and Tables for Inspection by Attributes, which described the random sampling and AQL procedures used for many services contracts was canceled because it does not reflect current thinking about quality assurance processes. It has been replaced in part by MIL-STD-1916, DOD Preferred Method for Acceptance of Product. The foreward to that document says: ?Sampling inspection by itself is an inefficient industrial practice for demonstrating conformance to the requirements of a contract and its technical data package. The application of sampling plans for acceptance involves both consumer and producer risks; and increased sampling is one way of reducing these risks, but it also increases costs. Suppliers can reduce risks by employing efficient processes with appropriate process controls. To the extent that such practices are employed and are effective, risk is controlled and, consequently, inspection and testing can be reduced? This standard complies with the DoD policy of eliminating acceptable quality levels (AQL's) and associated practices within specifications.? So where does that leave those DOD folks who have sampling and AQLs built into their Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans? Anyway, how much should a contracting officer deduct from contract payment for that one instance out of ten thousand in which a guard let someone get in with a gun? If you wonder where I?m going with all of this, here it is: Why don?t we have a contracting think tank to work on these kinds of issues and problems? The existing think tanks that occasionally address contracting issues, like Brookings and Rand, focus on what I call ?macro? issues⎯Does outsourcing reduce costs? How much outsourcing should the government do? What work should the government outsource? What we need is a think tank that takes on day-to-day practical issues, such as the ones I described above, and publishes its findings and recommendations for chief acquisition officers, senior procurement executives, heads of contracting activities, chiefs of contracting offices, and contracting officers. I don?t mean a policy shop. Goodness knows, we don?t need yet another policy shop. No, I mean a place where smart people spend their time thinking about ways to do contracting better than we do it now and publishing their thoughts. Contracting is a $400 billion per year business. Per year! We have about 28,000 people working at it. When you think about all of the handwringing over a one-time $700 billion stimulus package and a one-time $25 billion rescue for the auto industry, you have to wonder why we are not rounding up first rate minds and putting them together to systematically identify contracting issues and problems and to find solutions that everyone can use. Goodness knows⎯there would be a lot to think about.
  4. In my last post I used the terms ?mentor? and ?mentoring.? I tell my students that when they use a word or term they must make sure that they know what it means and what they mean by it. Well, what?s good for the student is good for the teacher. As I read my own post I asked myself: What do I mean by mentor and mentoring? What does a mentor do? How does he or she do it? The word mentor comes from Homer?s Odyssey. Mentor is the name of an old friend of Ulysses (the Roman name for Odysseus), the King of Ithaca, who has been away from home for 20 years, fighting at Troy and wandering the world, trying to get home. Ulysses?s wife, Penelope, and young son, Telemachus, are besieged by men who think Ulysses is dead and who want to marry Penelope and assume the throne. When Ulysses left for the Trojan War, he asked Mentor to guide his son while he was away. When Prince Telemachus decides to search for his father and prays for advice, Minerva (the Roman name for Athena, the goddess of wisdom), disguises herself as Mentor and gives this advice, as stated in the prose translation by Samuel Butler: ?As he thus prayed, Minerva came close up to him in the likeness and with the voice of Mentor. ?Telemachus,? said she, ?if you are made of the same stuff as your father you will be neither fool nor coward henceforward, for Ulysses never broke his word nor left his work half done. If, then, you take after him, your voyage will not be fruitless, but unless you have the blood of Ulysses and of Penelope in your veins I see no likelihood of your succeeding. Sons are seldom as good men as their fathers; they are generally worse, not better; still, as you are not going to be either fool or coward henceforward, and are not entirely without some share of your father's wise discernment, I look with hope upon your undertaking. But mind you never make common cause with any of those foolish suitors, for they have neither sense nor virtue, and give no thought to death and to the doom that will shortly fall on one and all of them, so that they shall perish on the same day. As for your voyage, it shall not be long delayed; your father was such an old friend of mine that I will find you a ship, and will come with you myself. Now, however, return home, and go about among the suitors; begin getting provisions ready for your voyage; see everything well stowed, the wine in jars, and the barley