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Harnessing the power of collaboration for acquisition reform

At a time when very little can be agreed on in government and working collaboratively seems at an all-time low, the Section 809 Panel’s defense acquisition recommendations – specifically, its Professional Practice Guide – is a refreshing exception. 

This guide is a welcome anomaly on three fronts. First, the process to create the guide is proof that government collaboration with the private sector is both attainable and beneficial. Second, the guide focuses contracting and oversight stakeholders on what’s most important, ultimately reducing the administrative time and cost of getting products and services to the warfighter. Finally, this practical guide can be easily accessed and adopted today by stakeholders without enacting or changing any laws.

After wrestling with acquisition reform for many years, Congress created the Section 809 Panel (through the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act) to streamline and improve defense acquisition. The panel did just that, submitting a robust 98 recommendations for evolutionary and revolutionary improvements. The Professional Practice Guide is among those recommendations.

Stakeholders from the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) and the Defense Contract Management Agency, the Government Accountability Office, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and an industry association worked with the panel to tackle three issues of interest to Congress: the audit and accounting concepts of materiality, risk and internal controls. Through sheer determination, the group came to consensus on tangible, practical improvements for the defense contract audit and oversight process. By focusing on what’s important to end users, this group of dedicated and disciplined subject matter experts worked through many strong opposing views to establish guidance that will help acquisition professionals on the front line. And because of this process, this guidance is implicitly accepted by the very parties charged with following it.

While the guide is written for professionals who are closest to government contracts, it has broader import.  If it is used properly, contracting officers and buyers will have the right information at the right time to make good business decisions, speed up the contracting process and manage risk effectively.

It’s easy to say “yes” to the guide. In fact, it has explicit Defense Department support and is getting some traction. For example, in March 2019, the secretary of Defense endorsed the guide and the working group proposed to maintain and update it. In July of this year, DCAA furthered the initiative by issuing a Memorandum for Regional Directors to implement Chapter Two and Appendix A of the guide. Moreover, at least one civilian agency has issued a request for quotations for financial auditing services that specifically requests an audit workplan based, in part, on the DOD Professional Practice Guide.

The guide is here and gaining momentum. There’s nothing stopping contract personnel from joining this common sense trend. Any contracting officer can read it today and start holding auditors accountable to following it, making the contract administration and oversight process more effective and less painful for everyone.

The Professional Practice Guide is refreshing proof that professionals with widely differing perspectives can still come to consensus on solutions to age-old problems. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to our colleagues for their yearlong work on the guide, which they performed primarily as their second job.

When so little is in our control to change for the better, the guide is a ready, welcome resource that can make a difference now. 

About the Authors

Brent Calhoon is a partner with Baker Tilly’s Government Contractor Advisory Services.

Patrick Fitzgerald is a director with Baker Tilly’s Government Contractor Advisory Services.

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