Senator: DoD misinterpreting employee education requirements

A controversial provision in the fiscal 2001 Defense Authorization Act disqualifies contract specialists from promotions unless they have a college degree and credits in business-related courses. But a spokesman for Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., said Wednesday that that was never the intention of the law. Section 808 of the fiscal 2001 authorization act requires contract specialists at the GS-1102 level to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and at least 24 semester hours of business-related studies, regardless of work experience. Warner is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Geoff Schwartzman, a spokesman for Warner, said both Congress and the Armed Services Committee intended Section 808 to apply to new employees, not current contract specialists. Schwartzman said the revised provision is supposed to protect and "grandfather" current contract specialists and employees seeking promotions. The original law contained a grandfather clause that said employees with at least 10 years of experience in contracting as of Oct. 1, 1991 were exempt from the educational requirements. The language in the revised legislation does not mention that exemption, but only says that current contract specialists at the GS-1102 level who do not meet the new requirements can keep their jobs. As a result, some are interpreting the omission of the grandfather clause in the Section 808 language to mean that current contract specialists cannot be promoted or transferred. "We understand that there are certain issues with misinterpreting [Section 808], and we are working with the Defense Department to ensure that current employees are protected [from the new requirements]," said Schwartzman. It is unclear why the language used in the grandfather clause in the original law was not used in the final Section 808 rule. According to an Armed Services Committee staffer, lawyers chose the language. Schwartzman said the Senate Armed Services Committee is willing to use legislative means to correct the misunderstanding, if necessary. "If we need a legislative fix, we can move in that direction. We want make sure that everybody understands what the initial intent of the revision was," he said. Despite Congress' original intent, there is confusion throughout the Defense Department about how to apply the law. A GS-12 contract specialist with the Navy was denied a promotion because he did not have a bachelor's degree. The employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he has more than 24 years of contracting experience, more than 39 credit hours in business-related courses, and an associate's degree. He was exempt from educational requirements under the original law's grandfather clause. "If someone would have told me 10 or even two years ago that I needed a degree to continue my career path, I would have done so," he said. Tom Colangelo, director of the contracting career program office at the Army, said that based on the wording of the law, current contract specialists can keep their jobs, but those seeking promotions or transfers must meet Section 808's new educational requirements. Section 808 of the fiscal 2001 Defense Authorization Act revises the educational requirements for contract specialists under the 1990 Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act. The act established education and training standards for the civilian and military acquisition workforce. The new requirements took effect last Oct. 1, but have largely gone unnoticed until recently. Previously, contract specialists at the GS-1102 level could fulfill educational requirements either with a college degree, credits in business-related courses, or an exam demonstrating their skills in contract administration. Section 808 eliminates the exam option.
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