GAO reports on acquisition workforce

Acquisition Workforce: Status of Agency Efforts to Address Future Needs

Agencies are trying different means to accomplish the goal of maintaining an effective acquisition workforce, according to a new report by the General Accounting Office.

The report, released Jan. 17, found that among the six agencies GAO surveyed, there are two approaches to address future needs: focusing on the acquisition workforce alone or focusing on the entire workforce.

"The civilian agencies we reviewed are taking steps to address their future acquisition workforce needs," the report states. "All the agencies have published or drafted human capital strategic plans for their overall workforces, and three agencies are developing plans specifically for their acquisition workforces."

The departments of Energy and Veterans Affairs and the General Services Administration are developing plans to strengthen their acquisition workforce specifically, while NASA and the departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services are drafting overall plans to strengthen their workforces.

The Treasury, HHS and NASA plans will include their acquisition workforces, because they are a small part of the agencies' overall workforces. Instead of creating a specific acquisition workforce plan, those agencies are making changes in training, recruiting and retention programs, the report states.

While drafting the plans and implementing new training and career development programs, the agencies came across several challenges, the report states:

* Acquisition professionals are not just purchasers or process managers. A more sophisticated acquisition environment means workers need to learn a new set of skills to allow them to analyze business problems and development strategies.

* Agency regulations and missions are constantly changing, making it hard for agencies to know what types of skills they will need for the future.

* Many agencies don't have information about the workforce, such as size, knowledge and skills, necessary to map out their needs.

The Defense Department serves as an example for these agencies, having confronted similar issues in drafting an acquisition workforce plan. A problem DOD faced was overcoming a cultural resistance to seeing the acquisition workforce as essential to achieving the agency's mission, rather than as support, the report states.

"DOD officials learned that the strategic planning effort was going to take a long time and that effective leadership and guidance, along with technology and sound methodology, were required to accurately forecast workforce needs," the report states.

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