Acquisition Intern Programs: Finding the People and Filling the Pipeline.
Between November 1998 and February 1999, the Logistics Management Institute (LMI) hosted federal agency procurement executives for a series of workshops examining the future of the acquisition workforce. During those sessions, LMI presented some startling data. Over 40 percent of procurement professionals were born before 1950 (i.e., over 50 years old) and thus, were soon eligible for retirement. Of even more concern, however, was that only two percent of procurement professionals were born after 1970. More recently, an April 2000 report by the Federal Acquisition Institute states that, on average, 42 percent of the federal contract specialist workforce is eligible to retire in FY 2008. As seen in Table 1 (p. 24), the percentage varies by agency from a low of six percent at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to a high of 64 percent at the Small Business Administration. At the 50 percent mark or above, you will find departments such as State, Commerce, Labor, and Energy.
Recruiting Contract Specialists
Recruitment of qualified individuals is the key to filling the gaping holes expected in the 1102 contract specialist series. However, it is often argued that the government is not competitive when it comes to recruitment. For example, public management scholar Paul Light writes, "The question is what government can do to become more competitive. The first step is to declare a human capital crisis in government. Simply stated, the government talent pool is draining out with less and less in the pipeline to replace it (1999, p. 137). Retirement eligibility rates represent a significant drain on the acquisition and procurement talent pool, but the crisis in this particular field is being met with creative and competitive actions.
An Urgency for Interns
Prior to President Clinton's July 10, 2000 Executive Order entitled "Federal Career Intern Program," federal procurement executives and the Procurement Executive Council (PEC) as a whole began to consider ways to recruit individuals into the 1102 series. This effort was prompted by the retirement eligibility rates mentioned above, along with downsizing, targeted reductions in administrative series, and budgetary pressures that had eliminated most agency intern programs with the result that the pipeline was not being filled to replace the aging procurement workforce. As the PEC identified its priorities of interest, the acquisition workforce topped the list. To that end, an acquisition workforce subcommittee was formed and Terry Tychan of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was selected as chair.
The subcommittee ranked issues of importance, and an intern program was deemed to be the most urgent. Discussions among the procurement executives made it clear that most agencies were not in a position to bear the cost of starting up and running new intern programs. Therefore, the acquisition workforce subcommittee designated a working group to address the issue. Paul A. Denett, senior procurement executive at the Department of the Interior (DOI), led the group that provided the groundwork for the governmentwide acquisition management intern program. This program allows participating agencies to share costs and it proposes an economy of scale solution to a common problem faced by the acquisition community.
Governmentwide Acquisition Management Intern Program
Preparations for this program were ongoing since the summer of 1999, and it was officially launched in an October 1999 memorandum from Deidre Lee, then administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP). Lee invited federal departments and agencies to "take advantage of this opportunity" and participate in the program by sponsoring intern positions. Potential sponsors were given a program description that outlined its components. The PEC's philosophy of continuously improving and promoting business practices guided the program's development. As Lee stated on March 16, 2000 before the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, "[B]oth the Congress and the executive branch have come to recognize that in order for the government to deliver the value that taxpayers expect, the procurement system must be flexible enough to allow contracting officials to access the market-driven efficiencies, economies of scale, and technologies available in the commercial market. As a result, today's acquisition professional not only must know the rules but also must have the knowledge and capability to develop effective strategies for accessing the commercial marketplace and achieving the best business solution."
Nine Sponsoring Agencies
As such, the program was structured to include not only technical acquisition training but also nontechnical business skills training. For example, interns receive a minimum of 80 hours training in areas such as customer service, leadership, ethics, team building, and project management. During the inaugural year, the governmentwide acquisition management intern program is being sponsored by nine departments and agencies. These include: the Departments of Commerce, HHS, Interior, State, and Veterans Affairs; the Office of Administration within the Executive Office of the President; the Environmental Protection Agency; the General Services Administration; and the Coast Guard within the Department of Transportation. In total, 12 interns are being sponsored during the first year of the program.
Department of the Interior University (DOIU)
The PEC asked the Department of the Interior University (DOIU) to manage the program. As part of a comprehensive orientation, a "welcoming event" for the dozen interns was held at the historic Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 17, 2000. Featured speakers included Michael Lyle, director, Office of Administration, Executive Office of the President; Robert J. "Bob" Lamb, DOI's deputy assistant secretary - budget and finance; Terry Tychan, deputy assistant secretary for grants and acquisition management, HHS; Deidre Lee, director of defense procurement, and former administrator, OFPP; and Paul A. Denett, DOT's director of the office of administration. Allen Naranjo, director of DOIU's Leadership Institute, and Kay Mathews, DOIU's intern coordinator, also spoke to the assembled group about the specifics of the program and were available for a question and answer session.
The speakers covered a broad range of topics, yet central themes emerged such as the need for the program, words of encouragement and support for the interns, and strong commitment to the program and its growth. During their orientation session, the 12 interns received training in emotional intelligence and leadership, team building, and customer service. The program offers interns a minimum of 240 hours of technical training, and the first of five core training courses in the 1102 series was completed during the orientation.
