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Received an email yesterday with this report from Bloomberg Government:

"US Procurement Agency Seeks New Staff, Better Worker Retention

By Patty Nieberg | June 21, 2022 4:04PM ET

  • Septuagenarians outpace Gen Z in federal buying workforce
  • Hiring challenges coincide with procurement delays

Acquisition workforce changes are a top priority for Leslie Field, a White House official tasked with improving federal procurement policy.

The cohort of federal procurement professionals is aging, while agencies face challenges competing with the private sector to recruit younger workers.

There are more people 70 and older than there are people under 25 years old working in federal procurement, Field said at the Professional Services Council’s Federal Acquisition Conference on Tuesday. Overall, only 7% of the acquisition workforce is under 30 years old.

'These statistics make a pretty compelling case to make our workforce a top priority—both the pipeline, the recruitment, the development, and the retention,” she said.'"

 

Emphasis added.

 

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5 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

There are more people 70 and older than there are people under 25 years old working in federal procurement, Field said at the Professional Services Council’s Federal Acquisition Conference on Tuesday. Overall, only 7% of the acquisition workforce is under 30 years old.

The average new contract specialist hired is in their late 20's or early 30's - in my experience. I was 26 when hired as a GS-5 Procurement Tech on a ladder to GS-7/9 CS. I know no person in my org under 25 or over 70. 

The most productive work years of any individual, in any field is in their late 30's and 40's. 

This statement looks like pleading to hire more kids out of college that are mentally weak, poor workers, none driven and want more time off than a person capable, retiring out the contracting arm of the military. 

"Personnel is policy." - Michael Knowles 

 

 

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7 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

There are more people 70 and older than there are people under 25 years old working in federal procurement, Field said at the Professional Services Council’s Federal Acquisition Conference on Tuesday. Overall, only 7% of the acquisition workforce is under 30 years old.

This makes me wonder......while not completely during my professional career yet during most of it I have found WIFCON to be of great use.  I could be biased when I read the quote but made me wonder what the age is of those posting questions in Forum....the 7% or ?

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Just more alarmist talk and no action to me.  This situation has been around for years and nothing of substance is done to change things.  Every time some reasonable approach is mentioned for change, multiple factions oppose.  

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1 hour ago, C Culham said:

made me wonder what the age is of those posting questions in Forum....the 7% or ?

There was a Poll done on this in 2016 and it is still open.  I just voted in it myself.  See results here:

 

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46 minutes ago, formerfed said:

This situation has been around for years and nothing of substance is done to change things.  Every time some reasonable approach is mentioned for change, multiple factions oppose.  

Absolutely spot on observation. I recall discussing the "human capital crisis" circa 2006/2007. At the time, I was quoted in Aviation Week. Doesn't matter. When there is no accountability for the lack of problem-solving then, as Kenan Thompson famously said on Saturday Night Live, "ain't nothing gonna happen."

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33 minutes ago, here_2_help said:

When there is no accountability for the lack of problem-solving then, as Kenan Thompson famously said on Saturday Night Live, "ain't nothing gonna happen."

I think you have described the problem perfectly.

And I think it's foolish to believe that an acting head of OFPP can solve it.

As a country, we no longer seem to believe in the concept that in order to achieve something important you need someone who knows what they're doing and has been given a clear mission and a mandate to do it and to fire anyone who won't or can't follow orders and contribute.

I can think of of two persons who exemplify, "I'm in charge. I'm accountable. And you're going to do what I say and get it done or you are gone." And they both achieved a great thing for our country when our country needed it.

General Leslie Groves, who was in charge of the development of the atomic bomb, and who hired Robert Oppenheimer to do the science despite opposition to his appointment.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, who was in charge of the development of the nuclear submarine, and about whom there is a new biography.

There are others of their ilk, military and civilian, who achieved great things, less deadly things, but those two stand out for me, because they were up against it and simply could not fail.

But I don't think America believes in such people any more. They are too tough for us as we are now.

If you think that having a first-rate contracting workforce is not important, you don't understand the nature of our contracted-out government.

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22 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

I think you have described the problem perfectly.

And I think it's foolish to believe that an acting head of OFPP can solve it.

As a country, we no longer seem to believe in the concept that in order to achieve something important you need someone who knows what they're doing and has been given a clear mission and a mandate to do it and to fire anyone who won't or can't follow orders and contribute.

I can think of of two persons who exemplify, "I'm in charge. I'm accountable. And you're going to do what I say and get it done or you are gone." And they both achieved a great thing for our country when our country needed it.

General Leslie Groves, who was in charge of the development of the atomic bomb, and who hired Robert Oppenheimer to do the science despite opposition to his appointment.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, who was in charge of the development of the nuclear submarine, and about whom there is a new biography.

