Acquisition training: The classroom vs. the real world

FCW readers agree with a recent blog post that questioned the quality of acquisition training available to federal employees

FCW columnist and blogger Steve Kelman struck a nerve last month when he shared a worst-case scenario story about the state of acquisition training.

According to Kelman’s source, the program in question was geared primarily at making sure the participants passed the course. Whether they actually learned something useful seemed beside the point. A case in point was the final exam, which featured 25 multiple-choice questions, such as "Which best describes the job of a COTR?," the source said.

Based on the comments we received, this is not an isolated incident. Readers say there is an obvious disparity between the content of training programs and the real-life demands of federal procurement.

“I've actually never found any of the acquisition curriculum to be very relevant,” one reader said.

Here is a sampling of what other readers had to say. Some comments have been edited for length, style or clarity.

Let’s Go Government U
Across the government there is a great deal of money being spent and number of organizations either providing directly or indirectly training programs to the acquisition workforce, and these courses frequently last for a week or more. Access to these courses varies; some are packed and some are undersubscribed. The quality of the faculty also varies greatly. A governmentwide "corporate university structure" needs to be adopted and implemented. There's a lot of work to do here, I hope [OFPP Administrator] Dan Gordon and the person he selects to be his new associate administrator for workforce will tackle this.
— David Drabkin

From Regurgitation to Promotion
My experience with nearly all of these courses is that they are regurgitating far too much repetitive procedural information and do a poor job of promoting actual understanding. I once sat with tables of GS-11 and GS-12 specialists, with maybe a year of experience, who claimed that they were going to be getting their Level 2 warrants as soon as they finished the course and a promotion at the same time. Most of them could not actually put a contract together. They simply did not understand how to read a contract matrix, check the FAR, and reason their way through the regulations. They could pass the test on the pieces but were entirely unable to create a coherent whole product. And they still passed! Imagine a GS-12 who cannot piece together sections L and M receiving a Level 2 warrant and a grade increase. That's just a frightening state of affairs.
— Julie Speers

Skills Before Process
In the acquisition and contracting arena, the tendency is to focus on the knowledge of the process and not necessarily the development of skills. This approach more frequently than not means the training is viewed by practitioners and students as less satisfactory. I am personally convinced that skills development has been severely curtailed by the introduction of automation -- the very basic process steps that begin to build the skills have become so automated that the thinking part of the process is being lost.
— Mike Del-Colle

About the Author

John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Apr 8, 2010 John Hunicutt Springfield

Training doesn't happen in the classroom - EDUCATION does. There is a BIG difference. Therfore, I would change the title of your article to the following: "AQUISITION EDUCTION VS ACQUISITION TRAINING: THE CLASSROOM VS THE REAL WORLD" (OBTW: what's the difference between the two - simply ask this question - Would you want your local high school to provide your teenager sex training or sex education? See I knew you'd know the difference when you read the question!!)

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