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The federal workforce: Clerk vs. Businessman

Government officials have been concerned for several years about the coming wave of retirements by federal employees, especially in the field of acquisition. But the Obama administration sees a real upside.

In its fiscal 2010 budget proposal’s Analytical Perspectives, the administration writes:

The retirement wave also presents an opportunity to reform and re-energize the federal workforce by re-evaluating what the workforce does and how it does it. It will provide an opportunity to transform the government’s workforce capacity to address 21st-century challenges by implementing 21st-century systems and processes to acquire, develop, engage, compensate, recognize and effectively retain talented employees.

At a procurement conference on Thursday, a former Army contracting officer said the retirement wave will allow the acquisition workforce to become a new breed of thinkers and strategists. And the days of procurement clerks who have for decades pushed their papers and rarely taken time to consider business strategies will fade away, he said. Meanwhile, he said the incoming workforce will arrive with a business-savvy outlook, instead of the bureaucratic rubber-stamping of program managers’ demands.

He said the retirees’ replacements will come with a 21st-century mindset and want to be more involved throughout the process. They will want to find the best solutions for a contract — sort of like bargain hunters. The incoming generation of new workers wants to make a difference in their field, and that will make a huge difference in contracting. The incoming generation won’t clock out of work as soon as their shift is over as “the clerk generation” does, he said but they will stick around until the work is done.

That workforce will also learn that the actual procurement is only one small piece of a broader process known as acquisition. It’s a change in thinking that acquisition leaders are trying to incorporate today. Purchasing along with planning out strategies before and managing contracts after they’re awarded entail acquisition. Contracting officers, contracting officer’s technical representatives and even program managers are parts of the acquisition.

However the mentality of the 21st-century workforce may not take hold until the retirement wave hits, the former contracting officer said.

Posted by Matthew Weigelt on May 14, 2009 at 12:14 PM


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