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A Simple Training Exercise

Posted by Vern Edwards, 05 January 2010 · 3,532 views

Here is an in-house training exercise for new acquisition personnel. The objectives are to: (a) give the participants a good overview of the acquisition process and (b) introduce them to the FAR and to the language of acquisition. These objectives are achieved by requiring the participants to actively engage with acquisition language and concepts.


The exercise entails directing the trainees to (1) read FAR Subpart 7.1, Acquisition Plans, (2) look up officially defined words and terms in FAR Part 2 and in an official glossary of acquisition terms, and (3) develop a list of questions for discussion. It then entails conducting a discussion/Q&A session.

The teacher must be a competent professional with a thorough understanding of the acquisition process and better than average knowledge of the FAR. He or she must conduct two meetings one week apart. These will take a total of five hours. The trainees' work will require between six and ten hours of private study time, the actual length depending on the abilities and diligence of the individual trainee.

Unlike the passive lecture-cum-PowerPoint-slides approach to training, this exercise requires the trainees to work and struggle at learning. Making them work and struggle will deepen their knowledge and improve their retention of the knowledge gained. There are few things more pointless and less enjoyable to bright people than a turn-off-your-brain-sit-in-your-chair-read-the-slides briefing-style "lecture," and nothing less likely to yield pleasure, learning, and retention.

Why FAR Subpart 7.1? Why not Subpart 8.4, Part 13, or Part 15? Wouldn't a reading of any of those parts be more practical? Not in light of the objectives, which are introductory in nature and not "how-to." Making newcomers plunge into parts of the FAR which are associated with so much controversy and disagreement would be to send them into the heart of darkness. FAR 7.1 is a better starting place. It covers the entire acquisition process, is not too long, and doesn't require an understanding of complex acquisition concepts.

The exercise can serve as a launching pad for further training exercises.


a. The teacher should download the Defense Acquisition University Glossary of Acquisition Acronyms and Terms, 12 ed. (July 2005) and print one for each trainee. (Use the DAU glossary even if you work for a civilian agency, because the Federal Acquisition Institute version apparently has not been updated since 1998, which makes it too old to be used today.)

b. The teacher should download the pdf version of the current FAR from www.acquisition.gov and print out FAR Part 2, Definitions of Words and Terms; FAR Subpart 7.1, Acquisition Plans; and the contract clause at FAR 52.202-1, Definitions (July 2004). Print a copy of each for each trainee.

c. The teacher should be (or become) thoroughly familiar with the reading materials and do the work the trainees will have to do before the first meeting with them.


The teacher meets with the trainees on a Monday morning for two hours. There need be no limit to the number of trainees at this meeting. The trainees will need a highlighter, a ballpoint pen, and a notebook.

The teacher must:

a. Explain the exercise and its objectives.

b. Distribute the copies of FAR Part 2 and 52.202-1 and then lead the trainees through FAR Section 2.000 and the introductory paragraphs of 2.101. Then lead them through FAR 52.202-1 and explain its importance during contract formation and contract performance. Point out that definitions appear throughout the FAR, but that the only ones they must look up for the exercise are the ones in FAR Part 2 and the DAU glossary.

Emphasize the importance of knowing the language of acquisition, using some examples of words and terms defined in FAR Part 2, such as contract, cost or pricing data, day, executive agency, and United States to show them how even familiar words and terms can take on special meanings in the context of acquisition.

c. Instruct the trainees to go through FAR Part 2 and highlight every word or term that is defined (not the complete definitions), telling them not to take time to read the definitions and giving them 20 minutes to complete the task.

d. Distribute the copies of FAR Subpart 7.1 and instruct the trainees to read FAR sections 7.101 through 7.106⎯3,925 words, about five and one-half pages. Tell them not to bother with sections 7.107 and 7.108. Tell them to read briskly to get an overall sense of the contents, but not for understanding--more than a scan, but less than a careful read. Tell them that they have one hour.

e. After they have read FAR Subpart 7.1 through the first time, instruct them to go through it again and place a forward slash (/) at the end of every sentence. Do not tell them to do this until after they have read the material through the first time. Tell them that they have 30 minutes to complete that task.

Why make them do that? The participants must learn that they cannot read regulations, the FAR in particular, the way that they read newspapers, magazines, and novels. They must read in a state of heightened attention. Making them place a forward slash at the end of every sentence will force them to be consciously analytical and reveal to them that sentences in the FAR are sometimes quite long and complex. The act of placing the slashes will reveal the structure of the text, the slashes being more striking than the periods. The syntactic effect of periods is sometimes diminished in text that uses a lot of abstract words and terms. The slash helps them to focus on sentences as units of meaning, each with its own subject and predicate.

f. After they have read the material through the second time and placed slashes at the end of every sentence, tell them that they have a week to read the material through a third time for complete understanding. Tell them not to bother reading the parts of FAR that are referenced in Subpart 7.1. (Some of those references can be the basis for future exercises.)

g. Instruct them to (1) look up the definitions of abbreviations, acronyms, words, and terms in FAR Part 2 and the DAU glossary, (2) type a list of all words and terms that they looked up, and (3) type a list of any questions they have about what they read. Tell them that they must turn in their two lists on the following Monday morning. Instruct them to write their questions in complete sentences, properly punctuated. Tell them that you will evaluate them on the basis of the clarity of their questions.


If there are more than 10 trainees, then organize them into discussion groups of 10 or less. As a general rule, no discussion group should include more than 10 people. Notify the trainees of their group assignments.


