IRS enrolls in contract school

When IRS unveiled its long-awaited Tax Systems Modernization blueprint this spring, one
of the first questions was: What's the cost?

To help keep the TSM price tag low, Treasury Department officials said they turned to
an office that has proven its usefulness. Treasury and IRS will rely on the Treasury
Acquisition Institute for training TSM staff.

TAI program manager Nick Nayak said the institute will help the IRS modernization
program managers by offering courses on how to write specific contracts and negotiate the

Treasury officials said TAI has helped the department's procurement officials save $523
million by better negotiating 15 major acquisition contracts between 1992 and 1994. With
an average of $1,035 spent to train each procurement officer, TAI's return on investment
is about $2,133 per trainee, the study found.

"We refer to [TAI] as our crown jewel," said Jim Williams, IRS' deputy
assistant commissioner for procurement. "It's been a tremendous success beyond our

Williams said Treasury officials have looked at the TSM blueprint to see if there are
special training programs that need to be added to TAI's course load. So far, they have
found none, he said.

"We've already been training people on a lot of topics that are very related to
the blueprint, such as performance-based contracting. We will continue to look at TAI
courses and see if they need to be revised," Williams said.

Although established just to train employees from Treasury's 12 agencies in acquisition
issues, the institute has carved out its place in the governmentwide acquisition training
arena, Treasury and General Services Administration officials said.

TAI has been updating its course catalog to keep up with requirements of congressional
laws such as the 1994 Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act, 1996's Federal Acquisition
Reform Act and Information Technology Management Reform Act.

It also offers courses on doing business on the Internet, professional contract writing
and federal acquisition of information technology.

IRS established TAI in February 1992 as a procurement career development center. Its
sole mission was training IRS procurement officials.

The following year, Treasury proposed the idea of expanding the center's mission to
include training for all Treasury agencies.

Nayak said that since last year, TAI also has been training employees from other
civilian agencies and the District of Columbia government when class space is available.

Despite its popularity, few--including Treasury officials--are calling for officially
expanding TAI's mandate to train all government procurement employees.

Robert Welch, procurement director for Treasury, said TAI's primary responsibility
should stay limited to training department procurement officials.

"It is not our job. The General Services Administration is doing a much better job
than before in providing governmentwide training, and they have more pertinent courses
than they did before," Welch said.

"We can do the job if Congress demanded it, but I think Congress has passed all
the laws needed, and it is now up to the executive branch to implement them," he

GSA officials, too, are reluctant to relinquish any of their training responsibility,
even though GSA's interagency training program receives no federal funding.

Agencies pay GSA for training. "But there is a problem there, because the first
thing that gets cut out of agency budgets is the training fund. Training programs, in
general, are notoriously underfunded," said Michael Miller, director of GSA's Federal
Acquisition Institute.

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