meal, which is the staff of life, in leathern bags, while I go round the town and beat up volunteers at once. There are many ships in Ithaca both old and new; I will run my eye over them for you and will choose the best; we will get her ready and will put out to sea without delay.? ?Thus spoke Minerva daughter of Jove [Zeus], and Telemachus lost no time in doing as the goddess told him.? There is an extensive literature about mentoring in business, including both popular and scholarly books and articles. So you can find Coaching and Mentoring for Dummies, by Marty Brounstein (2000) and ?Toward A Conceptualization of Mentoring,? by Anderson and Shannon, in Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 38-42 (1988), and many more. Although some authorities use the terms mentoring and coaching synonymously, others make a distinction between them, perhaps the most common being that a coach is usually also a boss while a mentor is a senior colleague without supervisory responsibility. A coach is interested in the prot?g? (also called the apprentice? or the ?mentee?) as part of the team, while the mentor is interested in the prot?g? as an individual. In both cases the objective is to help the prot?g? to develop as a professional. It appears that the mentor-prot?g? relationship is presumed to be more personal than the coach-prot?g? relationship. For an interesting discussion about the debate over differences between mentoring and coaching, see Coaching and Mentoring: Practical Methods to Improve Learning, by Parsloe and Wray (2000). It appears that a mentoring approach might be more Socratic in nature than a coaching approach. Coaching may be more instructive or even directive. A mentor might not tell a prot?g? what to do or how to do it, preferring instead to prompt the prot?g? to learn by thinking and researching. If a prot?g? went to a mentor with a question like: ?How do I choose the evaluation factors to include in a source selection plan?? or ?What evaluation factors should I include in the source selection plan?? a mentor might respond with a series of questions designed to provoke thought. ?Let?s think this through: Let?s begin by asking ourselves: ?What do we mean by value?? What is evaluation?? ?What, exactly, are you going to evaluate?? ?So, what is an evaluation factor?? And so forth. In the face of a prot?g??s mistake, a mentor might prompt the prot?g? to analyze what happened and to figure out why it was a mistake of fact or judgment. Some young people may not have the patience for a Socratic approach to mentoring. In order to be a good mentor, one must have a good prot?g?, someone who wants to learn how to figure out what to do and how to do it, not someone who wants to be told what to do and how to do it. A good prot?g? does not go to the mentor every five or ten minutes with another question⎯What should I do next? A good prot?g? would never ask (or should be taught never to ask) what a word or term means. And a good mentor does not answer a question if he or she can get the prot?g? to find the answer through research and study. Handing out answers won?t help a prot?g? develop into an independent professional, someone capable of solving problems. It creates a dependency. A good mentor does not hand-hold the prot?g?, and a good prot?g? does not want hand-holding. (This can be a problem when a person is assigned to be a mentor and told whom to mentor.) A mentor can only be as effective as the prot?g? is willing. Unless the mentor takes a directive approach, he or she is not responsible for the prot?g??s work. The prot?g? is responsible for that. The mentor guides, but does not lead or control. A coach does that. (When U.S.C. coach Pete Carroll tells his quarterback to pass, he means pass, dammit.) In the Odyssey, it is Telemachus who decides to go looking for his father. Minerva gives advice about preparations for the voyage, but she doesn?t take the helm. (Think Yoda and Luke Skywalker.) Clearly, a mentor must be someone who is playing at the top of his or her game. After all, the first mentor was a goddess. A mentor for contracting interns must be wise, a first rate journeyman contract specialist, and a first rate communicator. He or she must be someone with skills and the ability to facilitate the development of those skills in others. How many such people are out there, I wonder? (And what does an office do if it doesn?t have one?) If my notions about mentors and mentoring are ?right,? and if a mentor is a patient guide rather than a supervisor, then mentoring can be time-consuming. It?s more like cooking in a crockpot than in a microwave. And that might make ?true? mentoring problematical in an office in which the boss sees an intern more as a working body, a workload resource, than a work-in-progress. In my view, mentoring is not a workload management process; it is an approach to professional development. Of course, my notions of mentors and mentoring may be too narrow, or even completely out to lunch. Maybe mentoring is something else. But I can only say what I mean at this point in time. Others who use the term and advocate mentoring should say what they mean. Then we?ll know what we're talking about.
