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I would be interested in hearing opinions about the pros and cons of moving into an acquisition policy job instead of an operational contracting job. What do you think are the skills, experiences and inclinations that would suit someone to either a policy job or an operational contracting job? I am in the last 10 years of my career (unless I hit the lottery, in case I don't need your answers anyway), and am considering moving into a policy job which is actually at a lower grade level than my current position, but would not result in any great financial disadvantage to me. I am not interested in climbing higher in the operational contracting hierarchy at this point in my career. Anyway, all thoughts welcome and there is obviously no right or wrong answer.

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Guest Vern Edwards
What do you think are the skills, experiences and inclinations that would suit someone to either a policy job or an operational contracting job?

I did what you are asking about, going from a lead contracting officer position in a weapon system program office to a GS-14/15 policy job at Air Force System Command headquarters. I ultimately worked for Tony DeLuca and Darleen Druyun.

Policy. In my opinion you should enjoy and be good at research, enjoy and be skilled in reasoning and analysis, and be a better than average writer and presenter. You also should have a better than average grasp of basic acquisition concepts and better than average knowledge of the acquisition rules, but your knowledge need not be expert if you are a good reader and fast learner. Those are the traits that I would be looking for if I were looking to hire a policy puke (as we used to be called).

Operational contracting. I assume that by "operational contracting" you mean working as a contracting officer or contract specialist in a buying office. In my opinion, you should be a good, fast-on-your-feet thinker, a very good reader, and a reasonably good writer. Your grasp of acquisition concepts and knowledge of the acquisition rules should be close to that of an expert. (This is more important for operational people than it is for policy people.) You must be a good negotiator, with respect to both contractors and your superiors and colleagues. You should have an especially high bulls*** tolerance level. You must be able to think and work effectively under pressure.

Pros and cons. I think that is largely dependent on your personality and skills. I found policy work to be tedious. I was often asked to work on something that I did not care about, like executive compensation or data rights or the "Carlucci Initiatives." Boooooring. I wanted to be where the action was, which to me meant in a system program office. I wanted to do contracts, and all that that implied. (1102s did not have the clerical and data entry duties that they do today.) But the grades are better in policy jobs, so is the exposure to higher-ups, and some good friends of mine enjoyed that work and did very well, ascending to the SES level.

To be honest with you, if I were an undergraduate today I would not consider a job in contracting. The work is not what it once was and, with few exceptions, never will be again.

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Pros and cons will be a personal choice depending on the type of work and pressures you prefer to deal with.

Policy characteristics (which may vary from one policy job to another) –

Researcher and Consultant. Provide clear guidance for others (oral and written). Interpret legalese, then explain it to others in not-so-legalese terms (oral and written). Detail oriented. "Logical" thinker. Ability to be thick-skinned when others (i.e., operational COs) ignore your advice and guidance.

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