Dear DoD acquisitions bureaucracy: enough already. Please stop expanding the already monstrous labyrinth of buying procedures.
We are simply trying to place contracts in support of our military; is that asking too much? Granted, the acquisitions can get involved.
But the buying process itself — the fundamentals of soliciting requirements, evaluating offers, awarding and administering contracts — need this be anything like what it has become?
At this point, one would think that instead of just buying something, we are trying to secure a conviction in the most complicated and scrutinized criminal trial ever, with remarkable amounts of related documentation, and a jury of dozens of our peers. But as has been proved by others, a contract itself can be as technical as needed, yet with much simpler and effective processes behind it. Let me try to explain how we are so tragically failing the military and taxpayer, and then offer a solution.
Granted, spending someone else’s money brings serious accountability. But we have taken that to lengths that have the opposite impact — we are wasting fortunes to show we are not wasting fortunes, and abiding by a dizzying amount of documentation and review rules that in many cases are not necessary, and even violate other rules.
We are about as effective as mowing a lawn with tweezers and nail clippers, within intricate rules someone made up, while preparing complex surrounding documents for approval by the neighbors.
Did we forget the sensible Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) standard concerning the benefits exceeding the costs of our practices? Is anyone auditing for that while they desperately ensure compliance with procedures that don’t meet this responsible standard? We still have the best-equipped military in the world, but it is in spite of our broken ways and only through immense resources that eventually find a way around the impediments.
A blessing in this is that our enemies may realize there’s no need to bomb DoD acquisition offices. We do more damage to our country by being left alone. Becoming complicated to be more secure only makes us more insecure.
Here are some astonishing facts my office faces: We have the FAR at approximately 2,000 pages of highly detailed rules; the Defense FARs with about 900 pages; and my agency supplement with 1,300 more. These three layers also include more than 600 regulatory clauses and a mere 100 different procurement forms.
In addition to the 4,200-plus pages of rules, there are internal office policies into the hundreds of pages; instructions for our online systems at thousands of pages; countless directives, guides, standard operating procedures; and other requirements for even more.
Then what we call FNOs (From-Now-Ons) are issued via one to five emails a day — over 500 per year — to continually revise all this. Together, there has to be at least 10,000 pages of ever-changing minutiae, with no means to organize it at all.
Plus, legions of other reviews, approvals and audits appear at various stages of a procurement in endless oversight to make sure all is covered. Our actions, though not large by DoD standards, average 20 to 30 reviews along the way. My own record is 54 different reviews for a single, routine contract.
Under these conditions, one to two years to award a single contract is common; the cost becomes even more disturbing. DoD has more than 700,000 civilian positions supporting its approximately 1,400,000 uniformed personnel, yet we don’t provide the products and services they need. Contractors mostly do that. We are just facilitating it to the tune of at least $70 billion annually for only the DoD civilian costs that enable the support mainly through contracts.
I’m sure plenty of people already realize all this, so are we ever going to truly do something about it? Perhaps we could launch the Committee on Reforming Procurement Reform Committees?
Instead, let’s have just a few capable contracting people from the front lines devote themselves to a true FAR rewrite that covers only the essential buying procedures, with no interference. They must be ground-level professionals, the ones who perform the real work.
A true FAR rewrite has to eliminate the numerous supplements that add layers of regulation to the main FAR. Not just DoD supplements; all of the federal agencies use the same script.
Remember, we’re just buying stuff, and the terms of the contract can still be technical without such ridiculous procedures. Without massive committees, we have the ability to form a single FAR that’s much less monstrous and still covers all we need. Yes, we can buy anything with less than 2,000 pages of process, let alone 10,000 convoluted pages. Much of the rest of the world does so every day.
Next, end the daily changes while demanding why we don’t know what’s required at any given time. The bureaucracy should get one season a year to implement shifts in a somewhat organized way. If we got by this long without someone’s pressing need for another policy, surely it can wait until the next open season.
Right now, we scrutinize individual contracts more than sweeping changes that impact all contracts. If the shifts were truly evaluated for mission impact and implementation realities, would we find ourselves in this catastrophe? The policymakers never have to worry about executing contracts through the impediments they create, so they have little incentive.
Let’s hope for something meaningful to fix this mess, and not a Committee on Forming Meaningful Acquisition Reform Committees.
Joe Bednar, contracting officer with the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.