Report: Grading Government Program & Contract Offices

As budgets have changed, so has the procurement process. Rather than program offices directing contract offices to develop procurements as they did in the past, the contracting offices have become more responsible for procurements. This shift is seen by many as being bad for the procurement process – with concerns about inexperienced and overwhelmed contracting officers, offices that are struggling to understand and communicate the requirements, and conflicts and poor communications between the contracting and program offices becoming a common occurrence. This leads to delays, bid protests, bad decisions, and a reduction in the function of the program office and thus the agency’s mission.    

The Washington Technology Insider created a survey to look at Federal contracting and program management offices – what was going right, what was going wrong, what could be improved, and the evolution of the relationship between the two. 

First, they asked participants to grade their overall group of contracting offices. These scores ended up in the lower middle of the scale. They scored highest on how well they understand and follow processes, and lowest on taking risks, treatment of contractors, outcome focus, and strategic planning. 

When asked to grade their single best contracting office, the scores put the issue into sharper focus. The best offices overwhelmingly got scores at the top of the range, including for areas like communications, treatment of contractors, understanding the process, a focus on outcomes, understanding requirements, and managing problems.

Program management offices did a little better, with a general rating in the high middle range, and a big leap in scores when respondents were asked to grade their single best office. Low scores on risk-taking existed in all four results which seems to confirm a belief that both offices are too risk averse. 

Another permeating belief that this research appears to confirm is that contracting and program management offices do not work well together, with only 4.7 percent of respondents indicating that contracting and program management offices worked “very well” together, and 21.2 percent saying that they “don’t work well together.”

In worse news, survey respondents don’t think this is likely to get better. A whopping 61.8 percent expect things to stay in their current dismal state, and 25.9 percent expect it get worse. Only 12.4 percent expect any improvement. Most respondents blamed the contracting offices – suggesting that they lack understanding of mission requirements. Some believe that the problem is with the retirement of experienced contracting and program management officers, or overly restrictive regulations and compliance requirements. 

In answering open-ended questions, most respondents believed that the issues facing both offices could be improved by better communication and transparency, with a shift to the offices seeing each other as partners rather than enemies. The need to overcome the government’s risk aversion and to improve communications were consistent across the survey. The good news is that understanding the pain points and customer shortcomings can be an opportunity to predict and mitigate problems, and better serve your customers.