DOI Acquisition Intern Program
Through the work of Paul A. Denett, and with the support of Interior's Acquisition Managers' Partnership group, DOT was able to start its own acquisition internship program. The DOT acquisition intern program was launched in January 2000 when the 10 interns participated in a comprehensive orientation session involving briefings from DOT offices and bureaus; training in business skills such as teamwork, customer service, and effective communication; and technical training in acquisition/procurement planning. The DOT acquisition interns have successfully completed their first rotational assignments and recently began their second of four rotations in sponsoring bureaus and offices in Washington, DC; Denver, CO; and Boise, ID.
This program is also managed by DOIU. Many of the interns have taken courses offered by DOIU's learning centers in Washington, DC, and Denver, CO, including best value acquisition and developing performance-based work statements. Interns in both the governmentwide acquisition management intern program and the DOT acquisition intern program are enrolled in DOIU's online learning, which offers over 1,100 courses via the Internet. In addition, many of the interns have taken on-line courses offered by the Federal Acquisition Institute.
Commitment to Diversity
Everyone associated with the intern programs shares a commitment to recruiting diverse, motivated, and qualified applicants. Because of this commitment, time, and effort were devoted to making those aims a reality. The vacancy announcements were open nationwide in order to recruit individuals from all segments of society. DOIU's intern coordinators recruited at Hispanic-serving institutions, historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges, and majority-serving colleges as well. The reality is that we have two inaugural intern classes that are representative of our society in terms of minority representation, individuals with disabilities, gender diversity, veterans of our armed forces, and geographic mix. Moreover, the interns are motivated by the opportunities that these programs present. As Light notes:
The message to government recruiters...is simple. Offer a good job with room to grow and advance, and recruitment and retention will be easy. Offer dead-end jobs in towering bureaucracies with no funding for training, no hope of good work, and no chance to rise, and new recruits will leave at the first chance (1999, p. 136).
Both of the aforementioned intern programs offer good jobs and excellent career development opportunities. It is expected that those hired for these positions will advance rapidly. As previously noted, training is an integral part of the programs and advancement is presumed for three reasons. First, the individuals hired for these positions must show that they are motivated, educated, and qualified. Second, interns receive comprehensive training both on-the-job and in the classroom. Third, retirement eligibility rates are strong indicators that there will definitely be job openings for interns to fill. In other words, the sponsors of these programs and the staff at DOIU have gotten "the message." These intern programs offer individuals challenging and satisfying work, comprehensive training, and advancement opportunities into senior leadership positions. It is important to emphasize that the goal is not only to move the interns into senior acquisition positions, but also into senior leadership positions. The training received by interns in these programs is designed to produce the federal government's business leaders of the future. Technical courses are provided alongside courses to improve business acumen such as leadership, customer service training, and communication skills.
Recently, this very important question was raised in a Washington Post article entitled: "Thousands of federal employees will reach retirement age in the next few years, but is the government ready to replace them?" (Schwartz, John, p. A27). For the federal government as a whole, recruitment and retention of high caliber employees is critical. Within the federal government, the procurement community is readying itself through internships that bring talented, diverse, and enthusiastic individuals into the pipeline. The governmentwide acquisition management intern program and the DOI acquisition intern program are examples of finding the best business solutions to an imminent human resource crisis.
Kay Mathews is an intern coordinator with the Department of the Interior University. She earned a master of public administration degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and is a member of the 1992 Presidential Management Intern class.
Federal Acquisition Institute. 2000. Report on the Federal Acquisition Work Force Fiscal Year 1998. April.
Lee, Deidre. 2000. Statement Before the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, Committee on Government Reform, US House of Representatives. March 16.
Light, Paul. 1999. The New Public Service. Washington, DC:
Brookings Institution Press.
Schwartz, John. 2000. "To Find and Keep Techies, a Corps of an Idea." The Washington Post, May 10, p. A27.
Contract Specialist Retirement Eligibility By Agency FY 1998 Eligible in Eligible in Eligible in Population FY 1998 FY 2003 FY 2008 Air Force 4,825 8% 26% 46% Army 5,149 8% 14% 30% Navy 4,123 5% 18% 35% Other Defense 5,129 9% 26% 48% Agriculture 523 2% 8% 22% Commerce 200 2% 26% 50% Education 44 0% 5% 9% Energy 483 8% 29% 57% EPA 315 6% 20% 43% FEMA 39 0% 18% 40% GSA 1,241 5% 11% 21% HHS 674 3% 15% 21% HUD 117 3% 15% 36% Interior 588 2% 13% 29% Justice 581 2% 6% 14% Labor 49 16% 43% 63% NASA 667 7% 21% 42% NSF 12 0% 8% 25% NRC 33 0% 0% 6% SBA 119 24% 39% 64% State 98 4% 26% 55% Transportation 637 5% 16% 33% Treasury 536 4% 15% 32% VA 710 2% 10% 25% All Other 508 4% 14% 34% Total 27,400 7% 22% 42% SOURCE: Report on the Federal Acquisition Work Force: Fiscal Year 1998, Federal Acquisition Institute, April 2000.