Solving the Procurement Puzzle

February 1996


By Lisa Corbin

This year got off on an uncertain note for the federal procurement community. President Clinton vetoed a broad Defense authorization bill containing strategic acquisition-reform legislation (HR 1530). The fate of that package, which calls for repealing the 30-year-old Brooks Act and abolishing the General Services Administration's Board of Contract Appeals, is now back in the hands of Congress. Although many believe that further acquisition reform is essential in light of continued downsizing, most procurement professionals are still upbeat.

"We'd like reform efforts to be taken a step further, but legislation is only one piece of the procurement puzzle," says Steven Kelman, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget. "Agencies are making great strides in improving the procurement process one contract at a time."

As the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 is put into practice, contracting officers and their bosses have been sorting through the all pieces of the procurement puzzle. They have been busy setting goals, establishing performance measurements, forming strong customer links and struggling with new-found freedoms brought on by dramatic culture changes.

Although workers still complain about oversight, tedious negotiation procedures and burdensome reporting requirements, tremendous progress is being made in areas such as source selection, standards reform, electronic commerce and alternative dispute resolution. And, when compared to the private sector, the federal government is still able to negotiate some of the best deals around.

The average federal long-distance phone call, for example, costs 3.5 cents a minute, and an overnight FedEx letter runs $3.75. Federal employees can fly from Washington to Los Angeles for $118, or lease a four-door car for $130 a month. Used federal cars are regularly auctioned off for more than the government paid for them.

"We're on our way to creating a world-class procurement system," says Kelman. "There's an overwhelming desire out there to modernize the processes and reduce the bureaucracy in order to deliver quality goods and services at the best prices possible."

The Acquisition Reform Network, developed by the National Performance Review, enables members of the federal acquisition community in the public and private sectors to exchange information and participate in joint problem-solving exercises. It features a reference library of policy documents and federal acquisition regulations, plus a database of promising procurement practices.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy offers best-practices guides on performance-based service contracts and past-performance procedures. Requests for copies should be faxed to 202-395-5105.

The Federal Acquisition Institute is distributing a guide on FAR changes. Call Michael Miller at 202-501-3618.

The Coalition for Government Procurement, which represents 250 federal contractors, offers a monthly newsletter detailing recent contracts and innovative procurement activities. Call 202-331-0975.

The Defense Department offers five videos designed about changes in procurement regulations. Call DoD's Acquisition Reform Communications Center at 703-845-6755.

The General Accounting Office has published a guide on bid protests. Call 202-512-5282.

The General Services Administration offers a new handbook that outlines critical success factors for information-technology procurements. The guide, based on more than 60 GSA management reviews conducted since 1980, includes interviews with government and industry executives. Call 202-501-1332.

The Professional Services Council-a trade association representing 135 companies in the professional and technical services industries-offers reference guides on best-value buys and cost-realism philosophies. Call 703-883-2030.

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