Budget calls for larger acquisition workforce

OMB chief Peter Orszag wants to improve contract oversight. OMB chief Peter Orszag wants to improve contract oversight. Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

The size of the federal acquisition workforce would grow significantly under President Obama's proposed 2011 budget.

The budget, released on Monday, allocates $158 million for an initiative to improve the capacity and capabilities of the civilian agency acquisition workforce, building on a similar initiative at the Defense Department.

The funds will allow agencies to increase the size of their acquisition workforce by 5 percent and proposes investments in training, certification management and technology for the contracting staff, according to the budget.

"This additional capacity will allow agencies to acquire the goods and services they need to accomplish their missions at reduced costs and with better performance," the "Analytical Perspectives" volume of the spending plan stated.

Some of the money will come from the new $24.9 million Acquisition Workforce Initiatives Fund. Managed by the General Services Administration, the fund will spend $7.9 million for salaries and training; $6 million for human resources support; $3 million for acquisition workforce data management; $6 million to create and maintain a contractor inventory database; and $2 million to study current and future acquisition workforce needs.

The remaining $133 million to boost the size of the acquisition workforce is included in the budget requests of individual agencies, according to an OMB official.

GSA also administers the $15 million Acquisition Workforce Training Fund, which is supported by fees that agencies pay for using GSA contracting options.

"We have … north of $500 billion in federal contracts," OMB Director Peter R. Orszag said on Monday. "Over the past eight or nine years, those contracts have doubled in size. The acquisition workforce has stayed constant. It's not too hard to figure out that oversight of those contracts has not kept pace with what it should be."

The Obama budget criticizes the Bush administration for "one-sided management priorities" that created an overreliance on contractors to perform government functions.

"Those priorities rewarded agencies for identifying functions that could be outsourced, while ignoring the costs associated with the loss of institutional knowledge and internal capability," the budget noted. "Too often agencies have neglected the investments in human capital planning, recruitment, hiring and training that are necessary for building strong internal capacity."

In July, OMB directed all federal agencies to conduct a pilot human capital analysis of at least one program, project or activity, where the agency had concerns about the extent of reliance on contractors, and to take appropriate steps to address any identified internal weaknesses. The results of the pilot program could lead to the insourcing of some functions, OMB said.

The budget outlines a specific framework for how civilian agencies can save money through improved contracting procedures.

For example, the Small Business Administration would receive an additional $2 million to improve its oversight of contracting programs, specifically the HUBZone program, which has been cited by watchdogs as vulnerable to waste and fraud.

The Interior Department could save $30 million through using strategic sourcing to consolidate its purchases of common services and commodities. The budget cites potential savings in enterprise contracts for telecommunications, relocation services, copiers and printers, heavy equipment, recycled paper, shuttle services, furniture, wireless communications, and training.

And Treasury could collect an estimated $2 billion during the next 10 years by increasing the amount of delinquent taxes collected from federal contractors. The plan was first outlined in a January executive order from Obama.

Another budget provision would require agencies to create an annual inventory of all contractors providing services for the government. By the end of 2010, agencies would be required to submit to OMB a list that includes a description and cost for the services; the contractor's name and place of performance; and whether the contract was awarded competitively. The administration instructs agencies to look for services that are inherently governmental or for poorly performing contracts.

OMB will provide guidance to agencies on how to develop the inventory by March 1, according to budget documents. The inventory will be made public and subject to oversight by the Government Accountability Office.

The 2011 budget also continues a governmentwide moratorium on A-76 competitions for federal work.

"For far too long a time, the contracting focus was on how to turn more of the work of the federal government over to the private sector," said Colleen Kelly, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "This new focus on the best way to manage the work of the people is a welcome change."

The White House also has proposed a boost in the acquisition staff for the Defense Department, which represents 70 percent of all government contract spending.

Continuing a policy announced last year by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the budget calls for the department to increase the number of acquisition personnel by 20,000 during the next five years, from 127,000 in 2010 to 147,000 by 2015. This includes roughly 10,000 positions currently held by contractors that will be converted to civil service positions.

The budget also recommends that the Pentagon reduce its use of time-and-material and labor-hour contracts by 17 percent and increase the number of contract obligations that are competitively awarded by 1 percent.

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