Not too late for training investment

For the federal information technology acquisition community, last week's announcement that the Air Force had awarded two blanket purchase agreements to fulfill its desktop and server needs marked the end of an era.

The Air Force's move away from its long and storied history of indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity pacts is symbolic of a much broader, all-encompassing change in how the government buys equipment and services. Years of procurement reform and streamlining initiatives have swept away the old rules and left the federal acquisition work force with increased discretion, unprecedented flexibility and often not a clue as to how to proceed.

Despite drastic changes in how the government does its buying, procurement professionals have gone through no such metamorphosis. Instead of focusing on re-education and retraining, the emphasis has been on downsizing. The result is a dedicated and competent, but smaller work force trying to do more with less in a world in which all the rules have changed.

Help may be on the way. A House subcommittee last week approved a bill that would force the administration to create standards for training and education and develop new ways of measuring the performance of the procurement system itself. The bill would force agencies to make a substantial and ongoing investment in what is clearly their most valuable resource— their workers.

Less clear is the impact of one facet of the legislation that would require establishing a system for measuring the performance and effectiveness of the procurement system across government. While we support the concept, its implementation, much like that of the Government Performance and Results Act, would be slow and the payoff long in coming.

Some agencies, including the Defense Department and the General Services Administration, are ahead of the curve in acknowledging training as an essential part of the procurement reform process. But the reality is that across government, the resources devoted to training are uneven at best. Funding is hard to come by, to be sure, but this could be the latest example of "pay me now or pay me later." It is a necessary investment not only in today's work force but also in the acquisition work force of the 21st century.

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