Monday, April 20, 2009

The Road to Transforming the Acquisition Workforce

As details emerge on efforts by the DoD to bolster its acquisition workforce by upwards of 20,000 personnel by 2015, one thing is becoming apparently clear; this will be one of the hardest initiatives faced by DoD in some time.

Capability gaps and manpower shortages have been created and exacerbated at DoD by spending on goods and services that has doubled between 2001 and 2008, with no accompanying increases in acquisition personnel. The result has been a strategy to supplement the in-house acquisition workforce with contractor support. Now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, with the announcement of Secretary Gates that the acquisition workforce needs critical reform to complete its mission. As hiring goals and targets are set, what seems to be lacking is the overall strategy on how these goals will be met. There are no easy answers, and the DoD will need to completely reform its human capital management culture if these goals are to be achieved on time.

Prior to making the sweeping announcement, a disturbing report by the GAO indicated that DoD knows little about the makeup of its acquisition workforce, and is further hampered with even less information about contractors supporting the acquisition mission and why they are used.

DOD lacks critical department-wide information to ensure its acquisition workforce is sufficient to meet its national security mission. First, in its acquisition workforce assessments, DOD does not collect or track information on contractor personnel, despite their being a key segment of the total acquisition workforce. DOD also lacks information on why contractor personnel are used, which limits its ability to determine whether decisions to use contractors to augment the in-house acquisition workforce are appropriate.

It is in this culture and broken system that gaps in skills and capabilities will need to be identified. Further, it is this culture that will need to be the focal point of any serious attempts at swinging the pendulum back from what many view as an over reliance on contractors. Nonetheless, the current reality is that hundreds of vacant acquisition positions remain unfilled throughout the DoD and the federal government, with further problems coming from longer hiring lead times and smaller compensation packages than the private sector.

Defense will need to radically create a next-generation workforce development initiative to attract top caliber acquisition professionals by becoming more competitive in terms of salaries, benefits and professional development. Further, institutional hiring decision need to change to allow DoD, and the federal government, the ability to cast a wider net to obtain talent. The government needs to modify requirements to allow its hiring managers to expand opportunities to those with contractor experience, taking fair account of work experience, education, and accounting for comparable experience and bridging any perceived gaps with the government's training requirements. I would think that turning a contractor position to a government position for many of these transitional strategies outlined by DoD would begin with examining ways to turn the contractor into a fed. Also, broadening direct hire authority would allow talented individuals the opportunity to join the federal acquisition workforce in weeks, instead of the current 6-8 month time frame.

Reform has to be a holistic enterprise, or the government should have thousands of letters at the ready that begin with:

"You were not referred because your resume does not reflect the specialized experience requirements as defined in the Office of Personnel Management's Qualification Standards Handbook...."

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