Contract Management not Sexy, but Necessary

A recent Defense Department inspector general report found that contracting officers and their representatives (COR) at the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity need to step up their game when it comes to improving contract performance and acquisition outcomes.

The report shins a light on a reality hitting many procurement offices, where the intense workload, combined with a lack of enough skilled and trained 1102s, is creating an environment where quality is being sacrificed at the expense of performance.

Just taking a look at the topic headers is an eye-opening example of a procurement organization that is in need of serious improvements:

  • Sole-Source Awards Not Adequately Justified
  • Price Reasonableness Not Adequately Determined
  • Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans Not Prepared
  • Inadequate Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans
  • Contracting Officer’s Representative Acceptance of Deliverables Not Documented
  • Language in Contracting Officer’s Representative Letters Too General
  • Invoice Review Needs Improvement

The recommendations are also somewhat disturbing, in that they basically outline what needs to happen to realize improvements and work to improve this organization. Mainly, the recommendations state that contracting officers and CORs need to do their jobs, since some of the responses the IGs received where common in this environment: lack of time, resources, and a focus on production.

Simple tools, such as checklists, can be created to ensure that ALL the requirements of a contract action are achieved. This may seem simplistic, but following the checklists, and having them executed through automated contract systems and solutions, will ensure that the proper steps have been conducted. Basically, contract actions can not bee executed until these issues have been eliminated by ensuring the proper steps an actions by procurement personnel have been followed and verified. This is ultimately creating an environment of accountability, and hopefully improved quality.

I don’t have time is not a legitimate excuse, not under any circumstance. However, leadership needs to understand the needs of the organization, provide the proper level of oversight, resources, and training to the procurement staff, and ensure that things are being done properly.

Best practices are plentiful, and they need to be acted on.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Stacy Rapp

I agree and think this is a very good point to bring up. I work in a contracting office and cannot believe some of the practices that have not been standardized. Call it a checklist or standardization, regardless, this is essential for two reasons. One, it gets everyone on board for a basic standard procedure that flows from one person to the next, but also it keeps everything better organized so that you don’t forget a step in the process. In addition, continuous improvement is easier to manage because you have a starting point and can move forward from the basic standardization. This is just my view from moving from a contracting office as a vendor to crossing over to a contracting office with the government.

Alot of the findings appear to be around lack of oversight, but I feel that you have to start fixing things at the bottom such as the basic foundation. I have a friend that came from the DOI/NP’s and she said that they went through an overhaul and standardization a few years ago. I’m sure it was met with much resistance as it was change, but I think she felt it was a positive change for the better overall. Would be curious to get another opinion on that.

Jaime Gracia

Stacy – The last contracting organization I worked with, you can go cube to cube, and each contracting specialist had different way of doing things. You can imagine the level of frustration amongst their customer base, as they too did not have standardized process for PR packages.

Standardization should come through automation, since it creates a dynamic for workflow to ensure processes have been followed. This is simply a production issue for short-term solutions to improve the level of quality of current work, and thus acquisition outcomes.

The long-term solution is really a change and knowledge management exercise that requires top-level leadership to drive and support. One of my best engagements was leading a team to implement the evaluation and ultimate restructuring of an organization based on GAO’s Framework For Assessing The Acquisition Function At Federal Agencies (GAO-05-218G).

The framework was developed to help high-level, qualitative assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the acquisition function at federal agencies. Further, the assessment allows leadership the clear view of the areas needing greater management attention, and to enable accountability by identifying areas requiring more focused follow-up work.

I can think of one provurement-related organization that should not undertake this assessment, but it is easier to focus on the short-term since workload dominates the conversation. Further, time and money issues are also at the forefront of any discussion, so status quo will remain for some time at the expense of better outcomes.

Stacy Rapp

The cube to cube situation you once faced is a challenge I currently see at my organization and I guess I just don’t understand why. With that being said though, I work for the Forest Service and they are talking about doing some big changes this year within AQM. We will see how that goes. That referenced doc will be a good reference to compare to what changes we’re going through.

Jaime Gracia

Having worked with Forest Service AQM (not the agency I was referring to), but do agree that the changes you mention will undoubtedly help.