Working as an Acquisition Team
Under the Guiding Principles in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), FAR 1.102-3 – Acquisition Team states that identifying the members of the acquisition team encourages teamwork, unity of purpose, and open communication in sharing the vision and achieving the goal of the Federal Acquisition System.
This Guiding Principle is often lost in translation as we progress from the development of the requirement to contract closeout, however it is key to ensuring we achieve the best value for the U.S. taxpayer.
So who is this acquisition team?
While one might be inclined to think that we are simply talking about the individuals within the government, the FAR actually tells us that it begins with the customer and ends with the contractor providing the product or service. It also tells us that the government should prepare its team members to perform the functions and duties assigned to them within the context of the acquisition team through training, professional development, and other resources necessary for maintaining and improving their knowledge, skills, and abilities. It encourages contractors to do the same. This may have been one reason why Congress decided to include contractors in the provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16 NDAA) that pertains to the acquisition workforce (see Title VIII, Subtitle D).
So what type of training helps us work better as an acquisition team?
For the government, it begins with training the Contracting Officer (KO). The acquisition team does not exist without the KO who serves as the key interface between the government and its contractors. To ensure our KO’s possess the necessary skills to serve as such a liaison, we must train them to shape smart business arrangements, which begin with understanding the requirement, the market, and what drives contractors providing the requirement. Additionally, we must ensure they have a thorough understanding of the ethics issues involved in Federal acquisitions, as well as the types of negotiation techniques that lead to “win-win” situations. Training in these areas will provide KO’s with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to serve as effective commercial diplomats and stewards of the U.S. taxpayer’s dollars.
Next, we turn our attention to the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR), who is often the subject matter expert and onsite government representative. In another post, I discussed the training that I believe is important when it comes to the COR, however, just to synopsize, the COR should strive to be just as familiar as the KO with contract management responsibilities that are assigned to them and more knowledgeable than the KO in matters relevant to the product or service being acquired. This will result in a well-rounded COR, which is key to the successful progression and completion of a contract.
Finally, we turn to the contractor… the provider of the product or service being acquired. While contractors sometimes receive a bad rap, they are as essential a part of the acquisition team as the KO and COR; and, as such, it is my opinion that contractors should strive to be just as proficient in how the government conducts business as the KO and COR. While the FY16 NDAA incorporates contractors who provide acquisition-related services into the defense acquisition workforce, I believe all contractors should train their employees who manage the company’s government contracts in the same areas the government trains its acquisition employees. Doing so will result in better communications, as called for in the Myth-Busting Campaign (see “Myth-Busting” and “Myth-Busting 2”), as well as better relationships overall.
By aligning the training of all of the acquisition team members, as defined in the FAR, we can achieve a practical, common understanding across the spectrum that results in better requirements development, better evaluation criteria, and better acquisitions overall. But, training is just one aspect of what I believe the FAR means when it calls for teamwork, unity of purpose, and open communication.
What would you suggest is needed for an acquisition team to be successful?
More training? Better guidelines? Broader experience leading to an understanding of the different perspectives across the team?
It could be a number of things… but keeping this question at the forefront will allow you examine how your acquisition teams currently function and what is needed to make them better.