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POSTSCRIPT II: Our Competitive System by Vernon J. Edwards


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Please read:  POSTSCRIPT II:  Our Competitive System by Vernon J. Edwards

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For many years Government agencies have identified their requirements in great detail, written a specification or work statement laying them out, prepared a Request for Proposals, and conducted a head-to-head competition to select the winning contractor. The companies that have regularly participated in this process have adapted by creating dedicated proposal preparation teams and creating the numerous internal systems required to meet all of the requirements of the RFP. They also have become accustomed to staying prepared to commence work a year or more after they have submitted their proposal if they win the competition.

What commercial company would participate in this type of competition? The only counterpart we can think of in the commercial world is the design-bid-build model used in procuring commercial construction projects but, even there, many owners have gone to the design-build model. But commercial companies selling products or services are not geared up for this process and would be ill-advised to spend their money in an attempt to enter such a competition. As best we can tell, most commercial companies have decided not to play this game.

 

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Excellent article and very thought provoking.

At least in my vision of a new/revised process, the changes are major.  They are much broader than what we experienced with FARA, FASA, and CICA.  Consequently any revision needs to overcome resistenance from many fronts - industry, small business, and even the frequent political battling so common today.

After giving time to mull this over, I think one or more good concepts for replacement needs generated.  To get anywhere, they would need small business, industry, and legal buy in.  OMB involvement, both OFPP and Congressional liaison, is also required.  Perhaps a good way to get things started is a brainstorming session(s) with representation of government, industry and even “think tanks” to generate ideas.  I’m saying that because all we hear is the current process is broken but there are few viable suggestions being made for improvement.

But one thing that can’t be ignored is a lot of people have vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  The case for change needs to be overwhelming positive.

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An incisive article. Opinion backed by research and fact, as I've come to expect from Vern.

I would add my opinion that revising the acquisition process without revising the budgetary process at the same time seems doomed to failure. Unlike Vern, I don't have any research and facts to support my opinion. Yet it remains my opinion, based on working in this government contracting world for 40 years now.

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@here_2_help

1 hour ago, here_2_help said:

I would add my opinion that revising the acquisition process without revising the budgetary process at the same time seems doomed to failure.

I recall reading similar opinions and callouts of the “1961 Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) process still in use today.” This NCMA article previously posted to Wifcon comes to mind - Anatomy of a Renaissance.

I know the Congressionally mandated Section 809 panel had some commentary on the budget process.

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4 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

I know the Congressionally mandated Section 809 panel had some commentary on the budget process.

I have personal relationships with several people who served on the Section 809 Panel. The Panel did some good work and some changes were made as the result of the Panel's reports. That said, there were not enough changes. No substantive changes resulted. A lot of work by some very smart people for ... not very much, in my view.

The truth is that when you touch the budget process you are also touching the political process. You are in essence asking the same people who use the current process to their advantage to also spearhead reforms that might tend to reduce the influence they currently have. Not something many individuals will be eager to champion.

Again, all my opinion.

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6 hours ago, here_2_help said:

I would add my opinion that revising the acquisition process without revising the budgetary process at the same time seems doomed to failure.

Agree.  One of the most positive work related experiences I had was in an acting capacity for my boss.  He oversaw contracting, budgeting, accounting and strategic planning.   Seeing and understanding how it all relates and integrated was eye opening.  That, and several other influences, showed me that the goal of procurement is not the award of a contract.

5 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

@here_2_help

I recall reading similar opinions and callouts of the “1961 Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) process still in use today.” This NCMA article previously posted to Wifcon comes to mind - Anatomy of a Renaissance.

This NCMA article is one of the most profound readings out there.

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As I will demonstrate next month in a follow-up to the article Bob has posted here, no grandiose "renaissance" will improve the competitive system until working level folks focus on what's happening closer to home. Don't expect anything from the high-level folks. Every majorr reform has failed, including, as you will see, commercial items (products and services).