  5. The Good News and The Bad News

    Last week, at the 2008 Nash & Cibinic Report Roundtable, several panels addressed the issue of the quality of the acquisition workforce. The good news is that agencies are hiring some first rate interns. That?s also the bad news. We are bringing in some really smart and eager people, but we are not ready for them?to educate and train them and to prepare them to take over in the future. We are putting those bright new people into the hands of people with whom we are not entirely satisfied, into chaotic office environments that are leadership-free zones, and into an inadequate classroom training establishment. We are not ready for them, and that is a potential catastrophe, because the very best of them will not stick around if we don?t get our act together to make contracting work challenging and rewarding. Smart people want to work with competent, inspiring people, people who know their field and who are excited and energized about their work, people who know how to mentor and develop the newcomers and are eager to do so. I have spoken with many terrific interns who were attracted to contracting by the sales pitch about being ?business advisors,? only to find that they are grinding away in a chaotic environment in which no one seems to be playing at the top of their game and working with people who spend most of their time clacking away at a computer keyboard instead of ?advising? anybody. If, when I was recruited, I had worked in the kind of office that I so often see today, I would not have stayed in the contracting field. We need a tightly structured and closely monitored government-wide OJT system, government-wide mentoring guidelines and standards, and an entirely new classroom curriculum⎯a curriculum that emphasizes the basics. Look at the 2009 DAU Catalog course descriptions for CON 100 through CON 353, http://www.dau.mil/catalog/cat2009/catalog2009.pdf, pp. 35-46. Where among the Level I courses are the courses entitled: Introduction to Acquisition Functions and Processes, Introduction to Needs and Requirements, Introduction to Contract Types, Introduction to Contractor Selection and Contract Award, Introduction to Contract Pricing, Introduction to Commercial Pricing Practices, Introduction to Service Contract Pricing, Introduction to Contract Management? What do we have instead? We have: ?Shaping Smart Business Arrangements,? ?Mission-Support Planning,? ?Mission-Planning Execution,? ?Mission-Performance Assessment,? and ?Mission-Focused Contracting,? propagandistic bull----. CON 100, Shaping Smart Business Arrangements, is the very first course. The newbies get a grand total of four days in which to learn how to ?describe? and ?explain? various things, except how to research, understand, and apply the Federal Acquisition Regulation. And don't tell me that the content is there, even if the course titles are goofy, because it's not. Look at the content of CON 235, Advanced Contract Pricing, which is on catalog page 42. (There is no Basic Contract Pricing.) Here are the course objectives: Objectives: Those who successfully complete this course will be able to: ? Use inferential statistics and hypotheses testing; ? Analyze the relationship between two or more variables, describe that relationship using regression analysis, and defend the appropriateness of the model; ? Perform cost-risk analysis to support pre-negotiation objectives; ? Integrate quantitative techniques in a cost/price estimate; ? Conduct market research on a given procurement item; and ? Conduct a price analysis of a commercial item as broadly defined by Federal Acquisition Regulation criteria. Now I ask you: What percentage of contract specialists are using inferential statistics, hypothesis testing, or regression analysis, say, even once a year? How many readers think that you can teach the average person in our innumerate society, who has not already passed a basic course in statistics, how to do all of the things listed in the course objectives in ten days, which is the length of the course? Can you show the average student how its done? Yes. Can you teach the average student how to do it? No. In any case, why do we want to teach them those things? If we want them to learn those things we should send them to college courses in probability and statistics and regression analysis. But we aren't developing social scientists, we're supposedly developing contract specialists. Instead or regression analysis (i.e., learning curves), why aren?t we teaching them how to calculate the annual cost of one service employee, including wages, fringe benefits, taxes, and insurance, and how to use that information to calculate the annual cost of a workforce comprised of X such employees. Why aren't we teaching them how various commercial sectors set the prices of their products and services? (Why aren't we making them read: Power Pricing: How Managing Price Transforms the Bottom Line and The Price Advantage?) I could go on forever about the inadequacies of the DAU curriculum, and DAU thinks that I have. They developed a briefing about me for their Board of Visitors. One criticism of me was that, ?When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,? which I admit got a laugh out of me. There are good people teaching at DAU, people who know that DAU must change in order to be truly effective. The DAU curriculum is only a symptom, not a cause. It is a symptom of the lack of clear thinking, vision, and competent leadership in the acquisition community. Lacking those things, intern programs will ultimately fail to do anything more than put butts in chairs in front of computers, except for those very few in which first rate mentors are systematically at work. Unfortunately, there aren?t nearly enough first-rate mentors, which is why the new hiring efforts are tragic. We?re wasting our most precious possession: Our future. If you agree, write to the Obama transition team, http://change.gov. I know, I know. But at least that?s doing something. Vern