Strategy for boosting acquisition workforce is a step forward, report says

While the Office of Management and Budget's acquisition workforce plan does not explicitly address all the challenges set out in the 2009 Defense authorization bill, it is comprehensive enough to boost the capacity of civilian agencies' acquisition staffs, the Government Accountability Office has concluded.

In keeping with a requirement in the authorization bill, OMB issued a memo in October 2009 outlining a five-year plan to establish a structured approach for agencies to augment and improve the skills of their acquisition workforce.

The bill also directed GAO to review the plan and provide feedback. The watchdog agency's primary concern was the plan does not cover several of the areas OMB was required to address. According to the report, OMB officials said they considered these issues, including establishing a sustainable funding model for the acquisition workforce, but auditors said they had no way to verify to what extent.

Nevertheless, GAO sees the plan as a productive step forward in tackling the disparity between massive growth in contracting and the relatively stable size of the acquisition workforce.

"While OMB's plan does not address all statutory matters, it nevertheless has initiated a process that provides an opportunity to increase the capacity and capability of the civilian agencies' acquisition workforce," wrote John Needham, GAO director of acquisition and sourcing management.

As part of the review, GAO interviewed workforce managers at nine federal agencies and the Federal Acquisition Institute about the plan. They praised OMB's methodology for developing the plan, which included open meetings with acquisition personnel and focus groups to provide ongoing input and feedback.

"Agency officials indicated to us that this involvement was valuable to the planning process as it incorporated agency perspectives and has facilitated their efforts to develop individual [acquisition human capital plans]," Needham wrote.

The process requires agencies covered by the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act to submit an acquisition human capital plan to OMB every year. The documents must identify specific strategies and goals for increasing the size and qualifications of their acquisition workforce by the end of fiscal 2014. Agencies are then required to use their plans to address staffing needs in their annual budget submissions.

Managers told auditors that OMB's expectations for the human capital plans were reasonable and implementable. Their primary challenge, so far, has been tracking data on contracting officer technical representatives and program and project managers, whose job codes don't always define them as acquisition officials.

"As agencies submit their [acquisition human capital plans] and they are reviewed by OMB to inform budgetary decisions, issues such as defining and obtaining data on the entire acquisition workforce, which includes contractors who support acquisition functions, will become increasingly important and may warrant clarification," the GAO report said.

The watchdog agency advised OMB to be flexible in refining and improving the workforce plan as time goes on. The results in identifying gaps and responding to critical staffing needs will become increasingly clear each year, and OMB should work with agencies to make necessary changes.

"The ability of OMB and the agencies to address issues that need refinement and ultimately achieve the intended outcomes of the plan will depend on their sustained collaboration and commitment to developing the acquisition workforce," Needham wrote.

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