Acquisition training: The battle lines are drawn

A blog post about an innovative approach to workforce mentoring stirred up some bitter feelings between acquisition workers old and new.

Sometimes, all it takes is a new idea to stir up some old, deep-seated resentment.

That was the case when blogger Steve Kelman wrote about a new acquisition workforce mentoring program at the FBI. As Kelman explained, the bureau has a number of new acquisition employees coming in and not a lot of senior staff who are in a position — or willing — to teach them the ropes.

So Deborah Broderick, the bureau’s senior procurement executive, has decided to tap the expertise of former government contracting officials who are now on staff at a federally funded research and development center. One advantage is that FFRDC staff members offload mentoring work from employees who already feel overwhelmed.

Another is that these mentors-for-hire can introduce the acquisition newbies to new procurement practices — practices that in-house acquisition staff members do not know or actively resist.

This thinking did not sit well with some FCW.com readers, who are not impressed with the incoming staff. But their responses were seen by other readers as both unnecessarily hostile and very telling.

Reader comments

(Editor’s note: Comments have been edited for length, clarity and style.)

Oh Those Newbies

One of the points that seems to be left out of the above scenario is these young acquisition professionals, these newbies, are being brought via mid to high level and are being promoted too quickly in order to keep them. I have witnessed two occasions in which newly graduated interns were promoted beyond the seasoned specialists. The seasoned specialists have more than 20 years of experience, were raised in the field from the ground up, but lack college degrees and so they are not promotable. And these are the people being tasked to mentor the newbies. The newbies are frequently arrogant or think they have a better way. I have even heard one say, "Why should I listen, for by this time next year I will be your boss." So from an operational standpoint, I hope they keep the contractors training them until we can retire, and I also pray that retirement comes before they become our boss.

— Anonymous

Please do not confuse people who are trying to learn and evolve with added energy as arrogant. Instead of hoping to keep contractors training them until you retire, spend some time focusing your energy on developing the new employees in your office, passing on the knowledge and experience you have in order to create a better workforce. Although I'm sure some arrogance does exist, that is not the norm and should not erase out the others that are eager to learn. Thanks.

— James M

Step Up

It is humorous to me that even as we tell close-to-retirement government contracting personnel how they are portrayed, they actually comment via this blog and verify/perpetuate this viewpoint. Quit counting down the days, and support the young folks coming up in this career. If you find a rotten apple of a young employee, try to guide them. I have six years in contracting experience and would have died for a proactive mentor to help guide my understanding of this career field. Mentors are a must, and with the demographics as they are — baby boomer retirement — we will fail without them. Knowledge management can only do so much; it's the personal relationships that build the next generation. There are so many people about to retire with knowledge that seemingly don't care. Step up to the plate.

— Anonymous

The Last Word

In my experience, successful contracting officers share common traits that have little to do with their years on the job. One of my most valuable employees is a 30-year veteran without a degree who earned a reputation as a subject-matter expert who reliably provides solid advice in the best interest of the bureau. She diligently works at her craft, listens, is willing to learn and actively pursues new methods. She volunteers in a crisis without being asked, doesn't point fingers when the unexpected happens but instead gets to work to accomplish the mission. I'm blessed to have many COs that meet this description, both new hires and veterans.

Unfortunately, I also have a number of COs that are stuck in the past. They prefer tested methods despite evidence that new approaches yield contract savings or improved contractor performance. Being faced with the perfect storm, increasing budgets, retiring staff, untrained new hires and new approaches to learn, the nonpuritanical FFRDC has done a fabulous job of filling this need.

— Deb Broderick

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