Can the U.S. government implement its new procurement guidelines?

A cargo ship in Seattle, Washington. Will the new procurement guidelines translate to a more streamlined system? Photo by: Kristi / CC BY-NC-SA 

A U.S. Office of Federal Procurement Policy unveiled last week new guidelines to simplify procurement systems, improve their performance, drive innovation and increase savings.

However, some wonder if the new guidance lacks staying power.

The memo outlines a number of steps, including “a new paradigm for purchasing,” training and skill sharing across agencies, and strengthening relationships with vendors.

Global development professionals, who have long sought a more streamlined procurement bureaucracy, have found some reason for optimism in the new guidelines. The call for new workforce development, for example, is long overdue, according to Professional Services Council President and CEO Stan Soloway.

Still, the new approach — which mandates new reporting guidelines around pay and workplace safety — suggest that old redundancies might be replaced by new ones.

“We understand there’s going to be compliance requirements, but this is public money, how far is it going to go?” Soloway told Devex. “And by some estimates [of compliance costs] today, it’s close to 30 cents on the dollar, it’s a very significant element.”

The new guidelines center on three key objectives:

1. Buying as one through category management. A new procurement model will shift from managing purchases and price individually across thousands of procurement units to managing entire categories of common spend and total cost through category management. The change will cut down on the time and cost of evaluating identical or similar products and services.

2. Deploying talent and tools across agencies and growing talent within agencies to

drive innovation. The Obama administration has prioritized innovation across U.S. government agencies. Initiatives like the U.S. Agency for International Development’s new Global Development Lab are seeking to institutionalize innovation in U.S. development programs, but some implementers and contractors wonder whether it’s possible to push new ideas through the same cumbersome funding mechanisms. Training employees and experts to be more versatile across agencies would not only cut down on redundant skillsets, but allow government access to “the most innovative companies,” according to the memo.

3. Building stronger vendor relationships. The memo directs the OFPP to take a number of steps that can improve “vendor management,” in particular in order to ensure the federal government is able to access the best and latest information technology services, to drive innovation and increase operational efficiency.

As the current administration winds down, the staying power of such memos and guidelines is uncertain — as is the ability of notoriously slow-changing bureaucracies to internalize and operationalize the guidance they receive. Soloway believes there is time to implement some of the changes, but all of them is unlikely.

“New ideas around workforce development, and they could begin to address some of the compliance requirements. Hopefully these are things that won’t be reversed in the next administration,” he added, noting that a full transformation remains unlikely, given that current challenges relate to more than just guidelines.

What’s missing, he explained, “is not a matter of policy, it’s a matter of culture,” adding that “it’s not just that they’re hearing the message, but are they acting on it? And that’s a whole different level of leadership engagement and encouragement.”

What’s your take on the U.S. government’s new procurement framework — and how can USAID and the State Department implement these changes in a way that will ensure staying power beyond the current administration? Please share your thoughts by sending an email to or leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

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