U.S. Digital Service Will Teach You How to Buy the Latest Tech

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Federal employees can learn best practices for digital procurement in a new certification program.

The U.S. Digital Service on Wednesday announced a new training program to help federal acquisition employees update their contracting know-how for the 21st century.

USDS partnered with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to create the core-plus certification in Contracting for Digital Services, a course aimed at showing feds the ropes of agile development, user-centric design and industry strategies for buying the latest, greatest technologies.

The program, which runs an average of 12 hours per week for four to six months, will be taught by industry experts with oversight from the Office of Management and Budget, which houses both USDS and OFPP, said Traci Walker, director of digital service procurement at USDS, in a conversation with Nextgov. Federal employees would not need to leave their current positions to enroll, and OMB plans to make all materials open source, she said.

The course will cover a wide array of topics, such as cloud computing and software as a service, and help feds better understand the ins and outs of open source software, commercial-off-the-shelf technology, custom development and other acquisition principles for the digital age, Walker said. Throughout the program, students will learn from government and industry experts, complete team assignments and a real-world acquisition challenge.

The program also focuses on teaching the soft skills procurement officers need to bridge the gap between agency leadership and industry innovators.

“You still need to be relatable to someone in the agency who may not have the background on what you do and get them to understand the need to invest in different technologies,” Walker said.

The certification course comes as the President’s Management Agenda calls for agencies to “retool” their workforces for the 21st century. By 2022, OFPP will require an officer with the digital service certification to participate in every digital service purchase over $7 million.

OMB began designing the certification program in 2014 and has already graduated more than 50 people through its two pilot runs, said Joanie Newhart, the associate administrator for acquisition workforce at OFPP. Before now, the government offered no training programs focused specifically on the challenges of digital procurement, she told Nextgov.

The course provides procurement officials “a really good blend of knowledge of acquisition and getting as close to industry best practices as possible while still abiding by federal standards,” Newhart said.

Registration for the first session opens June 18 and closes June 29.