To others it might be a clarion call.
In his appearance before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, the head of the Government Accountability Office highlighted fundamental problems with the way the government buys billions of dollars worth of goods and services. He called them "systemic challenges."
"The U.S. federal government is the single largest buyer in the world, obligating over $400 billion in fiscal year 2006 for a wide variety of goods and services, including complex projects that often involve unproven technologies," he said in the opening paragraph of his prepared testimony.
I've been hearing that $400 billion figure for awhile now, and it still makes me shake my head. That's a lot of money.
Walker's central point is that it's often not very well spent. At a time when the country is facing "growing long-range structural deficits," federal agencies are regularly involved in dubious or high-risk contracts.
In some cases, that means officials are buying expensive things that they want, not what the government really needs. In others, agencies are promising more from their deals than their private sector partners can actually deliver. Too often these days, he said, there's not enough oversight.
"Exacerbating these challenges is the evolving and enlarging role of contractors in peforming functions previously carried out by government personnel," said an overview of his presentation.
This will be familiar stuff to a lot of folks in the government and contracting world, at least those who read the reports issued like clockwork by the Government Accountability Office and inspectors general. Some argue that the problems are overstated.
(Another witness, Stan Soloway, president of an industry group called Professional Services Council, offered some differing views, and we'll come back to his and industry's perspective on another day.)
For the uninitiated, the sweep of Walker's concern likely will come as a surprise. Some of it might even be shocking.
Walker pinpointed what he thought will be a key to improvement going forward: Better oversight by government workers. Over the last decade the procurement workforce has been been depleted. "Yet much of the acquisition workforce's workload and complexity of responsibilities have been increasing without adequate attention to the workforce's size, skills and knowledge," his presentation said.
"Sustained high-level leadership is needed to set the right tone at the top in order to address acqusition challenges and ultimately, prevent fraud, waste, and abuse."
My question today is: Who will take on that mantle?
Diane Rehm focused on contracting on her radio show yesterday. To listen in, go here.
Here's what she had to say about it:
"The Federal government is increasingly relying on private sectors contractors to get its work done. We'll talk about the risks, benefits, and some of the longer term implications of this trend."
Larry Allen, Executive Vice President Coalition for Government Procurement
Robert O'Harrow, investigative reporter, Washington Post and author of "No Place To Hide"
Daniel Guttman, Fellow, Johns Hopkins Center for Study of American Government, former special counsel to senate oversight of contracting, and co-author of The Shadow Government
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