The federal acquisition workforce is in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime generational transition – and agencies are missing out, according to a new study released Jan. 22.

Agencies have a chance to make improvements to the skills and culture of the acquisition workforce, but they must act soon before new workers are indoctrinated with older, more rigid ideas, according to the Professional Services Council and Grant Thornton in their seventh biennial Acquisition Policy Surveyof federal acquisition professionals.

"We rarely get this time of shift. We could really have an enormous effect in a positive way," PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway said. "But there is no evidence from this survey that the environment has changed dramatically."

Agencies must also combat budget cuts, which has decimated training in civilian agencies and prevented workers from learning new skills and techniques, he said.

But in agencies that do offer training, acquisition workers are not getting the skills they need, and qualities such as business acumen, negotiating skills and knowledge of complex technology are not offered as core curriculum items, Soloway added.

Contracting officers are also unlikely to take major risks in acquisition or push for innovation, according to the report, showing a lack of top-level support even as the administration pushes for greater innovation in contracting.

"That's in direct conflict in many ways with a lot of things the leadership has been about. The risk aversion in the workforce is driven by a lack of support in the higher circles," Soloway said.

The series of continuing resolutions and congressional budget showdowns have also injected high amounts of uncertainty into the acquisition community, creating a cascading effect on its workforce, innovation efforts and compliance issues.

"Budget uncertainty presents enormous challenges for the acquisition community," said Grant Thornton Principal Phil Kangas. "Uncertainty in funding levels and the timing of available funds undermines the acquisition process from training, to planning to execution and access to innovation."

The report also found that:

  • Despite optimism about finding the right acquisition workers in the market agencies were worried they would not be able to hire them because of budget constraints and continued competition with the private sector.
  • Government personnel feel they are using the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) contracting solution appropriately, while the contractor community does not.
  • Agencies need to do a better job of communicating with the private sector and with each other, from the early stages discussing a possible idea through the completion of a contract award.
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