Turning crisis into opportunity

That is the fundamental finding of the 2013 Professional Services Council Leadership Commission, a panel of 19 top executives. After months of internal deliberations, dialogues with a wide range of government acquisition, information technology and human capital leaders and front line professionals, the commission delivered its final report on September 9.  That report, “From Crisis to Opportunity: Creating a New Era of Government Efficiency, Innovation and Performance,” formed the basis for PSC’s testimony at the House Homeland Security Committee’s September 19 hearing exploring the state of DHS’s acquisition practices 10 years after the agency’s founding.

So what are these crises?  First, government faces a nearly complete generational transformation of its workforce at a time when it struggles to compete for, develop and retain the critical talent it needs. How does the government rebalance and prepare key workforce segments, such as acquisition, where a growing percentage of the workforce is inexperienced and lacks the kind of business acumen needed to operate in today’s marketplace? Or the information technology workforce, where the reverse problem exists: there are eight times as many people over 50 as under 30 and the trend line is going in the wrong direction? And how does one incentivize and reward innovation, inside government and from its contractors, when meeting short-term budget numbers is trumping the long term best interests of, and costs to, the government?

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The commission does not claim to have all of the answers; nor do we claim that all of our recommendations are entirely original. Instead, we coalesced existing and new ideas in a holistic manner and turned them into actionable recommendations, most of which do not require legislation but all of which will put us on a path to sustainable success and effectiveness. We believe these recommendations, will not only help the government effectively overcome the crises it faces but also help rebuild public confidence in our government.

Among our most significant recommendations center on the need to fundamentally rethink how the government plans its workforce needs and then develops key personnel, particularly in acquisition and technology. Commission members and virtually every government official and front line employee we spoke with were in strong agreement that we have yet to adequately resource or deploy the forward-looking development and training tools that are so badly needed.  Hence, the report contains recommendations designed to transform the workforce training and development methods and sources. We made specific recommendations to address the kind of collaboration that is so essential but is in short supply—both between government and industry and among government procurement, technology and operational communities.

The Commission also developed a simple, yet potentially transformational, risk-based taxonomy to help guide government acquisition and buying strategies. Rather than focusing on a “taxonomy” that simply looks back at buckets of spending already made, as is now the case, we seek to align risk and complexity from a business model perspective to the rules and guidance provided for in federal acquisition policies. This kind of a decision matrix does not exist today, but offers a valuable tool that can help improve outcomes and performance.

There are many other recommendations in the report addressing innovation, communications, how industry must also adapt and change and more. Further, the Commission has committed PSC to continued investment to work with the government on some thorny issues, including the impacts of award protests.

Our key message is simple: we cannot afford to underestimate, ignore or hide the enormous challenges converging to create the current crisis. The first step toward recovery is to recognize that these crises are real and that fundamental changes are needed. The next step is to respond with strong, sustained leadership and focus. We hope our report, and PSC’s testimony, will help meet the requirements of the first step and get us on the way to step two.  What are we waiting for?

Lineberger and Glover are the co-chairs of the 2013 PSC Leadership Commission and members of the PSC Board of Directors.