Ideas for fixing the federal acquisition workforce

Thursday - 7/9/2009, 4:12pm EDT

Raj Sharma and David Litman

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio

In the federal government, there is too much emphasis on on awarding acquisition and too little on actually making sure the awards are achieving their goals.

That's the conclusion of a recent report from the FAIR Institute.

The document, A Call to Restructure the Acquisition Workforce, is another addition to the FAIR Point of View series.

It was written by David Litman, a retired Federal Acquisition Officer and a member of the board of directors at the Institute.

Litman and FAIR President Raj Sharma talked more about this report, and some of the problems they see with the federal acquisition workforce, during Thursday's Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris.

"When people look at the acquisition workforce problems today, mostly they talk in terms of increasing the numbers -- how to recruit, how to retain and train acquisition workers to meet the growing requirements and all the demands. I think the idea of the paper is saying -- we've got to look beyond just getting more numbers in and start thinking about the environment we're bringing those people into," Litman says.

He adds that he feels it is important to structure an office or agency atmosphere so that it will make acquisition workers want to stay, while helping them to achieve successful outcomes at the same time.

"A healthy acquisition environment is one which creates partnerships between the various members of the acquisition workforce, such as program managers and contracting officers. It creates almost layers of employees so that people are in an environment that nurtures their growth."

Litman states that, right now, acquisition is treated as more of a production line, where offices and officials are expected to simply churn out contracts.

He says a healthier environment would allow these same professionals to learn and share in addition to straight contracting work.

The report also states that the overall definition of what it means to be an acquisition professional needs to be re-defined.

"In the acquisition community, we talk a lot about focusing on 'the big A' -- acquisition -- as opposed to just procurement and contracting issues. That big A encompasses the first and third phases, in terms of defining requirements and then managing contractor performance afterwards. It's important that we bring in people who are going to be capable of doing those jobs . . . and to do that, I think we need to create a structure in the profession that really allows for that. I don't think we're doing that right now."

Sharma agrees, especially when it comes to the tendancy to focus solely on numbers.

"We know that the overall acquisition workforce in terms of workload has grown, and we're trying to now address this through numbers. We really need to start taking a step back and saying, fundamentally, what are the issues that we need to address for acquisition and how can the workforce address those."

Sharma points to the report, which highlights the problem of 'working in silos'.

"[The federal government has] structured all of [its] workforce to work in silos. First, we talk about contracting officers and there's no real cross-training that's done [and] there's no way to cross across boundaries. So, the whole idea of [our] acquisition management series is a great one in that it starts to integrate and think about the way the entire acquisition lifecycle is done and structuring an aligning team against that lifecycle as opposed to putting them in these functional silos by process."

One solution to the problem might lie in creating a single acquisition series.

Litman says this might eliminate confusion, among other issues.

"Right now, the professions are separate. Contracting folks are in the 1102 series. Program managers don't have a series. They're really all over the place and whenever we talk about trying to bring in the program management community, there's no community out there for us to define. The idea of having a single series is to bring them all under one roof and then create a training and learning . . . environment that allows them to interact more easily, to be cross-trained with each other . . . and encourage that notion that they're all part of the same process."

Litman says this would facilitate partnerships that would achieve more successful outcomes.

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On the Web:

FAIR Institute -- Web site

FAIR Point of View series -- A Call to Restructure the Acquisition Workforce (pdf)

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