Acquisition workforce training going virtual

Friday - 4/30/2010, 6:09am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration requested $24.9 million for the acquisition workforce in fiscal 2011. But they are not waiting for Congress to approve the funding to get started on improvement.

GSA's Federal Acquisition Service recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the Federal Acquisition Institute and the Defense Acquisition University to create training courses using social networking tools.

Houston Taylor, the FAS acting assistant commissioner, says the way the current courses are set up don't do a good job reaching out to customer agencies and don't use up-to-date technology.

"We are trying to put some credibility behind our training where you actually have interaction with the instructor and where you actually have learning taking place at the knowledge level, application level and comprehension level," says Taylor during his speech at the Coalition for Government Procurement conference Thursday in Arlington, Va. "There are different ways and different levels of training you want to accomplish. And then allowing individuals to apply that."

He adds the first training Webinar will focus on how to use the GSA schedule contracts. The courses should be ready in the about 6-to-8 months.

"This may seem fundamental to some, but we lose it there so many times there," Houston says. "If we think about the brain drain we are facing, the people we are bringing in are smart, but they need to be trained."

FAS also recently signed another MOA with GSA's Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization to standardize and improve training around getting small firms on the schedule and helping them market to the rest of government.

"We want to make sure there is consistent messaging across all the FAS portfolios," Houston says. "We also expect to gain efficiencies by better coordinating these efforts."

FAS already does a good job with small businesses, which receive more than 30 percent of all contracts under the schedules. The governmentwide goal is 23 percent, which hasn't been met since 2005.

The training and small business efforts are part of the changes coming to FAS.

Houston says the organization is focusing on its customers more intently than ever before. He says it's about relationships, communication and collaboration.

"Part of what we need to have is an intellectual discussion on changing the behavior of the contracting officer and the contracting specialist," he says. "That really means setting them up succeed in a career. That means proper mentoring, education, training and experience. No one of those elements by themselves would equate to a successful contracting officer. And to be successful, that contracting officer in turn, can deliver the service to [vendors and customer agencies] ."

GSA wants to make it easier for vendors to work with GSA. Houston says FAS recently finished test to digitize vendor documents in a way they are useful to all parties.

In fact, Ed O'Hare, the assistant commissioner for Integrated Technology Services at FAS, says the goal is to go paperless by May 2011.

Right now, O'Hare says about 40 percent of all vendor schedule offers and modifications are done electronically.

"We have a set of systems that are intended to make it electronic," he says. "We are not in a position to make it mandatory, which is where I want to go, because there are too many kinks and problems in the systems and my people don't use it quite as well as they should."

O'Hare also says gently moved away from getting schedule modifications and awards done quickly to getting them reliably, consistently and accurately.

But O'Hare is quick to say he still has expectations for these actions to take as little time as possible. Currently, he says modifications take about 15 days and FAS's goal is 12 days.

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