Acquisitions deals with the procurement of supplies, services, and construction. In order for personnel to be able to work in this field, they must show that they have the qualification required to be eligible. Although experience is usually preferred, not all personnel who join the acquisitions field have any experience in contracting. This paper will provide examples of ethical, and principle values; and the importance of possessing them in the acquisitions world. It will also provide an overview of areas which have been pointed out as having weaknesses and flaws, and where the personnel fail to perform their roles and responsibilities. The literature material to provide solutions to the problems in the contracting field is gathered from multiple journals, as well as from the Defense Acquisitions University and the United States Government Accountability Office. Other sources being taken into account are mandatory Federal Acquisition Regulation standards, which are considered or called a Bible in the contracting world. Long term recovery and public education go hand in hand. In order to prevent conflicts between the government and contractors, it is recommended that additional personnel are placed in positions to help aid in monitoring actions done by contracting personnel. Having visibility of what employees are doing will allow personnel to take actions ahead of time; before things get out of hand. Training as early as the beginning of a contracting personnel’s career, will equip them with the behavior expected and required in the workplace.
Keywords: ethics, federal acquisitions regulation, and procurement standards in Acquisition
Ethics and Procurement Procedures in Contracting
The meaning of ethics is hard to pin down. To some, it has to do with their cultural beliefs, to others, it is doing what the law requires, and yet to another category of people, it has to do with what their feelings tell them to be right or wrong. Ethics generally refers to a morality system, which involves the generally accepted principles and standards of behaviors in which people should conduct themselves in society. Working in the acquisitions field, there are moral codes, as well as integrity standards, which must be enforced to ensure the rules of conduct are being followed. All personnel, who work in this field, are made aware of what is expected from them, as well as the type of behavior that is and isn’t expected of them both on duty and off duty. Since procurement specialists and officers deal with contractors on a daily basis, it is important that they make sound decisions when forming relationships with the latter, since they are the associates, they conduct business with.
The public as well as the private sectors have of late been coming across increasing pressure to cut down costs, while instantaneously getting the service level higher. Both taxpayers and stockholders call for those mandated with the running of these institutions, and in this regard military procurement and acquisition of arms, to do so in a manner that is considerably fiduciary, responsible and cost efficient. It is because of the public trust exemplified by its contracting authority that the military, and other public institutions, are subject to scrutiny in the procurement activities and process. Regulatory or statutory authority supervises ethical standards in the procurement process; but the same can be - in contract administration process - shared between the public trust expectations and the management of the contract (Snower & Warren, 1996).
By the time they become government employees, it is imperative for acquisition personnel to pursue living by those values that are embedded in them during training. The argument in support of this claim is that; in the case that they compromise their integrity and/or their ethical values, they cause a considerably huge negative impact on the Procurement Specialists and the Contracting Officer, since these two are the ones on whose shoulders the spending of taxpayers’ money has been bestowed (Manuel, 2010). It is for this reason that continuous training has to be accorded to the contracting personnel so as to make certain that they are well positioned and equipped in executing their mandates in a diligent manner and resultantly carry out the contracting activities in the right way. In doing so, the government stands to benefit in the sense that some money is saved (Witko, 2011). In order to ensure that procurement personnel are aware of their roles and responsibilities in ethics and procurement integrity, training is something that is highly emphasized in the workplace to avoid any miscommunication of work and personal behavior or conflicts of interest.
Background: Ethics in Contracting
In the past two or so decades, military spending and its related acquisition of arms have been significantly increasing. As a result, governments have directed their efforts in pursuit of improving the transparency levels, when it comes to military spending and the acquisition of various arms. When we refer to acquisitions, we are essentially talking of the activities and processes involved in the purchase (procurement) of services, supplies and construction. So as to ascertain that the acquisition personnel execute this mandate in a prudent manner, they are required to be in possession of the eligibility qualifications (Auriol & Picard, 2009). Undeniably, one of the factors taken into consideration in the hiring of the acquisition personnel is experience that these individuals do possess, but a great number of those absorbed in the field of acquisition hardly have any familiarity in contracting. In military spending and weaponries acquisition, transparency is also another paramount element of: good governance, democratic accountability and confidence building. The activities involved in the acquisition of weapons and military expenditure are some of the principal indicators of transparency. This can also be done at the international, national and/or regional levels. On making information related to procurement and acquisition available to the public, an environment of trust is nurtured with respect to not only the citizens of an individual country, but also to the neighboring countries (Manuel, 2010).
Acquisition personnel are obliged to uphold those values required of them once they become employees of the government. It is at this point that it is imperative to state that, as parties to any potential contract make efforts to make a deal on what one party can provide and what the other is in need of, hermeneutics comes in to perspective. Hermeneutics is the study and interpretation of human behavior as well as social institutions.
