Recent survey results of federal acquisition senior procurement executives and chief acquisition officers provide a window into the world of government procurement and what should occur over the next few years, according to Kraig Conrad CEO of the National Contract Management Association (NCMA), who conducted the survey. (Federal News Network, January 7, 2020)
According to NCMA, the three major findings from the survey are:
- The role of the contracting officer is changing
- The business of contracting is changing.
- The workforce is changing.
The survey found that respondents are looking to shorten the procurement cycle while giving the Contracting Officer the ability to be less restricted and able to focus on providing solutions as opposed to getting mired in the routine administrative tasks. According to Conrad, the acquisition professional should see their role as a solution maker and not a compliance “police” officer, which ultimately limits the Contracting Officer’s impact. (ibid)
One element that threads itself through all of the findings is the need for top cover from agency executives to allow contracting officers as well as program managers the leeway and freedom to try different things and bring new ideas to the table. Conrad gives the example of the Air Force pitch days, in which 51 contracts were awarded to companies that have little or no experience with the military. The service doled out $3.5 million to those small businesses on a Wednesday — each in 15 minutes or less. The first installments of the companies’ contracts were in their bank accounts almost immediately. (ibid)
Conrad noted, “we heard from a lot of our senior procurement executives that in an environment where they feel they have top cover, the risk aversion conversation is easier to overcome. Otherwise, you will go right back to the same old model where everyone is trying to protect themselves. That top cover really only comes when someone in a leadership structure is not afraid to get in trouble. You run into situations where the senior leadership doesn’t feel they are covered or protected. It will take leaders stepping out and leaning over these challenges to be able to open challenges for their workforce.” (ibid)
Another area of impact on federal acquisition is technology. The survey white paper states “Several senior leaders even described a future in which an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules and regulations will be devalued as artificial intelligence further automates their application to acquisitions or incorporates regulatory provisions and requirements into contracting app algorithms.” (ibid)
According to Conrad, “we need to get better at how we train into the workforce. Those that have data science understanding need to tell a really good story with data. How are the contracting officers the solution makers? That really comes down to competency. What is those balance of skills that will allow someone to be competent as a business leader in this function? That is one of the areas, because of technology advances, that the technical components will soon be outweighed by the software skill needs.” Conrad feels the “softer skills” include a baseline knowledge of the actual problem/mission, products, and their related markets. (ibid)
Most senior leaders interviewed expect a shift from tactical to strategic work as technology is used for repetitive or routine tasks. It’s expected that many administrative tasks, for example, contract modifications, will become fully automated. Some senior leaders look to AI to further automate regulatory provisions and requirements into contracting app algorithms. (ibid)
Conrad expects to meet with federal acquisition leaders to discuss the survey results and begin the process of changing the role of the contracting officer.
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