A lot of concern has been raised recently among Acquisition professionals within the Federal Government over how sequestration and future budgets will impact Workforce development and sustainment. DOD has made progress in recent years with some serious initiatives fueled by the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund and Congressional recognition that the contracting and pricing workforces need special care and attention in order to meet the dangers inherent in the demographic “bathtub” that will burst when over 40% of the experienced contracting workforce retires, leaving behind comparatively small numbers of mid-level experienced personnel. Work in progress will be completed and new Acquisitions started by less and less experienced people as the maturing workforce exits. One big question is, did DOD react soon enough to mitigate the problem or do we still need a means of attracting trainable and seasoned talent?

Will rethinking 1102 contracting entry requirements help or hinder?

I was all in favor of the Acquisition Corps and DAWIA back in the 1990s and I still am. One thing the draftsmen of DAWIA proposed that did not get incorporated into the program was a salary bump similar to what other professional series like engineers and lawyers get. Even though there are education requirements to get hired as an 1102 and continuing education requirements (that might actually start to get enforced), Contract Management is not considered “professional enough” to warrant extra pay. So to get in, you have to meet the DAWIA career field minimum education requirements whereas the Loggies will hire you without them—and either career field will pay you exactly the same.

Hired as an intern pre-DAWIA with a bachelor of arts in Anthropology, I feel my liberal arts education gave me a great foundation for being able to analyze, evaluate and connect concepts and techniques, creating a great foundation for Contracting as a career. But under today’s rules I would not have been hired and would not have contributed 33+ years to DOD in the Contracting field. I did get an MBA, using tuition assistance provided by my Agency and I did achieve Level III for Contracting under DAWIA when the program started. And I earned CPCM designation from NCMA, too. I’m just one example of the type of individual being passed over today.

Furthermore, the people who trained me did not, for the most part, have college degrees, but they knew their craft. From this we can infer that the principles of contracting are within the grasp of any thinking individual, especially when other trained individuals are there to help.

I was surprised when working at Defense Contract Management Agency HQ to find that DCMA field activities (which are all over the world) have difficulty hiring 1102s, especially those qualified to become Contracting Officers. Attaining certification after being hired was not the issue; meeting the entry-level bachelor’s degree and business course requirements proved to be the stumbling block for the available pool of applicants (oh, and by the way, an HR specialist decides if your business courses qualify or not).

Speaking of the HR element, if we are going to look at changing 1102 entry requirements we also need to look at who is doing the pre-screening to create the list of job candidates. HR Specialists can’t be expected to operate under instructions that are anything other than black and white. If they were capable of making judgment calls about what might work in a person’s experiences that could substitute for a college degree or business courses, they’d be 1102s.

I like the suggestion of requiring a bachelor’s degree and then setting a time limit for getting the 24 hours in business completed after a person is hired because the material covered in these courses will be helpful. One drawback: Interns have a 24-month time limit on getting their DAU courses and DAWIA certifications completed, too (I did my graduate work on my own time, so this is not an insurmountable conflict) but, having worked as an Acquisition Workforce Manager, I can tell you that the supervisors who have Interns in their organization often feel there is not enough time for on-the-job training and/or contributions to productivity for the seat the Intern occupies.

If new hires are required to get the college level business credits there will need to be some sort of support proffered. The question is, will tuition reimbursement be enough? Can we afford to have interns take these classes and their DAWIA classes on the clock? As anyone who has pursued higher education while holding down a full-time job – while learning a profession! – can attest, it is a big personal commitment. We may have to bite a bullet that represents nothing but school for Interns the first couple of years. What if we set the bar in a different place? How does 0 business hours to get hired, 12 hours of business courses to get certified at Level II and a total of 24 hours to get certified at Level III sound? Interns and journeymen could work at their own pace knowing these requirements are going to have to be met in the future and, when they get hired into a position where Level II or Level III are required they will still have 24 months to complete 12 course credits – plus the required DAWIA courses.

I also think we are missing the boat by not allowing senior, experienced contracting professionals from the private sector to enter the career field at a senior level without DAWIA certifications already completed. You cannot take DAU courses unless you are a Government employee, so how can you fulfill this requirement? Acquisition Workforce members can apply for course waivers through the Fulfillment Program, so why not external hires?

Is it time to rethink the entry-level requirements for the 1102 series? Can we improve the current situation by broadening the applicant pool? What are your thoughts on positive changes that can fill the bathtub with bright, knowledgeable Contracts professionals dedicated to preserving the integrity of the procurement process while making sensible decisions that meet mission needs and satisfy responsibilities toward the tax payer?