Policy Aims at World-Class Acquisition Force
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 8, 1999 It's a fact of life that if you don't stay on top of what's happening in your career field, you will be left behind.
Staying on top is the drive behind DoD's new standards for the acquisition work force. "If you look throughout the commercial world at particularly successful companies, the focus on continuous education is something you see consistently across the board," said Stan Soloway, deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition reform.
DoD has established a continuous education baseline for its 100,000 acquisition professionals. All acquisition personnel work toward certification in their fields. DoD certifies in three levels, and the requirements are laid out in DoD Publication 5005.2M.
Level I (roughly GS-5 to GS-9) certification in contracting, for example, requires one year of contracting experience, a four-year degree or 24 semester hours in certain courses and the Level I course offered through the Defense Acquisition University. Level II (roughly GS-10 to GS-12) requires two years of experience, the same education requirement and courses in contract law. Level III (roughly GS-13 and above) requires four years of experience, the same education requirement and a Level III contracting course.
Those already certified must receive 80 hours of continuous education every two years.
The DoD acquisition world is changing rapidly. DoD acquisition personnel have new methods, new procedures and new tools to learn and use, Soloway said. They must keep current. "The beauty of it is that our work force is very eager to get out there and to take advantage of whatever professional development and professional improvement opportunities exist," he said.
The initiative is aimed at 11 career fields: program management; communications-computer systems; contracting, including construction contracting; purchasing; industrial/contract property management; systems planning, research, development and engineering; test and evaluation; manufacturing, production and quality assurance; acquisition logistics; business cost-estimating and financial management; and auditing.
While professional certification is the goal of the initiative, there's a fair amount of flexibility in the system. Personnel can take nongovernment courses at universities, community colleges or professional organizations. They can also get credit for researching papers and delivering professional papers at conferences.
The kinds of personal and professional development courses available through the Office of Personnel Management -- attributes of leadership and so forth -- also count toward the 80-hour requirement, Soloway said.
Personnel can use government time for the classes and, if the course is required for certification, the government will pay for it.
Supervisors must certify employees have achieved the 80 hours over two years. "We put that into the policy for two reasons," he said. "We wanted to send a very strong signal to the work force how seriously we take this and how strongly we believe they've a responsibility to pursue this development.
"The bigger reason was we wanted to ensure supervisors were very clear that this is a top priority of leadership," Soloway continued. "We wanted to hold people responsible for making sure their employees were encouraged and enabled to go out and get the training they need.
"You sometimes hear from the work force that 'every time I go to get training I'm told there's no budget or there's no time or what-have-you.' We want to make clear to both sides that you've got to figure a way to budget it and you've got to find a way to make time."
The policy requires each of the services to earmark a certain amount of money to enable acquisition workers to complete their certifications.
Employees who do not meet the biennial 80-hour training requirement are put on probation and given extra time to finish. If they still don't meet requirements at the end of probation, they can lose their certification and could be denied opportunities for promotion.
Employees can't be fired for not doing their continuous education, but, Soloway said, "We sure as heck don't have to promote them, and we sure as heck don't have to allow them to maintain a certification for which they are not doing their requisite development."
This policy is just a departmental baseline, so organizations are free to do more if they wish, Soloway said. Some agencies have, in fact, adopted different, more stringent training requirements. Even before the DoD policy, for example, the Army Communications-Electronics Command required 80 hours of training for all workers and a tougher 160 hours every two years for supervisors.
"We want our folks to have the tools and the knowledge that enable them to go out and do what we're asking them to do, effectively and efficiently and productively," Soloway said. "We want them to feel comfortable taking risks, comfortable with making decisions rather than operating through the rigid rule books of the past.
"In order to get people to those comfort levels, they've got to have the tools," he said. "This policy is one way in which we very directly say to the work force, 'We want you to have the tools; we're going to insist you take advantage of this because the two together create a world-class work force.'"