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I assume you meant the Federal Acquisition Regulation System, and not something more general.  My answer is it can be complex.  COs are to be appointed to the degree of complexity they are capable.

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1.603   Selection, appointment, and termination of appointment for contracting officers.

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1.603-2   Selection.

In selecting contracting officers, the appointing official shall consider the complexity and dollar value of the acquisitions to be assigned and the candidate's experience, training, education, business acumen, judgment, character, and reputation. 

 

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Yes, complicated. Yes complex. 
From Oxford Dictionary:

See Complicated:

“com·pli·cat·ed

/ˈkämpləˌkādəd/

adjective

1. consisting of many interconnecting parts or elements; intricate.

"a complicated stereo system"

Similar: complex…”

See Complex:
“adjective: complex

/ˌkämˈpleks,kəmˈpleks,ˈkämˌpleks/

1. consisting of many different and connected parts.

"a complex network of water channels"…

2. not easy to analyze or understand; complicated or intricate.

"a complex personality"

Similar:

complicated…”

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A “system” consists of many parts. Various statutes, regulations, public policies, case law and forums for protests and disputes, agency regulations, Standard operating procedures, acquisition sources such as GWACS , some mandatory sources, different approaches between agencies and even within same agencies, etc. . Automated contracting software/hardware systems, finance and payment offices, etc. 

An acquisition might have many phases, such as programming, authorization and funding processes, acquisition planning and market research, defining requirements, stating requirements, selecting methods of acquisition and possible sources, soliciting offers, bids, proposals, etc., exchanges with industry such as presolicitation conferences and communications. Selecting a source or contractor, finalizing a contract or order, administering a contract or order, etc., etc., etc.

Many external and internal organizations and people may be involved with an acquisition, depending upon the complexity. Then you include industry…

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My first “acquisition”as a brand new GS-11 was on my second day of civilian federal employment in 1980. It was to purchase and install a hollow core wood door in the wall behind the GS-15 Area Engineer’s secretary’s desk, at the front of the building, so she didn’t have to go all the way down a hallway and around to reach the office coffee pot and copy machine behind the wall.

They gave me an SF-70(?) purchase order and sent me to the nearest hardware/lumber store to buy it. Hauled it back, cut a hole in the wall and installed it.  Cost about $30 plus some nails. Nothing after that was as simple…

I later found out that it cost about $75 per transaction to process a Form 70, plus mailing it from our Area Office in Mississippi to the District Office in Mobile. Don’t know how many persons were involved in processing and paying for that $30 transaction. 

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1 minute ago, WifWaf said:

This sounds like the guy from This Old House explaining stuff when I try to YouTube home improvement.  I feel like I missed a few steps!

L.O.L. !! I agree.

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Let's stick to the question.

By "acquisition system" I mean the concepts, rules, principles, standards, organizations, personnel, processes, and procedures that must work together in order to acquire supplies and services by and for the Federal government. 

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Inherently yes - both complicated and complex.

Sadly, if something tied to the government it is more so than needed. With no profit incentive why streamline things and make them more efficient? Doing that might limit @joel hoffman's GS-15 position mentioned above to only a 13 or 14 position and then no extra door for a better attack position for the office coffee pot. 

With that, it is not as complex or complicated as some make it out to be. 

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1 hour ago, joel hoffman said:

My first “acquisition”as a brand new GS-11 was on my second day of civilian federal employment in 1980. It was to purchase and install a hollow core wood door in the wall behind the GS-15 Area Engineer’s secretary’s desk, at the front of the building, so she didn’t have to go all the way down a hallway and around to reach the office coffee pot and copy machine behind the wall.

They gave me an SF-70(?) purchase order and sent me to the nearest hardware/lumber store to buy it. Hauled it back, cut a hole in the wall and installed it.  Cost about $30 plus some nails. Nothing after that was as simple…

I later found out that it cost about $75 per transaction to process a Form 70, plus mailing it from our Area Office in Mississippi to the District Office in Mobile. Don’t know how many persons were involved in processing and paying for that transaction.

