Leaders credited with revamping DoD procurement

klunney@govexec.com

Reforming the largest federal agency's procurement process is no easy feat. However, four dedicated Pentagon leaders and an enthusiastic workforce did just that, transforming the Defense Department's complicated and inefficient weapons acquisition process into a more cost-effective and innovative system.

A recent report by Kimberly A. Harokopus, a visiting scholar at Boston College, looked at how four government leaders overhauled the defense procurement system in the 1990s by nurturing strong partnerships within government and industry, communicating with the defense workforce during the reform process, and taking advantage of the unique political and commercial environment of the mid-90s.

Harokopus credits former secretary of defense William Perry and his leadership team-Paul Kaminski, undersecretary for acquisition and technology; Colleen Preston, deputy undersecretary for acquisition reform; and Steven Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy-with successfully streamlining DoD's procurement process.

"Perry, Kaminski, Preston, and Kelman were a leadership team of extraordinary talent. Through persistence, innovative management strategies, and a little luck they achieved remarkable feats in public management, turning previously failed efforts at procurement reform into tangible, remarkable successes," Harokopus writes.

The new system replaced a rigid, rule-bound system, giving front-line managers more decision-making power and more room for flexibility in the procurement process.

Some important changes in the defense procurement process included:

  • Replacement of complicated military standards, known as milspecs, with more flexible and concise industry standards.
  • Introduction of e-commerce.
  • Loosening of restrictions on communications between government and industry.
  • Greater use of past performance measures in awarding contracts.
  • Creation of integrated government acquisition teams who can make timely and informed procurement decisions.
According to Harokopus, key factors in the new procurement system's success include:
  • A cohesive leadership team: These four leaders had the experience, passion, and vision to reform the military acquisition process. All were committed to reform and each stayed in their respective positions for almost 4 years.
  • Inclusion of industry and government acquisition workforce: Industry and the acquisition workforce worked together developing creative solutions and implementing the day-to-day mechanics of the new system. Front-line managers played key roles in implementation and have helped sustain the changes made to the defense procurement system.
  • An effective public relations campaign: From speeches at conferences and brown-bag lunches to chats over the Internet, each leader worked hard to promote the reform process and generate enthusiasm among the workforce and industry.
  • Recognition of and training for employees: Success stories praising the work of innovative employees were highly publicized, hard work and good ideas were rewarded, and the workforce was educated on the new procurement process.
  • A delicate balance between autonomy and uniformity: The leadership team established the objective and ground rules, but allowed the workforce a certain independence and flexibility in implementing ideas.
  • An ability to seize opportunities: Bipartisan political support for reinventing government and commercial trends toward streamlining created an era ripe for acquisition reform, and Perry and his leadership team took advantage of those favorable conditions to launch their agenda.
Perry, Kaminski, Preston, and Kelman were successful partly because of their collective extensive experience in procurement, but also because of their passion for reform, the report said.

"They had a depth of experience that made them experts on the subject and sympathetic to all parties involved. They were proactive to the point of being passionate, both within their appointed positions and on the policy matter overall. And they were diligent in their personal acquisition reform, continually advocating their cause but also waiting for the perfect confluence of events to help bring about their shared vision of reform."

Transforming Government: Creating the New Defense Procurement System is part of a series of reports on the 2000 presidential transition, all sponsored by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. Other reports are available at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

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