The investment in the acquisition workforce and the launch of the mythbusters campaign were two of the major initiatives by Dan Gordon, the outgoing head of procurement in the federal government.
Gordon is stepping down as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to become an associate dean for government contracts law at the George Washington University Law School.
When he took on the role of administrator in mid-2009, Gordon said the biggest challenge he faced was helping acquisition workers and he has made the workforce his “number one priority.”
“They had been beaten down, worn down, under-invested in, run down — every negative word you can come up with — since the mid-1990s,” Gordon said in an interview with Off the Shelf host Roger Waldron.
In the 1990s, agencies saw a “tsunami of spending” for contracting, yet there were “too few people, too little training” for contracting officials, he said.
“We were outsourcing instinctively, often without really thinking whether the work being done really should be done by federal employees rather than contractors,” Gordon said.
Gordon said the acquisition workforce — both in terms of numbers and training — have improved in his time as administrator. He said the Defense Acquisition University and the Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy are examples of the emphasis the government is putting into training, but added, “We have a long ways to go.” For example, Gordon said every time a new Federal Acquisition Regulation is issued, training should accompany that new rule.
“Have we made progress? I think so,” Gordon said. “But I am very concerned that the budget pressures on the Hill will put much of that progress at risk. We need to protect the acquisition workforce. The good news is, this isn’t a partisan issue.”
Mythbusters requires ‘cultural change’
Gordon said his “lightbulb moment” for the mythbusters campaign came when OFPP was working with Vivek Kundra, the former federal chief information officer, on IT project management issues — particularly on figuring out why so many large IT projects ran behind schedule, over the budget and under the desired performance.
“The root cause often lay in poor requirements and the reason we had poor requirements in our solicitations was we weren’t listening to industry enough,” Gordon said.
He cited some words of wisdom from his 91-year-old mother: “You learn more from listening than from talking.”
So Gordon took this advice and applied it to the acquisition community. In February of this year, the Office of Management and Budget released a memo encouraging agencies to increase communication with industry. The memo that launched the mythbusters campaign required agencies to submit a vendor communication plan.
Gordon said the response to the initiative was, for some, concern. One contracting officer told Gordon that she was nervous to meet with industry because she did not want to get in trouble with ethics officials.
“My answer to her was, If you need to, take five lawyers from your agency with you, but have the meetings. Lawyers are your friends,” Gordon said.
Acquisition workers have also expressed their concern that the memo would only increase their already over-burdened workload. They did not want a situation where they were “forced to be listening to marketing campaigns,” Gordon said.
Industry, in return, is getting guidance about the kind of information agencies would like. OMB is now launching a second mythbusters focused on contractors.
The change for both government and industry will be cultural, Gordon said. “But I’m convinced that the push for the mythbusters campaign for more communication, early communication, honest communication, full communication, will pay off for the government, but also for industry.”