GSA will offer agencies acquisition training pacts

Looking to help agencies better educate their procurement personnel, the General Services Administration plans to issue a solicitation next month for the government's first series of interagency contracts for acquisition training courses.Ida Ustad, GSA's deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy, said the agency will award in August roughly 25 multiple-award, task-order contracts for a variety of training classes, from basic core courses to in-depth specialized classes. She said the program represents the first attempt by any agency to offer a comprehensive array of acquisition courses governmentwide.

"This is the first time it's been done this way," Ustad said. "Most of the other agencies offering contracts [for training] have things they have just set up for themselves."

Ustad said GSA will award four types of contracts. For the first group, GSA will award contracts to single vendors that will market their courses to agencies operating within specified regions of the country. These courses would cover the "core curriculum" required of federal contracting officers governmentwide, she said. The courses would be designed for offices with a training requirement for only two or three personnel, and classes could consist of a mixture of students from different agencies.

The second group of contracts will provide core training for agencies that need to train a greater number of personnel. These courses could be designed to meet the needs of a specific agency and could be conducted at an agency or vendor site. Classes could accommodate dozens of employees, Ustad said.

The third group will offer courses designed by vendors, she said. "So, if GSA had a course we wanted to deliver to our people, we would furnish the materials, and the contractor would deliver the course," Ustad said.

The fourth group of vendors will provide specialized acquisition-related training through commercial catalogs. Ustad said the vendors would offer federal agencies a discount off their established catalog prices and would offer the services to small groups of employees. The courses would be geared to subjects like alternative dispute resolutions or oral presentations and cover them in greater depth than the core curriculum, she said.

Except for the single-award regional contracts, GSA expects to award five to seven contracts for each category, Ustad said.

"Very Much Needed"

Acquisition consultant Terry Kelly, president of Terry Kelly Associates Inc., said a training program has been needed since the Clinger-Cohen Act gave federal contracting personnel greater autonomy to use "sound business judgment" when making procurement decisions.

"Agencies are being given power to be creative and innovative," Kelly said. "So I think a program like this is very much needed in the government."

Kelly added that GSA should make an effort to ensure that training providers who win contracts are up to speed on the new regulations guiding federal procurement and are able to teach federal employees how to best exploit the new autonomy they have.

The extent to which federal agencies will embrace these contracts remains unclear. An official from the Defense Acquisition University who requested anonymity said Defense personnel— who constitute the overwhelming majority of federal acquisition professionals— would probably continue to use Defense Department training classes.

"DOD has always had the premier courses and the majority of the government's acquisition work force," he said.But Janet Springsteen, a program manager at the Commerce Department's Office of Acquisition Management, said the program shows potential to meet her department's needs. "It looks like it would be very beneficial for civilian agencies to tap into programs that would be the equivalent of or the same as the Department of Defense programs," Springsteen said.

"From the Department of Commerce's perspective, we don't want to develop a whole new set of courses," she added. "So to tap into something that is already out there is beneficial to us."

Kelly said she believed DOD users may take advantage of the new GSA contracts in the same way they have embraced GSA's multiple-award schedule contracts for information technology.

"GSA is extremely with-it as far as selling and marketing to DOD and other agencies," she said.

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