Aligning for Acquisition Success: Overcoming Obstacles for Results

This Acquisition Policy Survey, now in its eighth biennial edition, is the only comprehensive survey of federal acquisition professionals. The survey includes extensive interviews with federal employees at all levels who comprise the federal acquisition workforce, from senior leaders to front-line contracting officials to those who oversee their work. We are the only survey that has regularly asked over the last fourteen years about the health and capabilities of the federal acquisition workforce, the impact of perturbations in federal budgets and spending, and the effect of oversight and compliance. This long-term evaluation gives us, and all who are interested in the federal acquisition ecosystem, unique insights.

Over the first eight years of this survey, federal spending on the purchase of goods and services grew significantly, while in the last six years it has declined year-over-year. The size of the federal acquisition workforce was shrinking during the first eight years of the survey, but over the past six years it has recovered in numbers—but not in experience or capabilities. Over the past fourteen years, federal budgets have been marked by long periods of instability and uncertainty, defined by continuing resolutions and government shutdowns.

Through this survey effort, we probed on a set of five core topics currently affecting federal acquisition: workforce, budget, communications and collaboration, access to innovation, and oversight and compliance. While each discrete area affects acquisition outcomes, these elements are interconnected. For example, we were interested in understanding how the acquisition system and its workforce respond to issues such as “innovation” and communications. Obviously the federal acquisition community cannot change the federal budgeting process or the oversight regimes. But there are areas where they have direct control over their actions—such as in workforce training or communications—where further improvements are needed. Overcoming challenges to optimizing each of these individual elements will drive broad based results.

Despite external and internal pressures, the federal acquisition system still has been remarkably resilient and successful. Overwhelmingly, the federal acquisition system delivers to agencies the needed goods and services, when they are needed, and at fair and reasonable prices. Although improvements in federal acquisition must be made rapidly in many areas, including all of those highlighted in this survey, we also appreciate the complexity and diversity of that system.

The transition to a new president and the start of a new Congress in January 2017 may provide both the opportunity and the impetus for change. As the authors of this survey, we stand ready to work with government officials in finding the best possible solutions to these challenges. We also should not wait to start.

Read the 2016 Acquisition Policy Survey