Overworked and untrained

Agency officials recognized that the federal acquisition work force is woefully

undertrained for the current procurement environment.

Procurement reforms introduced by the Clinton administration and Congress,

combined with little training on how to function in the less regulated procurement

environment, have left federal contracting and program officers unprepared

to buy and manage products and services in new ways.

At the same time, the acquisition work force has shrunk considerably — at the Defense Department, the number of acquisition personnel has been

cut in half since 1991 — and few qualified new personnel are planning to

enter government service.

DOD's inspector general found that fewer workers in contract shops and

not enough training played a part in the

department's procurement problems, which include DOD paying too much

for products and services, vague contracting requirements and late contracts

delivery, 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 earlier this month at a hearing before the House Government

Reform Committee's Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee.

All of this has left agencies with overworked acquisition personnel

and on the receiving end of many harsh reports from Congress and the General

Accounting Office about failed or excessively expensive IT contracts. And

many agency inspectors general are asking agencies to re-evaluate how they

are treating their contracting personnel.

"We need to better understand what the workload on acquisition offices

really is," Lieberman said.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy plans several initiatives to

better train and increase the acquisition work force at both civilian and

defense agencies.

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

to make good business decisions," Deidre Lee, administrator of OFPP, testified

at the House hearing.

The first step is an occupational study, much like the one for information

technology professionals under way at the Office of Personnel Management.

The OFPP study will draw a competency-based profile of the entire federal

acquisition work force, identifying the skills workers need to function

in the new and future acquisition environments.

Once the skill sets are identified, the study will be used to help recruit

new personnel, assign and evaluate current personnel, and act as a starting

point to identify ways to improve acquisition work force training, Lee said.

Already, agencies have specific training requirements that contracting

personnel must meet before they are given promotions, and OFPP has asked

the Federal Acquisition Institute to take a closer look at those programs

to identify best practices that can be spread across government.

OFPP and DOD also plan to develop acquisition training courses and programs

that can be used by civilian and defense agencies. This will ensure that

there is a common level of expertise in the entire government's acquisition

work force, and will make it much easier for contracting personnel to move

between agencies.

"Ultimately, we will also be considering whether to prescribe a core

set of courses that would be mandatory governmentwide," Lee said.

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