Selling Cultural Changes

February 1996

FEDERAL ACQUISITION GUIDE

Selling Cultural Changes

Contracting officers are encouraged to take prudent risks.

One of the most challenging tasks of procurement reform has been changing the mind-set of federal contracting officers, program managers, their customers and vendors. Decades of oversight by inspectors general and Congress have quashed some of the desire to be innovative. Many in the procurement community are hesitant to try new acquisition methods for fear of penalties, award protests and-worst of all-prison.

In an attempt to encourage contracting officers to take prudent risks, Vice President Gore has been handing out Hammer Awards to agencies who try new acquisition methods. In addition, the National Performance Review has created more than 40 procurement reinvention labs responsible for finding better ways for the government to acquire goods.

"An interest in changing has been present in the culture but not acted on because procurement people on the front lines thought they didn't have management support," says Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Steven Kelman, who has spent a lot of time traveling to federal buying offices in an effort to empower members of the procurement community to take risks. "People have been waiting for a signal from above that it was OK to try new things-and we have been trying to give them that signal."

Contracting officers are learning to manage risk by carefully defining expectations and organizing the right relationships between agencies and contractors. They are relying on common-sense solutions that provide flexibility and eliminate fear of reprisal.

Last year, for instance, managers at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., decided to replace the badly worn carpeting in the base's Enlisted Club. The procurement office initially planned to issue a delivery order against an existing indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract. But that contract broke down the work into so many processes that more than a dozen contract line items would have been required. The resulting bids each averaged $90,000-double the base's estimate.

Frustrated procurement officers decided to ask local carpet suppliers to recommend an approach that would parallel commercial practices. A solicitation based on their input was drafted and a single line-item contract was awarded for $38,000.

"Benefits gained from thinking outside the box were savings of $52,000," says Col. Gregory Spilker, commander of the 45th contracting squadron. "Instead of telling the contractor how to do the job, we simply stated our desired result and left the rest up to the company."

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