The federal government buys a lot of stuff each year. That’s a lot with a capital “L”.
By some estimates Uncle Sam shelled out $463 billion of your hard-earned tax dollars for an endless lists of things, from Post-it notes to tanks and stealth aircraft.
Politicians love to react to wasteful spending. And to stupid cuts. Like the reductions in portions of the CDC budget that at the start of a possible worldwide Ebola epidemic, suddenly don’t look so smart. If that (or some other disaster) happens, it won’t be the first time Uncle Sam has been caught with his pants down and his wallet exposed. Elected officials, many of whom probably caused or supported the “problem”, will be the first to denounce it. Meantime …
Do you recall, or know about, the bad old days when Uncle Sam purchased $435 claw hammers, $640 toilet seats and sometimes paid $7,600 for a coffee maker?
The time was the 1980s and politicians and the media had a field day at press conferences featuring the bad deal de jour. Some of the excesses were genuine. Others were hyped for publicity reasons. Some, because of the mission of the product, were justified.
Whether good, bad or ugly, the nation went through a period (starting in the 1980s, revived in the 1990s) where everybody talked about improved procurement and acquisition. But did anybody do anything about it.
One logical question — once all the hype is cleared away — is did we learn anything? Or it is the same-old same-old. This week, Federal News Radio did a series of serious pieces on the acquisition process. I don’t know about you, but I learned a lot. If you didn’t see the series, or if you want to pass it on, it’s archived.
Meantime, here’s a comment from one reader who says we have miles to go before we, as a government, can call ourselves smart shoppers. He says a good place to start would be with Congress and the budget process it has broken for political reasons:
“As a retired Contracting Officer Representative (formerly COTR) I was responsible for the acquisition of all things IT. This included mainframe computers, DASD communications devices, labor support and millions upon millions of dollars worth of software support renewal contracts and licenses renewals. I see where the powers that be are planning to get a roomful of bosses together to discuss reform. I have to ask, “Why not get the persons from contracting that actually perform the work in that room?
“One way to reform it immediately is for Congress to pass a budget that fully funds agencies for the entire year. I remember when there was shock and dismay about a $700 hammer procurement years ago. Those were the good old days. Continuing resolutions require CORs and Contracting to perform the same tasks four times a year instead of funding a contract once. Nearly the whole process has to be repeated three times after the initial award. Assuming you have GS13s and 14s working these contracts and total the salaried hours spent in repetitious extensions, then add in the salaried hours of Admin staff responsible for the initiating an office’s budget that have to spend hours adjusting and robbing Peter to pay Paul and there becomes a Congress created tax of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted each year because they can’t do the job they are mandated to do. This has gone on for years and is a criminal waste of money. As a retired Fed and tax payer I always resented this waste of my tax dollars. The public has no idea, and they should.” — John
Michael J. Fox was always the first choice to play Marty McFly in the 1985 film “Back to the Future”; however, his workload on the TV show “Family Ties” initially prevented him from taking the role. Actor Eric Stoltz was then cast to play the time-travelling hero. After four weeks of shooting, Director Robert Zemeckis and scriptwriter Bob Gale decided Stoltz wasn’t working out and the actor agreed. Fox joined the project, juggling both his day-time TV job and his night-time movie work on just five hours of sleep.