“Hermeneutics comes into play before a contract is even written, as parties to the potential contract try to understand what each other want and what each other can provide. This can be called anticipatory hermeneutics because it is a search for meaning about a possible future relationship between two or more parties, often a relationship that never existed before” (White, 2009).
This quote by Jay D. White discusses how hermeneutics is manifest in the world of contracting. Since this theory deals with principles, in his quote he is referring to how contract specialists and contractors are expected to behave when trying to establish a contract. In order to provide customers with the requirements they need, standards are set in place to ensure that contract specialists are doing the right thing when dealing with contractors. In this a relationship is formed between both parties, just to conduct business, and should never be personalized; where lines are crossed and people are tempted to do wrong things. Government procurement as well as contracting, as is the case with military procurement and acquisition of weaponries, is a matter calling for hermeneutic clarifications as parties to an existing or pending contract make attempts of coming to a common agreement, when it pertains to the meaning of a contract in question and those circumstances surrounding the contract. This results in four kinds of interpretive endeavors comprising of anticipatory, negotiated, contested and administered hermeneutics (White, 2009).
Acquisitions Guidelines in the Military
Federal Acquisition Regulation guidelines
The United States federal government made an establishment of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which is a sophisticated set of guidelines to those business individuals seeking to expand into the federal marketplace. Federal Acquisition Regulations are geared towards regulating a number of contracting process aspects (DMEA, 2001). FARs actually does distinguish between proper and improper practices; determine the processes of planning involving government procurement as well as the competition encountered in procuring. It is FAR that is mandated to make an establishment of socioeconomic programs in the world of contracting. It also stipulates the federal government to make purchases from firms, which it regards disadvantaged as a result of the company’s size, location, ethnicity, veteran status and ownership gender among others (DMEA, 2001). Among the principal guidelines availed by the FAR is safeguarding against improper business practices and conflicts of interest. This entails guarding against the misuse of funds and corruption. FAR also ensures that buyers are kept off from the practice of making offers that are considerably below the market price (buying-in) (GSA, 2005). Under FAR, no agency ought to guard against this practice by making a preference of multi-year contracts, which put down the overall cost for the entire agreement period and by having additional quantities prices fixed in the contract. FAR regulations also includes the whistleblower protection clause, a clause prohibiting employees from being demoted, discharged or discriminated against for making a revelation of information, which concerns the violation of the set standards of either the Department of Justice or the Congress (DMEA, 2001)..
Military training required to enter Acquisitions career
The institution of the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act emphasizes on the creation of a federal workforce that was well acquainted with the government’s contracting changing environment. Military acquisition requires a three-fold levels certification; with each of these levels progressively qualifying the employee as of satisfactorily capable of handling the complexity of the contracting actions with ease. In addition to the Defense Acquisition University course requirements, the relevant knowledge to the military personnel as pertains to procurement can also be gotten from other federal agencies, colleges, civilian institutes and Department of Defense (DoD) offices (POGO, 2002). It is through this training that the procurement officers get acquainted in details and become able to specialize in the purchasing of goods and services.
Duties and responsibilities of procurement personnel
Responsibilities bestowed upon the shoulders of the procurement personnel include such as facilitating and making coordination of the acquisition of various goods and services, carrying out review of the requests so made, and authorizing the purchasing of those goods and services, which are commonly utilized. In addition, it is the work of the procurement personnel to help higher level buyers prepare bid invitations, analyze the bids and finally award the contracts (DAG, 2012). The duties are granted according to their level of training: Level I certified officers do fundamental acquisition work; level II trained acquisition specialist engages in moderate negotiations; while level III trained personnel become seniors, who are responsible for undertaking complex procurements.
Ethics Values in the Workplace
The ethics code imposed on the conduct of acquisition personnel is similar to that of other government and private firms. So as to make sure that every other activity is smoothly running (and profitable – for the business oriented organizations) in any organization or government, both ethics and values are considerably imperative. Irrespective of individual employee’s performance, in the case that workplace ethics and values are not adhered to the latter, termination threats may be inescapable. It is for this reason that all employees, whether civilians or military, have to be well trained on the ethics and values of the immediate place of work (Snower & Warren, 1996). This is mostly done as soon as an individual is qualified to be an employee of the organization or the government. Organizational values and ethics may include honesty and respect, loyalty and commitment, keeping off conflicts of interest, teamwork, continuous improvement, innovation and customer focus. Others include integrity, collaboration, accountability and conduct. Moreover, morals equally relate to values and ethics as they are quite pivotal in helping us distinguish the right from the wrong as well as assist us in determining how individuals ought to behave (Witko, 2011). In nutshell, the acquisition officers are prohibited from using their positions to personally benefit, and from engaging in activities that pose potential conflict of interests in the procurement procedure.
