Senate report contributes to discussion about acquisition reform and support for training

Last week, the U.S. Senate published a compendium of expert views on acquisition reform within the Department of Defense (DoD).  While the report contains no recommendations from the Senate itself, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations points out that the report documents shortcomings in the acquisition process that may serve to guide Congressional deliberations in the future.

The Oct. 2, 2014 report, entitled “Defense Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go from Here?”, contains the views of 31 government Defense policy and procurement experts.  Significantly,

  • Nearly half of the experts feel that cultural change is required while over two-thirds believe improving incentives for the acquisition workforce is necessary for reform.
  • Two-thirds of the contributors feel that training and recruiting of the acquisition workforce must be improved.
  • Nearly half believe that DOD needs to attain realistic requirements at the start of a major acquisition program that includes budget-informed decisions.
  • More than half of the submissions noted the need for strong accountability and leadership throughout the life-cycle of a weapon system – with several experts stating the need to further integrate the Service Chiefs into the acquisition process.

Seal_of_the_United_States_SenateAbout 70 percent of the report’s contributors express the view that although Congress has taken steps to address deficiencies in DoD’s acquisition workforce, more should be taken. Several contributors state that the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund (DAWDF), which Congress established in 2008 to ensure that the acquisition workforce has the skills to ensure the DoD receives the best value for taxpayer dollars, should be continued and strengthened.

Former Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Dan Gordon, now Associate Dean at George Washington University Law School, states in the report that improvements in training through Defense Acquisition University (DAU) coursework will help the acquisition workforce “buy smarter” in the current budget environment.  Gordon notes that of the three phases of the contracting process — planning, award, and administration — the “weak links in our procurement system [are] poor acquisition planning, especially poor definitions of what the government is trying to buy, and lax contract management.”  These two problematic areas, notes Gordon, “are those least amenable to legislation” and instead tend to rely on the experience, judgment, and training of acquisition professionals.

Gordon calls for “better training for purchasing services, and creation of specialized acquisition cadres, at least in large entities such as the military services, to help run procurements in areas that demand education and experience in the field, such as the acquisition of IT and professional services.”

Many of the report’s contributors believe that DoD should create a clear career path for acquisition professionals similar to the military promotion system and designate acquisition billets to be on the same level as operational billets.  According to those contributors, that may grant more opportunity for promotion, thereby attracting a higher quality workforce.

The report includes input from many current and former officials, including the Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics chief Frank Kendall; former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman retired Gen. James Cartwright; former acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox; former Chief of Naval Operations retired Adm. Gary Roughead; former Air Force Chief of Staff retired Gen. Norton Schwartz; former F-35 program manager retired Vice Adm. David Venlet; and former President of the Defense Acquisition University Frank Anderson.

The full report is available here: Defense Acquisition Reform – A Compendium of Views – 10.02.2014

IG finds faults in training of contracting officer’s representatives in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service

A federal certification program, which establishes general training, experience, development and best practices for contracting officer’s representatives, isn’t being applied consistently, potentially leaving them without the necessary skills, abilities and competencies to do their jobs, a recent audit found.

Additionally, the General Services Administration’s inspector general said in the Sept. 29 report that a system designed to oversee the workload and certification status of contracting officer’s representative’s, or CORs, is only accessible to a few managers and supervisors. This means some CORs could possibly conduct unsanctioned work, opening the government up to potential legal problems.

Contracting officers authorize CORs to perform specific technical and administrative duties on contracts or orders. These CORs ensure that federal contractors meet their performance requirements and typically identify if a contractor or program is underperforming.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/gsa-ig-finds-faults-contracting-officers-representatives-training-program/2014-10-01

Read the IG’s report at: http://www.gsaig.gov/index.cfm/oig-reports/audit-reports/fy-2014-audit-reports-october-1-2013-to-september-30-2014/

Georgia Tech’s Academy supports Federal Acquisition Institute’s new standards for FAC-C program

The Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) has granted approval for Georgia Tech to teach FAI’s newest course offering, FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals.  The course is two weeks in length and provides students with a comprehensive review of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

The FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals course came about as a result of recent changes to the government’s professional development standards for federal contracting officials.

The May 7, 2014 OMB Memo on the Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting Program established what’s known as the FAC-C (Refresh) program. The effective date of the FAC-C (Refresh) is October 1, 2014.  Per the May 7, 2014 memo, all civilian agencies must fully implement the FAC-C (Refresh) by October 1, 2015.

Details of the training standards established under the FAC-C (Refresh) program can be seen by clicking here

FAI logoFAI has verified that the FCN 190 – FAR Fundamentals course offered by the Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech meets the requirements for delivery of the new FAC-C (Refresh) Level I certification requirements.

