Federal acquisition training: Change is afoot

 [Editor's Note: This story was modified on Aug. 10 to correct a reference to the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System.]

Donna Jenkins isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to training the acquisition workforce.

She doesn’t want to figure out what agencies need for training. She doesn't want to guess which agencies' approaches are successful. Instead, she's working toward synergy among the various civilian departments and the Defense Department. She wants a team that’s moving toward a common goal.

Jenkins became director of the Federal Acquisition Institute in February, but she has been at FAI since September 2010. She has already built coalitions, working groups and boards that incorporate the opinions of other departments’ officials. Some have been so helpful that they have prompted managers to make the highly unusual move of requesting more meetings.

Jenkins met recently with Senior Editor Matthew Weigelt to discuss trends in agencies’ training needs and how she’s getting all the players to work together.

FCW: Other departments already have acquisition workforce training schools — the Veterans Affairs Department and the Defense Department, for instance. How are all of you working together?

Jenkins: There are a couple of key foundational pieces that we are putting in place and then driving toward strategic partnerships. The first initiative for us was the launch of the new Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System. We call it FAITAS 2.0. It’s initially a training registration system, but it ultimately becomes a workforce management tool.

It will help create a transferable workforce. So, much like a university system, [employees] will be alumni, and that’s their record. No matter what agency they may choose to utilize their talent at, that record follows them.

That eases the burden on the individual to transfer between agencies...and maintain all of their certification and training history and work history in one location.

The next thing that we are doing is a little bit bigger than that. We have launched what we are calling the Functional Advisory Boards — or FABs, as they are fondly called.

The intent of those groups…will be to validate the competencies of the different career fields for the acquisition workforce. Then that turns into certification programs and curricular development. That’s how we are getting buy-in from all the civilian agencies across government. They are having a say early on in the process as to what our programs are going to look like.

We are also going to be collaborating and having strategic partnerships with the civilian agencies. The ones that have a lot of resources and [have] invested a lot of time and money, we are interested in leveraging that. We are not interested in re-creating things.

FCW: Many people think FAI only serves the General Services Administration. How are you demonstrating your governmentwide role?

Jenkins: We are really reaching out and partnering with the other agencies. We’re trying to understand their needs better and identify the activities that we can do.

It’s like [asking]: How can we solve problem X one time as opposed to leaving agencies to solve it on their own 22 times over? [We do that] through an interagency group called the Interagency Acquisition Career Management Committee.

We have these meetings bimonthly. We identify initiatives that we are going to work on together, and we get input. [For part of the meeting,] we basically take topic areas and have smaller working groups to vet ideas and concepts and share practices across the civilian agencies.

The all-day session had rave reviews. Interestingly enough, we have had the career managers asking to have more meetings, which is something unusual.

FCW: It seems that you’re actually getting a lot of buy-in from agencies.

Jenkins: There is this new synergistic approach to this. I believe, when you value agencies’ opinions, they are very interested to share it and share it with the other agencies. We are all here for the same purpose.

FCW: How are civilian agency leaders working with DOD on acquisition policies?

Jenkins: As you well know, [DOD] is about three-quarters of the acquisition workforce, whereas the civilian agencies combined make up about a quarter of it.

That’s why we are aligning the process on the civilian side through the FABs to lockstep with the [Functional Integrated Process Teams] so that we are not in arrears. We are developing the competencies concurrently so that we are not following the trend, we are becoming part of the trend.

We are working very closely with them to get the cross-pollination between [DOD] and the civilian agencies.

FCW: What are some new areas of training that FAI is introducing?

Jenkins: We have just launched a course on sustainability in contracting. It’s titled Green Procurement. It helps contracting officers make decisions as they go through the procurement process on how to buy sustainable products that meet our customers’ needs.

We’re working very closely with the [Office of Federal Procurement Policy] on FAPIIS, which is the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System. We are also working to develop training on the Small Business Administration's women’s small-business parity rule changes.

FCW: What are some of the trends you’ve seen in agencies’ training needs?

Jenkins: There is a real interest in the contracting career field in increased skills in the cost and pricing arena. They are very interested in developing those skills.

They are also very interested in helping us help them understand the importance of data integrity in the information reporting that goes into the [Federal Procurement Data System] and the other systems.

FCW: Where did you work before joining FAI?

Jenkins: I was the acquisition career manager at the Department of Homeland Security for the last six years.

We stood up a similar program as FAI for just the Department of Homeland Security. That position prepared me very well. DHS is a microcosm of the federal government because of the newness and the 22 separate agencies and offices coming together.

FCW: The acquisition field doesn't thrill young people in the same way as, say, being an astronaut. How is the perception of acquisition changing?

Jenkins: I believe people recognize the value that is now placed on the acquisition workforce. So, maybe not from kindergarten and up, but certainly as people are maturing and entering colleges and universities, I believe the trend is different. I believe there is a desire to move into this career field.

I think we are getting the word out about the importance that is placed on this position.

It’s becoming recognized as a great career field where you are able to stay in one track but get lots of different experiences over the course of your lifetime.

FCW: How did you get into the acquisition field?

Jenkins: I entered government not immediately out of high school, so a little bit later in life. I already had a master’s degree in business with a concentration in procurement and acquisition management. I am interested in business, and I think acquisition is the linchpin to basically getting any mission done.

My first acquisition position was working with the Department of the Navy, doing construction contracting with the Navy Facilities Engineering Command. I am also a Navy reservist, a commander in the Navy Reserve, and I was assigned to a contracting unit. So those two careers kind of concurrently put me on a direct path.


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