Sade: Be mentors

Senior GSA official urges agencies to transfer acquisition skills to younger workers

Contracting officials nearing retirement should get a lighter workload so they can share their procurement know-how with younger employees, said a senior procurement official who is concerned about losing federal acquisition expertise.

Michael Sade, the General Services Administration’s assistant commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service’s Office of Acquisition Management, said shifting duties from senior employees would free them to prepare younger, less experienced workers to pick up the slack when the veterans are gone.

“As people approach retirement age…what we ought to be doing is not saying, ‘How much work can I get out of them?’ It ought to be, ‘I’m going to reduce your workload,’” Sade said.

Federal contracting has become increasingly complex, he said, and contract officers need more than a four-week training course to learn all of the intricacies, including how to negotiate deals and recognize the best type of contract to suit the need.

Sade said soon-to-retire employees should get a new job description that
includes mentoring the employees who will do the work when they’re gone. He doesn’t know whether his idea might become a GSA policy, but he said he intends to transform the culture. “My job, as leader of the organization, is to ... say, ‘You have time to do this.’”

Several Defense Department contracting officers, each with more than 30 years of contracting experience, said they would welcome a lighter workload, but more so, an opportunity to pass on their knowledge.

“I am about to choke on all the work I have to do,” said one of the officers, who didn’t want her name used. But having a younger employee to work alongside her would be beneficial to both of them, she said.

Mentoring has widespread support. Adam Davidson, chairman of the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s Hiring and Succession Planning Committee’s shared interest group, said mentoring gives people a sense of fulfillment.

“It’s a ‘warm-fuzzy,’ as we call it in Australia,” Davidson said.

Projected losses of procurement expertise are real, officials said. The Office of Personnel Management has reported that 60 percent of the federal workforce will become eligible to retire within the decade, including 90 percent of civilian senior government executives.

In anticipation of that retirement wave, senior procurement officials want a snapshot of employees’ skills. Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, issued a memo in March asking contracting employees to answer an anonymous online survey that would help agencies get a big-picture view of employee skills and capabilities. But it’s not certain that people will respond.

At the GSA Expo May 15, Denett addressed a room of 200 people to ask if anyone had taken the survey. Four raised their hands.

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