Obama proposes expanding acquisition workforce

Budget proposal addresses longstanding workforce concerns

The acquisition workforce is one of the few areas of federal employment the Obama administration wants to expand, an official said today.

Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the number of contracts and government spending has doubled, but the acquisition workforce, which includes employees who handle the work of developing a contract’s requirements, reviewing bids and awarding contract, has had little growth.

“It's not too hard to figure out that oversight of those contracts has not kept pace with what it should be,” he said at a press briefing on the fiscal 2011 budget proposal.

In 2000, the government had 26,751 contracting officers and the number had grown to only 29,707 by 2008, a 9 percent rise, according federal figures.

The administration is trying to invest in greater oversight of what the government buys, Orszag said. Specifically he said the administration wants to crack down on no-bid contracts, buy goods and services in bulk, and increase the acquisition workforce's size so the government can better oversee its contracts.

As the administration looks to increase the acquisition workforce, officials said in the budget proposal documents that the world has changed to a knowledge-based economy. “Half a century ago, most white collar federal employees performed clerical tasks, such as posting Census figures in ledgers and retrieving taxpayer records from file rooms,” the proposal states.

The administration proposed spending $24.9 million for training the acquisition workforce. The money would support interagency initiatives and projects that improve the ability of civilian agencies to assess the size and skills of their procurement employees. It would also provide funds for agencies to find the best mix between public employees and private sector contracts carrying out agency work, the budget proposal states.

Over the past year, the Obama administration has emphasized its concerns that agencies have allowed contractors to do too much in conducting their operations.

“The activities supported through this fund are intended to foster and promote the development of the acquisition workforce,” the budget document states.

In addition, the agencies have the Acquisition Workforce Training Fund. The mandatory appropriation of funds is for civilian agencies to train their employees. It’s financed by 5 percent of the fees collected from civilian agencies' procurements from governmentwide information technology acquisition contracts, the General Services Administration’s Multiple Award Schedules program, and other multi-agency contracts.

Meanwhile, officials are working with the Office of Personnel Management to simplify and streamline the hiring process. They also want easier checkpoints so the people applying for federal jobs can check online to see what’s happening, Orszag said.

About the Author

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

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