How is that responsive to the question?

I am trying to determine whether acquisition reform efforts have failed because the reformers have thought of the acquisition system as merely needlessly complicated, when in fact it is unavoidably complex and adaptive. Thinking that it is merely complicated, they try to simplify it through rule reform. But if it's complex and adaptive, then simplification and rule reform won't work, in part because complex and adaptive systems are subject to emergence, which defeats rules.

I want to see if anyone else here has thought along those lines, and I want to learn what if any conclusions they have reached. Because I think that my thinking about this has been, in the words of Dylan, "limited and underfed."

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Its a bit of a linguistic game, of course, but my vote is - Complicated, not complex.

The  Federal acquisition system has bazillions of parts, so its pretty complicated, but it doesn't have those properties I associate with complexity.  It doesn't have emergent behavior- like there isn't anything about it that is more than the sum of its parts.  At least, not that I observe.

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@General.ZhukovHow about the changes to the Federal Supply Schedule program and the surge in the use of GWACs and MATOCs? How about the (failed) push for performance-based contracting? How about cybersecurity issues and AI? How about the focus on supply chain security? How about the surge in IT requirements and staff augmentation ("professional service") requirements? How about the emergence of SpaceX and Blue Origin to displace legacy launch vehicle contractors? How about Amazon's apparent tactic of trying to change agency acquisition strategy through use of extended protest litigation at the COFC? (They succeeded with JEDI. Now they're trying it against NASA.) How about wars?

Aren't those emergences? And haven't they affected the strategies and conduct of acquisitions and the predictability of acquisition outcomes? Haven't acquisition personnel had to adapt? 

Remember, I'm asking about acquisition, not just contracting.

 

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@Vern EdwardsI have always equated, rightly or wrongly, the FAR as a Federal Contracting for Dummies book.  Complication explained if you pay attention to it.   

Complex, I guess, if you consider the items noted in your most recent post.

All of which gets me to another analogy I always relate.....what is done in Federal contracting is not much different in complexity and complication than that of what I have to do every day to buy my personal stuff.   I can either add to both the complexity and complication on my own but for dang sure there are outside catalysts that make my life difficult every day if I try to contract for say a well, build a barn, put in a new water line, etc.  Heck even buying the every day stuff like toilet paper these days gets complicated and complex when reading the signs in a grocery store about limited quantity, how much you can buy, when is the next shipment and it goes on.

I detract further but there is a well known example around these parts that I always relate.  War story of sorts yes but with no apologies for the detraction.  On August 5, 1940 the well known Pendleton Round-Up wooden grandstand burned to the ground.  In four days volunteers and contractors began constructing a concrete and steel replacement that seats 3,000 spectators.  It was built in 23 days in time for Septembers Round-Up and still stands today as part of the seating in the Round-Up arena.  In every view the complexity and complications have advanced to today where such an accomplishment is unimaginable.

Yes acquisition reformers have failed if I harken back to the very intent of the FAR of 1984.  It could have been avoided if they stuck to their guns on intent.

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39 minutes ago, C Culham said:

what is done in Federal contracting is not much different in complexity and complication than that of what I have to do every day to buy my personal stuff.

@C CulhamSo let's say that, conceptually, buying is buying. But when the government buys something significant, several different functional offices within an agency, each of which has its own rules, processes, and procedures, must coordinate, and that can be difficult. If a service wants to buy a new aircraft, they have a multitude of technical and administrative communities to deal with, as well as political and business interests, each of which is pursuing its own objectives, is following its own course, and is  subject to external forces that it cannot direct or control. Moreover, they have to keep their eyes on prospective opponents and allies. None of those can be easily controlled, and developments among them are highly unpredictable. In short, the analogy between what you do and what the acquisition system must do is very, very weak.

