Analysis: Contracting pipeline needs a boost

Wednesday - 4/20/2011, 6:16pm EDT

Erin Pitera, Vice President, Federal Management Partners

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By John Buckner
Federal News Radio

Agencies may need to conduct an acquisition overhaul in order to fill high-level contract management and program management positions.

Erin Pitera, vice president of Federal Management Partners, told In Depth with Francis Rose that despite the billions spent on hiring, it's been hard to keep positions filled.

"Although hiring is one solution, I think that in this tight budget environment, we also need to look at this problem from a more comprehensive, end-to-end perspective, to really start building a pipeline of talent in strengthening the workforce," Pitera said.

The Navy announced recently plans to increase the number of acquisition employees by 16 percent, or 6,000 new employees, to handle issues with warships that were causing over-budget problems and sailing late, according to DoDBuzz.com.

"What we should be doing is really placing some special emphasis on, not just hiring, but how do we attract people," Pitera said. "How do we create programs that enhance visibility, that make these positions accessible to job seekers?"

One way to enhance visibility would be to broaden how the Navy finds potential employees, Pitera said. She added agencies could recruit from state and local government as well as partnering with business schools.

Another way agencies could improve employee retention and quality is to professionalize the acquisition workforce. Pitera, who has been working with the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI), said the group has a focus on increasing professionalism.

"I think it [FAI] is placing emphasis on the development, looking at career paths and career bridges," Pitera said. "I think there are a lot of people that have business backgrounds, financial backgrounds and management backgrounds within the federal government that with the right training could be very successful."

With FAI and agencies focusing on hiring and offering more professional career opportunities, agencies still are suffering from high turnover rates.

Agencies have implemented retention incentives for employees such as bonuses and flexible work schedules. A study by Booze Allen showed agencies do not focus on retention as much because of the low attrition rates, which were at 5.85 percent in 2009.

Pitera said retention rates are low because employees sometimes wash-out or find better jobs elsewhere.

"It's a high demand. There are private sector opportunities but even just within agencies," Pitera said. "You see a lot of agencies losing talent to other agencies so that is why I think it is important that we start to build these ways that federal government can actually cross train employees and share resources."

Pitera added she has begun to see many agencies work on these issues and are implementing more comprehensive approaches to acquisitions.

"It's not just, 'Oh, here is an issue, let's go out and hire.' I think it is much more, 'Let's be planned and thoughtful in how we manage the acquisition professional through their entire lifecycle,'" Pitera said.

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

(Copyright 2011 by FederalNewsRadio.com. All Rights Reserved.)

RELATED LINK

Navy's acquisition hiring boom (DoDBuzz)