Public Procurement in 2020 — Are You On Track? Part I

Last month, Bob Lohfeld of Lohfeld Consulting, a consulting firm that specializes in creating winning proposals for government contractors, published a commentary on 5 predictions for 2020 in Washington Technology that was, well, pretty generic and not all that useful. Jon Hansen of Procurement Insights did a deep dive into the 5-predictions in a 5-part series back in July that were much more detailed, in-depth, and, for the most part, at least in SI’s view, more accurate than Lohfeld’s.

This week, SI will review Hansen’s five part series on Hansen’s predictions for the Government Market, Workforce, Process, Technology, and Transportation. SI will take it one post at a time and try to paint a partial picture of 2020, based on what it feels are accurate predictions from Hansen. Where SI feels it is necessary, it will endeavour to fill in the gaps. It’s challenging to look ahead nine years, and impossible to predict everything, but it is possible to extrapolate some likelihoods based upon historical developments and current directions. Similarly, it is equally possible to rule out certain directions as they will be significantly unlikely.

Today, we’ll start with the Government Market. In his piece, Lohfeld prognosticated, in a nutshell, that:

  • Government and industry will be partners, working together to streamline acquisition processes and reduce wasteful proposal requirements.
  • The need for hard-copy proposal submissions will have disappeared or diminished sharply.
  • Performance-based contracting will finally be understood by both government and industry.
  • Government procurement organizations will have been substantially rebuilt.

In response to this predicted reformation of the public procurement sector, Hansen noted that there are three major stumbling blocks:

  1. leadership and the need to replace the old guard,
  2. a compelling need to address what has become an over-bloated workforce, and
  3. the absence of creative originality in the approach to solving said problems.

This is definitely the case. As noted in SI’s recent post on how Perfect Procurement Processes Will Not Save the Public Sector, major changes need to occur, including the need to:

  1. stop ignoring past performance,
  2. remove arbitrary MWBE requirements, and
  3. pay salaries at scales in line with the public sector

but none of this will happen without strong leadership who feels the sudden need to address the over-bloated under-performing workforce and has the open mindedness to find create solutions to age-old problems. And this is a problem because, as Hansen says, most governments are a morass of competing and conflicting interests that rarely if ever align themselves within the framework of a cohesive strategy for change.

Furthermore, as Hansen says, the extent to which paper-based transactions will dissipate into a cloud of electronic efficiency is uncertain. While paperless may be taking off in Europe, it’s really lagging in North America. Most places offer tenders online, and many will allow, or even insist on electronic copies of the full proposals, but still insist that that cover page, or summary, be submitted in hard-copy, five times, with original signatures from all officers of the submitting organization. It’s inevitable that we will get there, but it may take another lifetime, until the last public purchasing offer who ever insisted on paper has retired. And if life-spans, and retirement age, keep increasing, it could be a long lifetime.

Performance-based contracting may eventually be understood by the public sector, but until outdated legislation is taken off of the books, what can they do? And as to the extent that government procurement organizations will be rebuilt, as Hansen says, at the end of the day, the reality of the economic condition both at the federal and local levels trumps everything. For the first time since the Great Depression state’s and municipalities are facing the very real prospect of having to claim bankruptcy. As a result, the public sector procurement practice is likely to remain in a kind of non-active limbo for the foreseeable future and for some time to come.