GAO: Acquisition workforce plans need better definition of workforce

Procurement officials didn't address all of Congress' concerns, but GAO said the plan is only a first step in a governmentwide effort review

Federal agencies have come up with some good plans for strengthening their acquisition workforce, but they need to do a better job of figuring out who exactly that workforce includes, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy developed the Acquisition Workforce Development Strategic Plan, as required by the fiscal 2009 National Defense Authorization Act. The plan includes information about the complexity of acquisitions agencies deal with, their plans on how to hire and retain employees and ways to pay for their efforts to bolster the workforce, among other issues.

According to GAO, the plan shows that agencies have developed a deeper understanding of their acquisition workforces. However, the document also includes several gaps that need to be filled before agencies can make serious progress toward fixing their acquisition workforce problems according to a new report.

For instance, officials defined “acquisition workforce" very broadly in the development plans, causing confusion, John Needham, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, wrote in a letter to several congressional committees, which was released today. Many civilian agency officials said the definition was the toughest challenge when developing their plans, he wrote.

OFPP's includes contract specialists, project and program managers, contracting officer’s technical representatives, who manage contracts once they’re awarded, and other employees who contribute substantially to successful acquisitions.

But agencies have data on only the contracting officers, unlike the others, Needham wrote.


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To get a clear picture of the workforce, which includes contractors too, the definition will become increasingly important and may warrant clarification, Needham wrote.

Needham also noted that the plans fail to address all the issues Congress wanted to know about, such as the funding schemes. OMB officials agreed with the assessment but told GAO officials the plans can be the basis for future budget requests. More importantly, they said the plans are the first governmentwide framework for creating agency-specific development plans, according to the letter.

Despite the problems, officials from OMB and the civilian agencies are working together on putting the plans into place, Needham wrote.

Overall “the results of the process established in OMB’s plan will become evident" in the coming years, especially in how well it identifies gaps and responds to critical needs in the civilian acquisition workforce and whether it gets funding in the future, Needham wrote.

In 2009 President Barack Obama named the state of the acquisition workforce a chief concern of his in government procurement, as contracting needs tighter management and oversight of contractors. With a larger and stronger workforce, the government can get a handle on spending and contractors who have moved deep into federal operations.

Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget identifies the development of the federal acquisition workforce as a priority investment with $158 million requested to support it, according to GAO.

About the Author

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

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