Acquisition Professionals Place Little Importance on Innovation, Survey Finds

Rei Imagine/

Respondents found some recurring challenges were offset by an improvement in acquisition talent.

The federal government’s procurement professionals are bullish about improvements to federal acquisition, according to survey released Wednesday, but it definitely isn’t because they’re high on innovation.

Rather, the ninth biennial Acquisition Policy Survey, compiled by the Professional Services Council and Grant Thornton Public Sector, found recurring challenges such as budget instability, hiring difficulties and onerous regulatory burdens were offset by improvements to the human quotient of the acquisition workforce.

The government sought to hire up acquisition professionals in recent years, and that talent is now more seasoned, skilled and “a little more experienced,” according to PSC Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin.

“Some optimism comes from having a better understanding of their job,” Chvotkin told reporters Wednesday.  

The survey, based on interviews with 65 acquisition professionals, covered five areas: workforce, budget, communication and collaboration, innovation, and oversight and compliance.

Innovation includes the use of innovative acquisition practices, such as utilization alternative contracting models like other transaction authorities, but it also includes the ability to access industry’s emerging technologies and capabilities.

In both cases, acquisition professionals were meh about innovation, with fewer than half rating innovation as important to successful acquisitions. Only oversight rated lower in importance among acquisition professionals, and Chvotkin said it may be because feds are confused about what innovation actually means.

“The term innovation is being talked about a lot in government, and I don’t think senior leaders are defining the issue well or the acquisition community understands what is expected from them in innovation,” Chvotkin said.

Chvotkin said he was “disappointed” innovation didn’t rate higher, especially given “all the conversations around it.” He cited the influx of innovation labs at many federal agencies and the growth of OTAs as examples of innovation.

“The more we talk about innovation, the more agencies focus on refining what they’re looking for in innovation in process or outcomes,” Chvotkin said. “I’m confident in the next couple years we’ll see significant improvement.”

Those surveyed appear to share the same optimism. While approximately half said access to innovative industry capabilities are important now, more than 70 percent say it will be important over the next three years. More than 80 percent said the use of innovative acquisition practices would be important over the same time period.

Overall, 90 percent of respondents rated acquisition workforce capability as the most crucial factor to successful acquisition, and 75 percent described the hiring process as difficult.

Approximately 80 percent ranked internal and external communications as the second-most important factor, and most of those surveyed expect improvements in that arena in the next two years.