COMMENTARY

Army applies boot camp approach to acquisition workforce

The program aims to train new contracting professionals to take on work with minimal oversight

Harry P. Hallock is executive director of the Army’s TACOM Contracting Center in Warren, Mich.

Here at the Army Contracting Command (ACC), we believe that both our short- and long-term organizational success is directly related to the manner in which our workforce is recruited, hired, integrated, developed and mentored. Particularly, we consider the first few years of a new hire's career critical for long-term, productive and satisfying government service. As a result, we focus a considerable amount of time, energy and resources to lay the foundation for our new hires’ transformation to fully productive members of our workforce.

A large percentage of our new hires come in as contracting interns. To ensure their proper development, we've structured a comprehensive, multifaceted two-year intern program that begins with a buyer boot camp. It includes tutorials on nearly every aspect of government contracting, from contract law and the appropriations process to choosing the best contract type and writing scopes of work. Interns also receive orientations on the ACC and Army mission, vision and goals, and the services and supplies we purchase and the customers we support. At some of our locations, interns also execute a simulated buy, which includes analyzing a procurement request, performing market research, determining appropriate prices and conducting negotiations.

Throughout the intern program, we use the Federal Acquisition Regulation and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement as instructional materials. Boot camp instructors are highly seasoned contracting experts who bring a wealth of experience to this training environment. Different subject-matter experts are brought in every day to teach about a variety of contracting-related topics.

Interns graduating from boot camp arrive at their first contracting assignment with the necessary knowledge and on-the-job training to begin work with minimal oversight. In our Army’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to Army missions and deployments throughout the United States and around the world, we need those folks to hit the ground running.

We place our interns at different contracting offices based on their skill sets, strengths and needs for continued development. From Day One, they are assigned to a senior buyer who provides training and guidance. Many interns also select additional mentors and coaches to assist with their continued professional development.

The two-year internship also includes organizational rotations and changing mission assignments that expose the interns to different types of contracting, a variety of customers and commodities, business operations, program management, and small-business functions. They are also required to complete the specific formal training the Army requires for acquisition certification.

We also encourage our interns to participate in our organic continuous learning programs, which provide training modules tailored to develop specific contracting skills, and we direct them toward other developmental opportunities, such as source selection boards and leadership activities. We want them to fully develop their functional expertise and interpersonal skills.

At this time, about 60 percent of our workforce has fewer than five years of government contracting experience, and interns make up 45 percent of the contracting workforce. So our midlevel leaders have a big job to train and mentor the interns. As a result, we are also recruiting for more of those experienced contracting professionals.

I am proud of our efforts across the command to develop our interns and provide a continuous learning environment for all of our employees. I am also very proud to be a leader in this growing organization.

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Reader comments

Thu, May 20, 2010 MPH TX

This is a wonderful program/idea. It's too bad that the Army focuses so much more of its training on the major subordinate commands and weapons systems procurement, and leaves post/camp/station locations (installation contracting offices) out in the cold. I would love to have the resources to conduct an intern boot camp. We have a hard enough time just getting the work done. We do what we can for our interns, and are grateful for their support.

Thu, May 20, 2010 MH TX

Mr. Nejako - you should be looking for "contract specialist", GS-1102. Or, in generally lower grades, Procurement Technicians, GS-1106

Wed, May 19, 2010 M McManus wpafb, oh

Sounds good-in theory. Be interesting to see how it plays out in practice. In my experience, the experienced buyers/CO's are running so fast to keep up that they have very little time to oversee/mentor. We know we should but time is a very, very finite commodity....

Wed, May 19, 2010

This is a great idea. I came into TACOM as a contracting intern in the early 80's. I did not even know what a contract was - fresh out of college. They did a pretty good job educating me, primarily through my being able to work with a strong group of senior contract specialists and contracting officers. Rotational assignments and training were weak however. This integrated, planned approach sounds much more promising. We lost 80% of our contracting interns in my first 3 years - need to make sure that doesn't happen with our new influx of young professionals!

Wed, May 19, 2010 M Reston

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is a Congress that keeps cranking conflicting and illogical sediment into the whacky witch's brew of acquisition law. It's become unintelligible and unworkable. It's a mess that has become the obstacke course of acquisition officials who interpret each their own way. It is also playground of auditors and IGs in the various agencies. While some of these folks sleep their way to retirement, others indulge in celebratory witch hunts. Why not? The CO has to get things done and the auditor simply and IG cannot help but find "impropriety." Forget waste fraud and abuse!

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