Acquisition managers: We're overwhelmed with oversight
Growing scrutiny of contracting work could stifle innovation, according to industry group.
Senior procurement officials have a message for investigators: Please leave us alone.
They feel berated by lawmakers and inspectors general who don't always understand how contracting works, according to survey results released Thursday by the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va.-based industry group, and Grant Thornton, a global consultancy.
"They feel completely under fire," said Stan Soloway, president of PSC.
The survey, which entailed in-person interviews with 37 federal acquisition managers, found that "pressure from oversight organizations [is] creating a palpable tension and frustration among even the most seasoned procurement professionals." Managers complained that lawmakers take audit reports from the Government Accountability Office and inspectors general "as gospel," when in reality the auditors often have little experience with the contracting field. They might portray an innovative practice as suspicious, when it is well within federal regulations, for example.
PSC performs the survey every two years; the frustration with oversight reflected in the latest results is markedly heightened from that expressed in previous surveys. Part of the reason seems to be increased oversight, especially surrounding contracts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and Iraq reconstruction contracts.
As of July 2006, the 109th Congress had held more than twice as many hearings on acquisition as the 108th had, the report stated. Moreover, those hearings tended to be increasingly contentious, contributing to a growing chasm between acquisition officials and overseers.
Soloway said procurement officials do the majority of their work correctly, but one mistake, or even a failure beyond their control, can lead to a congressional hearing. Such heightened oversight lowers morale and hinders recruitment, the report stated.
It also means procurement officials will use less innovative methods, said Soloway. "If I see a colleague pulled before Congress, I'll bury my head a little more deeply," he said.
The survey also suggested that procurement officials feel stretched by the various procurement initiatives being pushed throughout the federal government. For instance, the Office of Management and Budget's competitive sourcing effort to allow contractors to bid on some federal work, and its lines of business initiative to consolidate back-end systems in areas such as financial management, can conflict with one another. And strategic sourcing can be at odds with performance-based contracting initiatives, Soloway said.
Procurement officials also feel detached from agency leaders and are spending less time on strategic thinking and more time on mundane activities, according to the report.
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