An Exchange Program for Federal and Industry Contracting Officers

Federal Times reporter Jim McElhatton has an interesting piece regarding an idea from Joseph Jordan (Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy) to have Federal and private sector procurement officers do job rotations. While the idea probably has too many regulatory and policy hurdles to clear to ever happen, it has a lot of merit.

When I was in government, I did not realize how difficult we on the government side made it for the private sector to provide the services we wanted to buy. After spending 2 years on the other side, I realize it is sometimes very difficult to get an agency to say what it wants. Sometimes it is because they are still trying to figure it out, but other times it is the result of fear that the agency might provide too much information to bidders and not get the best deal.

Sounds reasonable, but in most cases exactly the opposite happens. Instead of laying out exactly what they need, some agencies hoard information and provide only the barest details in an RFP. Whatever the reason, it makes writing a great proposal and pricing it much harder. Bidders blame the agency for lack of clarity and agencies blame bidders for lack of specificity.Bidders take their best shot at it, but without a true understanding of the agency’s needs, it is hard to provide the best proposal at the best price. Lack of clarity introduces risk, and risk adds cost.

If Administrator Jordan’s proposal became a reality, contracting officers on both sides would walk in the others’ shoes for a while. The understanding that would result on both sides would make it easier for agencies to get what they need at the best price, and would help bidders provide better, more complete, and ultimately better value proposals to government.

Joseph Jordan’s idea may have been an off-the-cuff comment or a serious policy proposal. The fact that doing it would be difficult should not deter OFPP from pursuing it.