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Guest Vern Edwards

(1) More and (2) Better Training?

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Guest Vern Edwards

Seeking opinions.

I just read an interview with a knowledgeable person who said that improvement of the acquisition workforce is a matter of numbers, not training.

Most would probably agree that the government needs more people, so that assertion is not controversial. But do we need more and better training?

If we need more training, then more in what way(s):

(a) more subjects,

( b ) more sessions in current subjects,

( c ) longer sessions, or

(d) all of the above?

If more subjects, then what additional subjects?

If we need better training, then better in what way(s):

(a) better content,

( b ) better course materials,

( c ) better instruction, or

( c) all of the above?

If we need more or better training, and if we need more people, do we need more people because the current workforce is not sufficiently well trained?

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Not a government employee. From what I see, we need better government leaders who can organize and deploy their resources more effectively. That would be my first priority. Second, I would separate PMs from acquisition folks and train them separately. There will be some training overlap, but the skill sets are fundamentally different, in my view. As part of that retrenching, I would overhaul DAWIA. In particular, I would look for individuals to demonstrate competency once and only once, and then hold them to a CPE-type standard thereafter, with an emphasis on gaining new skills as opposed to relearning the skills they learned last year.

Once I had that straightened-out I would revamp DAU to support the stuff I mentioned above. I would encourage individuals to choose "electives" in order to foster growth and development.

I would tie promotions to learning. I would tie salary increases to learning. I would provide monetary incentives for learning.

I would eliminate Review Boards but hold individuals accountable to a disciplinary board for public law violations. I would encourage COs to settle disputes rather than proceed directly to litigation, and I would discipline those that wasting government resources litigating meritless positions.

If all that didn't work, I would then (and only then) consider hiring more people. And if I hired more people, I would try to minimize the number of former DCAA auditors who would be hired into DCMA. No offense meant, but COs are not auditors nor is the skill set all that similar. More importantly, the mind set is entirely different.

My thoughts, offered in a spirit of constructive feedback.

H2H

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Guest Vern Edwards

Do we need more and better training?

If so, what more and better in what ways?

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More or better? Better and better targeted.

Better in what ways? Better content and format and delivery method and frequency.

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C an't speak for all Govt or all DOD. However, the source selection training that our organization had been teaching primarily covers what the FAR and supplements already cover. Stressing how to avoid a protest is one thing but the training is sadly lacking in how's and whys of : develiping effective evaluation criteria; effective pre-proposal communications techniques; conducting effective price evaluations; conducting truly effective discussions to maximize value in trade-off competition; bartering for better performance to maximize value.

Much of the curriculum is taught by lawyers who focus on legal formalities and senior contracting personnel who focus on the mechanics. The government needs to learn how to maximize value received, not just how to avoid protests.

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JOURNEY LEVEL CO’s, PM’s, and COR’s.

More Training/Better Training – Augment “required (FAC/DAWIA)” subjects with a one week session required for each Certification Level where actual case studies and actual requirements are used as the tool.

SENIOR LEVEL MANAGEMENT (all not just the acquisition side)

More Training - Required trainingfor senior level management that is fashioned to give an overview of the procurement processes and most common pitfalls – required sources of supply, commercial item, simplified acquisition, sole source, brand name, source selection (technical evaluation), cost/price analysis is my quick short list.

More people are not needed until the more and better training is provided.

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We need more and better thinkers, not training. If a person has no hand eye coordination then all the training in the world will not teach them how to hit a ball. We need the core foundation which training could possibly improve. If someone can't think, if they don't have a grasp of language and nuance, if they don't have the capacity to engage in informal logic, then all the training in the world won't help. These are sweeping generalizations and not particular to any CO, but contracts is more an excercise in language over methodology.

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Vern,

We need better training (a), not more. For classroom training we need better content that is more relevant for the specific mission of the agency. For example, the majority of what I do is not acquisitions of major systems, and what I learn in a classroom environment is all about DOD. 90% of what is taught is not relevant at all to the specific position I’m currently in as my agency supports research and hospitals.

Also; if there were an (e) it would be applicability. I can understand the theory behind anything I study and try to learn; however, applying that theory in a real life scenario is the struggle I’ve experienced. In accounting, you learn “how” to do it, then you learn the “why” its done that way. It seems in government contracting you learn the “why” you do things this way or that way, but not the “how” to actually do it.

