These were the words of a career procurement specialist who shall remain unnamed, at an agency that shall remain unnamed, as the point is not to embarrass an individual or agency so much as it is to identify an attitude that is all too widespread in the federal procurement and contract management world.
And if you think I am overstating things, these words were uttered in a meeting with at least a dozen other procurement specialists, who mostly grinned and nodded agreement.
In context, the attitude being expressed was “we’ve been doing this thankless job for a long time, often under very difficult circumstances, and we know how to get things done, so don’t bore us with the fine print.”
One could even say that cutting corners and bending rules are reasonable risks for these people to be taking, considering the workloads, and time pressures, and even political pressures that they face.
In their minds, to dot every “i” and cross every “t” would mean getting through only a fraction of the work demanded of them every day—to no one’s appreciation—in fact, more likely with the result of poor performance ratings, and slow, or nonexistent promotions.
As a very senior federal manager once explained to me, “my job is mostly about managing risks. There is no possible way that I could stay on top of all the detailed rules and regulations and policies that govern what I do, so all I can really do is try to look after the things that might have the greatest adverse impact if they blow up, and hope I don’t get caught out.”
These are, for the most part, serious, dedicated, professional people. How could we have put them in such difficult circumstances? What can we do to help them, so they can do a great job, keep up with the workloads, and not feel that they have to cut corners to get there?
What if we could somehow automate the tedium of ensuring that the FAR and other regulations and policies are followed—make that part of the process automatic? Is that even possible?
Perhaps we should ask “Siri”? Or “Watson”?
The point being, if we can develop technologies smart enough to answer complex questions conversationally, or to crush human Jeopardy champions, certainly we figure out a way to help government procurement people do their jobs without feeling like they have to play the system just to get things done.
Is that game not worth the candle?