Acquisition Management:

Agencies Can Improve Training on New Initiatives

GAO-03-281: Published: Jan 15, 2003. Publicly Released: Feb 14, 2003.

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The federal government is dramatically changing the way it purchases goods and services by relying more on judgment and initiative versus rigid rules for making purchasing decisions. Congress has enacted a series of reforms to help the government adapt to this environment. GAO was asked to assess strategies agencies are using to ensure that their acquisition workforces are receiving the training needed to operate in a changing business environment. In doing so, GAO looked at the General Services Administration (GSA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Defense (DOD). GAO also looked at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) because it is exempt from federal acquisition laws, giving it greater flexibility and discretion.

Industry and government experts alike recognize that training is a critical tool in successfully implementing change. To deliver training effectively, leading organizations typically prioritize initiatives that are most important to them, identify those needing training and set requirements, and ensure that their training reaches the right people. Top leadership supports these efforts by working to overcome resistance, marshalling resources, and building commitment to new ways of doing business. This approach, which incorporates the six elements that have been identified as key to training success, helps to ensure that training is well planned rather than left to chance. This approach was not consistently evident at the agencies GAO reviewed. While agencies had efforts underway to make training available and raise awareness of major acquisition initiatives, they often did not have an identifiable process for assuring that training reached all those who played a role in successful implementation. For example, DOD and the Army employed most elements of the approach in implementing training on one acquisition initiative--performance-based contracting. In particular, they set training as a high priority and defined who would be targeted for training. But their use of the elements was not evident on another initiative GAO examined. Similarly, the approach taken by GSA and NASA did not fully incorporate the key elements GAO identified. The approach taken by FAA was somewhat different. It created an organizational focal point to define a process and facilitate the management of its acquisition workforce, and it employed many of the key elements in its approach. For example, it created a special council of agency executives to establish priorities. Overall, GAO found that certain conditions tended to facilitate or hinder implementation of the key elements. For example, having a focal point that could reach beyond the contracting community helped to ensure that training was delivered to the right staff. Civilian agencies have not been supported by an agency that coordinates training on governmentwide initiatives. Procurement executives expressed the view that the Federal Acquisition Institute should fulfill this role for civilian agencies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2004, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) issued a policy memorandum to senior procurement officers in civilian agencies on increasing use of performance-based service acquisition. It encourages agencies to recognize employees and teams that successfully develop and implement performance-based service agreements to include acquisition professionals. OFPP's policy memorandum also considers agencies submitting PBSA management plans outlining the agency's approach to increasing the use of PBSA techniques on eligible contracts and developing core PBSA skills and experience within the acquisition workforce. Additionally, FAI's strategic goals for Fiscal Year 2005 include working with the Defense Acquisition University to develop training that supports the civilian agency workforce in obtaining necessary project management competencies. Further, OFPP issued a policy letter dated April 15, 2005 that established the government-wide framework for creating a federal acquisition workforce with the skills necessary to deliver best value supplies and services, find the best solutions, and provide strategic business advice to accomplish agency missions.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy should develop a policy that calls on agencies to integrate training into the planning for policy implementation.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Office of Federal Procurement Policy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As GAO recommended, establishing an organizational focal point with authority over the wide range of personnel involved in the acquisition process facilitates use of key elements for acquisition training. Section 201 of the Services Acquisition Reform Act created a Chief Acquisition Officer (CAO) within each civilian executive agency. By granting clear lines of authority, accountability, and responsibility for acquisition decision-making authority, SARA takes a similar approach as leading companies in terms of the responsibility and decision-making authority of these individuals. Moreover, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) issued a policy letter dated April 15, 2005 that further established responsibility for the CAO to identify the members of the agency's acquisition workforce and for implementing a budget strategy that reflects the workforce's development needs and organization structure. The policy also requires the CAO or designee, to appoint an individual with acquisition experience to lead the agency's acquisition career management program.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy should develop a policy that calls on agencies to establish a focal point that sets training requirements for staff integral to the success of acquisition initiatives, including those outside the contracting community.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Office of Federal Procurement Policy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO has issued a series of reports on the management and training of the government's acquisition workforce. GAO issued the January 2003 report that discussed the key elements recognized by industry and government experts agree that are critical in successfully introducing, implementing, and reacting to change. GAO recommended that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) should adopt these key elements important to acquisition workforce training. In response, OFPP issued a policy letter dated April 15, 2005 that establishes a government-wide framework for creating a federal acquisition workforce with the skills necessary to deliver best value supplies and services, find the best business solutions, and provide strategic business advice to accomplish agency missions. This policy not only addresses the key elements GAO found are important to implementing new processes, it also formally broadens the definition of acquisition workforce by including acquisition-related functions such as program management. Under the new policy, defense and civilian acquisition workforce requirements will also be aligned to ensure that the federal acquisition workforce has common training standards. It strengthens the workforce through more tailored training and career development, rather than focusing solely on traditional contracting functions. According to the OFPP policy letter, the organization has positioned itself to better create partnerships between program managers and contracting officers to improve how services are required.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy should develop a policy that calls on agencies to establish an approach to training on new acquisition initiatives that includes (1) prioritizing the initiatives most important to the agency, (2) demonstrating top-level commitment and providing necessary resources, (3) identifying those who need training on specific initiatives, (4) tailoring training to meet the needs of the workforce, (5) tracking training to ensure it reaches the right people, and (6) measuring the effectiveness of training.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Office of Federal Procurement Policy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As GAO reported, the outsourcing of functions of the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) was intended to revitalize and refocus acquisition training within the federal government and to improve the institute's effectiveness in acquisition workforce development and management. The outsourcing was expected to give the Procurement Executives Council a stronger role in setting priorities of the Institute, although no plan or agreement had been developed to define and formalize this role. In response, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) published a policy letter dated April 15, 2005 that formally defined the roles and responsibilities of the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) and the relationship to Agency Procurement Executives through the FAI Board of Directors. It states that OFPP provides guidance on administration initiatives and new issues in acquisition. The FAI Board of Directors, which represents a variety of agencies and provides input on agencies' needs, reports to the Administrator of the OFPP and makes recommendations to the OFPP regarding the development and execution of FAI's annual budget. The Board also provides general direction to FAI on the allocation of the Acquisition Workforce Training Fund (AWTF) resources, in accordance with the priorities of the acquisition community.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy should define the role of agency procurement executives in setting priorities for the restructured Federal Acquisition Institute.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Office of Federal Procurement Policy

 

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