Union fights new DoD education requirement

An obscure provision in the fiscal 2001 Defense authorization bill could send thousands of federal contract specialists back to school. Contract specialists must have a college degree and credits in business-related courses under a provision that took effect last Oct. 1. While the education requirements are already in effect, they have gone largely unnoticed until recently. The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employees' union, is mobilizing to repeal the legislation, according to John Threlkeld, a legislative representative for AFGE. The Office of Personnel Management also opposes the provision. "These people [contract specialists and procurement technicians] are not making a lot of money and many of them have families; it is not practical for them to go back to school," said Threlkeld. "We should be concentrating on work performance." The legislation requires contract specialists to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and at least 24 semester hours of business-related studies, regardless of work experience. Previously, contract specialists could fulfill educational requirements either with a college degree, credits in business-related courses, or an exam demonstrating their skills in contract administration. The provision, which revises United States Code, Title 10, Section 1724, eliminates the test option. Federal contract specialists award and administer contracts for the government. The new requirements affect contract specialists and those hoping to be promoted to these positions, such as procurement technicians. Current contract specialists at the GS-1102 level who do not meet the new requirements can keep their jobs, but cannot be promoted or transferred. As many as 55 percent of current GS-1102 contract specialists and GS-1106 procurement technicians could be affected by the requirements. George Sigalos, spokesman and counsel for the Contract Services Association of America, said his organization supports any effort to improve workforce training and education.

"We are always supportive of any provision to improve workforce training. It is important and integral to the mission of federal procurement that contracting officers have a full understanding and education of issues pertaining to contract administration," said Sigalos. While the fiscal 2001 Defense authorization bill imposes new educational requirements on contract specialists, another provision in the bill eliminates similar requirements for IT contractors.