Good job, acquisition workforce; here's a raise

A new reform bill would use incentives and career development to build up the acquisition workforce.

The Defense Department’s acquisition workforce could get a congratulatory high-five from officials, along with pay raises and career boosts, if Congress passes a new defense reform bill. The measure also includes new requirements for those who work in acquisition on information technology.

The bill, introduced in the House April 14, includes programs with incentives and opportunities for career development for civilian employees and military personnel to build up the acquisition workforce.

The bipartisan IMPROVE Acquisition Act (H.R. 5013) would allow officials in the Defense Department and the military departments to use incentives and rewards to get employees and military personnel to do a good job. Department heads could relate pay increases and bonuses as well as future job promotions to their work and their contribution to their agency’s overall mission. The bill would also allow them to give these good employees a chance for career-broadening experiences.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) and is supported by the highest-ranking members of the House Armed Services Committee. Andrews was chairman of a panel reviewing DOD’s acquisition system, and much of the bill comes from his panel’s recommendations.

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Andrews has said in panel discussions that DOD needs more expertise in the acquisition workforce to deal with the growing complexities in defense technologies and weapons systems. One specific area that needs more expertise is in buying IT, Andrews added.

Under the measure, DOD would have to strengthen the part of the workforce that specializes in IT. Officials would have to define targets for the number of workers in the IT acquisition field and set specific certification requirements for those who buy IT. DOD would even have to draw out career paths in the IT acquisition field, according to the legislation.

Andrews' panel said DOD’s management of its contracting workforce, in its entirety, should be a model for more flexible personnel management that rewards success while also holding the workers accountable for their work.

To do that, the bill has several to-dos for DOD personnel managers. It would have them develop attractive career paths with continuing education and enrolling some employees in the Defense Civilian Leadership Program. Managers could gather acquisition experts through hiring authorities that avoid the cumbersome process of becoming a federal employee. Managers would also have to develop ways to warn employees during their performance evaluations and even set up a due process to handle employees who consistently fail to do a good job, according to the legislation.

The acquisition workforce has been a concern for many years. Across the board, government officials are uneasy about the number of employees handling the work of planning, awarding and managing contracts. The employee numbers have remained relatively flat, despite slight increases, but the government's spending has ballooned at the same time. Officials have said for the last several years the acquisition employees are overworked and more spending is piling on the stress, which makes for difficult times.

Several senators in December introduced acquisition workforce-related bills that would improve continued training, including the Federal Acquisition Institute, the civilian agency version of the Defense Acquisition University, and would create a fellows program. The program would give employees a well-rounded view of how acquisition plays into the larger scheme of governmentwide acquisitions, while teaching them about the details of planing and writing contracts.

Officials in the past have tried to change the perception of an acquisition employee who works in a contracting office, signing papers. They have wanted to show procurement employees an important part of the larger mission of the agency. Some agency leaders take acquisition employees onto the ships they sign contracts to buy or, as one high-ranking official said, to watch the sign language expert she acquired interpret for people in need.

About the Author

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

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Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Wed, Apr 21, 2010

This is not going to go well for any small business that is IT or procurement related supporting the government. In-sourcing though helpful for the government initiative is not helping economically. The government does not pay taxes to local or state economies. This will be become so large that the quality of delivery is going to be affected and historically the cost is more to the tax payer than less. I hope they know what they are doing. :0(

Mon, Apr 19, 2010

During my career as test and evaluation professional on the missiles that DOD purchases, I've seen our acquisition work force shrink (perhaps streamlining the money flow out to contractors) as overworked technical people are pressured to get more training which usually consists of the latest management initiative, pushing papers not science! Start spending the money on hiring scientists and letting them do their jobs. When was the last time management asked the workforce what the problems are, and why does DOD need it's own educational system?

Sun, Apr 18, 2010 oracle2world

Can we cut to the chase? Purchasing is a STAFF function, not a LINE function. When staff infiltrate and take over (a frequent occurrence with personnel, finance, payroll, etc.) - things go downhill. Just FYI.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010

It is time to avoid any possible fraud, waste, and abuse, within IT purchasing. Right now IT purchasing defines requirements, contacts contractors, negotiates prices with contractors and approves requirements when received. This is definitely not in accordance with proper separations of functions and duties. The contracting officer is the only one that can obligate the government and needs to have control on IT functions. Only the Contracting Officer and contracting specialist should be talking to the contractor on contract terms and prices. The IT functions should answer to the Contracting Office on technical matters only.

Fri, Apr 16, 2010

So, what's new? Most of these planned tools are already available to Federal managers: provide rewards and incentives, and likewise hold employees accountable; develop attractive career paths, and provide training, continuing education, and leadership development; evaluate and counsel; follow the existing due process steps; create an attractive workplace environment where people will want to work and will rise to the challenges. If we're not using these tools already, why not? Perhaps in part because of resource challenges (budget, staff, HR hiring hurdles), perhaps because of a lack of good leadership. More of the same, tired legislation isn't the answer; implementing and using what we already have available is. Where are the true leaders in these organizations? Reinvent Congress instead!

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