Overall, the federal acquisition regulations (FAR) do not provide adequate protection for the collective buying power of Americans. The FAR has prevented the federal government’s acquisition process from changing in a manner that would permit federal agencies to adapt to the rapid changes in technology (Schwartz, 2007). Currently, there are numerous obstacles in the federal acquisition process that inhibit the interaction between the private sector and federal agencies. The FAR does not allow vendors to adjust their proposals after responding to requests for proposals. Once a vendor has issued a solicitation in its final form, it is not easy for a federal agency to change a requirement in response to feedback from individual vendors, the only exception is where the feedback from a vendor entails technical mistakes made when preparing the solicitation documents, mistakes that a federal agency should correct.
Federal Acquisition Regulations System
The current regulations make it cumbersome to have just-in-time acquisitions, which is especially true in the case of procuring cloud and mobile computing technologies. Complex acquisition regulations and hefty penalties for non-compliance have forced federal agencies to be conservative when negotiating contracts, which is detrimental to the very objectives of the FAR. The cumbersome FAR rules have engendered a culture that is not supportive of the critical and creative thought that is crucial for the development of innovative approaches that can help enhance the protection of the collective buying power of the American people. Equally problematic is the fact that bid protests present the prospects of significant program delays, with delays causing the escalation of costs and undermining federal agencies’ ability to attain acquisition goals.
The potential for delays has forced acquisition professionals to exercise extreme caution against attempting solicitation methods that can engender bid protests. However, the caution by the acquisition professionals is counterproductive considering that it creates an environment in which people are very skeptical towards the adoption of acquisition strategies that are commensurate with changing times (Hunter et.al, 2015). There is a need for reforms to the FAR to ensure acquisition officials in federal agencies have the incentive to adopt innovative practices. Stakeholders have to consider initiatives that will increase awareness about the importance of increasing risk tolerance during acquisition as a way of enhancing the effectiveness of the FAR.
Reforms of Federal Acquisition Regulations
Reforms should adopt a broad perspective and go as far back as developing the strength and health of industry relationships, besides making regular emphasis on the need to engage the industry at the early stages of the acquisition process. Broad reforms will help deliver a comprehensive solution to the problems bedeviling acquisition in federal agencies at all stages of the process including requirements specification and pricing. The changing operating context of most federal agencies necessitates the use of an acquisition model in which there is risk-sharing, this model functions effectively when integrated with IT systems. Adopting cutting-edge processes within the current acquisition regulatory framework will no doubt increase costs and cause other inconveniences to the stakeholders involved, but over the long term, it will make the FAR effective in protecting the buying power of the American people.
The executive is not the proper branch that would effectuate the change needed to provide checks and balances for the purchase of goods and services for the U.S government, nowhere is this clearer than in the U.S Navy corruption scandal in which a contractor pleaded guilty in 2015 (Whitlock, 2015). The scandal involved the payment of bribes to officials of the U.S Navy. The Malaysian defense contractor paid bribes in cash as well as in-kind, including, among others, sex from prostitutes, spa treatments and lavish hotel stays. In turn, the Navy officials allowed the contractor’s firm, Glenne Defense Marine Asia, to supply food, fuel, and basic services at inflated prices.
It did not help that the firm had been a poor performer. In July 2013, the crew of USS George Washington got stuck on board for six hours because Glenne Defense Marine Asia had failed to find a gangway within a reasonable time. Earlier on, the firm had also dumped, illegally, untreated sewage from U.S Navy ships into protected waters. Yet, despite the firm’s poor performance, the Navy had retained it to provide supplies at inflated costs. Senior Navy officials were responsible for forestalling the losses occasioned by the corruption scandal, but a conflict of interest prevented them from fulfilling their responsibility.
Staff at the U.S Pacific fleet headquarters, worried about the prospects of trouble, tried to draft an ethics policy that could discourage the Navy officials from taking favors from the Malaysian contractor. However, senior Navy officials frustrated the efforts of Pacific fleet headquarters staff. The case of the U.S Navy shows that when officials in the executive have a conflict of interest, they will not have the incentive to effectuate changes that provide for the needed checks and balances in government procurement. It would be better if a different arm of government, such as the legislature, is given the responsibility of overseeing changes that can enhance the efficiency of government procurement.
Hunter, A., Sanders, G., Ellman, J., & Riley, M. (2015). Measuring the Success of Acquisition Reform by Major DoD Components. Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC.
Schwartz, J. I. (2007). Regulation and deregulation in public procurement law reform in the United States. Advancing Public Procurement: Practices, Innovation, and Best Practices, 177-201.
Whitlock, C. (January 15, 2015). Defense contractor pleads guilty in a massive bribery case. Washington Post.
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