Agencies get creative to recruit acquisition workforce

Officials see successes with central registries and telework

Federal agencies are trying innovative tools such as central hiring registries, Web site advertising, social media, telework and cross-recruitment programs to increase the size and quality of their acquisition workforces, senior officials in the Obama administration and other experts have told a Senate subcommittee.

Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for management and chief performance officer at the Office of Management and Budget, and other officials told the Senate Homeland Security Committee's Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee on Aug. 5 that several programs are being used to increase the number of federal procurement and contracting staff members. Zients said OMB will soon issue a comprehensive plan for acquisition workforce development.

“This plan, to be completed in October, will identify near-term recruitment and development needs, recommend changes to our certification programs, and address the planning process that will be required to sustain these efforts,” Zients said.

Meanwhile, federal agencies are trying new approaches. Nancy Kichak, associate director for strategic human resources policy at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), said her office helped develop the Federal Acquisition Intern Coalition with a Web site that targets job seekers. The Web site features two commercials showcasing careers in acquisition, and also posts webcasts of workshops on topics such as workforce planning and recruitment strategies.

The office also developed a Central Register for Entry-Level Contract Specialists, with a streamlined vacancy announcement designed to attract candidates to those positions, Kichak said.

There are approximately 8,000 candidates on the register for 36 locations, she said. Since the pilot program began, more than 800 applicants have been referred to 10 agencies, and 67 people have been chosen for positions, she said.

OPM is also proposing to expand the centralized hiring process by establishing central registers for contract specialists at the GS-9, GS-11, and GS-12 grade levels by using a similar streamlined vacancy announcement template, she said.

Elaine Duke, undersecretary for management at the Homeland Security Department, said her office is exploring the idea of recruiting mid-level professionals in other fields into acquisition positions.

“By targeting professionals in current federal positions or those in private industry that possess transferable skills, such as purchasing managers and purchasing agents, DHS anticipates a compressed lead time in developing these individuals into acquisition professionals,” Duke said. “The success of this effort will position the Department to resolve potential procurement skill gaps.”

Telework also can be a solution. The General Services Administration is reviewing “ways to make our acquisition workforce more virtual,” said David Drabkin, acting chief acquisition officer for that agency.

GSA has had some success in relocating work to places where the cost of living is lower and federal salaries are very competitive, he said.

“GSA has excellent IT resources and a very proactive teleworking policy," Drabkin said. "Combine this with the fact that there are certain localities where our pay and benefits are not competitive with the private sector and you can see that we can improve retention by moving the work to locations where we are competitive and we have a stable workforce to perform the work."

In general, federal agencies should be encouraged to use innovative technologies, including social media, to expand their acquisition workforces to meet current and future needs, Deidre Lee, executive vice president of federal affairs and operations for the Professional Services Council. told the panel.

Technology, including social media, is a part of everyday life, Lee said. “These tools and their experimental applications contribute to transparency, accountability, process improvement and speed. The acquisition community must be encouraged (and funded) to maximize the use of current technology in accomplishing their jobs,” she added.

The Office for Federal Procurement Policy also has responsibility for reforms. However, the top position in that agency remains vacant.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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