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Friday, May 25, 2012

John C. Rogers: Wisconsin Procurement Institute assists Wisconsin companies with federal contract procurement and in navigating the changing budget landscape

By John C. Rogers
This year, Wisconsin Procurement Institute (WPI) is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Created by Congressman Les Aspin, WPI was established to provide technical expertise to Wisconsin businesses and help them win their fair share of federal contracts. He envisioned a public-private partnership -- a formula that was 99 percent substance and 1 percent political -- that would bring economic stability and jobs to Wisconsin.

Les's vision is more real today than ever before.

In the last few years, Wisconsin has increased significantly its historically poor federal procurement dollars ranking, moving from the lower quadrant of the state rankings to 14th in 2010 when Wisconsin businesses were awarded more than $9 billion in federal contracts. This is due in no small part to Oshkosh Truck, but it's also due to many other companies, big and small, that have pursued federal contracts. Over the years WPI's efforts have created thousands of jobs. Just five years ago, we would have thought these numbers unrealistic.

But there are storm clouds on the horizon. The federal budget is tight and going to get tighter, which means competition for procurement dollars is going to get even tougher. Discretionary spending across virtually all agencies is expected to decrease. The defense budget request alone for 2013 is $33 billion less than in 2012. Added to this is the likelihood of sequestration, an automatic $500-billion defense-spending cut that will kick in for the next decade. This cut is mandated by the Budget Control Act, which Congress passed last year and will start in January 2013. That's an additional $50 billion per year unless a deal is struck to undo it, an unlikely scenario.

The House of Representatives recently voted to eliminate the defense portion of the sequestration cuts and replace them with spending cuts to social programs that make it untenable to many. Regardless, the House legislation is doomed in the Senate where Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to block any effort to undo sequestration unless Republicans drop their opposition to increasing revenues.

While some of these reductions are a natural and healthy result of ending one war and winding down another, as a country we need to consider carefully the impact of the pendulum swinging too far too fast.

At the same time that the budget battles are going on and we are winding down from two wars, President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey are significantly reshaping the military. Perhaps one of the most important and under-reported policy changes is the disabling of our country's ability to fight two major regional conflicts concurrently. A national security bedrock since World War II, this preparedness will no longer be our armed forces' standard. Without debating the pros and cons of this decision, the ramifications of this are clear: Our forces must become smaller and more agile, adapting to the lessons learned from 10 years of war.

Regarding defense spending, Frank Kendall, acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, vowed that, "We are not going to take a procurement holiday like we did after the Cold War." From WPI's vantage point, that's smart policy. Too drastic of cuts would hurt our nation's industrial base.

More specifically, Wisconsin companies need to be thinking about where the Department of Defense (DoD), and all the federal agencies, is going and what the subsequent business opportunities are.

In other words, DoD and the government are still open for business. But Wisconsin companies must become smarter when competing in the federal marketplace. Les Aspin would have been enormously pleased with where we're at today, but he'd also be concerned about the future. Fortunately, with Wisconsin Procurement Institute, he left us with an organization whose entire reason for existing is in helping Wisconsin businesses navigate through the rough seas ahead.

-- Rogers, president of Capstone National Partners LLC and CEO of RLL Leaders, serves as chairman of the board of Wisconsin Procurement Institute. He is a former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense and district director for Les Aspin.

Comments: 1

At May 29, 2012 at 10:23 AM, Blogger Phil Bail & Associates said...

As a retired Air Force manager and contracting officer; and having worked with Wisconsin companies for 25+ years since my retirement, I have seen both sides of federal contracts. As John pointed out; and as the WPI has shown over the past 25-years, contractors with a good understanding of the federal marketplace have a better chance of succeeding. I encourage Wisconsin contractor's, both large and small, to take advantage of the training opportunities available through the Wisconsin Procurement Institute - such as the high level review of the entire Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) being offered on May 30.

Wisconsin companies often think they understand the government market when they should step back and get an independent interpretation or attend a training class or conference. The Wisconsin Procurement Institute provides excellent opportunities through its diverse programs geared to Wisconsin companies.

Phil Bail
Owner, Phil Bail & Associates
A Veteran-owner Small Business


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