Federal Acquisition Institute 2001.
Change Is in the Air
Experts agree that the whole scope of acquisition is changing, as is the acquisition workforce. A smaller, aging workforce is dealing with the reality of keeping current skills sharp, and acquiring new skills, in an ever more technology-based field. Contracting officers today must have the skills or competencies required to become the business leaders of the future. To meet the changing needs of the acquisition workforce, the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) has had to change its focus from one of developing training courses to developing strategies to support career development and workforce issues. This article discusses the evolving mission of the FAI as well as current programs and initiatives.
Who Are We?
Congress established the FAI in 1976 to foster and promote the development of a professional acquisition workforce governmentwide. The FAI is located in the US General Services Administration (GSA) central office in Washington, DC. GSA acts as the executive agent, providing funding and support for the FAI, and the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) provides policy direction and guidance. Under the Clinger-Cohen Act, the FAI has a number of statutory responsibilities and functions under its mission to professionalize the acquisition workforce. They basically fall under the broad categories of research, education, training, and career development.
Competency-based Profile Assessment
Under Clinger-Cohen, the FAI is responsible for assessing competencies of the entire acquisition workforce. FAI is leading the effort to review the knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal traits that make up the general and technical competencies that are needed at the various levels of the acquisition profession. FAI performed this assessment in two parts. First, FAI conducted "critical incident" analyses of agency procurement incidents linking the knowledge, skills, abilities, and environmental factors to specific procurement results. To date FAI has analyzed over 1,000 incidents gathered from approximately 20 agencies.
Second, FAI held a series of "environmental scans" which were a series of meetings of procurement executives and experts in government, business, and academia. The purpose was to "scan the future" in which the acquisition workforce will be working. Issues discussed included upcoming technological advances, innovations in acquisition, changes in the political and regulatory environment, trends in the demographics of the workforce, and organizational change. These discussions helped FAI to develop a list of competencies acquisition professionals of the future will need.
The result of the competency-based profile assessment initiative is to have defined general and technical competencies as the basis of training, recruitment, selection, and eventually performance appraisals, succession planning, and compensation. Many of the current FAI committees were formed as an outgrowth of the competency effort.
FAI Agency Outreach Committee
The FAI agency outreach committee consists of agency members who support the information dissemination about topics concerning competencies and the acquisition workforce. Committee members are the front line practitioners of the agencies who have an acquisition and career management background.
FAI Acquisition Research Advisory Board
The FAI acquisition research advisory board is a group of leaders from the business, academic, and acquisition communities who meet on a periodic basis to advise FAI on research in acquisition and procurement and the acquisition workforce. FAI has developed a listing of graduate schools and other organizations that are interested in conducting research. Potential research topics are gleaned from the procurement executives at federal agencies and OFPP. The board brings together the research topics and the researchers and arranges for a "research mentor" to assist in the effort. It is also developing a compilation of acquisition research that can serve as the basis for further education and training.
ACMIS Interagency Committee
The Acquisition Career Management Information System (ACMIS) is a statistical database under development containing information about training levels of the acquisition workforce. The structure that supports this effort is the ACMIS interagency committee. This committee consists of representatives from approximately 16 agencies that have expressed interest and supported the development of this management information system. Pilots of the ACMIS system will be held at many of the participating agencies. The ACMIS will assist senior leadership in understanding the training levels and needs of the acquisition workforce.
The FAI also reports on the Federal Acquisition Personnel Information System (FAPIS). FAPIS provides annual demographic statistics on the federal acquisition workforce, showing trends in educational levels, turnover and hiring. The FAPIS reports can be found on the FAI homepage at: www.gsa.gov/staff/v/training.htm. The reports assist agencies in understanding hiring needs and grade levels within their organization and provide comparative data with other federal agencies.
Once competencies are defined, one of FAI's goals is to ensure that colleges consider competencies as they develop curriculum. FAI will partner with industry, education, and training communities to become familiar with course offerings, exchange information about the competencies necessary for contracting (especially contracting for the government), and encourage them to include these competencies in their curriculum.
The first step of this effort was to identify colleges and universities that offer acquisition-related courses and degree programs. FAI's updated "Guide to Acquisition-Related Academic Programs and Courses" will soon be available on the FAI homepage. The guide lists academic programs and courses in acquisition-related subjects at almost 100 colleges and universities in multiple locations throughout 32 states. As FAI proceeds to work with colleges to promote the establishment and development of acquisition curriculum, outreach efforts may include attending job fairs, meeting with students through student honor societies, mentoring arrangements, internships, and electronic communications.