By attending the FAR Fundamentals course, students learn the basic policies and procedures for acquisition planning, source selection, and contract administration. Students work through realistic, scenario-based problems by identifying the relevant regulations, guidance, provisions and clauses that govern the federal contracting process.

Georgia Tech’s Contracting Academy received FAI’s permission to teach the FAR Fundamentals course on September 23, 2014.  The Academy is planning to offer the course through on-campus open enrollment in the coming weeks.  The course is also available, on a contract basis, for presentation both on-campus at Georgia Tech and on-site at government facilities.

Strengthening the workforce: DoD acquisition, requirements and results

“Defense acquisition is a human endeavor.”

These are familiar words to anyone who knows Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary for Defense Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and what he sees as the heart of modernizing the DoD acquisition system.

Kendall and his staff have made notable improvements to the system in recent years, including the major focus on workforce professionalism, training and education initiatives undertaken by the Defense Acquisition University (DAU).

It’s no secret DoD has an abundance of rules and regulations. In a sequestration environment, which will be the greatest administrative challenge of the era for the Pentagon, the workforce and the people are the most important ingredient in the DoD acquisition recipe.

DoD’s Better Buying Power (BBP) mandate establishes “increased professional qualification requirements for all acquisition specialties.” With BBP 3.0 expected in a few months, Kendall reports the new version will work towards eliminating barriers to entry. He wants to build stronger relationships with the requirements, technology, warfighter and other communities. I participated in the recent Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) symposium, the inaugural event to highlight DoD’s BBP acquisition initiative and its application to government, industry and academia.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140829/BLG06/308290008/Strengthening-workforce-DoD-acquisition-requirements-results

Buying what works: Case studies in innovative contracting

Last week, the White House announced the launch of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), a new team of America’s best digital experts dedicated to improving and simplifying the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.  The USDS team has already begun to make progress by releasing the TechFAR Handbook, a guide that helps explain how Federal agencies can take advantage of existing procurement authorities to execute key plays in the Digital Services Playbook.

The Federal Government has long used its buying power as one of the world’s largest customers to accelerate well-known innovations, from the first microchips to the Global Positioning System (GPS).  Today, Federal agencies continue to leverage innovative procurement practices that spur the private sector to develop advanced technologies to better serve the American people – and to pay only for successful results, not just best efforts.

Today, the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget are pleased to release the first version of Innovative Contracting Case Studies, an iterative, evolving document that describes a number of ways Federal agencies are getting more innovation per taxpayer dollar – all under existing laws and regulations. For example, NASA has used milestone-based payments to promote private sector competition for the next generation of astronaut transportation services and moon exploration robots.  The Department of Veterans Affairs issued an invitation for short concept papers that lowered barriers for non-traditional government contractors, which led to the discovery of powerful new technologies in mobile health and trauma care.  The Department of Defense has used head-to-head competitions in realistic environments to identify new robot and vehicle designs that will protect soldiers on the battlefield.

We encourage both private sector stakeholders and public servants to engage in a sustained public discussion, identifying new case studies and improving this document’s usefulness in future iterations.  At the same time, Federal government employees can join a community of practice around innovative contracting by signing up for the new “Buyers Club” email group (open to all .gov and .mil email addresses).  This “Buyers Club” group should provide a useful forum for troubleshooting and sharing best practices across the Federal government, serving everyone from contracting officers with deep expertise in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to program managers looking for new ways to achieve their agencies’ missions.

All of these innovative contracting efforts are aligned with President Obama’s management agenda to deliver a 21st century government that is more effective, efficient, and supportive of economic growth, including specific cross-agency initiatives on Smarter IT deliverystrategic sourcing, and shared services.  We encourage readers to join the public discussion of Innovative Contracting Case Studies, or sign up for the Feds-only “Buyers Club” email group.  We look forward to raising awareness about the many ways that the Federal Government can use the power of the purse to deliver powerful and cost-effective technology solutions for the American people.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Lesley Field is the Deputy Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Recommendations for DoD acquisition reform focus on 7 areas

The Defense Department added its voice to a growing list of associations and lawmakers with ideas on how to improve the military’s acquisition process.

DoD’s ideas center less on what Congress can do and more on what it shouldn’t do.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, sent a letter to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) back in June detailing seven areas where he thinks DoD needs help to improve acquisition outcomes.

For the first time publicly today at the AFCEA Acquisition Modernization conference in Washington, Kendall highlighted his seven recommendations.

Kendall said the biggest thing Congress could do is end the threat of sequestration in 2016 and beyond.

