OFPP finalizes contracting officers' certification standards

Civilian agency contracting finally is a profession in the federal government, recognized through a standard set of qualifications.

After years of trying to get the civilian contracting workforce on the same level as at the Defense Department, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy earlier this week finalized the certification program for employees under General Schedule 1102.

In a memo from Clay Johnson, the Office of Management and Budget's deputy director for management, agencies must certify by Jan. 1, 2007, that all new contracting officers'as well as those whose contracting authorizations must be renewed because the employee switched agencies or because the authorization expired'meet a minimum set of requirements.

These prerequisites include a minimum of 80 continuous learning points every two years. Employees can earn points in a number of different ways, including attending classes at the Defense Acquisition University or the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI), taking academic classes or passing equivalency exams, teaching or lecturing, or attending workshops.

These requirements, however, do not apply to existing contracting officers unless agencies tie certification requirements to certain authorization levels. OFPP does require agencies to establish agency-specific requirements, the memo said.

'Agencies have discretion to make additional warranting requirements, and employees should carefully review agency warranting policy,' the memo said.

The Defense Department created a three-level certification program for acquisition personnel that requires specified training and experience for each position after Congress outlined the requirement in the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act of 1991.

This is a huge step for the civilian acquisition community, said Chip Mather, a principal with Acquisition Solutions Inc. of Chantilly, Va., and a former Air Force IT acquisition chief.

'This was overdue,' he said. 'This is all about the professionalization of the workforce. We have to move from a compliant-based, overhead function to one that is about being a business adviser that requires a certain degree of professionalism.'

OFPP had been working on the certification since 2004. It issued a new policy letter in April 2005 outlining the steps FAI must take by Jan. 1, 2006. OFPP had been reviewing the guidance since December, and it came out a month later than the policy letter's stated deadline.

Mather said OFPP should take the certification one step further and apply it not just to contracting officers, but to program managers as well. When he was with DOD, Mather said it took him 12 years to be qualified as a level-3 program manager.

Over the next 11 months, agencies should develop agency-specific requirements using the certification as a starting point and make sure their 1102s have the competencies to meet the requirements, Mather added.

The FAI will review agency progress toward meeting the certifications.

'If you are basically looking to retool the civilian workforce, you have to start somewhere and this is a good place,' Mather said. 'There is a benefit to professionalize the workforce and have a recognized certification.'

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