OFPP: Better training gets results

Mandate to keep pace

A new policy requires contracting officer’s technical representatives assigned to a contract to become certified in six months.

They also must maintain their skills through continuous learning, according to an Office of Federal Procurement Policy memo.

Paul Denett, OFPP administrator, said representatives must meet the training standards or risk losing their authority.

The policy went into effect when OFPP released the memo Nov. 26.

Technical representatives must have at least 40 hours of training, which includes 22 hours of coursework covering essential competencies such as effective communication of contract requirements, understanding the marketplace and negotiating skills. An additional 18 hours of agency-specific courses and electives are also required.

The requirements for certification consist of competency-based core training and training specific to the representative’s assignment.

The representatives must be certified one year from the effective date of the policy.

— Matthew Weigelt

Paul Denett, the Office of Management and Budget’s top procurement official, likes to get an audience’s attention by describing contracting officer’s technical representatives as “Mikeys,” inexperienced but energetic employees who are willing to take on the job, despite knowing little about what is expected.  

However, in today’s marketplace, Mikeys don’t survive. As administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Denett said he wants to provide training for technical representatives as part of a broader effort to expand the skills of the federal acquisition workforce.  

“Our intention is to provide structure and standards” for developing the acquisition community, Denett said.  

OFPP already has issued certification and training standards for contracting officers and program managers. Denett’s Nov. 26 memo that focuses on technical representatives is the last in a series of memos that put the necessary pieces in place to professionalize the acquisition workforce.  

OFPP’s objective for the past three years has been to make acquisition employees meet professional standards and requirements.  

Technical representatives follow up on contracts after they are awarded, watch for problems that may arise and ensure that programs stay on track. They also help each party to the contract understand what is required of them.  

With the new certification and training requirements, Denett said, he expects to see agencies improve how they manage their overall acquisitions through performance assessments of their people and programs.  

As concerns about staffing shortages and increasing workloads grow, better succession planning will help agencies identify their hiring and training needs, he said.  

“Agencies will work to close gaps,” Denett said. “We are confident that our planning processes and supporting policies will result in better outcomes for the government.”  

In recent years, the definition of the acquisition workforce has broadened. Those employees now include not only the contracting officers but also program managers and their technical representatives. Officials view each position as critical to the process of smart buying.  

“Integrated acquisition teams produce better results,” Denett said.  

New forms of contracting, especially performance- based acquisitions, have made the technical representative’s job more critical to the buying process, experts and officials say.  

The technical representative’s role changes from dotting i’s and crossing t’s to helping each side — government and contractor — understand what the other side wants.  

“They need to be able to interpret for the contracting officer,” said Robert Guerra, a partner at the Guerra Kiviat consulting firm.  

The government buys an increasingly complex and expensive array of products and services that are not as easy to purchase as office supplies and personal computers.  

With that complexity, technical representatives are vital in helping the contracting officer understand what the program manager needs and relaying the government’s expectations to the contractor.  

“It’s the subtleties between the lines of the formal contract language that they work with,” said John Okay, a former deputy commissioner at the General Services Administration and now a partner at Topside Consulting.  

The new training standards and programs for technical representatives align with two previous programs that established training requirements for contracting officers and program managers

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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