I always have to scratch my head at the curiosity of how the federal government operates in regards to budgetary matters. Although commercial best practices are all the rage in government, such as trying to leverage technologies and become more efficient, innovative, and agile, the one area that always seemed to be polar-opposite was the budget.
Commercial entities, specifically publically traded companies, have accountability to their shareholders and Wall Street (mostly Wall Street). As such, increasing productivity and lowering costs has always been a critical driver in efficient corporate operations. Unlike federal leaders, corporate leaders are held accountable for what is viewed as wasteful or excessive spending.
Although the federal government has made several initiatives as of late to increase productivity, it has always been, and continues to be, the accountability issue that has lagged the commercial sector.
That trend has seen a recent reversal. With the focus on cutting contracts, saving money is now a requirement. The Office of Management and Budget recently sent out a memo directing agencies to further tighten their belts, especially given the “TravelGate” scandal from the General Services Administration.
Cuts are also hurting industry, as salaries, benefits, and jobs are being shed to withstand the environment of lower margins, and lower rates on bids.
…Agencies typically wait until contracts are up for renewal or entering another option year to negotiate with vendors for a better deal. But Hancher’s reduced budget drove her to bargain with the agency’s help desk support contractor, Computer Sciences Corp., in the middle of an option year…
Different negotiating tactics are being employed, but it is the low-price model that has really taken a solid grip on how the government now buys.
…Donna James, owner of Accent Global System Architects, which helps agencies map their IT network systems, said she started noticing last year that agencies were more focused on price than best value. She lost every bid she competed for based on price.
To be more competitive, her company cut back contributions to employees’ health savings accounts and is hiring new staff at lower salaries, she said.
However, most of the contracts she competes for still call for highly skilled workers with special certifications, James said. “They want the sun, moon and stars and they don’t want to pay for it.”…
The federal government has turned into a buyers market, with procurement executives making difficult requirements without the opportunity for best value. I have seen a marked increase in small businesses getting squeezed to deliver, as the low-price model ensures that margins are squeezed as close to zero as possible just to stay viable. Best value is nothing more than lip service.
Several agencies seem to be getting the message, however, that early and upfront collaboration with industry is vital to understanding what is available, but also, what is affordable.
…At the Veterans Affairs Department, acquisition and IT executives meet with vendors early on about expectations and pricing, so there are no surprises on either side, said Luwanda Jones, VA’s executive director of IT acquisition strategy and business relationships…
Nonetheless, we’ll see how the end of fiscal year buying season turns out; the period between July and September that I refer to as the “Feeding Frenzy.”
Will agencies continue to spend like drunken sailors in this period, or will senior leaders demand cuts and finding ways to not spend end-of-year money?
Stay tuned to see if this paradigm shift actually occurs…
That is a good question, I recentley watched a tv program on President Bill Clinton. He was very good at working with the opposite political party to acheive results. I think that bi-partisanship gets in the way, when people try to do too much. We can all learn from Mr. Clinton!
A dysfunctional Congress certainly does not help matters!