Training is key to contract reform

Rep. Tom Davis plans to reintroduce legislation to pay for the procurement training.

If agency acquisition workers do not receive adequate training on new and innovative contracting methods, acquisition reform will slow considerably, 22 procurement executives said in a survey released in April.

Senior officials told the Professional Service Council, a trade association in Arlington, Va., that agencies need better guidance to implement performance-based contracting, use best value as the criteria for procurement decisions, and meet the administration's goals for competing federal jobs with the private sector.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) recognized the training deficiency and planned to reintroduce legislation to pay for the training.

The Services Acquisition Reform Act would authorize a fund that uses 5 percent of the fees the General Services Administration collects from agency use of the Federal Supply Service schedules and other governmentwide acquisition contracts to pay for classes for contracting personnel.

The bill calls for the appointing of a chief acquisition officer and would increase the thresholds for government purchase cards and simplified acquisitions.

Cash for classes

The training fund, or a similar increase in resources, is essential to improving acquisition, procurement officials said in the survey.

'The procurement executives say things are working, but they also know there are problems that need and can be fixed,' said Stan Soloway, president of the council. 'They said agencies need better oversight, training and resources, but acquisition reform is going the right way.'

PSC, along with Grant Thornton LLP of Chicago, conducted one-on-one interviews with 22 senior procurement executives including Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy; Deidre Lee, director of Defense Procurement; and GSA's associate administrator for Acquisition Policy, David Drabkin.

The discussions focused on three areas: human capital, implementing best value and performance-based contracting, and public-private competition.

Change management was another challenge that emerged as a trend from the surveys, Soloway said. Although only a handful of agency officials mentioned change management by name, many spoke of the difficulty of getting employees to use new procedures or changing business processes to include new procurement tools.

'There is a real undercurrent that clearly came out. Officials recognize that change management must play a significant role in getting these procurement methods to work,' Soloway said. 'Contracting folks need to understand how these tools work before getting started, so it is not a road block later on.'

Procurement executives want to make best-value procurements, in which proposals are evaluated according to vendors' past performance and how they would best meet agency needs, as well as cost, said Grant Thornton's Andrea White. Currently, most decisions are based on cost, she said.

Procurement executives are not sure if their employees have the tools or the authority to determine best value in a public-private competition, White said, and contracting officers are reluctant to sign off on a deal that would give the work to a vendor that costs more.

Gail Repsher Emery of Post Newsweek Tech Media contributed to this story.

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