Learning on the job

Rotational program gives acquisition managers shot at shortterm projects

Need a change of pace? Want to learn something new? Federal procurement executives are promoting a new program that would give members of the acquisition workforce a chance to work on a short-term basis for another agency.

The interagency Procurement Executives Council is promoting the Acquisition Rotational Program as a way to give mid level acquisition managers new job skills and a renewed enthusiasm for their work.

Assignments would usually last one to four months and involve various projects such as re-engineering the grants process, procuring products based on best practices and drafting solicitations for information technology services. The assignments could be full- or part-time, or could involve a one-for-one swap between agencies.

Although training seminars and classroom courses are useful, they can't beat hands-on experience, PEC members decided. "We all know that experience ultimately is the best teacher," said Corey Rindner, chairman of the PEC'S Government Rotation Subcommittee. "We're trying to provide rotational opportunities for acquisition [managers] to broaden their experience without making career changes."

With rotational assignments, the employee can gain experience, new skills and a broader perspective and "bring that back to the home agency," said Rindner, who is also director of the Treasury Department's Office of Procurement.

It's also a way to "keep people excited about their jobs and to retain people," said Terry Tychan, co-chairman of the PEC's Acquisition Workforce Subcommittee. "It's part of their career development to make their own choices about their expertise," he said.

Tychan, who is also deputy assistant secretary for grants and acquisition management at the Department of Health and Human Services, said he is preparing to make a push for the program throughout the department. "One of the things we need to do is to talk to our supervisors and managers in the acquisition field" and convince them of the program's benefits, he said.

In fact, making supervisors aware of the program and enlisting their support are the main challenges, Tychan added.

The PEC officially launched the rotational assignment program in April after pilot testing.

Since that time, the PEC has drafted agency guidance for the acquisition rotational program and two agencies — NASA and Treasury — have advertised jobs on the PEC Web site as part of the program.

NASA is looking for a GS-12, GS-13 or GS-14 procurement analyst to work for the agency's Office of Procurement for six to nine months on re-engineering grant activities.

Treasury, meanwhile, seeks a GS-13 or GS-14 contract specialist to work for its Procurement Services Division on a four-month assignment. The person picked will "work closely with the Office of DC Pensions on numerous contractual actions ranging from a major IT project to management consulting," the advertisement says. "The individual will be expected to not only serve asa contract specialist, but also as a senior business adviser."

Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., sees pros and cons to the program. On the plus side, it gives people insight into how other agencies approach similar problems, such as structuring a solicitation. "All people in acquisition face similar issues — the method and the culture of the organization determine how they are addressed," Mather said. "This program provides exposure to different ways of handling similar situations."

Yet the program could be a hard sell, Mather said. "The downside is that a lot of senior procurement executives will not be thrilled to have their top talent going to another organization for fear they may never comeback."

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