Forget Talk of Policy: Focus on People

Since coming onboard as new Administrator of The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), Joe Jordan has seemingly looked to policy, regulations, and guidance on tactical execution to help solve the procurement woes that are being faced by the federal government.

However, it has been some time since OFPP focused on what really is the problem, the acquisition workforce.

Granted Mr. Jordan discussed workforce in an interview with Federal Computer Week, and I hope he does indeed focus on it.

However, without a highly trained and functioning acquisition workforce, no initiative or improvements in the abysmal track record of government spending is possible.

Most new “initiatives” are treated with either derision, open hostility, or simply ignored due to lack of attention or even awareness. I recently asked a group of contract specialists about their use of open communication techniques, in accordance with OFPP’s “MythBusters” campaign, and you would have thought I was speaking another language by the blank stares I got.

One of the most respected (definitely by me) thought leaders in this profession, Vern Edwards, said it best on a recent post on this very issue:

…In a complex system like acquisition, any attempt to fix deep seated system faults through policy will fail. The only way to get at the deep seated problems in acquisition is through workforce improvement, and I don’t mean numbers. We need well-educated, superbly trained people for the big stuff, and we do not have enough of them. Mismanagement and poor leadership will prompt many of the best of the new recruits to leave. The problems are beyond the reach of management in the organizational structure we have now for the simple reason that no one is in charge. Only someone with the power and the ruthlessness of a Stalin could fix the system. A few purges might be just the thing…
It is the cold, hard truth. We need to focus on people, and not the numbers as I have previously discussed (here, here and here).
Focusing on tactical issues can certainly help, especially focusing on performance based contracting, better requirements development, and better communications and collaboration with industry. Nonetheless, the state of the acquisition workforce gets worse every day, and the hole keeps getting deeper.
You won’t hear that in any Presidential debate or attack ad. It is easier to focus on the symptoms rather than the disease.

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Lindsey Tepe

Interesting post – if leadership is the missing link for policy implementation, what kinds of strategies could be utilized to improve leadership within an organization?

Jaime Gracia

I believe the last sentence of Vern’s post is a goof strategy to utilize with the leadership issues, or lack thereof. It is called accountability, and sorely needed.

Jaime Gracia

Why indeed Robert? The numbers focus is to create a surge in the gap of personnel as to pertains to workload. Regretfully, the workload continues to rise while the workforce numbers generally remain flat. Training, and the amount of investment to get the newer people fluent and highly functional in contracting, is too high and not being done properly.

Combined with endemic cultures of teaching new people to do the wrong things, they learn from the beginning how to not be effective. There is no un-learning happening with senior people, so they mentor and teach the younger people broken processes.

The polarity issue manifests itself.

Bob Vitelli

The large, complicated, crisscrossing and ever-increasing amount of laws, rules and regulations weighs heavily on contracting officers and specialists. This dreaded overhang makes training, management and everything else much more difficult. Whenever the federal government attempts to solve a problem, it creates yet another burden to an already overburdened system. We need to solve problems without adding additional burdens. Simplification is a good place to start.

Jaime Gracia

Better yet Bob – follow the rules and best practices that already exist. No need for further regulations to solve problems that already have solutions, but nobody bothers to execute upon.