In terms of more experience, my organization had a internal policy that stated we could only take one residence class per year. Their idea was that people were getting promoted too fast based on education and not experience, so when they would get promoted too early, the employees were not performing at the level they should be.

H2H,

“I would tie promotions to learning. I would tie salary increases to learning. I would provide monetary incentives for learning”.

Why? You can be the smartest guy/girl in the world and still not be able to get anything done. I had a discussion once with a controller at a fortune 100 company, and he told me anytime someone interviews with straight A’s on their transcripts it raises a red flag as in this particular persons experience, one can read a chapter answer questions, but cant think for themselves when there is not something specific that tells you how something is done. (Cant think for themselves).

I received a level II FAC-C this year, should I be rewarded for that? How about you give me a year and see my results and reward me on getting stuff done, not training.

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Assuming that we are talking about formal training, I think we need better training. Better content, better course materials, and better instruction. Also, the one size fits all model of training that has traditionally been in place results in a lot of training that is of no, or very little, relevance to the trainees. Some have characterized the current model as "check the block" training and I can see why.

We do not need more training if it will be more of the same.

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JMJ definitely has a point. There is a definite lack of critical thinking when approaching an issue. In fact, there is a general lack questioning when things clearly don't make sense. Then, there are the apathetic folks who seem to think that proper clause selection and following the FAR are just suggestions and don't really matter.

Has anyone taken (or can recommend) a good critical thinking class that requires folks to use their problem solving / analyzing skills?

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First, let me say that the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI), which provides training policy and direction for all non-DOD agencies, has 13 people in it. They do a tremendous job with the resources that they have. I cannot imagine what the acquisition workforce would look like without the hard work invested by FAI.

I see three primary issues with the current state of training. Acquisition training in the Federal Government is like a zookeeper feeding all of the animals the same food; all the animals are fed, but most are malnourished. Second, as Don keenly stated, the “check the block” issue. Third, you may have heard of No Child Left Behind? Well, the state of acquisition training is No Contract Specialist Left Behind. If you ask any acquisition training institution and ask about the number of times someone has failed an acquisition-related course, they can count the number on one hand. With these three issues combined, you have an acquisition workforce that looks like rockstars on paper but is actually nominally trained.

The solution to these issues is better training, not more. The amount of training is already a financial and productivity problem for some agencies. I do not know how some agencies are handling the “new” FCN 190, FAR Fundamentals , course. For those not familiar, this course is the Level 1 capstone that runs for four weeks straight, covering all parts of the FAR.

When I say better, I mean:

  • More relevant to the agency;
  • More perspective; and
  • More accountability.
More Relevant: Training should consider the agency’s internal policies and procedures, and how those apply with existing regulatory requirements. Hands-on training should use a similar version of the agency’s Contract Writing System to assist in preparation of mock solicitations and contracts. If the agency does not purchase non-commercial items, then explaining the Uniform Contract Format and non-commercial item financing is irrelevant in a beginning acquisition training course. There are a few agencies that just do Federal Supply Schedule purchases. In those cases, training should be tailored to be relevant to the agency.

More Perspective: Standard training is currently more instructional rather than informative (i.e. do this if the contract value is that), and fails in that it does not explain key acquisition principles. For example, your current class will teach you about FAR Part 6 and competition, but does not explain why we have FAR Part 6. I will never forget reading Lani Perlman’s “Guarding the Government’s Coffers” in the Fordham Law Review where prior to CICA, over 80-percent of contracts were non-competitively awarded through 15 broad exceptions. Too many Contract Specialists today act on what they were told to do, not because they understood the problem and used critical thinking to make a decision.

More Accountability: The standards for passing an acquisition course are high, 80-percent. However, instructors will currently tell students where the test questions are as they are preparing for the test. Further, most tests are open book. The classes become a test of whose highlighter works best rather than learning and studying the information. I had an instructor tell me, “[company name] will rarely let me fail someone. People who fail are mostly the ones that do not show up.” Take away the open book tests, stop giving away the answers, and hold people that do not pass accountable. And accountability does not necessarily mean firing. Use the areas where the person failed as an opportunity to provide additional and focused on-the-job training.

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This is a broad generalization I'm making but too much training doesn't have practical implementation. Source selection is a perfect example. Many students can't walk away from that and craft a strategy for an individual action. What usually happens is they "cut and paste" an example from training that may not be even close to a good one for the immediate action.

They also have no idea whether technical evaluations/TEP reports are good or bad and fall short in answering questions or assisting evaluators.