Acquisition reformers have focused on changing the rules. The have failed time and again in their attempts to fix the system using that approach. I wonder if it's because they have used an approach that might work for a merely complicated system, but not for a complex adaptive system.

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7 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

How is that responsive to the question?

I am trying to determine whether acquisition reform efforts have failed because the reformers have thought of the acquisition system as merely needlessly complicated, when in fact it is unavoidably complex and adaptive. Thinking that it is merely complicated, they try to simplify it through rule reform. But if it's complex and adaptive, then simplification and rule reform won't work, in part because complex and adaptive systems are subject to emergence, which defeats rules.

I want to see if anyone else here has thought along those lines, and I want to learn what if any conclusions they have reached. Because I think that my thinking about this has been, in the words of Dylan, "limited and underfed."

I explained above that it is complicated and complex, which is the only thing you asked. You didn’t reveal any underlying reasons or desired opinions concerning acquisition reforms or the effectiveness of acquisition reforms.

Then I explained HOW it can be complicated and complex.

I think that my remarks are consistent with the fact that the “acquisition system” is “unavoidably complex”. 

7 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

am trying to determine whether acquisition reform efforts have failed because the reformers have thought of the acquisition system as merely needlessly complicated, when in fact it is unavoidably complex and adaptive.

You didn’t ask if or how it is “adaptive.” 

Then I cited an example of what I thought a was relatively simple purchase many years ago but learned later that it involved administrative costs and processes that were much more expensive than the actual purchases. 

Actually,  using a Government Purchase Card is an example of adaptation and adoption of much more efficient means and methods and combining numerous small purchases rather than processing each one separately. 

P.S, the GS-15 was responsible for managing and administering all of the contracts, sites and field offices for the largest civil works program by size undertaken, which  at that time (70’s to mid 80’s) cost $1.8 billion in construction contracts and required 15 years or more for construction alone.

 

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7 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Is the Federal acquisition system complicated or complex?

If you're asking for yes or no, then my opinion would be yes for both.

With the exception of miniscule areas that you could argue over until blue in the face that in reality have little impact moving agency missions forward, complicated yes if you've never had exposure. I think sometimes people forget how hard it can be in the beginning. 

Complex, yes. Consider most agencies follow the FAR, agency supplements (2 different ones for the VA until a year or two ago), Supplements called Agency name Acquisition Manual, various acquisition policy memorandums (usually more than one type such as acquisition procedural manual, policy dashes, information letters, etc.), GAO decisions, other agency regulations such as the SBAs 13 CFR, DOT programs at 23 USC, VA at 38 USC, and many more that you have to put all together to ensure you legally follow all the rules depending on where you work. Does Bonneville Power Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, the FAA, Architect of the Capital or any other agency that doesn't follow the FAR have the types of issues you think reform might solve or why reforms have failed? 

I apologize if you were only wanting a yes or no answer as I gave you a word dump. 

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3 hours ago, General.Zhukov said:

It doesn't have emergent behavior- like there isn't anything about it that is more than the sum of its parts.

I think any system that involves so many people (a quick Google search said 165,000 people in the DOD acquisition workforce alone in 2017) is going to display emergent behavior. Hire a huge workforce, give them a complicated set of rules and systems, then change the rules and systems continuously over their careers and I believe as new rules are individually interpreted, new concepts are adopted, old habits gradually fade, and new habits are formed you're likely to get very unpredictable outcomes.

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8 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Is the Federal acquisition system complicated or complex?

I believe the Federal acquisition system is complex. 

I have read and heard for many years that the Federal Government should run like a business but I think this is incorrect.  I believe reformers should look not at business but other Governments.  What do other Governments, for instance countries in the European Union, and their acquisition system, do or not do, that could be used to improve the US Federal acquisition system?  

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4 minutes ago, policyguy said:

I have read and heard for many years that the Federal Government should run like a business

I think that's it's own thread. Think of Amtrak, deficits or trillion $ debt. Boeing is pretty creative with their accounting but no business could survive a Government model. 

