Workforce

USDS to certify new acquisition specialty

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The U.S. Digital Service is adding a digital services contracting certification to create a cadre of "technology acquisition mavericks."

After two pilot efforts , USDS, along with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, is launching a new certification program for digital services contracting for civilian agencies with an eye to reducing the cost and time it takes to procure digital services in government.

The idea for new program stemmed from a Challenge.gov winning submission, proposed by ICF International and ASI Government.

Government "didn't teach how to buy digital services," said Joanie Newhart, Associate Administrator for Acquisition Workforce Programs, Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

USDS acquisition strategist Brent Maravilla pointed out that digital service purchases should be approached differently than buying, say, construction, and absent that sort of different training for buying IT, "let alone modern tech," leads to a lengthy, costly procurement system for IT.

"That's kind of the monster the federal government has built over the years, and it's led to a lot of waterfall software development projects that in the end are very expensive and fail and usually do not work, and are over budget and beyond schedule," he said.

One of the goals of the new training is to make procurement specialists comfortable with reducing the lengths of digital service contracts.

This isn't going to be a "nice-to-have" program -- there's a mandatory element. Beginning in 2022, procurement specialists will need the new training to conduct digital services acquisition of $7 million or more.

The program "has a very long implementation tail because we realize agencies are going to take a while to realize who needs to be certified, then to get them trained up," said Newhart.

The program's first participants come from all different agencies, large and small, across government's civilian side. Newhart said the established programs would require a commitment of 12 hours a week across about six months while they remain in their current jobs.

Maravilla, who used to work in the Environmental Protection Agency's acquisition office, noted that as complicated as the Federal Acquisition Regulation may be, it does offer a lot of flexibility — and the goal of the program is to help teach agencies to put that to use.

Newhart added the hope is to have classes' educators come from both industry and government. The two pilot efforts together trained about 60 students.

"We're trying to modernize IT, we're trying to develop a 21st century workforce, and you can't really do that if you're buying digital services in a waterfall way, you're not buying new modernized IT, you don't have a specialized training class that kind of takes a different approach," Newhart said. "It's all about the citizens and how they interface with agencies using digital services, and we want that to be done correctly."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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