Acquisition Workforce to Grow?

April 18, 2007 on 11:05 pm | In The Profession | Comments Off

One thing that everyone in our profession has realized is that the complexity and volume of procurement actions has steadily increased while the number of contracting professionals has dropped precipitously. Even GAO has made reference to that in several of its reports. But there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

The number of contracting officers is half the number it was in 2001, while the number of contracts has doubled, according to Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) who wants to increase the number of acquisition employees. This would be a refreshing change since Congress has seen fit to REDUCE the number of 1102′s in the government service for every year recently. Even after Katrina, Congress saw fit to increase the number of AUDITORS(!) rather than contracting professionals. Rather than trying to spend the money properly in the first instance, Congress just wants to catch the mistakes for a good press op. Cynical? Yes. Accurate? Also yes.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, has asked Moran to develop workforce provisions to be included in the fiscal 2008 Defense Department spending bill. The government must have more people to do the work intended for public employees, Moran said.

The average age of procurement professionals is going up by nearly a full year each year, suggesting that a mass retirement is potentially imminent. Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, estimates that 20 percent of the 28,000 federal contracting employees are already eligible for retirement.

“A good contracting officer is worth their weight in gold,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) during a speech at a recent conference. Procurement experts agree that the acquisition workforce needs to grow to handle a greater workload and fill the void from a potentially massive number of retirements.

As important as the total number of contracting professionals is the fact that more complex procurements demand more highly skilled professionals. In some cases people might claim 25 years of experience when in fact they have only one or two years of experience many times over. They know what they know and do it well, but that is all they know. Skill development is not keeping pace with the demands of the job. Paul Francis, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), said the composition of the workforce — what skills are necessary to match future needs — is as important as the quantity of workers.

“Numbers don’t tell the whole story,” he said.

We can only hope that Congress is serious this year about remedying this growing problem. With literally billions at stake, we need well trained, experienced, and trusted professionals in those positions. We can do more with less for just so long, and then the system fails. We can ill afford problems or scandals at any point in time, but at this critical point in our nation’s history such failures would be all the more devastating.

Contact your Congressman, and Rep. Moran. Tell them you support this initiative and encourage them to not allow it to find itself on the cutting room floor during committee work. It is just too important.

Portions of this information were gathered from www. fcw.com/article98238-04-16-07-Print, accessed 04/18/07.

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