“2013 was a nightmare year. We actually implemented sequestration well into the year. We bought ourselves a little time with the deal that got us through 2014 and presumably through 2015. It’s coming right back in 2016,” he said. “We are working on the budget right now. The services are finalizing their [budget plans], and we will go through an exercise this fall where we will have to look at what the President will submit and something that is compliant with sequestration to see what the damage is. The damage is huge.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/394/3676550/Kendall-shapes-DoD-acquisition-reforms-around-7-areas-

Contract administration course kicks-off on Sept. 8

Georgia Tech is teaching a course in September that is beneficial to both contracting officials seeking to hone their skills as well as contractors looking for insights into the government contracting process.

The course — CON 090-4, Contract Administration in the Federal Acquisition Regulation — covers every aspect of post-award activity.  This includes monitoring of contract performance, quality assurance, contract modifications, enforcement of terms and conditions, processing payments, handling disputes and appeals, terminations, and the contract close-out procedure.

  • For government contracting officers, this course represents the fourth module of coursework required to maintain a contracting warrant.   A warrant is a written document providing a contracting officer with the limits of his or her authority.   Per FAR 1.601-2, Contracting Officers have the authority to “enter into, administer, or terminate contracts and make related determinations and findings” to the extent of the authority delegated to them by their warrant.   Georgia Tech’s Contracting Education Academy offers a set of courses — each equivalent to Defense Acquisition University (DAU) course standards — that help contracting officials maintain their warrants and enhance professional development.
  • For businesspeople who compete for and fulfill government contracts, Academy classes are equally pertinent.  Contractor personnel who attend Academy courses gain real-world knowledge about how government officials are trained to formulate and administer contracts.   Insights in these areas provide invaluable guidance pertinent to reaching greater success in competing for, winning, and fulfilling government contract work.

CON 090-4 is a five-day course being offered during the week of September 8, 2014 on Georgia Tech’s midtown Atlanta campus.  CON 090-4 is part of an overall four-week course that deals with every aspect of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, the set of rules which govern the government’s “acquisition process” — that is, the process through which the government purchases (or “acquires”) goods and services.

For more information on CON 090-4, including cost and registration, please visit http://www.pe.gatech.edu/courses/con-090-4-contract-administration-far.

For information about the entire CON 090 course series and other courses offered by The Academy, please visit http://www.pe.gatech.edu/Subjects/Acquisition-Government-Contracting.

 

Contractors group would restructure White House procurement shop

Citing a “human capital crisis” in a federal workforce beset by retirements and inexperience, a major contractors group on Monday proposed acquisition reforms that would speed up the procurement process, enhance industry-agency collaboration and reorganize the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy to improve workforce training.

The Professional Services Council’s report joins an array of acquisition reform efforts under way in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill in addressing the need to create contracting officers with a more sophisticated grasp of industry trends in services contracting, particularly in information technology.

“We need to fundamentally rethink the workforce, to create a unified vision across government,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the council, which represents 375 member companies. “It will affect everything from how we prosecute wars to how we operate our business systems. The time for incremental or tactical change has long passed.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/07/contractors-group-would-restructure-white-house-procurement-shop/89870/

Read the full report by and recommendations of the Professional Services Council at: The PSC Acquisition and Technology Policy Agenda – 07.28.2014

OFPP nominee lays out agenda

Anne Rung, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), told lawmakers that she wants to “break down the barriers” that stall innovation in federal acquisition.

At a brisk, sparsely attended confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on July 24, the former chief acquisition officer at the General Services Administration also cited as priorities better category management and giving the acquisition workforce the tools it needs to succeed.

Rung said she is particularly interested in creating topic specialization for acquisition officials. Often people who are buying pens and pencils for their agency are also tasked with major IT purchases.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/07/24/ofpp-nominee-agenda.aspx

Officials: Budget cuts, pay freezes hurt DoD acquisition workforce

Myriad challenges face Defense Department acquisition and many of them have exacerbated budget cuts and pay freezes, DoD officials told a House panel July 10, 2014.

“The fiscal challenges, shifting operational requirements, the current budget instability deriving from sequestration, years of pay freezes, furloughs, military end-strength reductions and the requirement for commensurate reductions in our civilian workforce, more than a decade of conflict–inevitably all of these things have affected the acquisition workforce,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephanie Barna at the hearing.

DoD Under Secretary Frank Kendall echoed Barna’s concerns that budget cuts, pay freezes and furloughs have slowed progress on acquisition reform.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/official-budget-cuts-pay-freezes-hurt-dod-acquisition-workforce/2014-07-15