OFPP makes plans for defining and certifying the acquisition workforce

'This policy will allow civilian agencies to strengthen their whole acquisition workforce through training and career development.'

' David Safavian, OFPP administrator

Rick Steele

When Chip Mather managed billions of dollars worth of procurements for the Air Force, he had to meet certain requirements that were standard across all the services. In civilian agencies, Mather's Level 3 certification'the highest DOD gives out'would mean different things to different agencies.

'It takes 12 years [in the military] to become a full-fledged program manager,' said Mather, formerly chief of the IT Acquisition Division of the Air Force Standard Systems Group in Montgomery, Ala., and now a principal with Acquisition Solutions Inc. of Chantilly, Va.

'When you got there, it meant something. It is not the same on the civilian side,' he said.

But the Office of Federal Procurement Policy is trying to change that. In a recent policy memo, the administration gave the Federal Acquisition Institute nine months to develop a certification program for agency acquisition workers, including contracting officers and project and program managers.

OFPP wants standard requirements for acquisition workers that apply to all civilian agencies; the Defense Department established standards under the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act of 1991.

'This policy will allow civilian agencies to strengthen their whole acquisition workforce through training and career development, rather than just on traditional contracting functions,' said David Safavian, OFPP administrator.

FAI will closely align the standards with DOD's, said Tom Luedtke, NASA deputy chief acquisition officer and chairman of FAI's board of directors.

'This will provide broad uniformity among civilian agencies; [it] sets minimum standards and defines more broadly who the acquisition workforce is,' Luedtke said. 'This also is a giant step forward toward a long-term goal of setting federal standards for civilian and Defense agencies.'
The memo takes effect immediately and lays out a series of tasks for FAI, chief acquisition officers and interagency working groups.

Deadlines in place

FAI, working with the Defense Acquisition University, has until Jan. 1, 2006, to develop the certification program, and contracting officers who receive new approvals to buy for the government after Jan. 1, 2007, must be certified, the memo noted.

FAI is also to work with an interagency working group of experts from the CIO Council, Chief Financial Officers Council, Chief Human Capital Officers Council and other organizations to develop recommendations for establishing program and project manager certifications. The CIO Council developed IT project management certifications last summer.

The memo calls for agencies to input their acquisition workforce data into the Acquisition Career Management Information System by Oct. 1 next year, for all contracting officers and by April 1, 2007, for all project and program managers and contracting officers' technical representatives. FAI will provide guidance to agencies on using ACMIS.

'Most of the deadlines are doable,' Luedtke said. 'OFPP tried to balance the work without losing the sense of urgency.'

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, has long pushed for more training for the acquisition workforce. Expanding the definition of who's included in the acquisition workforce and establishing certification programs 'help foster the Services Acquisition Reform Act philosophy that acquisition is an essential business process of government,' said committee spokesman Drew Crocket.

But Steve Kelman, a former OFPP administrator and current professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School for Government, cautioned that none of these steps will matter unless the administration addresses some long-standing issues. Kelman said OFPP must allay calls to return to the more stringent buying methods of the 1980s, and increase the size and improve the retention of the acquisition workforce. Lawmakers and some federal executives have said the procurement rules might be too lenient.

'There is no greater turnoff to young, smart people than to become acquisition police,' Kelman said. 'OFPP also needs to take on the tough issue of the size of the workforce. Contracting has gone up 50 percent over the last few years, but there has been a slight decline in the size of the workforce. That is a recipe for mistakes, as people are too busy for training and are more likely to burn out.'

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