Let the VA's Acquisition Academy serve other agencies!

Blogger Steve Kelman believes the VA's acquisition program offers an innovative approach not available in other training programs.

Dan Gordon, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) administrator, should encourage such a development. This will end up being good for FAI and DAU as well, just as GSA innovated and improved its sales in the 1990s when it lost its monopoly. And agencies should be allowed to use money being made available to them for acquisition workforce training under provisions of the Services Acquisition Reform Act – the so-called "SARA money" – to buy training at organizations outside FAI and DAU, such as the VA Acquisition Academy, subject to OFPP approval of their curricula and approaches.

I blogged last week about the virtues of competition among governmentwide contracts. We are now seeing a similar principle operating in the area of acquisition workforce training, especially the crucial area of training for newly hired members of the contracting workforce.

The VA Acquisition Academy has been widely praised, and appropriately so, for its fantastic approach to training a new generation of contracting professionals through its three-year program. Its training mixes classroom training with periods of on-the-job experience, with the balance moving toward on-the-job experience as the three years proceed – but keeping a training component through that time.

The philosophy of the program emphasizes business skills and mission support. It also emphasizes the use of good judgment: On the main classroom wall is prominently placed the language from FAR Part 1 that says if a practice is not forbidden and is in the government's interest, it is allowed. Training includes leadership skills, team building and negotiation skills, along with specific skills in contracting; this is not just teaching new hires the FAR!

Note that this outstanding program has been developed independently of the large, "official" providers of training, such as the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) and the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). Nothing against either of these organizations, but innovation and improvement came from outside the training establishment, so to speak. If FAI and DAU had a training monopoly, the government would not have gotten the benefits of a new approach to preparing the new generation of contracting professionals.

Now the government should bring the idea of competing governmentwide acquisition contracts to the area of workforce training. The VA Acquisition Academy is hoping to make its services – including a version of its three-year program, adapted either generically for other agencies or for cohorts from one agency – available to the rest of the government.

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