Northrop CEO: Government officials should have the flexibility to get the job done


Wes Bush, chief executive officer of Northrop Grumman, in this April 17, 2014 file photo. (Jeffrey MacMillan/The Washington Post)

The key to more efficient government buying lies in giving federal workers greater freedom to make smart decisions, the leader of defense giant Northrop Grumman told a crowd of contracting professionals in a speech Monday.

To achieve the government mandates of affordability and good performance in a tight budget environment, acquisition officials — the people who decide how the government buys something — must have “the flexibility to get the job done,” said Wes Bush, Northrop’s chief executive.

He was speaking at the National Contract Management Association’s annual World Congress, a gathering of government officials and industry workers from the procurement world.

Despite an environment in which contractors are being asked to do more with less, Bush said he was optimistic about improving the government-contractor relationship. Defense spending has declined by 25 percent since its peak in 2010, he said.

Officials should have the ability to exercise judgment during negotiation, instead of using a “cookbook” methodology, he said.

“The predicate of negotiating a good contract must be the realization that one size does not fit all,” said Bush.

His remark was directed at the government’s move to give award contracts more on a basis of who is offering the lower price. Contractors say this approach can hurt the quality of work they can offer and dents their bottom lines.

At Northrop Grumman, the flexible approach was already in practice, Bush said.

“When we send our team to negotiate, the person at the table is fully empowered to make the deal,” he said.

Another aspect of the government-contractor relationship that needed improvement was the management of intellectual property rights, Bush said.

“There is a growing trend today for some government organizations to attempt to claim all intellectual property rights for any new development,” he said. “It is a threat to the continuing success in developing superior technology.”

To address the issue of government access to technology, Bush advocated for the use of more open systems architecture — a strategy used to build systems that are broken into independent, reusable pieces.

“This approach encourages continuous innovation,” he said.

Amrita Jayakumar covers IT and federal government contracting for Capital Business, The Post's local business section.
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