Contract Specialist Workbook (CSW)
The first phase of the competency initiative began in 1979 when the FAI surveyed federal contracting and purchasing personnel to collect data on tasks they perform. After procurement executives analyzed results of this survey, FAI developed blueprints for training these on tasks, which was reviewed by an interagency working group. In 1992, the blueprints were published as units of instruction detailing performance of critical contract management duties in the form of the Contract Specialist Workbook (CSW). (FAI maintains the CSW on-line at: www.gsa.gov/staff/v/training.htm) Training organizations continue to use the technical competencies outlined in the CSW to develop competency-based acquisition curriculum.
As FAI's role changes from being a developer of course materials to one of managing professional career development, many training functions are now outsourced. Agencies can use the GSA training contract to find contractors who will both provide and teach acquisition training.
FAI On-line University
Begun in 1997, the FAI On-line University (www.faionline.com) is an Internet-based, electronic tool to support acquisition professionals in the performance of their daily duties and tasks. Modules have been developed which relate to specific procurement duties. For example, the module on acquisition planning walks contract specialists through all the issues which must be considered when planning an acquisition. Sample documents are included as examples, as appropriate. To date, the available online modules and seminars include the following:
* contracting orientation;
* market research for acquisition officers;
* contracting officer's representative (COR) mentor;
* acquisition planning for commercial items for contract specialists; and
* Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) seminar for acquisition professionals.
As for other seminars, "Contract Formation for Commercial Items" is under development and "Contract Administration for Commercial Items" will be put on-line in the future. As access to the Internet grows, FAI is exploring ways to better use technology to deliver training and performance support tools to the acquisition workforce.
FAI works closely with the Department of Defense Acquisition University (DAU) on career management and training issues. A joint FAI/Department of Defense (DOD) effort is a series of "lunchtime seminars" discussing current topics in acquisition. These seminars provide a way for professionals to fulfill their continuous learning requirements, networking opportunities, and a quick and easy way to find out the latest on the "hot topics" in acquisition.
FAI hosts and facilitates the Interagency Procurement Career Management Committee (IPCMC), which was established to address agency acquisition career management issues. Participation in the IPCMC is a way agencies can find out about and participate in current inter-governmental initiatives arising from Clinger-Cohen. The FAI also works with the Procurement Executive Council's (PEC's) acquisition workforce on acquisition workforce issues and on research efforts. The PEC is an interagency council consisting of acquisition executives in the executive branch established to provide a senior-level forum for monitoring and improving the federal acquisition system.
As the acquisition workforce retires, recruitment efforts become more important. To assist in this effort the FAI published a "Federal Contracting Careers" brochure, which introduces prospective employees to a career in federal acquisition. Additionally, FAI supports two important intern programs:
Governmentwide Acquisition Management Intern Program: The Governmentwide Acquisition Management Intern program is a new program sponsored by the PEC. The purpose of this two-year program is to attract highly qualified candidates into the federal acquisition field. It provides the interns procurement experience within several different agencies. The interns not only gain on-the-job procurement experience, they gain insight into the role acquisition plays in support of the different agency missions. This program will develop the individual's knowledge in the field of acquisition with classroom training, on-the-job experience, and job rotations within several agencies.
Presidential Management Intern (PML) Program: The Presidential Management Intern (PMI) program is sponsored and managed by the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The program is designed to attract candidates with a graduate degree to mid-level federal service. These interns receive a two-year appointment beginning at the GS-9 level. FAI is working with OPM to establish an acquisition component in the PMI program. This means that if an agency recruits an intern for an acquisition position, OPM will now have a standard plan for technical acquisition and management training and rotational assignments.
FAI's Leadership Role
FAI has worked with the PEC to perform a competency assessment to identify the skills needed for the acquisition professional of the future. Research gathered from the various committees FAI sponsors will help FAI to continue to define and refine these competencies. Through the Contract Specialist Workbook and the FAI On-line University, the FAI provides training on the competencies. Working with the IPCMC and other agencies, FAI leads career development initiatives. FAI works with colleges and universities and supports intern programs that recruit personnel with the competencies to perform effectively as business advisors. Through these different programs and initiatives, FAI leads the effort to create a professional acquisition workforce able to meet the business challenges of the future.
Judy Steele is a procurement analyst working for the FAI in GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy. Before coming to GSA, she was a contracting officer at the US Mint and the Administrative Office of the US Courts, and a contract specialist for the National Park Service and the Air Force. She is a member of the National Contract Management Association.