Acquisition needs more than contracting officers, officials say

The Homeland Security Department’s acquisition shop is overlooked and underdeveloped, critics say, but the people in that office aren’t the only ones who count when building a strong acquisition outfit, an official said last week.

John Hutton, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, said the acquisition workforce includes more people than just the officials who negotiate and sign the contracts.

The workforce combines the technical expertise of program managers and well-trained contracting specialists and contracting officer technical representatives to check on things.

They are all involved in large acquisitions from the early planning stages to the final evaluations of a contractor’s performance. Their expertise allows the department to improve the way it handles complex work, such as a technologically advanced border initiative.

They “make critical decisions on a daily basis that increase or decrease an acquisition’s likelihood of success,” said James Taylor, deputy inspector general at DHS.

However, Richard Gunderson, deputy chief procurement officer at DHS, said outreach to young people as interns is its primary means of building its acquisition workforce.

He also said DHS is using other career programs as a means to attract trained personnel.
Taylor said DHS could not confidently say that qualified people are managing acquisitions because officials aren’t collecting reliable information on employees or assignments.

At a hearing about problematic DHS contracts, Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Management, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee, said department officials have neglected DHS’ acquisition workforce since it was formed in 2003, resulting in a broken acquisitions process.

Carney said DHS’ botched contracts stem from its overlooked and underdeveloped acquisition workforce.

“Independent government investigations have told the tale, as has testimony before Congress,” he said. “There simply aren’t enough personnel in the DHS acquisitions shop.”

About the Author

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

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