The government’s acquisition process for digital services is vastly different than the one required for acquiring building materials or office supplies, which means acquisition specialists must take specialized training, according to experts from the Office of Management and Budget and U.S. Digital Services.
Enter the Digital IT Acquisition Professional, or DITAP program, the core-plus certification in contracting for digital services announced by OMB and USDS on May 23, 2018, and officially accepting acquisition personnel in the coming month.
“This certification empowers acquisition mavericks to employ the need for speed when buying digital services,” according to a blog post on the program written by Joanie Newhart, associate administrator of acquisition workforce programs at OMB, and Traci Walker, lead contracting officer at USDS.
“Colloquially called the ‘Top Gun for Acquisition’ training, holders of the Digital Service certification will be implementing the best acquisition strategies to drive high-quality results. We are creating a community of passionate acquisition professionals who geek on technology and care about keeping up with best practices.”
DITAP has already graduated two cohorts of trainees through pilot programs, and Brent Maravilla, acquisition strategist at USDS and graduate of the first pilot cohort, told Federal Times that the program forces participants to gain experience in contracting in a way that pervious training programs did not.
“In general, you learn a little bit of everything within the Federal Acquisition Regulations, and you’re not really a master at buying any particular commodity,” Maravilla said, explaining that the standard acquisition training course is usually two weeks of classroom training with a test at the end.
“The DITAP program forced me to do a lot of doing and, kind of, prototyping.”
According to Maravilla, learning how digital products worked was akin to drinking from a fire hose at first, but the training offered by the DITAPS program enabled him and others to deliver products more quickly and in a way that better reflects what users want.
“You start getting features and a product in front of users much more quickly, not in years but in months, and start getting feedback on those products from the users. Not spending hundreds or even half-a-billion dollars before a product is put in front of end users, but maybe just a few hundred thousand dollars,” Maravilla said.
According to the USDS blog post, ICF, an approved DITAP training provider, will offer the first course with registration running from June 18 – 29. Participants will spend approximately 12 hours per week in the training program for about 6 months.
“We are looking for people that want to be a part of really a movement in growing and maturing digital services across the federal government. We desire for these people to actually be disruptive in a respectful way within their agency, because a lot of what’s going to be needed for change is very much a culture change,” Maravilla said.
Newhart told Federal Times that though there isn’t a set goal for the number of participants, each pilot cohort had about 30 people.
“It was a very careful selection process; we were trying to target certain digital service programs at agencies, and I imagine this selectivity will continue as we ramp up,” Newhart said. “USDS has a really good handle on what’s out in the civilian agencies and who should be selected for the program.”
Maravilla added that future iterations of the program may be good for acquisition professionals outside the digital sphere to open their minds to new ways of crafting acquisitions.
“It wouldn’t be out of the question for somebody, say, that’s sitting underneath the [chief information officer]’s office that provides really valuable strategic procurement assistance to the CIO,” Maravilla said.
And learning doesn’t stop after the program ends, according to Maravilla, as alumni programs and gatherings offer participants to share what they’ve done and learned after completing DITAP. “I’m looking forward to thousands more making an impact.”
Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.