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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