Sage Comments on the Procurement System

posted in: Other Transactions | 0
Share this:

People sometimes ask about the procurement system “how did things get so messed up?” or “why is the system so slow and unresponsive?” The answers to those questions might require a series of lectures or extensive study but below are some quotes from knowledgeable people who worked within the system, taught and wrote about it, or, suffered from its emphasis on regulation.

Professor Ralph C. Nash, dean of government contracts professors, wrote about a change in the DFARS concerning interim vouchers that reminded him of an action taken by the old Armed Services Procurement Regulation Committee years before that he used as a teaching example. The Committee action was reported in the Government Contractor magazine:

After reviewing this proposal, the ASPR Committee observes that – although prior DCAA review is in many cases “perfunctory and therefor unnecessary” – it is nevertheless a control which “should not be lightly discarded.” Moreover, it does not appear to the Committee that DCAA reviews cause any significant delays in invoice payment. Accordingly the Committee has decided not to adopt the proposed procedure.

Professor Nash commented: “I always liked this description because it seemed to say something about how the regulatory mind worked. It may be “perfunctory and unnecessary” but it looks good and does only a little harm! That’s the regulatory process – an accumulation of hundreds of those critters.”

The explosion of regulations and the requirement of the basic procurement regulation that requires contracting officers to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations had another effect noted by Commissioner James Ramey of the Atomic Energy Commission:

If you have a system of contracting or administering where everything is written out on what a fellow should do, and there isn’t any room for judgment or discretion…over a period of time, you don’t tend to get good people that are doing your administration or carrying out your contracts.

For those folks who could not imagine a procurement system much different than the one that exists, James Nagle in his history of government contracting wrote: “If someone were asked to devise a contracting system for the federal government, it is inconceivable that one reasonable person or a committee of reasonable people could come up with our current system.” Nagle noted the system resulted from thousands of decisions from various individuals and interests, interests that were often in collision, and, was impacted by innumerable scandals and perceived successes.   

    In contrast an early article on “Other Transactions” noted:

Rather than rules and regulations, DARPA’s negotiators have to rely on common sense and good judgment to craft an agreement that achieves government objectives collaboratively with industry and maintains the public trust.