OMB to complete acquisition workforce plan by October

The Obama administration this fall will finish a congressionally mandated plan for strengthening the federal acquisition workforce, an Office of Management and Budget official told lawmakers on Wednesday. OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy has been analyzing data on government spending and on contracting employees' competencies, said Jeffrey Zients, the agency's deputy director for management, during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees government management and workforce issues. The procurement policy office is working with members of the contracting community to develop an "actionable plan" to address the needs of entry-, mid- and senior-level acquisition workers, Zients said.

"This plan, to be completed in October, will identify near-term recruitment and development needs, recommend changes to our certification programs, and address the planning process that will be required to sustain these efforts," he said.

OMB also is working to establish a better process for evaluating progress and monitoring shifting workforce needs.

Zients recognized the importance of the policy office in providing guidance for acquisition workforce reform and acknowledged that filling the OFPP administrator vacancy, as well as the associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs position created by Congress in the 2008 Defense authorization bill, is crucial.

"I need to fill out the rest of my team," Zients said. "I need to find an administrator, which is a top priority, and I believe I will have an administrator candidate for you to meet in the next couple of months."

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, said OFPP must be granted more power if the administration expects it to lead efforts to reform the understaffed and inadequately trained acquisition workforce.

"OFPP does not have the authority or the resources it needs to effectively lead or enforce governmentwide requirements," he said.

While representatives from the Energy and Homeland Security departments, NASA and the General Services Administration touted their progress on tackling acquisition workforce problems, hearing witnesses all acknowledged significant challenges.

"Rebuilding an experienced, skilled acquisition workforce and rebalancing the multisector workforce will take years of dedicated effort," said Deidre Lee, executive vice president of federal affairs and operations for the Professional Services Council, a contractor association. "We do not need more reviews, competency studies, discussions of who should or should not be in the workforce or arbitrary requirements. We need action, now."

Nancy Kichak, associate director for strategic human resources policy at the Office of Personnel Management, told lawmakers further legislation to improve the hiring process is unnecessary. She said OPM strongly supports the principles embodied in the 2009 Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act, but can move forward while waiting for it to pass.

"We are concerned that mandating good agency practices in legislation may result in agencies losing flexibility and the ability to adapt to change," Kichak said. "We believe we can achieve the intended results of S. 736 by administrative means, by continuing to exercise leadership through our collaboration with OMB and the agencies."

Zients said the most important factor for success in acquisition workforce reform is agency leadership.

"If you try to do it centrally, through command and control, it's not going to work," Zients said. "There's certainly a role for all of us to facilitate and help agency leadership but at the very top of agencies, this has to be a priority."

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