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March 06, 2009

Kicking the Contracting Can Down the Road
Posted by Michael Cohen

This week, President Obama issued a new presidential memorandum regarding government contracting.While the move has received widespread praise, there is unfortunately less here then meets the eye.

The President has instructed the OMB Director, and various agency heads, to review existing contracts and identify those that are wasteful and inefficient. In addition, Obama is seeking to open up the procurement process and end the practice of sole-source contracting.

This all sounds well and good . . . but what goes unanswered is who is going to carry out the President's orders. What is not included in the President's plan is how he plans on dealing with the crisis in the government contracting workforce. Take the Pentagon for example. 

Over the past several years the "acquisition workforce has dwindled by 25 percent, while the contracting workload has increased by a factor of seven."

In 1997 one auditor was responsible for $642 million in private contracts; today one auditor is responsible for $2 billion in private contracts."

This problem is only going to get worse as more than half of all contract auditors are expected to retire  within the next 10 years. What is needed are not only more contract management officials, but the Pentagon also needs to make this career path an attractive one for career officers so that they are persuaded to stay with it.  

While it may be verboten in Washington to call for more "government bureaucrats" no serious contracting reform effort can occur without a significantly increased acquisition workforce. President Obama has made a fairly big point about identifying some of the challenges with government contracting today, but by failing to tackle the workforce issue I'm not sure how seriously to take it. I fear that the Obama Administration's new contracting rhetoric may be just that . . . talk. 



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