Retirements are hurting procurement workforce

Quality of workers is declining, making it harder to save tax dollars

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“GSA remixed”

The declining quality of the federal acquisition workforce is making it difficult for the government to save money through more efficient contracting, said Robert Burton, associate administrator of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

“There does seem to be a consensus that the quality of our acquisition workforce has declined,” Burton said at IPIC 2005 in Orlando, Fla., last month. “It probably is true, and it is something that we simply have to address.”

More than 50 percent of acquisition workers are eligible to retire this year, and worker departures will only exacerbate problems with the workforce, he said.

Congress is unlikely to appropriate funds to expand hiring beyond simple replacement, Burton said. “But with respect to the morale and the quality of the workforce, these are issues I think we can deal with,” he said.

OMB officials have no one but themselves to blame, said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Training has been cut. The workforce has been cut, and now, they say there’s a quality problem,” he said. “That’s a connection of the dots.”

Training is among the first functions cut from agency budgets when OMB officials demand spending limits, Gage said.

Inexperience may be the problem at hand, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a trade association. Some workforce quality can only be gained through time spent on the job, he said. “Experience can be the best teacher sometimes.”

An official mentoring program at federal agencies could help alleviate the solution, Burton said.

Other issues are a lack of funding from Congress and internal government problems, Burton said.

“Congress keeps on having these initiatives, but they don’t give us any money to implement” them, he said. For example, members of the recently formed Services Acquisition Reform Act panel are all volunteers. The panel was chartered to recommend new policy guidance.

Another unfunded initiative is the Acquisition Center of Excellence, Burton added. The center is an online portal designed to let agencies share acquisition best practices and will eventually offer policy guidelines, tools, and education and training opportunities.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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