By the way, I am in New Bedford, Massachusetts, at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, for the 2024 annual 25-hour Moby Dick Marathon Reading. We set sail and the First Watch begins Saturday, at 12:00pm, and the Sixth (and final) Watch ends at 1:00pm on Sunday. People have come from all over to pay tribute to Herman Melville's great masterpiece. I am scheduled to read (with a big magnifying glass) during the Third Watch, at about 11:00pm on Saturday. I made it through the who thing without sleeping during last year's Marathon, and I I plan to do it again. And then the great shroud of the sea will roll on until next year.

"It is not down on any map; true places never are."

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3 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Every majorr reform has failed, including, as you will see, commercial items (products and services).

I think treating issues related to public-sector procurement as business problems is a fallacy.  Public grants and contracts are used as political tools like no other, and contract reforms have never addressed how to balance business considerations with the 800 lb. socio/political gorilla on the other end of the see-saw.  (But maybe I'm too cynical after having just sat through a 2-year pre-award SBA size protest.)

Does any 1102 disagree that if we used purely economic/business logic, there would be the same three ginormous conglomerates winning every single federal contract?

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4 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

As I will demonstrate next month in a follow-up to the article Bob has posted here, no grandiose "renaissance" will improve the competitive system until working level folks focus on what's happening closer to home. Don't expect anything from the high-level folks. Every majorr reform has failed, including, as you will see, commercial items (products and services).

By the way, I am in New Bedford, Massachusetts, at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, for the 2024 annual 25-hour Moby Dick Marathon Reading. We set sail and the First Watch begins Saturday, at 12:00pm, and the Sixth (and final) Watch ends at 1:00pm on Sunday. People have come from all over to pay tribute to Herman Melville's great masterpiece. I am scheduled to read (with a big magnifying glass) during the Third Watch, at about 11:00pm on Saturday. I made it through the who thing without sleeping during last year's Marathon, and I I plan to do it again. And then the great shroud of the sea will roll on until next year.

"It is not down on any map; true places never are."

It may not be a Perfect Storm but your reading could be during a Nor'easter if the storm forms properly.  If it forms, I hope it doesn't match The Storm of the Century.  (I can't help myself.)

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16 hours ago, Voyager said:

Wow, Vern’s vs. Maj Gen Holt’s reformation ideas.  It’s like a redux Luther v. Erasmus.

There is no conflict between Gen. Holt and me. Here was the essence of General Holt's key idea, as stated in his article:

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For the contracting Renaissance to ignite and drive lasting impact, everything mustchange to support a broader role for contracting as the “business leader” for themission. Pay, training, authority, tools, and business acumen must be enhanced. The business leaders of the future must not stay in their lane and must never shut up. Once fully trained, they must feel comfortable with everything from contract types and methods to discussing proxy-statement aligned incentives and balance sheet management with chief financial officers. They must also learn firsthand what “right” looks like for the supported mission.

Long time forum participants know what I have said about the importance of education and training (which are different things).

The questions are: (1) What will constitute the state of being "fully trained"? (2) When will the Government achieve it? And (3) By what means?

In a dynamic universe, is anyone ever fully trained?

As for the conditions in which acquisition is being conducted𑁋micromanagement, industry consolidation, bureaucracy, which he called "hallmarks of the resurgent middle ages"𑁋working level folks can't do much about those things. I leaned in the Army that in the final event you must fight the enemy in front of you, on the ground on which you stand, with the weapons that you have, under the leaders that you have been given, with the knowledge and skill that you have sought and gained for yourself and the confidence and courage that they have given you. Wishing for better conditions in your favor is, well, wishful thinking. But that doesn't mean you can't fight with skill and determination.

I doubt that General Holt would disagree with me.

I must point out, though, that the Renaissance ended with the Thirty Years War, 1618-48, the most deadly and destructive conflict in European history, worse than the Black Death, worse than both 20th Century world wars combined.

My favorite Christmas gift was a metal plaque. It depicts a scene in which you are looking over the shoulder of an American paratrooper who is standing in the door of a C-47 over Normandy on D-Day and starting to jump. Below him is chaos--planes on fire, flak bursts, parachutes descending among tracers. And the caption is: "Everything will kill you. So choose something fun."

There it is.

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