There are others of their ilk, military and civilian, who achieved great things, less deadly things, but those two stand out for me, because they were up against it and simply could not fail.

But I don't think America believes in such people any more. They are too tough for us as we are now.

If you think that having a first-rate contracting workforce is not important, you don't understand the nature of our contracted-out government.

This is a nice overview of Groves and Oppenheimer:

https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/unlikely-pair

It also mentions the opposition to Groves’ selection of Oppenheimer, if you are wondering why. I didn’t know that Gen. Groves had been in charge of the Country’s Mobilization construction program up to that point in 1942. That was an exceptional feat in itself! 

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The writer of the article had the same problem as I did.  The Semi-permanent Acting Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy (since 2008) is Lesley Anne Field.   On my first try, I got the name wrong as did the author of the article.  I added an "s" to her last name too.  I bet she has spent more time in her OFPP roles than any confirmed Administrator.

I also add that this forum has over 7,000 registrations (the last time I counted years ago) so I think we can do better than 130 votes.

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6 hours ago, here_2_help said:

When there is no accountability for the lack of problem-solving then, as Kenan Thompson famously said on Saturday Night Live, "ain't nothing gonna happen."

My emphasis.

There is no substitute for experience.

Some may believe this oft-quoted line refers to generalized experience, such as a a number of years in service, or an age.  By "experience", I, though, am referring to inside corporate knowledge of the life of a project or program.  This (truly) specialized experience is what creates competence in an individual when presented a problem to solve that requires firsthand background knowledge.  Usually an event in a program's life (such as a contract award) is just not documented succinctly and meaningfully enough for an inexperienced person to expertly handle that event's related problems that come up later.  An organization performing truly meaningful work has got to learn how to manage its own knowledge, without relying on some outside influence like OFPP.

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Quote

 

And I think it's foolish to believe that an acting head of OFPP can solve it.

As a country, we no longer seem to believe in the concept that in order to achieve something important you need someone who knows what they're doing and has been given a clear mission and a mandate to do it and to fire anyone who won't or can't follow orders and contribute.

Vern, I agree.  But firing someone just isn’t likely in the government.

I started browsing the history of OFPP Administrators and surprised to see Lesley Field as number 16.  With the exception of Steve Kelman none have any long lasting notable accomplishments.  Most are placed in the job to promote whatever the current Administration’s goals are.  It seems as if they aren’t supposed to do anything more.  

What’s needed is an Administrator that can go to Congress and sell them with feasible concepts to improve the process. But does any President and Congress really want that?

Certainly recruitment and retention of the workforce is important.  And new blood with fresh ideas and motivation is key to the success of any organization.  But the current HR process doesn’t support that.  It’s antiquated and geared towards personnel practices of the 1970s.  I don’t see Lesley Field doing much despite the rhetoric. 

 


 

 

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6 hours ago, formerfed said:

With the exception of Steve Kelman none have any long lasting notable accomplishments.  

@formerfedInteresting that you should say that. I just emailed my next Nash & Cibinic article to the editor and I said much the same. Although I did not always agree with Steve (performance-based contracting), I think he was the best Administrator we've ever had.

As for presidents, I think most have been clueless about the effect of procurement policy on their ability to get things done, although the current one has discovered the Defense Production Act. Presidents won't be remembered by improving procurement policy. That's why they don't care who they appoint to be Administrator and whether they are confirmed. Although presidents are "chief executives," they don't think of themselves as the managers of the Executive Branch. 

But, to be fair, they're just politicians, so what can you expect?

6 hours ago, formerfed said:

Certainly recruitment and retention of the workforce is important.  And new blood with fresh ideas and motivation is key to the success of any organization.

Yes. And the way to get that is to improve professional education, training, leadership, and selection. The sad thing is that the government hires some very good people, then disappoints them.

@Voyager

15 hours ago, Voyager said:

This (truly) specialized experience is what creates competence in an individual when presented a problem to solve that requires firsthand background knowledge. 

Experience alone does not create competence. Educators, trainers, leaders, experience, and personal commitment are what create competence. It's a cyclic process. It's never done, and it must never end.

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2 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Educators, trainers, leaders, experience, and personal commitment are what create competence.

Of course.  A modicum baseline of all these is necessary to unlock the potential benefits of truly specialized knowledge.  I have seen a contracts shop where a former wage grade earner whom was Reduction-In-Force'd into the 1102 series was now the most senior contract specialist.  This person benefited the program very little except during breaks, where he's spin tall tales for us.  I called him the glue that held the shop together.  He was a GS-12 lifer, just happy to be there, and his lack of baseline education meant he could never succinctly or meaningfully recall knowledge to solve any of our problems.

