Panel sees need for acquisition workforce clarity

Acquisition Advisory Panel Draft Report

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The federal acquisition workforce is struggling as it tries to grasp an increasingly demanding and complex acquisition environment, according to the Acquisition Advisory Panel's draft final report, issued this month.

Agencies don't have consistent definitions of who is part of the workforce, and training remains sporadic and uneven, the panel found.

The size of the acquisition workforce depends on who is counting, the panel said. The Federal Acquisition Institute has collected and reported data on the workforce since the late 1970s, but it has counted it in different ways. In fiscal 2004, the FAI report found a total of 26,936 contract specialists and an overall acquisition workforce -- based on General Schedule occupational series designations -- of 58,161.

"Undoubtedly, the traditional FAI count of the acquisition workforce casts too narrow a net in gauging the resources available to do the government's acquisition work," the panel wrote in its draft report. In some agencies, there are contracting officers who are not part of the General Schedule designation. "In such agencies, the FAI data is extremely misleading," the panel concluded.

The Defense Department, on the other hand, uses two methods established under the National Defense Authorization Act of 1988, along with the FAI count. One of the methods counts every employee of 22 listed acquisition organizations, regardless of the employees' specific jobs. The other method, called an Acquisition, Technology and Logistics count, includes civilian DOD employees working in acquisition or technology roles, but only if they work at organizations that are primarily for acquisition.

The panel's first recommendation is for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to ensure that consistent and sensible definitions of the acquisition workforce are in place in the future, and that accurate data is collected consistently across all agencies.

Phil Kiviat, a partner at consulting firm Guerra Kiviat, said that although he scoffed at some of the panel's recommendations, that one makes sense.

“You have too small a workforce," he said. "Nobody really knows much about it. Everybody suspects various things but doesn’t really know them, so the first recommendation is to have a single governmentwide definition of the acquisition workforce. That’s a very sensible recommendation.”

Kiviat was not as pleased with another acquisition workforce recommendation: That OFPP convene a panel to conduct a 12-month study on whether there is a need for a governmentwide Federal Acquisition University, or to find other alternatives, to provide training.

“This is government at its worst," he said. "‘Let’s have a 12-month study.’ Not a study, but a 12-month study." What that really means, he said, is to delay and do nothing.

The panel, however, said such a study group would be able to evaluate whether FAI and the university duplicate functions or provide a needed distinction between the civilian and defense sides of the government.

Kiviat said that overall, the panel got a lot of details right but may have missed the big picture. As the government gradually moves away from buying products and spelling out prescriptive instructions for contractors and toward an era of defining needs and demanding that contractors meet them, what's needed is a new approach to management.

The panel, created by the Services Acquisition Reform Act, is often called the SARA panel.

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