Improving Transparency in Acquisitions and Procurement

September 2, 2009
By H. Mosher

Transparency remains an issue for the Obama administration, writes Christopher Dorobek in this month's Incoming column, Contract Transparency Poised to Open Up, Dorobek observes that one of the biggest challenges the administration has faced in executing programs through the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed earlier this year has been in oversight of the funds:

The [Recovery and Transparency Board] is responsible for oversight and transparency of the stimulus spending. An essential part of the foundation of that oversight and transparency is the Web site. The theory of Web 2.0 is that information is power, and that shared information only becomes more powerful. Therefore, the idea is to almost "crowdsource" the oversight process by making spending data available online. Then, people could see for themselves where money is being spent.

It is important to note that this type of oversight never has been done before. Agencies face a number of challenges for implementing the stimulus spending. One is getting the money out the door. Some government organizations, such as the Energy Department, have to manage stimulus allocations that are bigger than their annual appropriation. Imagine doubling the amount of work but keeping the same amount of people-and doing it all in a transparent way. Scores of challenges are here.

Dorobek invites "debate, discussion, examination and solutions" on these challenges and elaborates on some of the key ones he sees: task order transparency in multi-award contracts, for instance, and the ability to see at least portions of contracts that can be made public, but presently aren't. You can read his entire column and comment on his general argument here, but here at SIGNAL Scape we're curious: What do you think the next steps are in improving transparency, especially with regard to acquisitions and procurement?

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Bypass the Lockheed Martins, General Dynamics, BAEs, SERCOs, etc. and go directly to the subcontractors they hire to do the actual work.

Transparency can come in many forms. I think one of the most important reforms is the training and equipping of acquisition officers and associated personnel to ensure the acquisition system can withstand scrutiny. As an example, since retiring from the AF and being on industry we often see that the move to generalize SOOs and PWSs means the government's work is not scoped adequately and there can be a wide variance in approaches especially compared to the government's baseline, that includes their ICE. This combined with Sections L and M that are often confusing or at odds with each other make it difficult to ensure a compliant, well articulated proposal is constructed and that a fair and equitable price is submitted (i.e., is it really the intent of the government to do zero profit awards and drive companies out of business).

Additionally, the concept of best value is tending towards grading technical proposals as green and then selecting lowest price. However, what this tends to result in is turnover of experienced incumbent personnel 6 months into the contract (they take the positions early on while shopping resumes), new hires that have little to no experience, or the retention of personnel who will accept the lower salary but might be apathetic. The result being that the source selection resulted in lowest price but operational customer dissatisfaction and potentially poor CPARS.

With properly prepared source selection teams lead by qualified program managers/project leaders the need for transparency can be more opaque because the decisions made will be balanced between the operational necessity, the contracting officer inputs, and the experiences of a program manager. The result being a more rigorous source selection process that can adequately differentiate between technical, management, and past performance volumes, can assess the most realistic price, and can perform a balanced risk assessment on actual performance (i.e., not just writing a good proposal but accomplishing the work).

Ken Hirlinger

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