GSA tool to collect workforce data

The General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service is developing an automated tool to assess its employees' skills and training needs and to help plan its workforce needs for the future.

GSA's workforce was cut in half by the early 1990s, and with more agencies using FSS schedules, that smaller group of acquisition professionals has an ever-increasing amount of work to do.

To cover this shortfall, GSA has started "aggressively" hiring new acquisition officers and sticking closely to the skill requirements outlined in the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, said Patricia Mead, deputy assistant commissioner of FSS' Office of Acquisition Policy.

But for the staff already within FSS, officials are developing an assessment tool that will help them figure out what skills are in place throughout the service and where new training is needed, Mead said at a Dec. 3 conference sponsored by the Computing Technology Industry Association.

Like nearly every other agency, the General Accounting Office and Congress, GSA is trying to get a handle on the right training for federal acquisition workers.

Part of the problem is identifying the best way to train procurement staff to use the acquisition reform measures that have become common practice during the past six years.

Performance-based contracting has been particularly difficult to teach, which has caused problems for industry and government because working from poorly written statements of work often confuses vendors enough that they decide not to bid, said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement. GSA's own e-Buy online procurement tool may be suffering from this very problem, he said.

To help address this problem, GSA is now partnering with the Federal Acquisition Institute to develop a course that could be used by all agencies, Mead said.

The more difficult problem, however, is finding out what those personnel do and do not know. That is what the assessment tool, which is in the early stages of development, is supposed to do, she said.

The CIO Council is making progress on an information technology road map to help IT workers assess where they are in their careers and how to find courses to gain the skills they need to advance, said Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee. If there are similarities between what GSA and the CIO Council are doing, "certainly we would look very closely at their tool," Hobbs said.

FSS is also reinstituting internal pre- and post-award contract reviews, Mead said, which is expected to help push contracting officers to work harder — because no one wants to get a poor review. It should also help identify areas where additional training is needed, she said.

Colleen O'Hara contributed to this story.

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