I'm off topic and dipping out before a scolding endures. Be @ canyon beach. Happy Tuesday! 

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Here is one description of a complex system that appeared in an oft-cited article in the November 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review:

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A complex system has the following characteristics:

  • It involves large numbers of interacting elements.
  • The  interactions are nonlinear, and minor changes can produced disproportionately major consequences.
  • The system is dynamic, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and solutions can't be imposed; rather, they arise from the circumstances. This is frequently referred to as emergence.
  • The system has a history, and the past is integrated with the present; the elements evolve with one another and with the environment; and evolution is irreversible.
  • Though a complex system may, in retrospect, appear to be ordered and predictable, hindsight does not lead to foresight because the external conditions and systems constantly change.
  • Unlike in ordered systems (where the system constrains the agents), or chaotic systems (where there are no constraints), in a complex system the agents and the system constrain one another, especially over time. This means that we cannot forecast or predict what will happen.

 

Snowdon and Boone, "A Leader's Framework for Decision Making."

One article on complex adaptive systems in military analysis stated that a jet fighter is a complicated system, but not complex, while a Navy SEAL team may exhibit characteristics of a complex adaptive system.

Another source categorized systems as simple, complicated, and complex.

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11 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Is the Federal acquisition system complicated or complex?

Is what we refer to as the Federal Acquisition System truly a system? The American Heritage Dictionary, Fifth Edition, defines a system as "an organized method; procedure." Perhaps the Federal Acquisition System is a collection of systems--some simple (micro-purchase using GCPC), some complicated (purchase order for COTS item), some complex (weapon system development).

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@Don MansfieldI think you know that the definition you quoted is too narrow. Besides, you quoted only a very small part of the American Heritage Dictionary definition. Here's the complete definition:

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system n.

1. A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole, especially:
a. An organism as a whole, especially with regard to its vital processes or functions: The animal's entire system seems to be affected by the disease.
b. A group of physiologically or anatomically related organs or parts: the excretory system; a root system.
c. A group of interacting mechanical or electrical components: the building's heating system.
d. A network of structures and channels, as for communication, travel, or distribution: a highway system.
e. A network of related computer software, hardware, and data transmission devices.

 

2.

a. An organized set of interrelated ideas or principles: Kant's philosophical system.

b. A social, economic, or political organizational form: the feudal system.

 

3.

a. An arrangement or configuration of classification or measurement: the taxonomic system; the metric system.
b. An organized and coordinated method; a procedure: We have an efficient system for processing returned merchandise. See Synonyms at method.

 

4.

a. A naturally occurring group of objects or phenomena: a cave system; a weather system.
b. Geology A set of rock strata grouped by geologic time period and divided into series.
 
5. Harmonious interaction or order: a restaurant kitchen that was completely without system.
 
6. The prevailing social order; the establishment. Used with the: You can't beat the system.

 

 And see DOD Directive 5000.01, The Defense Acquisition System (September 9, 2020).

I agree though, that the Federal acquisition system could be called a system of systems.

 

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21 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

I am trying to determine whether acquisition reform efforts have failed because the reformers have thought of the acquisition system as merely needlessly complicated, when in fact it is unavoidably complex and adaptive. Thinking that it is merely complicated, they try to simplify it through rule reform. But if it's complex and adaptive, then simplification and rule reform won't work, in part because complex and adaptive systems are subject to emergence, which defeats rules.

I want to see if anyone else here has thought along those lines, and I want to learn what if any conclusions they have reached. Because I think that my thinking about this has been, in the words of Dylan, "limited and underfed."

 

I wonder if this is true.  My policy analysis training wants me ask 'failed compared to what?'  I want to compare the US fed acq system to other systems.  Are comparable acquisition systems - large states like CA, TX or NY, or overseas with vaguely similar legal structure like UK, EU, AUS, or Canada - 'better than' the US FAR system? By what metrics would the FAR way be better or worse? Someone, somewhere, has done this comparative analysis.  

 

 

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