Bill revamps procurement training

A House subcommittee last week approved a bill that would make sweeping changes in how agencies manage their procurement work force, requiring the administration to create standards for procurement training and education and to develop new ways to measure the performance of the procurement system i

A House subcommittee last week approved a bill that would make sweeping changes in how agencies manage their procurement work force, requiring the administration to create standards for procurement training and education and to develop new ways to measure the performance of the procurement system itself.

The bill, called the Federal Procurement System Performance Measurement and Acquisition Workforce Training Act, seeks to improve the skills set of the overall procurement work force— which buys some $200 billion a year in goods and services— by pushing agencies to invest more energy in training their procurement personnel and to do so in a consistent fashion.

"The federal government cannot afford to put hundreds of billions of dollars in the hands of an undertrained contracting work force," said Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, which forwarded the legislation to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. "When that happens, the cost of errors in judgment and poor decision-making is great."

The bill calls for standards and measurements of procurement training at all levels of government.

Agencies would be required to establish "career path" education requirements for each procurement worker, including initial and continuing education.

The bill also seeks to give agencies more leverage in filling out the work force by allowing them to put some acquisition positions into a special "shortage category," so that those jobs can be filled with recruits who have "substantial" acquisition experience from the private sector.

And the Office of Federal Procurement Policy would be required to "establish a system for measuring the performance and effectiveness of the procurement system" across government, using both "existing data sources and automated data collection tools."

But the draft does not stop at internal review of procurement performance. It would push OFPP to set up its own worker certification program or to partner with private, public-sector or nonprofit organizations to develop certification programs for federal procurement workers. Moreover, it would allow agency heads to pay professional organizations to conduct certification tests of federal employees.

Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, described the bill as much-needed, with procurement worker training being "uneven" across federal agencies. "It's not just enough to have training," Allen said. "The training has to be good training."

However, Ida Ustad, deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy at the General Services Administration, said the executive branch could accomplish most of what the bill calls for without legislation.

"I think the legislation is driven more on the part of Congress on the perception that agencies are not spending enough money or are not focusing enough on training their work force," she said.

While spending on procurement work force education varies widely from agency to agency, GSA and most agencies support programs that focus on creating "a well-qualified work force," Ustad said.

Some agencies question turning to outside organizations to assist with the certification process.

"The way we read [the bill] was that they were looking for these private and nonprofit associations for another type of certification for people to go through," said Lesley Field, procurement analyst at the Transportation Department.

Field said DOT already has a competent procurement work force as well as performance-measurement, training and certification programs that are being modeled after DOD programs.

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Key Elements of Proposed Procurement Work Force Bill* Defines minimum education requirements for certain positions.* Requires agencies to establish "career paths" for their workers.* Requires administration to set governmentwide training standards. * Requires OFPP to measure procurement system performance.

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