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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Procurement Dragons

By Lee Benson

One of my challenges in writing a column for Rotor & Wing is to attempt to be relevant to its entire readership. In the broadest terms that means for profit, not-for-profit, military, non-military, foreign and domestic. My career has spanned all six of the groups identified but mostly involved domestic, governmental operations. Guys, there are magazines out there that cater to governmental entities, but it would seem to be a little confining to write for “Government Ops Are Us” don’t you think? All of this came to me as I prepared to write a story about the recent multiple program failures related to procurement. In 2007 and 2008 several of my columns were a collection of mistakes and small successes that I had experienced in the acquisition process while I was employed by Los Angeles County Fire. All of this was intended to help my fellow chief pilot/program managers. One of my points was to be a little sensitive and inclusive to the procurement folks, more about this later. Being a consultant on program management issues, a product representative and an interested observer of military helicopter programs has caused me to beat my head against the wall and ask what the heck is going on? We have all repeatedly seen programs delayed, contested, or canceled. Why is this, why are a significant number of programs experiencing procurement problems? I think I can shed some light on this problem. One of the reasons is just plain old greed and corruption—been around since at least Judas, probably going to be around awhile longer.

The next reason is chief pilot or program managers not doing their job, but what is their job? Their job is not taking someone else’s specification and presenting it as your agency requirement. The reason that this is not the answer is because you can’t back it up. Two separate issues here—either you haven’t identified your mission profile and now you have nothing to base your specification on, or a specific specification is included to eliminate competition. For example, specifying a rotor system that rotates clockwise. This will eliminate half the OEMs, but let’s hear you explain why this trait is a defining quality needed to complete your mission. In both instances, when the tender hits the street the companies that you have excluded go to your procurement folks and make a detailed complaint against your tender; you can’t justify the specification against a written mission profile that includes every aspect of your specification, you lose the appeal and your tender gets tossed. First of all, don’t blame the company that contested the tender. They had expended time and money in their bid, they deserved a chance to compete on a level playing field. You tilted the field and got caught, you didn’t do your job, but they did theirs. More of this occurs then gets called out, but every time it occurs, it strengthens the procurement dragons rational for being further into your tent.

As I have said before, all procurement dragons go to the same oil field to reload their flame throwers, they talk, however dragons talk, and the next thing you know instead of their nose being under your tent flap they are sitting at your table telling you how to fly a helicopter. This trend of procurement dragons getting stronger by the day has to stop, if we as the aviation professionals are going to retain a seat at the head of the table. Two documents can help in this effort. One is your agency’s mission statement. Let me quote Los Angeles County Fire’s Mission Statement: “…to protect lives, the environment and property by providing prompt skillful and cost effective fire protection and life safety services.”

Every word of that mission statement was reflected in a detailed mission profile that was written with great specificity about exactly what was required of the helicopter when L.A. County Fire bought the Firehawk. That’s step one in how you slay a dragon. The additional factor is, what is the mission statement of the procurement dragons. The mission statements for most agencies would be difficult to apply to a procurement section within that agency, see the example above. Any subsection of a large entity left without defined goals and parameters will fill the axiom “that nature abhors a vacuum.” At this point I believe that the subspecies of dragons in procurement and human resources world are out of control and plotting their takeover of the world at the above mentioned oil field. Why do you think the U.S. General Services Administration spends millions of our dollars on conferences? Oil isn’t cheap and dragons use a lot of it.

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