Acquisition leaders concerned about eroding workforce

The federal acquisition community still is struggling with concerns about an eroding federal workforce and unbalanced levels of oversight, experts said today.

Responses to the latest edition of the Professional Services Council’s biannual procurement policy survey, released today, showed little progress has been made in calming the acquisition workforce’s worries about issues such as developing a well-trained workforce and the growth in oversight requirements.

“It’s nothing earth-shattering,” Stan Soloway, the council’s president, said about the survey’s results. Nevertheless, “it’s the voice of the federal acquisition community.”

The report found workforce issues were the No. 1 challenge and area of focus mentioned by the 28 government acquisition professionals interviewed. They said leaders need more strategic workforce planning, such as in training and retaining people. The respondents also talked about a push to broaden the definition of the acquisition workforce to include program managers and others.

“It’s not all about contracting anymore,” Soloway said. Today, acquisition includes purchasing plans and managing a contract after it has been awarded to make it a success.

The acquisition community also said oversight must deal with endemic issues, not simply with anecdotes and headlines, said Diane Denholm, principal at Grant Thornton, which helped conduct the survey. The respondents said the people overseeing the acquisitions, such as the Government Accountability Office and inspectors general, have little knowledge of the procurement process, yet they’re determining how it’s done.

“You don’t suddenly become a procurement genius when you get to GAO or an IG shop,” the survey quotes a respondent as saying.

Representatives from the council’s member firms conducted interviews earlier this year with federal acquisition leaders and practitioners to gauge their views on procurement policy and practices and the general environment. The interviewees included senior procurement executives, front-line contracting professionals and congressional staff members.

Acquisition officials are nervous about the level of oversight and the severity of its consequences, Denholm and Soloway said.

“Fear is dominant,” Denholm said. “They’re afraid to make a move” because an error could end an employee's careers in procurement or even in the government.

Contracting officers avoid using innovative approaches to procurement “because I’m going to get my head handed to me somewhere down the path,” Soloway said.

The respondents recommended that the incoming Obama administration make strong efforts to deal with the workforce’s training and hiring needs while taking a broader view of oversight to make sure policies are sensible.

The respondents also urged the new leaders to hold off on initiatives and studies.

“We’ve had Reinventing Government, the President’s Management Agenda — what gimmick will be next?” one respondent asked.

The respondents overall recommended giving current policies time to work.

About the Author

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


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