Kelman: Some good workforce news

Procurement training programs still emphasize making impact, rather than avoiding malfeasance

Just as academia starts up again in the fall, so too do many training programs for government officials, tied as they are to the beginning of the new fiscal year in October. I recently received a catalog from Management Concepts, a provider of training for the procurement workforce, of the company’s upcoming offerings.

The catalog made for surprisingly pleasant reading. It was a good read for a simple reason: The current obsession of the media, politicians and self-styled watchdogs with rule compliance and detection of wrongdoing has, miraculously, not taken over these courses. Instead, they still reflect the idea that the primary goal of procurement folks is to do good, on behalf of program customers and agency missions, not just to avoid malfeasance.

Start with the basic introductory course for new contract specialists: CON 100. Guess what it’s called? “Shaping Smart Business Arrangements.”

Believe it or not, the topics this five-day course covers don’t even include the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Instead, course objectives include: “understand the vision and focus of the acquisition environment,” “identify the customer’s mission” and “recommend smart business decisions that best support the customer.”

The course includes a section on procurement ethics, but it also includes sections on the contracting customer (i.e., the program on whose behalf contracting people are buying), on teamwork between program and procurement, and on win-win negotiations with contractors.

The capstone of the series of basic training courses is called “Mission Focused Contracting.” Somewhere in between, students learn the basics of FAR, but this is not a course series designed just to teach newbies the regs. This is not the contracting training of yesteryear, thank God.

The courses for midlevel contracting folks continue along the same lines. The program emphasizes strategic sourcing. Indeed, according to the catalog, in one class, students will analyze spending to identify opportunities for streamlining and consolidating requirements from multiple customers. In teams, they will identify the commodity with the greatest potential for consolidation and work with their customers to develop and compete the requirement.

Finally, I was pleased to see that the program offers a 15-session class on performance-based services acquisition, compared to a mercifully more modest seven on federal contract law. This suggests there is still more demand for courses in how to do better contracting than for those that limit their vision to keeping people out of trouble.

As I read this catalog, I thought about the hypothetical course catalog that, say, the Project on Government Oversight might offer, with courses pretty much limited to “Detecting Fraud” or “Avoiding Improper Contacts With Industry.” It’s good news that this real catalog keeps a proper sense of proportion about what contracting folks need to do to do a good job.

Kelman (steve_kelman@harvard.edu) is professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

About the Author

Kelman is professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Connect with him on Twitter: @kelmansteve

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