By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Let the VA's Acquisition Academy serve other agencies!

I blogged last week about the virtues of competition among governmentwide contracts. We are now seeing a similar principle operating in the area of acquisition workforce training, especially the crucial area of training for newly hired members of the contracting workforce.

The VA Acquisition Academy has been widely praised, and appropriately so, for its fantastic approach to training a new generation of contracting professionals through its three-year program. Its training mixes classroom training with periods of on-the-job experience, with the balance moving toward on-the-job experience as the three years proceed – but keeping a training component through that time.

The philosophy of the program emphasizes business skills and mission support. It also emphasizes the use of good judgment: On the main classroom wall is prominently placed the language from FAR Part 1 that says if a practice is not forbidden and is in the government's interest, it is allowed. Training includes leadership skills, team building and negotiation skills, along with specific skills in contracting; this is not just teaching new hires the FAR!

Note that this outstanding program has been developed independently of the large, "official" providers of training, such as the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) and the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). Nothing against either of these organizations, but innovation and improvement came from outside the training establishment, so to speak. If FAI and DAU had a training monopoly, the government would not have gotten the benefits of a new approach to preparing the new generation of contracting professionals.

Now the government should bring the idea of competing governmentwide acquisition contracts to the area of workforce training. The VA Acquisition Academy is hoping to make its services – including a version of its three-year program, adapted either generically for other agencies or for cohorts from one agency – available to the rest of the government.

Dan Gordon, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) administrator, should encourage such a development. This will end up being good for FAI and DAU as well, just as GSA innovated and improved its sales in the 1990s when it lost its monopoly. And agencies should be allowed to use money being made available to them for acquisition workforce training under provisions of the Services Acquisition Reform Act – the so-called "SARA money" – to buy training at organizations outside FAI and DAU, such as the VA Acquisition Academy, subject to OFPP approval of their curricula and approaches.

Posted on Jun 03, 2010 at 7:26 PM

Reader Comments

Mon, Jun 7, 2010 LR Washington DC

Has no one paid attention to the VA's procurement issues? The IG audits and VA's Senior Procurement Offials inability to take responsibility for the state of VA Acquisition, only hiding behind the "decentralized" argument and the blame game? What kind of federal agency today would make an individual without FAC-C certification the Acquisition Career Manager (ACM). It's not required, but doesn't it lend more credence to the overall procurement program when the person is an 1102? Also, lets not forget some of VA's other recent transgressions; Misuse of funds Boston Healthcare $67,632 FSS order, modified to increase for work out of scope for $149,628, 2 additional mods totaling $1,284,182. VAOIG Report No. 06-00931-139. expenditures of $5.4 million in expired funds were in violation of appropriations law.
VA Acquisition employees "mandated" to use VA's Electronic Contract Management System in 2007. July 2009 VAOIG Audit Report No. 08-00921-181 shows usage less than 50% across the board (some as low as 17%) reporting. In May 2010 more than 28% of the VA's vendor contracts were missing required clauses about information security, and contractors on 578 contracts actually refused to sign the clauses. There have instances of waivers for 1102 positions within VA, and FAC-C certification issued for employees who do not meet the FAC-C certification levels. An experienced VA Manager refused to approve FAC-C certification for interns after the first year, although she was asked to, since they had no "practical" experience, only classroom experience, I applaud her; VA's continued failure to check all the boxes pertaining to acquisition, and follow the "forbidden practices" it gives a whole new meaning to the quote on the wall of the academy classroom" if a practice is not forbidden and is in the government's interest, it is allowed." While there are some very good contract specialists working at the VA, they are at the working level and unduly pressured, in the name of the Secretary as they are told by management to meet impossible deadlines. As a hiring official in a DOD Agency, with previous VA experience as a Contracting Officer, I'm not sure how willing I would be to hire a VA Contract Specialist with FAC-C Certification.

Fri, Jun 4, 2010 KRL

All I can say is, OMG, please no! My experience with the VA on contracting has been the absolute pits. I have been lied to, negotiated agreements have been changed back at time of signature (with no notice) to the original,uncacceptable form with the only comment being, "tough, this is what you are going to get" or "the lawyer says we can't do this" (which with 25 years of experience, I know the lawyer is wrong - assuming the PCO actually talked to the lawyer). There is one tool used - FAR 12 PO form and they do not know how to use it, they do not know FAR 12 and how it is suppose to work if something is not competed or is not a hospital commodity, and they try to force fit the form to all their contracting activities - even R&D related tasks. Have we already forgotten the contracting fiasco between the VA and UTSWMC? UTSWMC should sue the VA and I reached this conclusion after reading the IG audit report. ...and you want DAU to follow the VA? DAU is so far ahead of any other agnency acquisition training that they should be leading the charge in training all acquistion personnel in all agencies. The only thing that keeps me sane in working with the VA is personally knowing a couple of VA acquistions experts (in areas not related to what I do) through NCMA that really are excellent, have strong ethics and care about being the best they can be. Sadly, I have found these folks to be the exception and not the rule.

Fri, Jun 4, 2010

Interesting commentary - I do not believe that the VA curriculum carries DAWIA equivalency or ACE accreditation as they have departed from the DAU courseware for the VA's FAC-C certification. If parity and transferability is not required between defense and civilian agencies - more power to them. It's time the civilian agencies learn the FAR instead of having a DFAR focus.

Fri, Jun 4, 2010 David Drabkin

The VA Academy should never have been setup, but now that it is it should be consoldiated in a government-wide University virtual structure for Acquisition. The amount of money spent government-wide on Acquisition training and education is huge. Some of it redundant, a large portion of it on overhead, that is unnnecessary since this is a service provided by the private sector all over the country. If the Administration and Congress is interested in reducing wasteful spending, this area is ripe for review. Create a Federal Acquisition University, bring in all of the other education institutions across the government. Focus on establishing curricula, acquiring private sector providers and performing quality control. Tens of millions will be saved every year, the quality and availability of training and education will be increased and we'll all be better served. This is my personal opinion and does not represent the opinion of my employer Northrop Grumman.

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