Acquisition workforce called underdeveloped

Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) said today the Homeland Security Department’s problems with contracts stem from its “overlooked and underdeveloped” acquisition workforce.

“Independent government investigations have told the tale, as has testimony before Congress…there simply aren’t enough personnel in the DHS acquisitions shop,” said Carney, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee’s Management, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.

At a hearing about problem contracts at DHS, Carney said department officials have neglected the acquisition workforce since DHS was formed in 2003, causing "a broken acquisitions process.”

However, department officials are beginning to emphasize the workforce, said Richard Gunderson, deputy chief procurement officer at DHS. They are pushing initiatives to improve training for staff members, certifications and secure funding for that training, he added.

Gunderson also said DHS is focusing on attracting acquisition staff members through internship programs and then working to retain those people. In fiscal 2004, the department's Office of Chief Procurement Officer had four employees while the entire department had 603 contracting officers. By the end of fiscal 2005, that office had 30 staff members handling policy and oversight, and DHS now has more than 1,000 contract specialists, he said.

However, contracting officers are difficult to find, Gunderson said.

“The great demand far exceeds the number of qualified midlevel and senior-level contracting professionals,” he said.

Although the department is hunting employees, James Taylor, deputy inspector general at DHS, said recent budget increases have allowed DHS to fill vacant acquisition jobs. In April, the Government Accountability Office reported that DHS has approximately 61 percent of the necessary acquisition staff members in place. That leaves more than a third of the jobs unfilled, he said.

About the Author

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

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