Bad press makes contracting an unattractive field, professor says

Negative images of contracting perpetuated in the media and within government make procurement a less popular career track, a law professor told a congressional panel on Thursday.

"The pervasive anti-contractor rhetoric emanating from the media, not-for-profit organizations, the legislature, the executive branch (including, among others, the Justice Department, Defense Contract Audit Agency and the inspectors general) colors public perceptions of contractors and the acquisition profession," said Steven Schooner, co-director of The George Washington University's Government Procurement Law Program, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee's Defense Acquisition Reform Panel. "There is more truth to black humor in Jacques Gansler's popular new moniker for the current environment -- the 'global war on contractors.' "

Gansler, former deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, recently led a commission on Army contracting. Strengthening the acquisition workforce was among that panel's recommendations. In a November 2009 speech before the National Contract Management Association, Gansler, now director of the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise at the University of Maryland, lamented the global war on contractors, warning against thoughtless insourcing and encouraging officials to focus on the quality of the contracting workforce.

Other witnesses during Thursday's hearing echoed Schooner's emphasis on the acquisition workforce. American Federation of Government Employees National Vice President Joseph Flynn stressed the importance of developing an effective and fair personnel management program in the wake of the National Security Personnel System's repeal.

Norm Augustine, who was chairman of the Business Executives for National Security task force on Defense acquisition law and oversight, said finding the right balance between recruitment and training is crucial.

"Adding, say, 10,000 people each with one year's experience is different than adding 500 people with 20 years' experience," Augustine said.

The congressional panel was formed in March 2009 to "put a fresh set of eyes on the problem" of Defense acquisition, and chairman Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., said it is close to releasing recommendations.

"We have reached the decisionmaking part of our venture here, where we're beginning to put together our report to the American people and to Congress and the full committee," Andrews said.

The panel will conduct a business meeting next week to discuss a draft report distributed on Wednesday. Andrews said leadership and the quality of the workforce has been a recurring theme of the panel's hearings and investigations.

"If you make the proper investment in experience and skill, if you motivate and reward experienced and skilled people and empower them to do the things that need to be done, they can make improvements that can turn the whole system around," he said.

Despite the fact that the panel is mere weeks away from releasing a final report, "more suggestions are absolutely welcome," Andrews said.

"When you get below the superficial level these are very complex issues, but I do think they're solvable issues," he added.

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