Blog: Many Elements Contribute to Acquisition System Woes

May 14, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

Views about how to improve government acquisition varied greatly during the final panel session of the Joint Warfighting Conference. While some panel members expressed confidence in the current system, admitting it needs some improvements, others stated that much more drastic changes are needed to get solutions into the field. Moderator Dr. Dov Zakheim, vice president, global defense, Booz Allen Hamilton, began the discussion by describing the U.S. government's acquisition system as one that is based on end-running the system. "How do we make the exception the rule?" Zakheim asked.

Even the topic of the number of acquisition professionals in government organizations was a topic of debate. While all of the panelists agreed that a severe shortage of contracting officers exists, others pointed out that that is only the tip of the iceberg. At the core is a need for professional development of the current acquisition force. The system that is in place to train and promote the acquisition personnel today is inadequate, Zakheim emphasized.

Panelist Mark J. Lumer, former contracting executive, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, offered some advice to both business and the government. A small business owner in the audience asked the panel for advice about how to get his foot in the door with a government agency. Lumer emphasized that company representatives should go directly to the technical people in an organization rather than the procurement officers. After all, he said, acquisition personnel are the business-not the solution-seeking-side of the government.

Lumer also suggested-with a mixture of humor and sincerity-a three-year moratorium on changes to acquisition laws. Although some reform has been beneficial, Lumer pointed out that other laws some have teetered on the absurd. For example, after the Gulf Coast was pulverized by hurricanes, procurement officers were directed to purchase support and rebuilding supplies only from local vendors. Obviously, being restricted to buying water only from a bottled-water plant that is underwater does not make a lot of sense, he shared.

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