Outlook 2013

Cavalry not coming for acquisition workforce

Gauge

Although agencies have tools to make procurement more effective, 2013 is likely to remain a difficult year for acquisition workforce challenges. Insufficient training and a dearth of opportunities for professional development will continue to bedevil employees in acquisition roles.

For example, “we talk a lot about cloud, and there isn’t a lot of cloud experience” among the acquisition workforce, said Lisa Mascolo, CEO of Optimos. “The same goes for open source and mobility. We talk a lot about them, but the acquisition workforce hasn’t had the training they need in order to properly procure” the products and services.

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When training does happen, it tends to be basic. Opportunities to learn more advanced skills or deepen existing knowledge are rare. Older employees who retire and take their institutional knowledge out of the organization add to the growing skills gap.

Acquisition professionals “don’t grow on trees, obviously,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council. “The only way to train the workforce is essentially on the job. There are education opportunities, but you have to gain this experience through practice, through real-world applications.”

And don’t expect the most experienced workers, who are retiring in waves, to help, Chvotkin warned. They “aren’t going to hang around even as mentors or knowledge workers.”

The lack of skilled and well trained employees and the focus on increased capabilities have combined to create some deeply ingrained problems, said Jaime Gracia, president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting. And pay freezes, furloughs and other measures that make the government a less attractive employer only add to the woes, Chvotkin said.

“When you look at what the government has to offer other than being at the leading edge of some policy or operational issues, government time after time after time shows up to be not an employer of choice for those people with highly marketable skills,” he said.

Mascolo offered a contrarian view, saying the retirement wave might be less of a concern than some believe. Much of the expertise those retirees take away is obsolete anyway, she said.

“The real catastrophe will be if we don’t get the newer generation of procurement officials enough training around new technologies and knowing how to use these emerging methodologies to deal with the other challenges,” she said.

Although the problems are widely recognized and not subject to much dispute, a solution in 2013 seems unlikely.

“We’re certainly seeing progress, but we need to see a lot more progress rapidly as it relates to technologies and using newer methodologies,” Mascolo said.

“It’s a very difficult environment because the past 10 years have been very difficult,” Gracia said. “There is an acute crisis in knowledge and capabilities that’s going to get worse before it gets better. What [do] I see at the end of the tunnel? I see that tunnel collapsing right now.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Mon, Jan 21, 2013 SPMayor Summit Point, WV

I would suggest we need to differ between knowledge of what is being acquired and how to acquire it. Yes, they are interwoven but need to be appreciated as representing separate skill sets. Our expectations for a more efficient & effective acquisition process requires an acquisition workforce that is not only trained better but is more confident in the exercise of the authority resident in their positions. An authority that makes them equal to their program counterparts and the industries representatives with whom they interact. And those who are critics need to consider whether they themselves are prepared to see such authority exercised for there is no guarantee they will simply get what they want.

Fri, Jan 18, 2013

I disagree with Ms. Mascolo's comment that "Much of the expertise those retirees take away is obsolete anyway." In the 1102 Contracting job series, our expertise is not allowed to become obsolete. We are required to continually update our knowledge and skills. And in this ever-changing environment that is quite a task. I see problems with the acquisition workforce being "watered down." With the lack of skilled personnel available to replace the retirees, those with absolutely no experience or skills are being hired starting at higher rates than their lack of experience and skills would typically dictate.

Fri, Jan 18, 2013 OccupyIT

"Much of the expertise those retirees take away is obsolete anyway, she said." is really a disturbing statement. It would be more correct to say, "Many of those retirees didn't understand the real mission of procurement or the correct use of the rich options available so they were obsolete anyway. The REAL problem is the loss of those that DO understand the real mission of procurement (enabling instead of preventing execution) and the correct use of the many rich options available (each option has its place IF professionally managed by competent people - that's why they were created! They aren't FADS to be religiously used as silver bullets - they are OPTIONS!). People have no idea how much the USG depends on the smaller group of COs that make most of what works actually work. Thank you to those COs and we will sorely miss you! God save America...

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