Board urges more contracting training

Effective contracting has become a major concern because of a federal outlay for contract spending that is now more than $328 billion a year.

A new government report recommends a variety of regulatory and operational changes to achieve better federal contracting results. Effective contracting has become a major concern because of a federal outlay for contract spending that is now more than $328 billion a year.

The report, published by the Merit Systems Protection Board, focuses on managing contracting officer representatives (CORs), federal employees who develop and oversee government contracts. In a performance-based contract, for example, they establish the performance metrics that the contractor must meet.

The survey on which the board based its report found that 47 percent of CORs do not think their contracts meet all expectations for timeliness, quality, completeness and cost. It also found that longer-term contracts often produced higher-quality results and more complete and timely deliveries than shorter-term contracts.

The survey reveals that the most useful training methods give CORs opportunities to interact with other experienced CORs and contracting officers. Computer-based, self-paced courses were the least useful type of training, CORs reported. Even CORs who had six or more years’ experience expressed the need for additional training in their technical or functional areas, the survey states.

CORs reported that their interactions with contracting officers and managers at all levels affected how well they performed their jobs. For example, when CORs perceived that their supervisors were competent, ethical and supportive, they reported better contracting outcomes.

The 74-page report makes several recommendations. For example, it states that agencies improve their COR workforce by identifying their competencies and tracking them systematically. Many CORs are not identified by occupation code, the report states. But they could be identified within existing human resources systems with a new identifier code, similar to one that the Office of Personnel Management uses in its Central Personnel Data File to identify employees with supervisory responsibilities, according to the report.

The board recommends that agencies rely less on computer-based training because CORs reported that such training is far less useful than on-the-job training based on interaction and discussion.

It further recommends that agencies give CORs performance ratings based on their contract outcomes.

The board based its study on a survey of CORs from 10 agencies that spent 90 percent of the government’s fiscal 2000 contracting dollars.

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