By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

How to waste time and talent through acquisition training

 I got together recently with a former student now working in the government. He is not in the contracting workforce, but his job includes program management, and in connection with this he recently took a one-week introductory course on systems acquisition management, sponsored by the Defense Acquisition University (although delivered by a contractor).

His report on the course was not positive. One problem was the final exam. At several points during the week, the instructor actually said to the students, "Pay attention to this slide. It will be on the exam." The exam itself was much too easy, featuring 25 multiple-choice questions, such as "Which best describes the job of a COTR?"

Another problem was the course content. Although it was supposedly oriented towards people managing contracts, much of it was focused on procedures for source selection. And it was very formulaic and elementary. For example, it included nothing on writing performance-based work statements or monitoring contract metrics post-award. Instead, the course gave students a fair bit on the history of procurement and the various laws regulating procurement.

My former student reported that many of the attendees seemed to regard the week-long class as an easy week or even quasi-vacation, because classes started later and ended earlier than a normal workday.

At the risk of unleashing accusations of Harvard snobbism (although this person is definitely no snob and went to a state school as undergraduate), I would note that he pointed out that he finished the one-hour exam in literally 7 minutes, while many of the others in the class struggled to finish in an hour, suggesting that these new hires (most were 40-somethings new to acquisition but not to government) were not the best catches in the talent pool. This is not a good sign.

He also didn't like that an executive from the company providing the training under contract to DAU gave a speech to the group with a message he described as simply being, "Be nice to contractors."

My earlier post on complaints by new contracting hires who feel under-utilized (“Are we wasting the talents of our new government contracting hires?”) brought forth a large number of really useful comments from new contracting staff who felt they were being both underutilized and well-utilized. I am hoping we can get a similar dialogue going regarding the content of training programs. This is a priority for the procurement community, including Daniel Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Comments from people with real experience in training programs -- both good and bad -- will be really helpful. DAU has done a lot to try and reinvent themselves, but the course my former student describes doesn't sound very reinvented.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Mar 11, 2010 at 12:08 PM


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