Buy Lines: Professional exchange program helps govt. and industry

Bob Dickson

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, has introduced the Acquisition System Improvement Act, H.R. 4228, which would create an Acquisition Professional Exchange Program for the federal government and industry, among other things.

Programs such as this have significant potential, not only for the participants but also for the organizations they represent. As we go about the business of transforming the federal acquisition process, we need to encourage and support such programs.

In announcing his legislative initiative, Davis cited the step as a continuation of his efforts "to provide the federal government greater access to the commercial marketplace, and to get the right people with the right skills in place to manage the acquisition of services and technology so necessary to the government."

His goal is "to have the government approach the best practices of industry, particularly in the acquisition of cutting-edge information technology and management services."

One of the best ways to develop these capabilities is to train the best and brightest from both industry and government in a professional acquisition exchange program. Learning the process on both sides of the fence would provide an invaluable individual experience and ultimately translate to an organization's bottom line.

As proposed, here's how it would work. To be eligible for an exchange, both federal and private-sector employees would:

  • Work in federal acquisitions or acquisition management

  • Be exceptional performers

  • Be expected to assume increased acquisition management responsibilities in the future.

Federal employees would have to be at the GS-11 level or higher and would be required to work in civil service for a period equal to the length of the assignment after they return to government. The length of an assignment, or "detail," would be between six months and one year but could be extended up to an additional year.

The legislation contains a sunset clause that would stop new assignments five years after the date the legislation is enacted, and would require that 20 percent of federal government details go to small business.

Like all things worth doing, there's a price to be paid. It can be difficult and expensive to invest in the future, especially when it means a potential one- or two-year absence of a rising star in the organization. Nevertheless, for those who have the foresight and capacity to do so, there can be a high return on their investment.

For years, some federal departments have sponsored exchange programs as part of training programs with industry. There also are initiatives, such as the Industry Advisory Council's Information Technology Partners Program, which although not as extensive as the exchange program proposed by Davis, has been heralded as a winning professional partnership program.

These programs typically are viewed by the sponsors as effective investments and, in most cases, as invaluable experiences by the participants.

The proposed Acquisition Professional Exchange Program has the potential to become one more bridge and an important tool for both industry and government as we continue to promote new and better ways to conduct business in the federal marketplace.

Bob Dickson is vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., Chantilly, Va. His e-mail address is bdickson

@acqsolinc.com.

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