Acquisition workforce: Social media could be big draw

The acquisition community should heed lessons of the Obama campaign, lawmaker says

The government acquisition community ought to take a cue from President Barack Obama’s campaign strategy and use social media technology to bolster its ranks, one lawmaker says.

The government needs to be brave enough to draw on the younger generation’s new ways of interacting to help attract them to government service and to simply improve how agencies run, said Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.), speaking at a congressional hearing last week.

Many older federal employees may not be as comfortable with that technology, but the up-and-coming employees live by it. “This is their primary way of thinking,” he said.

Obama’s campaign captured young people’s attention like no other presidential candidate has before. It created Change.gov, a hip Web site describing Obama’s agenda. But Obama also sent out text messages and had a presence on Facebook, MySpace and numerous other social networking sites. Obama posted videos on YouTube. He even tweeted.

As a candidate, Obama was “a socially enabled, socially connected, socially aware, socially conscious leader,” Barry Libert, author of “Barack, Inc.: Winning Business Lessons of the Obama Campaign,” said in a recent speech.

At the hearing, Bilbray said the older generations that didn’t grow up with this technology will always be somewhat blind to it, unlike the younger people who have never known life without that technology.

“First of all, it intimidates us to some degree, and we may not understand it. But the potential is huge,” he said.

The next generation is heading toward more Web 2.0 tools and collaboration from the crowd.

The General Services Administration already has a technology-rich culture, said David Drabkin, acting chief acquisition officer at GSA, who testified at the hearing. The agency is adopting cloud computing and Web 2.0 collaboration tools internally and using social networking sites such as Facebook to interact with the public.

“We are on the edge,” he said.

Mary Davie, assistant Federal Acquisition Service commissioner for assisted acquisition services at GSA, is already thinking about the application of social media to acquisition. In a column in this week’s print edition of Federal Computer Week, Davie suggests opening the process of defining an acquisition’s requirements to get insight from a community of experts, inside or outside of the government.

“Using the wisdom of the crowd to define requirements and the best development process, participants could propose ideas based on experience, good practices, and standards, question and weed out bad ideas, build on one another’s ideas, and float the best to the top,” she writes.

Like Bilbray, Davie sees an opportunity not only to improve procurement but to appeal to younger recruits.

“Imagine what this might do to attract and retain the Net Generation workforce we are always seeking out,” Davie wrote.

At the hearing, Shay Assad, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, said technology will bring major changes in acquisition during the next two years.

The department is developing a database that will give Defense Department contracting officials quick access to information on business deals across the department, such as how the department negotiates with certain contractors, what they buy, and how much they may.

The system will be based on information collected by the Defense Contract Management Agency, which is the hub for analysis of the value and costs of DOD’s procurements.

At present, the individual services often don’t share information and know little about what the other services are buying, even from the same contractor, Assad said. “The fact of the matter is that we are not as capable as a number of organizations in terms of being able to share that information, but we are getting there,” he said.

About the Author

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

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