Letter: Experience, not education, is key for contracting officers

Regarding, "Managing a blended workforce": Unfortunately the federal government lost their ability to acquire experienced professionals when they made it a requirement that the 1102's have a degree.  Most of the best and brightest staff in the field were trained through experience with real contracts and years of exposure to every possible scenario. Today they bring in someone with a degree and they can hardly write a clear sentence and they have no abilities when it comes to the contracting field. They leave long before they ever get to the point that they have enough experience.

Most of the current government staff that I have seen over the past few years leave little to be desired. They don't have the experience needed to handle the job. Therefore the federal government has to hire contractors to come in and bring the experienced staff required to get the program requirements out the door and into the hands that need it. I had many years in government as a contracting officer with an unlimited warrant and I know I am the best. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I came up in a time when college was only available to the rich or those that were going into fields that required a degree (doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc.). I went straight from high school to an office job for the Government and worked my way from a GS-4 to a GS-14. I did it with a high school diploma and a lot of determination. 

I learned from experienced professionals and took specific training in the 1102 field. I became a contracting officer with an unlimited degree and was well respected by attorneys, management, and the contractor's I dealt with.  So there are those that only need a high school education to become an 1102 professional and then there are those that need a college degree and masters in business administration that come into the field and still can't do what is expected of them. So who is the smarter of the two?

Experience in the 1102 is the key, not the education. I work for a contractor now supporting a very high visibility program for the Marine Corps and they would fire me if they got word that I wrote these comments. However, the truth is here for all to see and we can all thank DAWIA for making the 1102 field a nightmare to get into if you are headed for a government career. The only ones who benefit from the DAWIA requirements are the colleges and universities who hand out the degrees in exchange for payment of huge sums of money to allow students to take on line courses and do open book tests.  What are they really learning anyway? 

Thanks for allowing me to provide these comments. 


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Reader comments

Thu, May 15, 2008 Arza Gardner

I think education and experience is needed to be a competent professional in the field. However, I do not agree that education should equate to a "degree" for an entry level position in government contracting. However, to be a competent and well rounded "senior" procurement professional, or manager, I think a degree is necessary. It will ensure that the manager has the skill sets he/she needs to be a proficient leader. OFPP got it right. Their policy letter, 05-01, states that agencies need to consider years of experience, educations, and what types of services/supplies the agency procures when warranting a CO. This fact is supported by the fact that several agencies, having their own version of the FAR. So why not have their own policy for hiring and warranting procurement professionals. My two cents.

Fri, May 2, 2008 shawn west

In the field I work in, it is not the experience or the education that counts, it is who can kiss the most bottom and who is your best friend to get the position. Education only matters and requirements for this is only put into announcements for vacancies if the hiring official does not want you to get the position. Where I am employed, people are blackballed from positions, the No Fear Act does not matter, because their rears are covered by others. Vacancy announcements and selections are tailor made for certain people to obtain the job. I have been working on a Masters degree in my field and not only have I been passed over many times, but I have applied for many positions within the organization and outside and the CPAC is working closely with the organization to do the blackballing. So education does not matter. I would like to state that it is good to have some hands on experience in the position that you take, however this specialized experience clause needs to be relaxed somewhat. Because someone with three months experience who is a fast learner can be equally qualified for a positon that requires a year of specialized experience, but this is never taken into account. I commend the person who has taken the time to educate in a different way, but it goes back to who you know, not what you know and if people want you out they will use the education as a factor to get you out.

Thu, May 1, 2008 Michael McManus

I began my contracting career in the early 1980's when clerks typed solicitations ancontracts on actual manual typewriters!! I'm within 60 days of my 30 year pin. I've purchased electronic parts for DLA, R&D, Engines and Intelligence for the Air Force. I generally agree with the previous comments on the importance of both education as well as experience. These two concepts seem to be on opposing sides of a pendalum. In the 80's education wasn't so important -competance mattered. Competance was generally defined as the ability to pick up the phone, call the offeror and tell him his price was too high! Not much different that what we all do in our day-to-day life. Later on in the 80's education became all important. You had to have a business degree with a 3.5+ GPA. I'm not being critical, education(particularly in the business arena) is important, but it froze out all the smart but uneducated employees. In the last analysis today's contracting person has to have a balance; he or she needs to be educated in the business of acquisition and also has to have enough sand to pick up the phone!

Wed, Apr 30, 2008 Deborah Darry

Why is it that the acquisition workforce is shrinking? Because seasoned professionals (with or without degrees) are leaving the Aquisition Work Force! More often than not these bright young professionals coming out of school, do not have the tennacity to work in operations over the long haul. They will do the work long enough to get the grade and move on to the next stop. They don't really want to do the grunt work. The reason why Contracting Officer's without degrees may appear to not have ability beyond the so called basic skills is primarily because Contracting Officer's with or without degrees are wearing so many hats and also competing for limited resources. I dare you to come and sit in a Contracting Officer's seat for 6 months (under FASA rules) and see if you can do all that we have to do in a given day. Do you have any idea of how many skill sets are required to do this work? Priority educational funds go towards the 24 hour business requirement for the newbies. On the one hand the mantra is that Contracting Officer's lack experience, on the other hand Contracting officer's are uneducated. You really can't have it both ways. This is a shortsided analysis which offers no solution.

Wed, Apr 30, 2008 Antonio Cazares

This is a double edged sword. Education is a wonderful thing. But it is no substitute for experience and it only implies intellect. The Air Force is pushing its "COPPER CAPS" up in the ranks. They are all very well educated. But the Force is discovering too late that this new blood is less than effective because of the experience factor. Even with all the tickets punched, some simply don't have an aptitude for contracting. On the other side of the coin, the goverment tends to promote its best practitioners into leaderhip positions. That doesn't always work either. Even though these folks are highly experienced, some are not well suited for management positions. Experienced team leaders are a furtile field for managers. The Air Force leans far too heavily on education and "new blood". And its not working out for them. This new generation likes to move around a lot. They're chasing the dollars. We've had some leave within months of taking a GS twelve that someone with experience and who would have been happy to stick around here could have had.

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