Experts: Workforce investment today saves dollars tomorrow

Agency officials must invest in their workforce, even in these times of shriveling budgets, to ultimately save money down the road, said several federal procurement experts at a Congressional committee hearing.

An organic government employee base with adequate skills is the alternative to over-reliance on contractors, and could be the key to reducing fraud and waste in contingency operations, the members of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Oct. 4. But it requires investment now, despite tight budgets.

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“There has to be some spending to save money,” said Dov Zakheim, a commissioner and former Defense Department comptroller and chief financial officer.

In the same vein, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House committee, said the government could have saved the at least a portion of the money wasted because of poor contracting in the decade-old contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Government Accountability Office too blames DOD’s lack of planning for workforce shortfalls—including the number of employees at the Defense Contract Audit Agency—along with contractor accounting problems. The two problems are costing DOD money due to delayed audits of the contractors’ incurred costs.

Zakheim told the House committee that DCAA needs auditors, and without them, the government is bearing the cost of delayed audits and contracts that are not properly closed.

"If you don't have auditors, you don't have audits. It's as simple as that," he said.

However, procurement experts say officials opt to cut training and other resource investments in the workforce during tough financial times. Some agencies have already halted hiring new workers to survive these times, just as senior Obama administration officials say the acquisition workforce is in dire need of some support troops. A new policy from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy tells agencies to improve their in-house skills to do work that is suited for government workers.

“I’d like to think the acquisition workforce will be better trained and that the role of acquisition professionals will evolve to that of a business adviser, rather than a buyer,” said Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. “We’ve been saying that, though, for at least a dozen years now.”

But the budget crisis hopefully will make federal officials think of savings further out, rather than immediately, if they allocate resources to their employees, said Katherine Schinasi, commissioner and former GAO managing director for acquisition and sourcing management.

“It’s a perfect time to make an investment,” since the dividend pays off in the end with savings, she said.

About the Author

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


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