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5 Fallacies of Government Series: Is the government a terrible buyer?

Federal News Radio's 5 Fallacies of Government? series is officially underway! Each day this week we'll be looking at some of the most common stereotypes about the federal government and federal employees. We want to know what the GovLoop community thinks about these "fallacies." Are they fact or fiction?

Monday's question: Is the government a terrible buyer? Does it spend way too much money or is it efficient when it comes to procuring items? The $500 hammer. The $1,000 toilet seat. These are among the most criticized examples of government spending. But are they the rule or the exception? And are higher costs ever justified?

Check out our 5 Fallacies of Government? page to see what our reporters and on-air teams have found out about this issue. In our investigation, we interview former GSA executives responsible for setting acquisition policy, industry experts whose goal it is to help government get the best deal and current contractors who sell their products to the government. We also hear from the head of the Federal Acquisition Service about his thoughts on the value in the deals government makes.

Then head back here to discuss it all with your peers! Can't wait to hear what you all think!

Tags: 5, Fallacies, Federal, Government, News, Radio, contracting, of

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I think it depends on how you define a terrible buyer. In my personal life, I make different buying decisions all the time - sometimes I buy quickly without much thought to cost cause I need something (trapped in airport for example). Other times I spend a huge amount of time doing research on best quality and price. Other times I pay a little extra to assume better quality.

So I call fiction. Government is a very unique buyer and that affects how it does business. It's not always the fastest or gets the absolute cheapest price. But it does a really good job and spends a lot of effort to ensure that procurements are open and fair which is essential when viewing whether government is succeeding.
Gwynne, we had Steve Kelman on FederalNewsRadio Monday afternoon discussing the whole hammer incident. He had to deal with that when he was OFPP administrator. His thoughts were pretty interesting. You should check it out when you have time!
I do think higher costs are justified. For example, if we want bullet proof armor in Iraq, I'd much rather pay a premium to ensure they are there on time (if not early) and work 110% effective (vs 99%)
I think many here are missing the point. Of course we want bullet proof armor for our fighting men and women. Of course we want to be fair in our purchasing practices. But at the same time, we shouldn't get dooped
It is the everyday things that govt. spends too much money on!
Take airplane flights. We are required to use a government contracted service for our airplane flights.
These flights are routinely 2 to 4 times the price of a plane flight that I can book myself simply by going on the internet and using a major airline's webpage and flying as a member of the public. It makes no sense. We are paying a contractor to provide us a service and then we are paying overpriced fares. So the government loses money twice. If you travel just a couple times a year, this can waste over $1 thousand per employee. Now multiply that by the number of employees that you know that travel by air.
Duane -- Try going online and getting a fully refundable, fully transferable ticket that can be changed at the last moment for no additional cost. For example, United's lowest cost for a rt ticket to LA is $200 but the cost for a refundable ticket is $1156. Comparing apples to apples, the government travel costs are not that bad.
Is the government a terrible buyer? I do think so, but I think the real focus and questions need to be on how the government buys, in which case I believe the processes are not optimal and need vast improvement. Namely, improve how the government buys through process improvement initiatives (Lean Six Sigma), leverage technology and collaborative tools to increase knowledge and information flow (Gov 2.0), create opportunities for savings and best practices through performance based acquisitions and share-in-savings techniques, replace the FAR with a streamlined, accessible e-FAR and e-procurement tools that are standardized across government, and create a life-cycle approach to the acquisition workforce that have the skills and competencies to be successful business advisors. I look forward to hearing from leaders in government in the value for the deals government makes, as I am curious as to what they feel is working, and what is not, as it should be an interesting vantage point.
Jaime, not sure if you had a chance to look at the page we created for our 5 Fallacies series at but we had Jim Williams on from GSA. He wrote a guest column for us talking about this very issue and we had him on for an interview as well. His take is pretty interesting as the Commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service. Check it out. Let us know what you think! Here's a link to our overall coverage of the government is a terrible buyer report as well.
I did read his post, and Mr. Williams makes some points about the great things that GSA is doing. However, I think there needs to be a measure of reality in that millions are also wasted by inefficient processes, redundancies and overlaps in vehicles (BPAs, GWACs, IDIQs), in addition to the outdated technology and confusion in service these problems create. The whole picture needs to be discussed, and not just the positives.
It isn't just the buying. They sell lots of Surplus stuff. But dont try to buy anything unless you are an insider or contractor. You will find lots of little rules and regulations that gerrymander all the best deals into the hands of insiders.

I just got a good dose of it when I tried to buy some used computers for the disabled at GSA Auctions. They have some proxy bidding rules that are daunting and a secrecy policy that hides the workings. It aint a real auction at all. Unlike a real Auction where the highest bid wins, there is no way to ascertain whether it is on the up and up or not, except to take their word for it.

It looks to me like contractors are pretty much in control of the government.


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