The trainees are to turn in their lists on the Monday morning after the first meeting. The teacher then must review, sort, and consolidate the lists of words and terms and the lists of questions into single lists for each discussion group. If there are too many questions for a three-hour meeting, select a reasonable number (about 10) of the best. Eliminate any incoherent questions. Make a copy of each of the two discussion group lists for each group member.

Don't reward people who write incoherent questions by spending time trying to figure their questions out. Don't baby trainees that way. Reject poor work. The trainees are presumably college-educated persons who ought to be able to read the material, do the research on definitions, think about what they have read, figure out what they understand and what they don't, and write intelligent and coherent questions. Don't accept any excuses based on "the material unfamiliar to me" or "I'm new." Of course it's unfamiliar to them. Of course they're new. The purpose of the exercise is for new people to begin to familiarize themselves with acquisition and the FAR. They must familiarize themselves, and that's not easy, but they are being paid to learn. Make them earn their paychecks by thinking hard and writing clearly. Do not molly-coddle trainees. Acquisition is a business for tough-minded people who spend other people's money. Demand first-rate work from day one. This is an important part of the training and of workforce conditioning and development.

You can learn a lot about the attentiveness, intellectual curiosity, diligence, reading and writing ability, and relative need for hand-holding of each of the trainees from their two lists and their participation at the second meeting. This is a chance to separate the thoughtfully clueless from the clueless-without-a-thought.


On the Wednesday after the submissions of the lists, meet with the trainees in groups of 10 or less for three hours (no more than that) to discuss the definitions and questions. (Don't wait too long after the submissions to hold the second meeting. You want the trainees to have the materials freshly in mind.) Hand out the copies of the two consolidated lists for the group and use the list of questions as an agenda.

The purpose of this meeting is not for the teacher to answer the questions, but to get the trainees to think about and discuss them. Think of the meeting as more of an "exploration" session than a Q&A session. Also, remember that you are not teaching about acquisition plans or acquisition planning, per se, but using the FAR coverage of those topics to teach about the acquisition process and acquisition language in general. Don't turn the meeting into an acquisition planning how-to session.

Handle this meeting like a graduate school seminar meeting. The teacher should prepare thoroughly and not try to wing it. Have a discussion plan for each question; don't just ask for "thoughts," comments, or additional questions. The teacher should bring his or her own list of words or terms in FAR Subpart 7.1 that are defined in FAR Part 2 or in the DAU glossary, and also a list of words or terms that are defined elsewhere in the FAR, e.g., multi-year contracting.

The teacher should not act as though every question has a definitive answer. There are lots of "unsolved" mysteries in acquisition, such as the definition of subcontract and of subcontractor as used in FAR 52.215-12, which are problematical. The trainees must learn of the existence of such problems and learn to be prepared to cope with them.

Bring additional materials for further reading after the meeting. For example, the teacher could prepare a set of one-page elaborations or "fact-sheets," and bibliographies for selected topics, such as FAR 7.105(a)(1), statement of need; 7.105(a)(4), capability or performance; 7.105(a)(7), risks; 7.105(b)(2) competition; and 7.105(b)(5), budgeting and funding. Subpart 7.1 is an especially rich source of training topics.

It is crucially important when going over the questions to point out any officially defined words and terms that the students missed. Emphasize again that learning the language of acquisition is an important part of their early career development. Point out the numerous references throughout Subpart 7.1 to other parts of FAR and emphasize the scope and complexity of the acquisition process. Point out how much there is for them to learn and the importance of developing and maintaining their own personal learning plan.

It would be extremely beneficial for each trainee to bring a copy of the FAR to the meeting, so that the teacher can refer to it when discussing the questions. If the three-ring binder version is too unwieldy, then the small CCH or West editions will do, but since they are always out of date by the time they are published the teacher should use a three-ring binder version and alert the students to changes.

This exercise should not be too demanding for college graduates and will serve as a good kickoff to an acquisition education.

Fabulous idea - and would be beneficial not only to the trainee but a good refresher to the "seasoned" specialists in the office who never got proper training in the first place. But I would venture a guess that not many supervisors would take the time to provide this type of meaningful on the job training to any employee - new or old. It would take time and thought - and I just don't think many supervisors think they have time in their busy day and would rather send employees to someone else to train. I hate to sound like a pessimist, but it's the sad truth.
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And I hate to say it, but I fear that you're right. But we can hope.
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I live a hopeful life. My first government job was in state government. Pretty much everyone started off as a Contracting Officer I and progressed over time to a Contracting Officer III. Whenever we got a new trainee, the supervisor would schedule time for the whole staff to sit and do a complete review of the state procurement code. Now, granted, it was a heck of a lot shorter than the FAR, but we would each have a printed copy and we would go through it section by section, page by page, and some of it (the really iimportant stuff) sentence by sentence. We didn't do it in a day, but finished within the second work week of the new employee. We would take turns reading sections outloud - including the trainee - and then discuss it in manageable parts. That was invaluable not only to the new person, but a great refresher to the other folks who started to think they know everything. The supervisor is now retired and living in Vegas!

This is in contrast to my current supervisor who "made me" do a 16 page award memo for a GSA buy (supervisor was "level above" approver). I fought a good fight - but finally just gave up.
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What a helpful, ready-made lesson plan! I hope many will download and use this piece just as you have prepared it. When the first-line supervisor recognizes s/he is the real trainer, this simple package will be seen as a genuine gift. Thanks, Vern.

Bob Thompson
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Please keep them coming. I go one step further than Bob?s comment. In these days we cannot leave the training to the first-line supervisor. It is up to all of us to help train this new work force. There are just too many of them and too few of us. We can take a simple lesson plan like this and round up some new 1102s for a brown bag lunch. I find most are eager to listen to an educated senior person who is willing to give them some time.

Randall C. Burleson
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