Insight by George Mason University

GMU’s Dr. Jerry McGinn: Happy warrior for contracting and acquisition learning

It may seem dry to outsiders, but federal acquisition and contracting is a vital, complex, and – in its own way – exciting field. After all, the government spends something like half a trillion dollars on contracted goods and services every year.

True, much of acquisition is for repetitive goods and services, office or maintenance supplies, ordnance and replacement uniforms for soldiers. But the government is seeking to modernize many of its missions, its delivery of services to citizens, and the military “offset” advantages necessary for national security.

These all require close collaboration with industry and the adoption of commercial technologies. That in turn often requires creative approaches to acquisition and contracting, both with the Federal Acquisition Regulation and its Defense supplement, and in some cases with other legal authorities.

In is in this rich ferment that the George Mason University’s School of Business launched its Center for Government Contracting. Its executive director is Dr. Jerry McGinn. A long time practitioner in national security affairs, McGinn served, among other duties, as the senior career official in the Office of Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy at the Defense Department. He also worked at several major technology and defense companies. Earlier, at the Rand Corporation, he completed a landmark study of the United States’ history of nation building.

In this interview, McGinn discusses a range of contracting-related topics with Federal News Network’s Tom Temin. Among them:

  • The resurgence of other transaction authorities, or OTAs, in both civilian and defense agencies, and the best way to make sure they are used for their intended purposes related to innovation and prototyping.
  • Defense mergers and acquisition, not only at the Raytheon-United Technologies level but also at the mid-tier level, and how they impact acquisition and contracting.
  • The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, as well as the Chinese technology conundrum.
  • How DOD is moving ahead with the many reforms ordered up in successive authorization bills.

Listen to the interview, and hear an expert thinking out loud.

Overview of the Center for Government Contracting

There are a number of efforts … in the DOD heavily focused on using other transaction authorities. They’re really trying to find more rapid ways to get things moving. You’re building prototypes and the like. That has benefits but it remains to be seen whether that leads to longer-term programs.

The Business of Acquisition and Contracting

A challenge in the broad aerospace and defense industries is strengthening the middle tier [of contractors]. You’ll find a lot of competition in the services area because there are much lower barriers to entry. It’s harder in the platform companies because they get bigger and they get bought.

National Security

The Senate and House Armed Services Committees have been tremendously active under former Chairman [Mac] Thornberry and the late John McCain on doing acquisition reform. Those efforts have given the Defense Department lots of activities to work on…in middle tier acquisition, in small business reform, on rapid acquisition, on rapid prototyping. It’s hard for the Department to digest these.

Listen to the full show:

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