Coalition Pushes Congress on Procurement Training

Coalition Pushes Congress on Procurement Training

By Nick Wakeman
Staff Writer

A coalition of defense, electronics and information technology services groups is pushing the U.S. Congress to spend more money on training government acquisition officers.

Without proper training on how to execute new federal procurement rules, the benefits of the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act and other reforms will never be realized, said Bert Concklin, president of the Vienna, Va.-based Professional Services Council.

Known as the Acquisition Reform Working Group, the coalition includes Concklin's organization as well as the Aerospace Industries Association, American Electronics Association, American Shipbuilders Association, Contract Services Association, Electronic Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association and Shipbuilders Council of America. The working group was formed in 1993 to promote acquisition reform.

Bert Concklin,
president of the Professional Services Council

Alan Bechara,
vice president and chief operating officer of Comark Federal Systems

The group sent a package of proposals emphasizing the need for improved training in late January to members of key congressional panels such as the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House National Security Committee and House and Senate appropriations subcommittees. Its proposals also were forwarded to the Defense Department, General Services Administration, NASA and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Areas where government procurement officials lack training include dispute resolution, meas- uring past performance, market research, risk management, performance-based work statements and best-value source selections, according to the coalition.

Other areas that need attention, the coalition said, include how the government buys commercial products, better definitions of organizational conflicts of interest and greater protection from false civil claims.

The coalition wants Congress to earmark funding for training and professional development at agency acquisition offices. However, the group does not recommend a specific amount because it has not been able to determine how much the government is currently spending, Concklin said. Funding will have to be set aside in every agency to provide more training, he said.

The training now under way is so inadequate that the government must "at least double what it is spending to make an impact," Concklin said.

"There is a growing sense that more training is needed," said Ida Usted, the GSA's deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy. The current procurement atmosphere is new to both industry and government, she said.

Alan Bechara, vice president and chief operating officer of Comark Federal Systems, Chantilly, Va., said his company would have been spared a bureaucratic head- ache if officials at the Health Care Financing Administration had been better trained.

In early October, his company lost a competition for an HCFA blanket purchasing agreement for personal computers. The competition for the BPA, worth an estimated $10 million to $15 million, was won by Sytel Inc., Bethesda, Md.

"We had been led to believe it was a price competition," Bechara said. HCFA acquisition officials had established standards that the PCs should meet. Comark bid according to those standards. Sytel bid a more powerful, but more expensive model and won. "If they wanted a best-value procurement, they should tell us that," Bechara said. Comark could have proposed a model similar to Sytel's, he said.

Not knowing the procurement decision would be based on best value instead of best price left Comark at a disadvantage, Bechara said.

Comark filed a protest with the General Accounting Office in October. GAO ruled in Comark's favor Jan. 20, and HCFA now must recompete the BPA.

HCFA officials did not intend to put Comark at a disadvantage, Bechara said. He attributed the confusion to contract officers still struggling with a new procurement atmosphere, he said.

"In the last two years, there has been an explosion of the GSA schedule and BPAs," he said. "This is a situation ripe for errors."

Usted noted that GSA is establishing an online "university" to make it easier for contract officers to get additional training. The government's Federal Acquisition Institute currently establishes the training curriculum for contract officers.

But making hard and fast rules for procurements is difficult, she said. "There is no one-size-fits-all way of doing things," Usted said.

There is widespread support throughout government for more training, especially in the Department of Defense, Concklin said. Part of the working group's proposal is that Congress make training a separate line item in the budget, at least for the next three years, he said.

The coalition also wants Congress and upper-level agency management to push for greater adoption of commercial practices by program managers.

"There is a lack of understanding of the benefits of commercial practices," according to Joel W. Marsh, director of government acquisition policy for United Technologies Corp., Hartford, Conn. Marsh represents the Aerospace Industries Association on the working group.

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