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Readers react: The problems with the DOD acquisition workforce

Our recent story about the defense acquisition workforce struck a nerve with a lot of readers, who have pretty strong ideas about what needs to be fixed.

As reported in a March 3 article, a panel of defense experts told a Senate committee the acquisition workforce must be a high priority if the Defense Department wants to improve its big-ticket purchases.

Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics from 1997 to 2001, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that DOD's acquisition employees are undervalued and people considering the field are given little incentive to join it. The acquisition field offers few opportunities to advance to senior positions and departmental leadership, he said. (Read the complete article here).

Here are excerpts from just a portion of the comments readers have posted:

* As a retired Contracting Manager, I have found, over the many years of supervising contracting personnel and projects that the institution of the mandatory degree policy forced some very talented and able people from the acquisition workforce to other arenas where they were more appreciated and able to move ahead… DOD tends to ignore the talent they have on hand and the talent that is available in the retired workforce -- if they could be inveigled to come back to Government work where they were underpaid and definitely not appreciated

* A lot of procurement expertise was lost when the mandatory 4-year degree policy came into play. Agencies can issue waivers but 99 percent will not. I believe they should do away with that policy and you will see the real experts come home.

* Your projects are falling apart because you do not have qualified people. But the reason is that you are providing them with trainers and leaders that don't know any more than they do. Hiring more of these will not solve your problems. If anybody cared you could more than double your acquisition workforce immediately by moving all the policymakers, reviewers, and second guessers from those jobs into contracting operational jobs and making them work instead of play.

* I think DOD and civilian agencies alike need to consider the "full level of experience" an individual brings to the position. I am reinstatement eligible with 25 years of service, plus an additional 10 years providing consulting support to over 20 agencies/departments, including DOD. Although, I have 35 plus years expertise in acquisitions, project management, IT, budget, capital planning, accounting/auditing, etc., and BS/MBA, I somehow don't qualify for an acquisition position. I managed multi-million dollar contracts as both COR and COTR in multiple agencies on both sides of the house (e.g., govt/industry) took all required training and yet DOD is looking for very specific folk. Go figure!

* Might be a good time to closely examine the intern and fellowship programs. Experience can be attained in a variety of ways. The first lines of defense are the employees. If people are not properly trained and/or do not hold the governments interest at the top, then they are not discharging their duties as a civil servant for the good of the nation. We all took an oath. People should have a since of ownership and responsibility in the process. The environment should be addressed and everyone should be in the problem solving process to ensure it does improve.

* "DOD's acquisition employees are undervalued and people considering the field are given little incentive to join it" You know, I hate to sound like the grumpy old warhorse (much like some of the codgers I knew when I started back in 1980), but this quote from the article really resonated with me. Contracting types have seldom to never been respected, but if anything I think I've seen it erode over the course of my career. It's been my experience that we're looked upon as roadblocks and given the same regard as police officers, which, in a sense, is our role. We don't make the rules, we are required, however, to enforce them, and it's often taken as an affront and a power play by those who don't have time for anything but the holy mission. It gets old and more than a little demoralizing.

* First you need to change the DOD acquisition culture, which is still very much like this: "Air Force principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and management, Darleen A. Druyun, is reported to have told industry executives during a private meeting that the Air Force 'does not have the resources to deal with a lot of companies, so the service would prefer to only work with two or three large firms and have them manage the smaller companies.'"

* I have a Masters in procurement and acquisition, which DOD paid my tuition fees. I am a GS-12 Logistics Specialist with 22 years and I can't get a job in procurement or acquisition. I was told that I would have to start at a GS 7 and work my way up the ladder. In my present job i do a lot of procurement and acquisition work on a daily bases, so why can't I lateral over into the Core? DOD is really strange. There are a lot of employees rocking the same boat as me??

* I've spent more than 20 years in this business. Everyone harps on the "acquisition workforce". Little attention is given to the "requirements workforce" who makes our job easy or hard. A lot of times these groups are unsure of what they need, therefore they can not articulate requirements leaving us to put together solicitations that are inadequate in specifications, resulting in a deficient contract. Our COTRs are given this duty as an "additional duty" when it's really a full time job. The whole process is inefficient… Most people don't realize exactly what it takes to put a government contract together. It's very frustrating.

* "The bill would also require DOD officials to award military and civilian personnel for well-done work in the acquisition of DOD products and services." -- There are already numerous awards that are given to civilian personnel for these types of accomplishments, but they always go to the heads of organizations and senior management and rarely trickle down to workers in the trenches (specialists, contracting officers, analysts).

* If you want experienced acquisition professionals to migrate over from industry, several things need to occur, in my opinion: 1) make the pay commensurate with the importance of the core acquisition mission, the skills needed and the stress and personal toll it takes to operate in the current acquisition environment, and 2) make it much easier for these industry professionals to actually come over to DOD.

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Mar 04, 2009 at 12:14 PM


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