Jordan: Easier private-sector rotation could aid federal recruiting

Joe Jordan

Joe Jordan believes easing rotation in and out of the private sector could aid federal recruting, retention efforts. (File photo)

Recruiting and retaining innovative and effective federal contracting officers are among the thorniest challenges the federal acquisition workforce faces, according to the White House's top contracting policy executive, who suggested that some rotation between government and private sector work might help ease the problem.

Such rotation could reinvigorate senior level contracting officers and provide a wider array of career options that could ultimately help the government, said Joe Jordan, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget.

Experienced contracting officers who have been doing their jobs for decades are finding it harder to stay motivated in the face of stagnant federal budgets, Jordan said July 23 in remarks to the National Contract Management Association World Congress in Nashville, Tenn. They need to know they are valued. "We have to make sure we're going out and telling our contracting workforce that's close to retirement that 'we need you, your mentorship and your experience'," he said.


Jordan's remarks and other National Contract Management Association World Congress audio and video.

He added, however, that the government hasn't done a great job of managing contracting officers' careers, and more work-path options could help. Allowing more flexibility to move between the federal and private sectors could be one of those options. "There's got to be a way to bounce back and forth between rotational assignments between industries and agencies … externships, things like that," he said.

The Obama administration has taken steps to close the revolving door between interest groups and government agencies. But its efforts are aimed at primarily at prohibiting former lobbyists from working on issues or in agencies where they previously lobbied, and barring them altogether from holding positions on advisory boards and commissions.

"There are all sort of issues, I know," said Jordan, "but I refuse to say this is off the table, because I think the sign of a healthy workforce is where people see they have a myriad of options."

Obtaining, managing and keeping a motivated federal contracting workforce came up again and again in Jordan's keynote remarks at the conference of federal and private sector contracting officials.

"How do we widen our aperture for recruitment and who we bring into the contracting officer world?" he asked his audience. Young candidates with extensive knowledge of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) probably aren't a realistic goal, he said. Smart candidates who are willing to learn are a better target. "I don't need first-year contracting folks to be people who know the FAR or have extensive specialized training. I just want smart people who can get stuff done. We can teach them to be contracting professionals. I just want the best and brightest.

"I think looking for someone who's 21, who's saying 'I can't wait to work in contracting' will somewhat limit our pool," he said. People looking to serve their country or improve their agency, however, are prime candidates.

Once in the federal door, Jordan said the new hires have to be trained. That should not mean, "sitting in a room for two weeks and then knowing all 2,700 pages of the FAR," he said. "That's not realistic."

Teaching candidates what they need to know initially to be strategically and tactically successful, then adding expertise later is a better recipe. "How do we make the slope steep enough so that people remain excited and encouraged to keep learning, but not so steep that we're putting them out on a limb where failure is more likely?"

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 Mike Tinnon Texas

Excellent, insightful comments from Mr. Jordan. From a contracting manager in industry

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