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Senators introduce bills to boost acquisition workforce roles, training

Two bills introduced in the Senate on Thursday would increase funding for and training of federal acquisition personnel.

The Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would create a graduate program for aspiring acquisition officials. The second bill, the Federal Acquisition Institute Improvement Act, also introduced by Collins with co-sponsors Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, would give the institute, whose key mission is to promote career development for the civilian acquisition workforce, more visibility in the White House.

"By partnering with leading universities that have specialized government acquisition programs, the government can attract top-caliber students who are interested in pursuing both academic advancement and public service," Collins said. "Compared to the several existing agency-specific intern programs, this governmentwide program would provide a unique and much needed skill set that we currently do not have in sufficient number . . . acquisition professionals with multiagency and multidisciplinary training who can understand and manage governmentwide acquisition needs and perspectives."

The Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act would create and fund a three-year graduate program for individuals who want to become a federal procurement official. The program would initially enroll 200 students every year through colleges and universities in the Washington area, which have yet to be named. The program could expand nationwide.

Students would spend their first year entirely on academic training followed by two years of on-the-job and part-time training with various federal agencies. At the conclusion of the program, graduates would receive a master's degree or the equivalent as well as a job in a federal agency.

"With the increases we've seen in government contracting, it is unacceptable that our acquisition workforce is falling behind in terms of training and resources they need to effectively oversee spending," McCaskill said. "If we want to improve the way the government spends money, we need more well-trained people on the front lines so that they can better prevent waste, fraud and abuse by writing and carrying out good contracts. This will ensure that the taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck."

The bill includes annual funding that eventually will reach an estimated $48 million a year to cover the cost of tuition, room, board and possibly stipends for all students. The cost estimate was formulated based on comparisons with similar programs such as Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

A staffer in Collins office said the program would be open to everyone from recent college graduates to experienced federal employees, but enrollees would be obligated to serve in the federal government for at least three years. The exact period will be determined by the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Those who left the government before their service was completed would be obligated to repay some or all of the costs of their education.

The Federal Acquisition Institute Improvement Act would require the institute's board of directors to report directly to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and give the OFPP administrator authority to appoint a director of the institute, who would report to one of the administrator's deputies. The bill also would place all civilian agency training programs under the Federal Acquisition Institute's jurisdiction to standardize procurement training.

In her statement, Collins said the institute has remained largely underutilized because it lacks organizational clarity and has disproportionately less funding compared with its counterpart at the Defense Department -- the National Defense University.

Collins' staffer said both bills have been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and have bipartisan support.

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