Project managers must consult acquisition officers early, execs say

Too often acquisition is the 'tail that wags the dog,' ' meaning agencies bring in contracting officers after they have started planning a project, and that ends up delaying the process, said David Litman, the Transportation Department's senior procurement executive.

Litman, one of four executives who spoke today on a panel sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association in Bethesda, Md., said program managers should give acquisition officials a seat at the table at the beginning of a project and not after decisions have been made.

'Civilian agencies are just beginning to drive toward a program management culture,' he said. 'That will bring more structure, more discipline and more organization to IT and other purchases.'

Mike Sade, the Commerce Department's procurement executive, said agencies should create an environment in which contracting officers are on the front line to support the agency's mission.

The Interior Department is making progress in bringing acquisition personnel into the picture earlier, said procurement executive Debra Sonderman.

'For the fiscal 2005 budget, my office is reviewing and approving the acquisition strategy for every major IT and construction project,' she said. 'It is a real illuminating process because having acquisition as a part of the project team is extremely important.'

Sonderman said she also sits on Interior's IT Management Council to add a business perspective to the group.

In addition to increasing the visibility of acquisition officials, the panel agreed that agencies should develop performance measures to understand how effective the acquisition community is in buying goods and services.

'We don't know if we are heading in the right direction because we have no way to measure ourselves,' Litman said. 'We only now are seeing performance metrics, especially under the President's Management Agenda, penetrating into agencies.'

Sade said Commerce is using a balanced scorecard approach to measure its performance, but it needs other metrics to have a complete picture.

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