A Vision of the Government as a World-Class Buyer: Major Procurement Issues for the Coming Decade
By: Jacques Gansler
This study examines the federal government’s procurement system, which has been questioned since the country’s founding in the 18th century. In equipping the troops at Valley Forge, George Washington had to deal with considerable “waste, fraud, and abuse,” and over the years this has been a recurring issue.
In the mid-1990s, however, the problem reached headline proportions. There were a series of revelations of “grossly overpriced” common commercial items (coffee pots, hammers, and toilet seats), exposing the federal government’s poor procurement acumen. As a result of these headline scandals, there was a loss of public confidence and trust in government procurement. People thought it was probably too much to pay a billion dollars each for a new bomber, but they didn’t know exactly what one should cost. By contrast, they knew they could buy a hammer at the store for a few dollars and that when the government was paying $400 for one, something was wrong.
Government clearly was not keeping up with world-class performance, and its processes were way out of date. Unfortunately, public outrage resulted in a highly regulated and legislated process unique to government procurement that fails to achieve the desired objectives of efficiency and effectiveness. Great progress has been made over the last decade in the way in which government does its business. Nonetheless, major problems still remain within the acquisition process, and there are many opportunities for not only assuring that those reforms are continued during the 21st century, but also that others are introduced to maintain the momentum and increase the benefits significantly.
Traditionally when considering government procurement, people tended to focus almost entirely on the question: How does government buy? However, to achieve the desired long-term effectiveness and efficiency, a total transformation is required in many areas. Specifically, the four areas covered in this report—Who does the buying? What do they buy? How do they buy? From whom do they buy?—all require numerous changes. All four areas of acquisition must be addressed together to enact significant changes that will transform the U.S. government into a world-class buyer.