Price/cost evaluations is another good example. Students often have the concepts down afterwards but are at a loss to apply it in real world situations.

There are several good points already made about - need to teach critical thinking; better content, better course materials, and better instruction; and training with practical exercises so students know how to apply.

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Fixing our career field's formal training system is a noble and needed goal. It will take a lot of resources and time with not-guaranteed positive results.

I have done my best to take the approach that training starts at home. I've taken our junior specialists through a couple of the exercises Vern has posted on his blog and instituted a monthly 1 hour training session that covers practical, agency level issues. Sometimes ad-hoc opportunities come up: Last week I came across a contract from another agency that was a pile of garbage. I had our two junior specialists circle everything they thought was odd or wrong. I did the same and we came together and discussed what we came up with. It was, I think, a positive experience. We've done other exercises on Part 16, Part 6, and Part 5.

We don't have to wait for DAU or FAI to train our people. Maybe it would be worthwhile for me to write down the ad-hoc stuff I've done. If I get to it this week, I'll post it here or where ever the mods want me to post it.

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I can say that our training is absolutely pitiful. Most of what we get is focused on new hires that don't have the context to understand. The rest, I'm convinced, is simply for CLPs and not really training. We have some real problems in this area. I drafted two separate responses already that I've deleted because I got on my soapbox. Basically, most contracting officers are to proud to admit they need training and the management doesn't particularly seem to care about traing COs (only new hires). So, the new hires get "trained" but that is soon forgotten and the REAL training comes from on the job where the CO (who usually doesn't know what they are doing) is coaching the contract specialist.

Anyways, I promised myself I wouldn't get on my soapbox.

I visit this board daily because of the poor/lack of training.

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I need more people but only if they can think, write and stand toe to toe with the clients and contractors. These are rare people who usually don't want to work for the Government. I believe I learned enough from the mandatory core classes to be able to solve issues through research. I have done a lot of learning on my own time when most personnel will not do so for various reasons.

I had to study a lot and apply it in obtaining my NCMA CPCM. That was the hardest test I ever took but it was worth it. No one should be level III certified without taking a test like that. However, in looking at my organization, we might only have a few COs left after the test.

A large portion of our staff just don't have the capacity to deal with the complexities of the contracting field. The less than stellar specialist is overwhelmed by all the new rules on simplified acquisitions and FSS ordering. Not to mention all the complex elements in the FPDS report. Meanwhile our superstars that can think clearly are assigned the tough contracts but more importantly the tough clients. They make all the correct decisions on how write a solicitation that will get top value only to be told by the program office that they refuse to do it that way. Management buckles and the COs get frustrated. Training is not going to cure these systematic problems.

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The quantity is there, the quality is not.

Start failing people in these training classes and we'll find out quickly who actually KNOWS the material, not just the folks able to find it in their binder. It amazes me how some of the people in DAU/FAI classes "pass" and become certified. It is harming the contracting community now, and it will be even worse when those people are in GS-13/14/15 positions and have the knowledge & experience as a GS-7 still.

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Basic training for DAWIA/FAC-C: More mandatory subjects should be required particularly for Level 2 and/or Level 3 certification. Subject matter – (1) private industry’s perspective on conducting business with the Govt (all things cradle-to-grave, not just negotiation techniques), (2) communication skills (both internal and external), and (3) professional business writing.

Continuous training: 80 hours is about right but there should be more definition as to what’s required. For example, a mandate to spend at least 40 of the 80 hours on (1) research methods (and real world application of the findings), (2) project management, (3) familiarization training (cross-training) with others such as budget officials, PMs, or senior decision makers.

More people? No.

Better trained? Yes.

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Captain 2722: It is harming the contracting community now, and it will be even worse when those people are in GS-13/14/15 positions and have the knowledge & experience as a GS-7 still.

Hate to say but they are already at the upper levels.

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More to boof's point, what good does it do an agency to provide the best training available to junior procurement personnel when they work for a GS-14 with the knowledge level (s)he obtained as a GS-7 20 years ago? I have spoken to groups of such junior personnel concerning their training and the biggest complaint they have is that when they return from training they are told to forget all that classroom theory stuff they have just learned because it is not the way things are done in the real world so now go review a contractors BAFO and prepare a D&F justifying a sole source award to X.

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Long time lurker, first time poster. I agree with just about everything that has already been said.

