For the government to be more efficient at acquisition, federal workers should be given greater freedom to exercise their judgment during the procurement process, instead of using a cookbook methodology, said the leader of defense giant Northrop Grumman.
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 procurement officials and industry workers. The event was held at National Harbor’s Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center last week.
“The predicate of negotiating a good contract must be the realization that one size does not fit all,” Bush told the crowd.
At Northrop Grumman, the flexible approach was already in practice, he said.
“When we send our team to negotiate, the person at the table is fully empowered to make the deal,” he said.
His remarks were directed at the government’s move to 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.
Bush’s speech likely resonated with those in the government, said Michael Fischetti, executive director for the contract management association and a former Defense Department contracting official.
Often, government contracting officers feel pressured to comply with the views of senior agency officials, Congress or even industry trade associations, Fischetti said.
Instead, they should look at “all the tools in their toolbox,” and use their authority and experience to make the best decision, he said.
Bush was one of many outspoken critics of the sequestration process in 2012, arguing that the mandatory across-the-board cuts needed to be applied more strategically. At last week’s event, he struck an optimistic note on the relationship between contractors and government.
“Whether you work for the government or the private sector, I believe we share many common goals and values that give me much optimism for our collective future,” Bush said.
Nick Nayak, former chief procurement officer at the Department of Homeland Security, who also attended the event, said he agreed with Bush on the need to give acquisition professionals greater flexibility. But keeping the lines of communication open between industry and government was more essential.
Nayak argued that some problems can be avoided by more discussion up front, outside of the formal procurement process. Homeland Security, for its part. conducted seminars where government and industry workers could share the rationale behind their decision-making, raising potential red flags, Nayak said.
Creating opportunities for such frank discussions can be easier said than done.
The General Services Administration spending scandal — where federal workers were chided for wasting taxpayer money on a lavish training conference in Las Vegas — continues to haunt government agencies, Fischetti said.
“Everybody’s still afraid to travel or train,” he said.
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