Experts Praise New Acquisition Workforce Training Requirements

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The “significant” provisions will align the public and private sectors, said one.

Experts welcomed provisions in a defense policy bill that will reform the training requirements for federal procurement officials to better align with those in the private sector.

The House passed the $738 billion fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday and the Senate is expected to vote on it next week. “Most of these changes do not dramatically impact the acquisition system. A lot of them are just amendments to pre-existing acquisition reform legislation,” said Robert Burton, partner with Crowell & Moring LLP and former deputy administrator and acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. However, he noted that “one of the most significant provisions” directs the Defense Department to redesign the workforce training process to align with that of the private sector for the first time. 

The bill gives the Defense secretary the authority to create certification requirements using either internationally or nationally recognized standards. “The two workforces will be more aligned in their training and career paths and will be able to communicate more efficiently and also it will provide opportunities for … movement between the federal government and private sectors as far as acquisition personnel being able to rotate more easily between the two sectors,” Burton said. In the past, “it’s been a problem” that the government and private sectors are “not aligned in their thinking and training.”

The Professional Services Council, a trade organization that has over 400 member companies who contract with the federal government, echoed the sentiment. 

“Successful acquisition programs depend on a highly trained, highly skilled workforce in the government and in the support contractors, especially for complex technology and professional services contracts,” said Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin. “PSC supports the [National Defense Authorization Act] improvements to DoD’s public-private talent exchange program. We also believe that, if implemented effectively, the creation of the Defense Civilian Training Corps and improvements to other certification and training programs will help address current challenges.”

The establishment of a training corps is aimed at addressing skills gaps in a number of areas, including acquisitions. Burton said the department has traditionally focused more on training military personnel, and putting more emphasis on the civilian acquisition workforce is an important development. 

The training provisions are included in a section of the bill aimed at “reforming the Pentagon to improve efficiency, agility and accountability,” according to a summary released by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. The goal is to streamline the contracting process, according to committees, but experts have mixed opinions about whether that will be achieved. 

David Berteau, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, said the bill's “provisions will promote a more effective, streamlined, and competitive federal contracting system and lead to improved mission outcomes.” 

In contrast, Jason Workmaster, a member of the government contracts practice at the law firm Miller & Chevalier, said, “If streamlining is meant to mean that were going to change the system so as to make it more attractive for commercial companies to do business with the government … I don’t see this bill as pushing us very far in that direction.”  

Samantha Clark, special counsel and member of the public policy and government contracts practice at the law firm Covington & Burling and a former top Senate Armed Services Committee counsel, said it’s “a tough balance to strike because we want [contracts] to go faster, but we also want to be sure that there’s accountability.”