In fact, of all the things you listed and I quoted, I think the man only had what you call "personal commitment".  Try firing that!  No, instead, exercising severe moral hazard, the shop just did not promote him.

So, is that what you meant by personal commitment?  I'd love to hear more about this topic from you, as it is a bit intangible.

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2 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

professional education, training,

In my opinion, professional education as called for in a job qualification should just be enough to enable one to understand all assigned training.  And I don't mean training in the contents of a web module.  "Training" should mean reading the source material (while skipping along in the web module).

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@Voyager

1 hour ago, Voyager said:

Of course.  A modicum baseline of all these is necessary...

1 hour ago, Voyager said:

In my opinion, professional education as called for in a job qualification should just be enough to enable one to understand all assigned training. 

I do not share your views. I think a professional needs more than a "modicum" and "just... enough." We are not in agreement. Not even close. And I hope that your views are not widely shared by others.

If a young contract specialist were to ask me for a reading that would help them on  their way to competence, I would tell them to read and study Samuel Johnson's essay, "'Rules' of Writing," written in 1751, or Plato's "Gorgias." You would probably ask what either of those has to do with being a procurement professional. I would say, "Everything."

But I don't think you would understand.

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In my defense, I was referring to new hires, aged 20-35.  I agree the obtainment of knowledge should never end, once one is hired.  So we likely are closer to agreement than you think if referring to those aged 36 and up.

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BTW, here is a quote from Johnson's essay, the third paragraph, which might prompt some thoughts about today's contracting rules:

Quote

The systems of learning therefore must be sometimes reviewed, complications analysed [sic] into principles, and knowledge disentangled from opinion. It is not always possible, without a close inspection, to separate the genuine shoots of consequential reasoning, which grow out of some radical postulate, from the branches which art has engrafted on it. The accidental prescriptions of authority, when time has procured them veneration, are often confounded with the laws of nature, and those rules are supposed coeval with reason of which the first rise cannot be discovered.

Now think about the requirements for certified cost or pricing data and for full and open competition.

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On 6/23/2022 at 11:26 AM, Vern Edwards said:

As a country, we no longer seem to believe in the concept that in order to achieve something important you need someone who knows what they're doing and has been given a clear mission and a mandate to do it and to fire anyone who won't or can't follow orders and contribute.

 

Maybe the OFPP Administrator can’t fix everything but if I was in that position I would be screaming for change. I would be sending up flags to the contracting workforce, Congress, and the rest of government.  The current process is drastically outdated and broke.  Congress and the Administration need to push for change.  I don’t think China, North Korea, and other potential adversaries wait months and sometimes years to get contracts in place.

Our acquisition workforce is risk adverse.  People are afraid to do anything new or different.  They need several layers of management and approval for every action they take.  Policy people that review actions and lawyers take the conservative route.  So many contract specialists when faced with a new procurement cut and paste from prior examples.  They do this even when the fit is lacking. I’ve said before that if changes don’t happen and 1102’s don’t demonstrate value and prompt support to agency programs, program managers will be given procurement authority.  

We need new policies, new laws, new people, and new training and grooming recent hires.

 

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On 6/24/2022 at 4:36 AM, Voyager said:

Of course.  A modicum baseline of all these is necessary to unlock the potential benefits of truly specialized knowledge.  I have seen a contracts shop where a former wage grade earner whom was Reduction-In-Force'd into the 1102 series was now the most senior contract specialist.  This person benefited the program very little except during breaks, where he's spin tall tales for us.  I called him the glue that held the shop together.  He was a GS-12 lifer, just happy to be there, and his lack of baseline education meant he could never succinctly or meaningfully recall knowledge to solve any of our problems.

In fact, of all the things you listed and I quoted, I think the man only had what you call "personal commitment".  Try firing that!  No, instead, exercising severe moral hazard, the shop just did not promote him.

So, is that what you meant by personal commitment?  I'd love to hear more about this topic from you, as it is a bit intangible.

Emphasis added.

@Voyager

Okay. Fair enough. By "personal commitment" I mean, among other things:

  • taking personal responsibility for knowing what you must know and being able to do what you must do in order to be not just competent, but expert;
  • taking inventory of your knowledge and skills and making lists of topics to study and skills to improve, especially basic knowledge and skills;
  • seeking and reading books and articles pertinent (in the broadest sense) to your work and to the work that you hope to do and studying them;
  • taking and maintaining well-organized study notes (see How To Take Smart Notes, 2d ed., by Sönke Ahrens) and reviewing them;
  • practicing skills, such as reading difficult material and writing clearly;
  • getting up early and staying up late to read and to write (you must do both in order to learn);
  • never letting anyone know more about your work than you do;
  • being ambitious for recognition by superiors and colleagues as knowing and being good at what you do;
  • seeking the "hard" tasks (volunteering to "take point");
  • not settling into a specific job, but moving around in order to gain broader and better experience;
  • working long and hard to do well for yourself, your colleagues, and your organization; and, finally,
  • deciding whether you want to be a professional or just an employee.

