Pentagon expansion of acquisition staff hurt by funding uncertainties

U.S. Air Force
The Defense Department’s ongoing effort to expand and better train its ranks of acquisition employees has been hindered by shifts in funding and the absence of an overarching strategy, auditors said in a report released Thursday.

A Government Accountability Office review of the $1.8 billion Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund found that the department “has not collected and distributed funds within required time frames, sometimes delaying distribution to components until the following fiscal year.”

Congress established the fund in 2008 because of concern that Defense could be overpaying some contractors and needed to recruit a larger army of trained contract managers. But in executing the hiring push, it drew from multiple funding sources.

The civilian acquisition workforce grew from 118,445 in fiscal 2009 to about 135,981 in December 2011, the department reports, a gain of 17,536. But only 5,855 were hired through the designated fund, “with the other growth attributed to hiring new staff using other funding sources, moving contracted work to government employees through insourcing, and the reclassifying of existing DoD staff as acquisition personnel,” the auditors wrote.

The fund also enabled the department’s Defense Acquisition University in fiscal 2011 to provide 19,000 additional classroom seats for training. It is expected to allow the Pentagon to hire 10,000 new acquisition personnel through fiscal 2015.

GAO was tasked with determining why as much as 61 percent of the fund sat unused for several years running. A 2012 House-Senate conference committee noted that the unspent sums had prompted Congress to cut appropriations by $200 million.

In the report, GAO recommended the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and the Pentagon comptroller revise the fund’s guidance to clarify when and how funds should be collected, distributed and used. It said officials should establish key performance metrics so that senior leaders can track how the fund is supporting acquisition goals. And leaders should better align the funding strategy with the department’s strategic human capital plan for the acquisition workforce, it said.

Pentagon officials agreed with the recommendations after viewing the report in draft, acknowledging a need for improved communication among stakeholders. They promised revised guidance by the end of September.

Beefing up the acquisition workforce has been a high priority at the Office of Management and Budget. Dan Gordon, who until December 2011 was administrator of OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy, testified to a House panel in November that “OMB has given particular attention to skills associated with acquisition planning and contract management. For too long, because of insufficient numbers of contracting professionals, we have focused so much on awarding contracts that we have neglected acquisition planning and contract management.”

Governmentwide, Gordon said, the number of civilian agency contracting professionals grew by 6.5 percent from 2009 to 2010, though the Pentagon’s contracting staff grew by slightly less.

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