Obama proposes expanding acquisition workforce

Budget proposal addresses longstanding workforce concerns

The acquisition workforce is one of the few areas of federal employment the Obama administration wants to expand, an official said today.

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the number of contracts and government spending has doubled, but the acquisition workforce, which includes employees who handle the work of developing a contract’s requirements, reviewing bids and awarding contract, has had little growth.

“It's not too hard to figure out that oversight of those contracts has not kept pace with what it should be,” he said at a press briefing on the fiscal 2011 budget proposal.

In 2000, the government had 26,751 contracting officers and the number had grown to only 29,707 by 2008, a 9 percent rise, according federal figures.

The administration is trying to invest in greater oversight of what the government buys, Orszag said. Specifically he said the administration wants to crack down on no-bid contracts, buy goods and services in bulk, and increase the acquisition workforce's size so the government can better oversee its contracts.

As the administration looks to increase the acquisition workforce, officials said in the budget proposal documents that the world has changed to a knowledge-based economy. “Half a century ago, most white collar federal employees performed clerical tasks, such as posting Census figures in ledgers and retrieving taxpayer records from file rooms,” the proposal states.

The administration proposed spending $24.9 million for training the acquisition workforce. The money would support interagency initiatives and projects that improve the ability of civilian agencies to assess the size and skills of their procurement employees. It would also provide funds for agencies to find the best mix between public employees and private sector contracts carrying out agency work, the budget proposal states.

Over the past year, the Obama administration has emphasized its concerns that agencies have allowed contractors to do too much in conducting their operations.

“The activities supported through this fund are intended to foster and promote the development of the acquisition workforce,” the budget document states.

In addition, the agencies have the Acquisition Workforce Training Fund. The mandatory appropriation of funds is for civilian agencies to train their employees. It’s financed by 5 percent of the fees collected from civilian agencies' procurements from governmentwide information technology acquisition contracts, the General Services Administration’s Multiple Award Schedules program, and other multi-agency contracts.

Meanwhile, officials are working with the Office of Personnel Management to simplify and streamline the hiring process. They also want easier checkpoints so the people applying for federal jobs can check online to see what’s happening, Orszag said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Sun, Feb 14, 2010 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

The evolution of contractors performing this critical work has been a result of the collapse of the internal workforce. Undertrained, undervalued, and overwhelmed is the current culture of the acquisition workforce. Contractors are playing a critical role in giving the Government the flexibility it needs to perform the mission quickly and effectively. The roles of insourcing and cost have not been adequately verified, not mention the lack of strategic planning which includes identifying capability gaps and defining inherently governmental functions. Contractors are not, nor should not, be replaced with inadequate capability for the sake of meeting arbitrary goals of bringing work in house. Let’s first figure out what is in the best interest on completing the mission, and what makes sense from a cost perspective and long-term objectives.

Mon, Feb 8, 2010 MC

It takes about 2 years of training and hands-on experience to season someone in acquisition. If they move on to another agency or commodity, it takes a least another year to build comfortable relationships with the new sets of peers and supervisory, budget and technical personnel among others. The Government can reach out to local students while they are still in college to work part-time to support the simpler types of acquistion. I know of one case where a high school student successfully supported an office by learning and accomplishing credit card purchases. I don't know how benefits were handled, and the additional income may jeopardize grant and scholarship money for some, but it may help others stay in school and become easy and desirable recruits at graduation. I know of another instance where a State Department employee set up a virtual and no cost workforce by reaching out to graduate programs to assist with agency efforts that were project worthy at the graduate level. Surely, there are acquisition policy issues that fall into that category.

Wed, Feb 3, 2010 Peter G. Tuttle, CPCM

CC - interesting comment. In retrospect, I think some combination of both humans and technology is the solution. By the way, check out www.betterbuyproject.com. Here ia a great opportunity to help the feds choose enabling technologies to make the acquisition process more efficient. Cheers.

Wed, Feb 3, 2010 Andrew Krzmarzick GovLoop

Hi Peter - In hiring more seasoned acquisition professionals as a temporary fix over the next five years, does that then create a situation where fresh, new faces are not getting hired/trained up to replace them? Although some of the the money is slated for training, it seems that a round of recruitment to bring on board the next generation of acquisition professionals is an important element of this hiring plan. Thoughts? - Andy

Wed, Feb 3, 2010

No such thing as "no bid." I expect the Washington Post to get this wrong, but please don't use the "no bid" term in this publication. Even in a SOLE SOURCE AWARD -- the proper term -- the entity awarded the contract does submit a proposal.

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