COMMENTARY

The case for more acquisition training options

VA's Jan Frye explains the rationale behind the department's Acquisition Academy

Jan R. Frye is the senior procurement executive at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I couldn't be happier with the success of the Department of Veterans Affairs' Acquisition Academy, the award-winning program that develops our acquisition workforce. It’s important to remember that we created this program out of necessity.

The issue surfaced earlier this month when Steve Kelman, a former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, wrote in his blog at FCW.com that the VA academy should be able to offer its services to other agencies, thereby creating competition with the Federal Acquisition Institute and Defense Acquisition University. Some readers who commented on his blog post wondered why VA decided to take this route rather than simply send employees to FAI or DAU.

I want to take the opportunity to set the record straight. Before launching the academy, we consulted with leaders at the Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration, FAI and DAU and shared our vision for creating a holistic learning model based on a mixture of competency-driven online and classroom courses.

Frankly, investing resources in developing and managing an academy was not our first choice. However, given the positive feedback and results, it was the right one. Our original intent was to focus exclusively on the VA acquisition workforce, but we are certainly open to serving the needs of other federal agencies. The academy still partners with FAI and DAU when it makes sense but has added courses tailored to civilian buying habits. We also have a robust program/project management curriculum.

VA's internship program is part of a long-term succession planning strategy to build quality from the ground up and retain that talent for years to come. The intern program also addresses a common governmentwide practice of prematurely promoting people into higher-level roles before they are properly seasoned. Most senior acquisition executives agree that this practice dilutes the effectiveness of the acquisition process.

Kelman is correct that competition — versus monopolies — in any sector can drive both innovation and improvement. Although GSA officials consistently object to the proliferation of services that they feel entitled to provide, we suggest they consider more flexible, customer-driven models, whether in the area of governmentwide contracts or training.

In addition to the successes at the academy, we have developed a strong acquisition career management program. In 2005, OFPP directed all agencies to appoint an acquisition veteran to manage the staffing, training and development needs of the acquisition workforce. At VA, we take this issue very seriously, and the individual we appointed to oversee those efforts has a doctorate degree, a master's degree in acquisition management and 24 years of hands-on experience in federal procurement.

In addition to raising Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting rates to the 97th percentile, the Acquisition Career Management Office has created an empirical staffing tool, business intelligence capability, online FAC-C application and warrant system, and applied learning center to objectively assess competency levels. OMB has lauded each of those tools as best practices in career management.

VA acquisition is not perfect by any means. However, through the vision and support of our leaders and the dedication of our hard-working contracting officers, we are making progress. We welcome informed critiques and invite those critics to join the team to help improve our business processes.

About the Author

Jan R. Frye was appointed as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Logistics, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, on September 4, 2005. As the Deputy Assistant Secretary of one of the largest acquisition and logistics programs in the federal government, he manages and oversees the development and implementation of policies and procedures for department-wide acquisition and logistics programs supporting all VA facilities. His responsibilities include management of VA’s National Acquisition Center in Hines, Illinois, the Technical Acquisition Center in Eatontown, NJ, the Centers for Acquisition Innovation in Austin, Texas and Washington, D.C., the VA Acquisition Academy in Frederick, Maryland, and the Denver Acquisition and Logistics Center in Denver, Colorado. He also serves as the VA Senior Procurement Executive.

Prior to his current appointment as the Deputy Assistant Secretary, he served as the Chief of Contracting, Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, he served in senior acquisition and logistics positions during his 30-year career. He served as the Principal Assistant Responsible for Contracting in Eighth U.S. Army/U.S. Forces Korea and in the U.S. Army Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. He was also assigned as the Deputy Principal Assistant Responsible for Contracting, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He commanded three Department of Defense acquisition commands located in the United Kingdom; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Republic of Korea. He also served as the Deputy Commander, Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois.

A native of Chester, Nebraska, he entered the Army in l973 as a Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Nebraska-Kearney Reserve Officer Training Corps program. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Nebraska, a master’s degree in Contracting and Acquisition Management from the Florida Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in National Resource Strategy from the National Defense University. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the Defense Systems Management College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He holds the Acquisition Professional Development Program’s highest certification in program management and contracting.


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