By Steve Kelman

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An innovative approach to mentoring the new contracting workforce

I met recently with Deborah Broderick, the dynamic new senior procurement executive at the FBI. This is an agency with a sometimes-troubled contracting history -- pretty much in any part of the lawyer-dominated Justice Department, management skills have traditionally been very undervalued -- and Broderick, who comes from the outside (actually, she is a lawyer!), has been trying to make a lot of improvements in the contracting operation there.

We talked recently about two of the many changes she is introducing -- an approach to mentoring new contracting employees and an idea for conducting real-time training in performance-based contracting. I'll talk about her mentoring approach in this blog and will write a column about real-time performance based contracting training shortly.

We are facing two kinds of problems in providing mentoring to the many new contracting employees we are hiring. One is that more senior folks are overwhelmed with their own work and don't have the time, or don't believe they have the time, to provide advice and mentoring to the newbies. A second is that, at least in some organizations, the old folks are mired in perhaps dysfunctional ways of doing business, and thus, if they provide mentoring, they may merely be perpetuating less-appropriate practices.

Broderick feels she has some of both problems, but she has developed a way to deal with it. She is using contractor personnel from a non-profit federally funded research and development center who are former government contracting officials to help mentor the eight new hires she has in her office.

She has two of them available to review procurement packages one-on-one with new employees and to suggest better ways for them to do business (market research, strategic sourcing, reverse auctions) that the older employees don't use very much. As a side job, the contractor employees give on-site training tailored to the needs of the new employees. Broderick feels she is killing two birds with one stone -- providing mentoring resources for the new hires, and getting improved procurement practices introduced, via the newbies, into the office.

My own view is that bringing on-board a new generation of the contracting workforce -- that transition is underway as many older people begin to retire and we continue to hire lots of new ones -- is right up there among the most-important challenges that any leader of a contracting office, indeed any supervisor, faces today. For this reason, I am unsympathetic to the suggestion that supervisors and office leaders have "no time" for mentoring. I am guessing many of these people are finding the time for activities that are much less strategically important to the future of contracting and hence the ability of government to perform well.

It's a question of priorities. So I don't believe mentoring can or should be fully contracted out, even to an FFRDC. Nonetheless, time constraints being what they are, Broderick's solution is an appealing way to stretch the in-house mentoring resources agencies have available. Furthermore, the current demand for mentoring is unlikely to be permanent, which is a good reason to use contractor personnel (who can be eliminated when the need ceases) to supplement in-house staff.

Any other agencies doing this? Experience with it? Other ideas for mentoring the new generation of contracting professionals?

Posted on Apr 27, 2010 at 12:08 PM


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