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When is procurement reform really reform?

There are regular declarations of "procurement reform" in federal acquisition that are broadcast from the Congress, the White House, large federal agencies, and special interest groups. Are those pronouncements true reform? Maybe. Though most definitions of reform suggest that it is making changes to improve an institution. Black's Law Dictionary states the purpose of reform is "to correct, rectify, amend, remodel." The so-called reform memos typically do none of that. I submit that what the reform we hear about makes no changes at the most fundamental level of procurement.

Instead, procurement reform is often an inspirational restatement of policy. The restatements remind acquisition strategists and decision-makers about underlying principles, standards to meet, and methods of reporting collected data. In sum, the restatements merely ensure that the practitioners are doing what the regulations and law currently require them to do.

Federal procurement law hasn't changed much since the late 1940s. Well-worn precedents don't change much. Sure, the statutes have added streamlined procurement methods, competitive advantages for some socioeconomic entities, and certain thresholds. But there is little that is fundamentally new.

Example in point. For decades, the law has permitted multiple-award IDIQ contracts. Small business set-asides are nothing new. Procurement thresholds have long been used to invoke certain levels of oversight.

Why is this important? The underlying theory and principles codified in the law provide the basis for regulations and policies. To successfully navigate public sector procurement regulations and policies, you must first know the theory and the principles. The law of course provides the bounds for the navigation. But applying the theory and principles within those bounds, you'll be amazed at the flexibility they afford.