Acquisition: Testing the limits of classroom training

Acquisition is one area in which federal officials seem willing to invest in training, if only because the need is so dire.

In April, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would reorganize the federal acquisition training system and promote career development for those working in the civilian acquisition workforce.

Lawmakers are concerned because federal procurement spending has grown by 155 percent in the past decade, while the acquisition workforce has grown by just 10 percent. They want a system for training new subject-matter experts and a career path that keeps them in government.

One acquisition professional who has taken numerous courses in that field supported the idea, at least as a partial solution. The reader noted that federal acquisition courses tend to focus on upfront processes rather than long-term sustainment.

On the plus side, “the contracting classes have proved enough to keep me out of jail (and off the front page of the Washington Post) and [give me] a greater appreciation for contracting officers,” the reader wrote.

The discussion at FCW.com also touched on another hot topic in acquisition: the importance of on-the-job training versus classroom study.

“The inane requirement for a degree no matter the level of real-world experience has actually caused several contracting officers I know to stop being a contracting specialist and become a higher-grade [contracting officer's representative] with less responsibility,” Eric wrote. “Talk about insane!”

That issue is particularly relevant when designing internship programs. A number of readers have raised concerns about book-smart interns showing up on the job with no idea of what to do.

“The problem with the intern programs is that they are too broad,” a former DOD intern said. “I traveled the country for 14 months, learned an absolute ton of information on acquisition and logistics, then went to my permanent duty station where absolutely zero percent of what I learned was used day to day and only about 20 percent was ever used at all.”

About the Author

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

Reader comments

Sun, Aug 7, 2011 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

Classroom training is usually the best form, as the students can learn from each other's experiences and the interaction is valuable to the learning experience. However, the realities of shrinking budgets will probably give rise to more frequent opportunities for online courses. FAI and DAU need to understand these realities, and improve their delivery models for the current acquisition workforce, which includes improved content. Travel is very difficult, and who can afford to be at DAU for weeks?

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