Feds on big buys must be certified

OFPP takes steps to improve feds’ acquisition skills

Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers memo (.pdf)

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Federal officials have called for help in training the acquisition workforce at a time of greater congressional scrutiny and contracting complexity. A Democratic Congress is demanding more contracting accountability and an end to what Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, described as the government’s slipshod contracting methods.

“How could anyone be opposed to increased standards of accountability?” Thompson asked at a recent oversight hearing.

A Homeland Security Department official testified at the hearing that DHS must build up its acquisition workforce before it can eliminate its contracting problems. “The problems…are a training and implementation issue, not a policy issue,” said Elaine Duke, DHS’ chief procurement officer.

Duke said DHS is developing a rigorous education program for acquisition professionals — the Excellence in Contracting Training Series — to help DHS employees understand contracting regulations and policies. The series will focus on topics such as contract negotiations, financing, strategic sourcing and performance-based acquisitions. Better training will beget better business deals, Duke told lawmakers.

However, in addition to well-trained employees, DHS needs more contracting employees, she said, adding that the agency’s workforce must be large enough to manage the procurement cycle from the beginning through the post-award period. DHS’ priorities are to boost the quality and size of the acquisition workforce, make good business deals and provide more effective contract administration, she said.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy sent a memo to agency chief acquisition officers last month in which it outlined how it would address the training deficit that many acquisition experts have identified. OFPP will require program and project managers assigned to large acquisitions to be certified to ensure that they have met minimum training and experience requirements.

“This is absolutely critical for the acquisition workforce to be effective,” said Robert Burton, OFPP’s deputy administrator.

Referring to the new certification requirements, Burton said contract management is a profession requiring skills at negotiating, defining contract requirements and measuring performance. In years past, he said, contracting employees opened sealed envelopes, found the lowest bidder and awarded the contract. “We are much more business leaders than we were 20 years ago,” he added.

OFPP plans to get a sense of the skills and capabilities of its acquisition workforce via an online survey that does not require employees to identify themselves.
A classroom detour for acquisition managersThe Office of Management and Budget revealed details last month of a structured process for program and project managers to improve their acquisition skills and capabilities. The new program will require officials seeking senior/expert certification to complete the following coursework:
  • A minimum of 24 hours of learning in advanced acquisition management.
  • A minimum of 16 hours of coursework in employing correct and effective leadership and interpersonal skills.
  • A minimum of 24 hours of coursework that is government-specific and prepares someone to complete, for example, OMB’s Exhibit 300 for capital asset planning.
  • A minimum of 24 hours of instruction in advanced program management.
  • A minimum of 24 hours of coursework in earned value management and cost estimates.
Source: Office of Management and Budget

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