“We need to fundamentally rethink the workforce, to create a unified vision across government,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council.

“We need to fundamentally rethink the workforce, to create a unified vision across government,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council. Flickr user govwin

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Contractors Group Would Restructure White House Procurement Shop

Professional Services Council adds to mix of proposals to reform acquisition workforce.

Citing a “human capital crisis” in a federal workforce beset by retirements and inexperience, a major contractors group on Monday proposed acquisition reforms that would speed up the procurement process, enhance industry-agency collaboration and reorganize the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy to improve workforce training.

The Professional Services Council’s report joins an array of acquisition reform efforts under way in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill in addressing the need to create contracting officers with a more sophisticated grasp of industry trends in services contracting, particularly in information technology.

“We need to fundamentally rethink the workforce, to create a unified vision across government,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the council, which represents 375 member companies. “It will affect everything from how we prosecute wars to how we operate our business systems. The time for incremental or tactical change has long passed.”

The report, which will be formally submitted to the House and Senate Armed Services committees and the Office of Management and Budget, contains 42 recommendations organized largely around the acquisition cycle, only eight of which would require new legislation, noted John Goodman, chief operating officer of Accenture Federal Services, who helped lead the report’s preparation.

With nearly 60 percent of the government’s $500 billion in annual contracting dollars now going to services, “the current process for the government’s acquisition of professional and technology services is too slow, and even calcified, and fails to incentivize innovation and creativity that is available to help the government improve its mission outcomes,” the report said. “The federal workforce, which is among the most dedicated workforces in the world, is given neither the tools nor the support to exercise critical thinking and judgment and instead is rewarded for what are often the wrong strategic choices but that are nonetheless the ‘safest.’ ”  

The rapid evolution of technology requires an acquisition system with greater “speed to outcome,” agility, transparency in competitiveness and “a recognition that some degree of risk is inevitable,” the report said. “Speed to outcome is a critical measure of success, a metric we typically don’t look at much in government,” Soloway said.

The report comes down hard against the current trend toward “reverse auctions” in contracting, calling the practice “an inappropriate procurement method whose only purpose is the lowest possible price,” said the report’s other leader, Neil Albert, vice president of MCR LLC. The report said “past performance” must be a key metric in all contract solicitations and proposes curbing bid protests by enhancing formal information sharing and expectations between government and industry.

Most concretely, the report called for broadening the authority of the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy, allowing it to coordinate governmentwide acquisition policy rather than just contracting, and renaming it the Office of Federal Acquisition Management and Policy.

The Office of Personnel Management should work with this restructured White House office to “create a clearly defined career path for program management in the civilian agencies,” the council recommended. “The career path should include -- in addition to well-understood systems engineering and related skills -- numerous early functional rotations, contemporary training opportunities, and rotations in the private sector, all of which are essential to developing well rounded program managers and leaders.”

Similarly, OPM should also create a career path for technology management, which would “borrow from best commercial practices and lead to the development of a defined, fully supported, career field that combines critical business acumen and skills (including acquisition) with technology knowledge and expertise,” the report said.

Inside the Pentagon, by far the government’s largest buyer of goods and services, the Defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics should launch a pilot program to identify and test alternative acquisition workforce training and development tools, the council said. This should “include an open competition for tools that rely on contemporary online/interactive capabilities, focus on outcome‐based performance management and more.” 

Correction: The original version of this story misstated John Goodman's title as CEO of Accenture Federal Services. He is chief operating officer. The story has been updated to correct the error.

(Image via Flickr user govwin)