DOD launches workforce study of contracting skills

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In a move that at least one expert called long overdue, the Defense Department will attempt to gain a better understanding of the skills and competencies of its acquisition employees. Starting in October, DOD officials will begin assessing the military’s 26,000-employee contracting workforce.

That effort should produce insights into the employees’ capabilities and lead to recommendations for improving their skills and competencies, a senior DOD procurement official said.

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council and a former DOD acquisition official, said the lack of such an assessment has been a problem for years. “I’m a little concerned it is taking as long as it is,” Soloway said. “The key is to do this as quickly as possible.”

DOD will base the assessments on a competency model developed by the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) in Alexandria, Va. The document based on that model, which officials expect to be ready later this month, includes a detailed catalog of technical and professional skills. Using an online assessment survey, employees will rate their proficiency in each category.

Shay Assad, director of acquisition policy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said DOD wrapped up the first phase of the assessment Sept. 14.
That included a test effort assessing 4,000 workers at the Defense Logistics Agency, he said.

In mid-October, officials will start assessing the rest of the DOD acquisition workforce.

DOD will continue its assessments through July 2008. By October 2008, Assad’s office will submit a report to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and the acquisition chiefs in each of the services, Assad said.

Claudia Knott, director of DLA’s acquisition management directorate, said agency officials conducted assessments of the DLA workforce from June 25 to Sept. 7.

Employees rated themselves in 50 different categories, ranging from cost analysis and contract administration to oral communications, she said.

Employees also rated their proficiency in a handful of DLA-specific skills, such as the formulation of a sourcing strategy and business case development.

Officials at the agency based in Ft. Belvoir, Va., are analyzing the data and collecting lessons learned for assessments elsewhere in DOD, Knott said.

Mark Tregar, a CNA research associate and one the of the authors of the competency model, said DOD conducted some trial assessments anonymously, but the upcoming rounds of assessments will not be performed that way. However, supervisors will not be able to see their subordinates’ ratings, he said.

As envisioned, the project will have supervisors conducting parallel assessments of their subordinates’ skills, and analysts can use the employees’ and supervisors’ ratings to compute a composite score for each worker, Tregar said.

Soloway said DOD should use the results of the study to improve the department’s ability to attract young procurement and contracting officials to the government.

“Part of the assessment is focused on the technical capabilities of the workforce,” Soloway said. “But equally important is, ‘Do we have the policies and processes in place to be able to recruit and retain those people?’ ”

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