Attracting and Training a Qualified Acquisition Workforce

© -

© – Fotolia.com0

I’ve been taking a closer look at a recent bipartisan report about defense acquisition. Four themes emerged, including incentivization.

The second theme was about attracting and training a qualified acquisition workforce. In my summary post, I equated this to what we’ve already been discussing about the interplay between education, certification and experience.

This being a time of austerity and budget crunches, there is a tendency for contracting officers and their staff to be people who’ve risen through the ranks and learned on the job – versus having the related degrees or certifications.

Like anywhere else, when you start comparing credentials and/or education to on-the-job experience, there are going to be both equivalencies and trade-offs. However, the fact of the matter is that when you’re talking about complex procurement and acquisitions, the price of inexperience and lack of specific education is delays.

So it isn’t that you fail in an acquisition, it’s that the acquisition gets delayed. How many times have all of us, in industry and on the other side in government, had an acquisition that should have made it from draft to final in three months, but it takes six months? Or worse, the requirements are redone because there have been so many changes. These delays create a lot of costs, especially on the industry side.

Attracting a more educated, more credentialed, more experienced acquisition workforce comes with a different expense. There will be more churning and turnover as people search for more prestigious opportunities, leaving some other organization bereft of their senior staff. Then there is the financial cost of hiring in subject matter experts from industry who do have all the credentials.

Yet if you’re going to “grow your own” and promote from your own ranks, we could all be putting up with more delays, problems and mistakes along the way.

Like many of the recommendations in this report, all of these options come down to be, in essence, a double-edged sword. It’s more desirable to have a more educated, credentialed and experienced acquisitions workforce, but the question is where is it coming from?

One thing you need is a larger pool of junior people. You do not want to be promoting simply in terms of longevity, but people who will be the most successful contracting officers and senior contracting officials. You can find them from industry or some other agency, but then someone somewhere has to rebuild their acquisition workforce.

I wish I had the solution for you, but like with all of these issues, there is no simple answer.