Work force hinders procurement reform

Acquisition reform has not delivered all of its intended benefits mostly

because of a shrinking, poorly trained procurement work force, federal officials

told Congress Thursday.

Congress and the Clinton administration put the reforms in place to reduce

problems with the federal acquisition process, including overspending, the

time it takes to put contracts in place and falling behind the technology

curve.

All of those problems still exist to a certain extent, but the reason no

longer is because of poor procurement practices but because procurement

officers do not know how to use the new practices.

"Successfully implementing acquisition reform and achieving good contract

management require that agencies have the right people with the right skills,"

Henry Hinton, assistant comptroller general at the General Accounting Office's

National Security and International Affairs Division, testified before the

House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Information

and Technology.

"Agencies are facing ever-growing public demands for better and more economical

delivery of products and services. And at the same time, the ongoing technological

revolution requires not just new hardware and software, but a work force

with new knowledge, skills and abilities," Hinton said.

At the Defense Department, one of the key factors in procurement problems

found by the inspector general's office is a lack of contracting work force

capacity and training, said Robert Lieberman, DOD's assistant inspector

general for auditing.

"Lack of training in the acquisition work force is certainly a key factor,"

Lieberman said.

The DOD acquisition work force has been cut in half since 1991, but the

number of procurements increased by 12 percent. In a Feb. 29 report, the

IG's office found that people have not received adequate training on new

procurement regulations, further reductions because of cuts and retirement

and DOD is having trouble recruiting new personnel. All of this adds up

to contracts that do not meet the needs of the agency, through no fault

of the reforms, he said.

These are problems that are being experienced across government, said Deidre

Lee, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Instead

of simply knowing the regulations to follow, acquisition personnel need

to understand the commercial market and how to develop the requirements

to get what their agencies need to perform their missions. But this kind

of training is not always offered at the agency or federal level, she said.

"We need to provide the acquisition work force with the tools and training

to make good business decisions," she said.

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