In short, it means that if you want to be a professional you must devote yourself to your profession. It means wanting and pursuing more than a "modicum baseline" and "just enough."

Is that tangible enough, Voyager?

 

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@Vern Edwards

Your first nine points are well taken and I second them.  I contend, however, that they not be made baseline qualifications for a job, but be instead products of an organization’s culture.  An organization needs but one leader in charge that values these things and holds people accountable to them, and that leader will mold many 20- to 35-year-olds into what you desire.  They can be screened for the plasticity of mind to accept this culture during the interview process.  Just look at Bill Belichick’s Patriots culture in the NFL (for lack of a modern-day intellectual to which we can compare).  He takes what his people desperately want - glory - and says, “Follow me to it.”  A leader in federal contracting might use the unlimited warrant as a similar incentive to demand studious personal commitment.

5 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

not settling into a specific job, but moving around in order to gain broader and better experience

Is this quoted point scalable to the entire contracting workforce?  Or could perhaps a systems CS/CO be more valuable to this country by walking with a PM(s) hand-in-hand through all three Milestone Decisions of a program?

Does the quoted point apply to all the years of one’s career?  Or is there a point in time when one should settle down and commit to a favorite organization’s mission, and the improvement thereof for a decade or so?

All good points to ponder.  Thank you for getting me to think this through.  I just wonder if the contracting workforce should focus on spurring better mid-career leaders, vice wishing for better new hires.  After all:

On 6/23/2022 at 11:26 AM, Vern Edwards said:

I can think of of two persons who exemplify, "I'm in charge. I'm accountable. And you're going to do what I say and get it done or you are gone." And they both achieved a great thing for our country when our country needed it.

You said it.

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7 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

not settling into a specific job, but moving around in order to gain broader and better experience;

There are offsetting considerations for this to consider, especially if you have a family. Moving every few years is disruptive and can be expensive. And if you have to finance a home purchase each time, it could result in having to pay off the mortgage loan well into retirement age.

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21 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

By "personal commitment" I mean, among other things

16 hours ago, Voyager said:

Does the quoted point apply to all the years of one’s career?

13 hours ago, joel hoffman said:

There are offsetting considerations for this to consider, especially if you have a family. Moving every few years is disruptive and can be expensive. And if you have to finance a home purchase each time, it could result in having to pay off the mortgage loan well into retirement age.

The quotes I have picked are not to dwell on each but to further an element that is missed in the discussion with regard personal commitment.

Directing my comments towards the civilian side of the house I have always wondered why what I will call "life experiences" do not count for much.  I agree that to an extent life experiences are noted such as being an avid and broad reader but if one looks at the FAI certification and what is noted as core competencies there is a whole world where they can be achieved.  Yet when it comes to CLP's  to support "continuous learning" the professional is solely directed to knowledge and assets with emphasis that are government centric.  Some how personal commitment should be acknowledged and a persons outside interests acknowledged and given credit.  Being a professional does not stop at the door of the Federal building. 

To quickly try to get to my point why isn't doing things like achieving a  USCG Captains License, meeting qualifications standards and having experience in court mediation programs , participating substantially in civic activities such as serving on a planning commission, a city's budget committee, being an officer of the board and otherwise active with an NGO, acknowledged as ways to achieve competencies?  If acknowledged officially maybe doing so is a measure of personal commitment as well?

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20 hours ago, joel hoffman said:

There are offsetting considerations for this to consider, especially if you have a family. Moving every few years is disruptive and can be expensive. And if you have to finance a home purchase each time, it could result in having to pay off the mortgage loan well into retirement age.

You can change jobs without ever relocating. For example, if you go to Los Angeles, you can rotate doing a variety of acquisitions and contracting - R&D, ACAT, SCAT, operational, staff, etc.

22 hours ago, Voyager said:

I just wonder if the contracting workforce should focus on spurring better mid-career leaders, vice wishing for better new hires.

We would benefit from accepting that a myopic view of leadership is limiting and should be abandoned. Informal leaders play a vital role in (1) getting things done and (2) the growth and development of other practitioners (including new hires).

More is caught than taught. In my observations, contracting folks adhere to what is modeled for them. They are influenced heavily by traditions and norms more so than by what they are told or the rules state. Most are practical people and just want to get things done without being admonished by their leadership.

Social influence of compliance and conformity is powerful. We can combat or balance some of the negatives of social influence by leveraging informal leaders in new ways (influencers and change agents). After all, look how many people come to this site for information. Why does WIFCON have more influence than some supervisors?

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