Improper Relationships with Contractors
Recently, the Government Accountability office, abbreviated as GAO has progressively made more scrutiny of organizational conflicts of interest with governmental contractors. This has so been happening as a result of poor or even improper relationships with contractors. However, FAR (in part 9.5) covers this conflict of interest by stating that each individual in a contracting position ought to be clearly examined on the basis of the specific facts and the nature of the proposed contract. In making a decision as to whether a momentous potential conflict does exist, the exercise of good judgment, common sense and sound discretion is called upon. And in the event that a conflict of interest is traced, appropriate means of resolving the same ought to be put in place under the principles of avoiding unfair competitive advantage and averting the actuality of conflicting roles that can bias the judgment of a contractor (DMEA, 2001).
Possible conflicts of interest may include such as competing to supply goods and/or services for which you have premeditated the specifications. Other forms of conflict of interest include unauthorized access to the proprietary information of other companies for purposes of contracting or leveraging the existent contract as this is likely to end up in unfair competitive advantage (White, 2009). It is also worth noting that overcharges resulting from improper friendships and the subsequent awarding of contracts solely to specific vendors are likely to limit the available resources. In the case that a reasonable conflict of interest comes up, it may be in the interest of everybody else that the involved contractor withdraws from the contract discussed. Nevertheless, it is possible that the contract gets to completion without necessarily going through probable conflict of interest.
Briberies and Misconduct of Personnel
As a result of improper relationships, various individuals, organization, body corporates and governments have fallen victims of a number of procurement misconducts and briberies. For example in 2000, Lockheed Martin had to pay 13 million USD for having been charged with thirty violations of the Arms Export Control Act as well as the International Traffic in Arms Regulation. These violations concerned the transfer of space launch assistance technologies to the Republic of China (POGO, 2002). In the same year also, Boeing had to pay a civil penalty amounting to USD 4.2 million for a hundred and ten violations regarding defense articles and munitions (both forming technical data) exported to Singapore, Australia, Turkey, Malaysia, Italy and Spain. Two years to the millennium, a subsidiary of IBM, IBM East Europe/Asia Ltd. pleaded guilty for having violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Export Administration Regulations in relation to unlawful exportation of computers to a nuclear weapons laboratory in Russia. This made the company pay a criminal fine of 8.5 million dollars (POGO, 2002).
Solutions to Help Prevent Future Mishaps
In the United States, acquisitions have been of a great significance to the fighting forces in the battlefield. However, the supply of the arms has not been as efficient as would have been desired. This has led to behind schedule delivery or even increased costs, thus, necessitating for unrelenting search for improvements in both the time of delivery and costs of the systems. It is for this reason that continuous training on contracting has to be undertaken, since this helps in the dissemination of the relevant knowledge and skills to the procurement specialists which in turn rallies their performance (Shimel, 2008). Training also aids in the molding of a major command accountable not only for the training, but also for equipping and organizing the acquisition. This command will be able to make sure that the results so realized are made available via the broadest possible avenue of distribution. Training of the procurement personnel in the Department of Defense establishes a culture, which sanctions that some of the activities, especially those pertaining to procurement and acquisitions, can never be compromised or even deferred without proper acknowledgement and accounting in view of the quantifiable impact they will have on the speed of delivery, performance and cost. Nevertheless, for this to be realized, every individual within the acquisitions world is under obligation to admit his/her mistakes.
Putting into consideration the expanse and complexity of the procurement process and activities, it may also be necessary to hire additional procurement personnel at positions, which are considerably higher. These personnel will be obliged to monitor the actions of the procurement officers and specialists and, thus, wrong doings among these professionals can be detected at earlier stages (Auriol & Picard, 2009). Moreover, additional personnel would mean that any older officer, who is not judiciously executing his or her mandate as per work ethics, and values are not accorded such an environment, which will be increasingly motivated his/her wrong doings. Instead, such workers will be kept on their toes in observing and putting into practice the workplace ethics and values since these additional personnel work as watchdogs (Manuel, 2010).
Ensuring that personnel are constantly keeping their training up to date will help to ensure that they have an understanding of what is going on around them, as far as contracting is involved. Leadership needs to take into account that they have to emphasize that certain measures must be implemented for effectiveness in the procurement world. With additional personnel assigned in higher positions, they will and should be able to monitor actions from their specialists; and detect if any red flags show up in the way they are conducting business. Holding people accountable for their actions will go to show that someone is keeping track of operations, leaving no window open for personnel to believe they can possibly get away with any wrongdoing. Maintaining a professional attitude during both on and off duty can help a person from veering away their moral values, and allow them be able to make sound decisions when needed to.