Mace sponsors bill to ban educational requirements for government contractors

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill after a March 13 vote to ban the social video app TikTok unless it is sold by its Chinese-owned parent company.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill after a March 13 vote to ban the social video app TikTok unless it is sold by its Chinese-owned parent company. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The bill tracks with ongoing bipartisan efforts to push the government towards skills-based hiring.

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., chair of a House Oversight subcommittee focused on information technology, is backing a new proposal to ban government buyers from including requirements for minimum amounts of experience or education for contractor personnel. 

The Allowing Contractors to Choose Employees for Select Skills Act, or ACCESS Act, shared exclusively with Nextgov/FCW and set to be introduced Tuesday, would prohibit minimum experience or educational requirements in contracting solicitations. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., is cosponsoring the measure.

The move aligns with a broader push in the government ecosystem towards skills-based hiring, which emphasizes what skills workers have rather than screening for degrees or educational attainment. 

The Biden and Trump administrations both have committed to moving the government to a skills-based approach in how it hires its own employees, and the Office of Personnel Management is working on competency-based qualification standards aligned with skills-based hiring goals across IT, cyber and HR to facilitate that shift.

Harry Coker, the White House’s National Cyber Director, has also said that his office is pushing to reduce the use of educational requirements for workers specializing in cybersecurity on federal contracts.

If passed, government buyers wouldn’t be allowed to require minimum experience or education requirements among contractor personnel, unless the government contracting officer draws up a written justification for those requirements. The requirements would apply to any solicitations made on or after 180 days after the law’s enactment.

The Office of Management and Budget would be required to issue guidance to implement the bill, which also taps the Government Accountability Office for a report on agency compliance.

“By removing unnecessary degree barriers, we're not just opening doors, but unlocking a wealth of untapped potential,” Mace’s spokesperson told Nextgov/FCW in a statement. “It's about recognizing skills, not just diplomas, and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their educational background, has a fair shot at contributing to our nation's workforce and innovation landscape.”

The proposal has the support of IBM, which started to “rethink” requirements for four year degrees as it stared down a talent shortage for cybersecurity jobs about a decade ago, Yelena Vaynberg, government affairs lead for federal workforce and skills at IBM, told Nextgov/FCW.  She added that such requirements complicate future contract planning.

In 2017, IBM started an Labor Department-registered apprenticeship program including roles for application development, cybersecurity and network security, but the status quo has made it difficult to scale the program, said Timi Hadra, client partner and senior executive for West Virginia at IBM Consulting. 

“We’re not able to scale this model, even though we have very specific success stories around high-end cyber skills that we’re training people on and deploying to our programs,” Hadra said. “I think it's to the benefit of the government to really expand the depth and breadth of the skills we can bring to bear when we open our mind about skills based hiring.”

Whether or not a request for proposal will include requirements for education or experience in the attached labor category qualifications is “ad hoc,” varying among and even within agencies issuing these RFPs, Hadra added — despite the fact that the government’s primary purchasing rules, the Federal Acquisition Regulation, don’t necessarily require certain levels of education among contractors. 

Editor's note: This story was updated April 9 with additional details.