Most would probably agree that the government needs more people, so that assertion is not controversial. But do we need more and better training?


Yes. The only DAU class in which I learned anything was CON 90 where Don whipped our butts (and for that, sir, I thank you. Seriously.). Agree with BorderC. I've learned more from these boards than from any course I've been required to attend. Hardly any of the training is applicable to my job, so I'm just there to "check the box" even though I'm hungry to learn about contracting...

If we need more or better training, and if we need more people, do we need more people because the current workforce is not sufficiently well trained?

Yes. Significantly improve the training (to include many of the suggestions posted previously), and the workforce (well, majority of the workforce...there will always be THAT PERSON) will become more efficient and make fewer mistakes. But I don't see that happening anytime in the near future.

KeithB18, I am curious to see some of your ad-hoc training. Not only to help the junior buyers and new hires, but because I'll probably learn something as well!

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KeithB18, I am curious to see some of your ad-hoc training. Not only to help the junior buyers and new hires, but because I'll probably learn something as well!

Below is what I have now. I've started working on formalizing this into something that we can use to train locally over the course of a year or maybe two.

  1. Read all the definitions in FAR part 2. Then read FAR part 7.1 and highlight the terms that were defined in Part 2. Discuss with your contracting officer the meaning of the highlighted words in the context of FAR part 7.1. (This is almost straight from Vern)
  2. Create and populate a matrix based on FAR 6.302-1-7 that covers the following: Exception Title, Exception Use, Level of Scrutiny/Special Requirements or Provisions. Also include the dollar value thresholds for JOFOC approval at the bottom of the matrix.
  3. Create and populate a matrix that summarizes the posting requirements in FAR part 5. The matrix should include distinctions between different types of contract actions, contract magnitude, and location of the posting. Additionally, discuss the posting exceptions that allow for FAR part 8.4 and 16.5 actions.
  4. Create and populate a matrix that explains the differences and usages of “Limited Sources Justification,” “Justification for Other than Full and Open Competition,” “Brand Name Justifications,” and “Exceptions to Fair Opportunity.” Explain why it is important to use these terms accurately.
  5. Read FAR 16.505(b ) and highlight passages that seem extraordinary or unique to this section.
  6. The contracting officer (or training officer) should find a very poor solicitation posted on FBO.gov. Provide that poor solicitation to the trainee and ask for the trainee to highlight everything that they can find that is wrong, strange, unusual or inappropriately used. Ask them to review the solicitation as if they were the contracting officer.

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As someone who just completed all Level III training, I'd say we need better training. By "better" I mean that various set standards need to be followed in order to get the most out of the courses. I recall my CON 217 class was radically different than the 217 taken by a colleague a few months later. Some instructors require formal closed-book exams, while others allow open notes. Some instructors grade on presentations, while others grade on paper projects. I've also noticed a sharp difference between teaching styles at MCI, ESI, Gestalt, and NPI. Seems like these private vendors tailor their course content as they see fit. I mean, I am sure they have some guidelines, but how do we know for sure?

Why not put "undercover" acquisition professionals/experts in these brick-and-mortar courses just to get their opinion. It sounds a bit paranoid, but might be worth a shot.

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Guest Vern Edwards

One problem is that we don't make the necessary distinction between education and training. Education is conceptual and theoretical. Training is practical and how-to. Education can be done centrally -- in classrooms and even online. It can even be achieved to some degree by a person with a book and a quiet place to read. Training must be done locally -- in the office, on the job, and hands-on.

For example, education can teach you what value is, what proposal evaluation is, what an evaluation factor is, and the universal principles of sound proposal evaluation practice. It can show you examples of good and bad practice. Armed with that knowledge, you can design your own source selections. OJT teaches you which factors, methods of evaluation, and source selection procedures to use where you work now.

DAU, FAI, and the commercial training companies can teach you concepts and principles and provide you with examples that are designed to show you those concepts and principles in action, but they cannot teach you how to conduct a source selection where you work now, because every office is unavoidably, even necessarily, somewhat unique in that regard. That is one reason why so much "training" has been inadequate.

The failure of DAU, FAI, and their teachers and students to understand the difference between education and training has caused general confusion and widespread frustration. Managers and workers can avoid confusion and frustration by understanding what's wrong with today's "training" and taking measures of their own. Every manager and supervisor worth his or her salt knows that one of their tasks is training their people. Soldiers and Marines learn combat tactics in training schools. Their sergeants teach them how to fight.

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