Senators push for acquisition workforce training

Bills would set up a federal acquisition management fellows program and strengthen the civilian training institute

Senators leading government contracting reforms introduced two bills on Dec. 17 to bolster the overstressed federal acquisition workforce.

The Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (S. 2901) would create a federal acquisition management fellows program to help mentor a new generation of acquisition workers with a governmentwide perspective and experience. It would combine both a master’s degree-level academic curriculum with on-the-job training. Students would go through rotational assignments at three or more agencies.

Procurement officials have advocated for shifting acquisition employees to various agencies to get a greater understanding of government procurement.

Under the bill, students would learn about upfront acquisition planning, cost-estimations and writing contracts. They would also learn about handling post-award administration of “high-risk” contract types, such as sole-source contracts and interagency contracts, said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Collins introduced both bills with support from Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah), the chairwoman and ranking member of the committee's Contracting Oversight Subcommittee.

“With the increases we’ve seen in government contracting, it is unacceptable that our acquisition workforce is falling behind in terms of training and resources they need to effectively oversee spending,” McCaskill said.

The bill would also require participants to work in government for a certain amount of time after their schooling.

The second bill, the Federal Acquisition Institute Improvement Act (S. 2902), would prompt reorganization of the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI), which works on career development and training the civilian acquisition workforce. Collins said FAI gets much less support than the Defense Department's Defense Acquisition University, which leaves it underutilized. The bill would require the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to report annually to Congress on FAI funding needs.

Experts agree that the federal acquisition system is under tremendous stress. Despite dramatic increases in spending and little increase in the workforce's size, contracting officers, the major component of the acquisition workforce, are feeling pressure both from the workload as well as other agency employees who push for fast procurements.

At a congressional hearing Dec. 16, Maureen Regan, counselor to the Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general, said the department’s contracting officers are being pressured to award contracts, even though they—as the government’s buyers—believe the purchase isn’t in the government’s best interest.

Officials across the government believe the workforce is the key to fixing government contracting. They say the government needs procurement employees who understand the details of the Federal Acquisition Regulation as well as other aspects, such as negotiations and procurement strategies.

“Responsible federal contracting relies on careful, informed analysis by all components of the acquisition workforce,” Bennett said.

About the Author

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

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