OFPP closing the contracting officer training gap between civilian, DoD

Jason Miller, Executive Editor, Federal News Radio

Jason Miller | April 17, 2015 6:52 pm

Federal contracting officers now have a consistent set of certification requirements no matter where they work.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy updated the Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C) policy May 7 to bring civilian agencies more in-line with the Defense Department.

The new memo details about eight major changes to the education and knowledge requirement for contracting officers. It also calls for more than just training but a deeper knowledge of acquisition roles, responsibilities and tactics for success.

Lesley Field, the acting OFPP administrator, said in email responses to questions, that contracting now will have to take nearly 100 hours of additional targeted training.

For example, both Level I and Level II now include classes on cost and price analysis.

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Level II includes more focus on both service and supply contracting.

Level III classes include electives on understanding industry, acquisition law and advanced contract pricing.

Field said OFPP is encouraging contracting professionals who are currently certified at Level III to take some of the new classes as part of their continuous learning.

Additionally, the FAC-C policy expands the scope of those requiring certification to include all contracting officers and other contracting professionals in the 1102 job series. It also encourages agencies to ensure their contracting workforce members get the breadth and depth of experience required to strengthen their skills and capabilities. There will be specialization tracks to the FAC-C, starting with an IT later this calendar year.

Experts say the cost and pricing changes are among the most important changes to the certification.

“What we are most excited about is more of a return to Federal Acquisition Regulations basics at the Level I certification, and (more of a) focus on cost and price analysis. Those were areas that, definitely, the competency surveys were showing a need to strengthen,” said Beth Blazek, the executive director of Management Concepts acquisition and contracting training division. “DoD had already done that, so it was really good to see the civilian agencies align with that.”

Five months to get ready

The memo also requires agencies to use the common government-wide training system known as Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS).

Blazek said the strong emphasis on more than just taking classes and passing a course, but on mentoring and different aspects of hands-on continuous learning also are necessary and important changes.

These new requirements go into effect Oct. 1. But Field said agencies also can choose to follow the old curriculum until Sept. 30, 2015.

This was the first time since 2008 that OFPP and the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council updated the contracting officer’s requirements.

But OFPP and the CAO Council also had to update the FAC-C policy because the civilian agencies needed to catch up with DoD.

“Over the last few years, we’ve seen some agencies have better funding profiles than others for education so you’ve seen some departments set up their own acquisition schools or institutes and others can’t afford that so there was a divergence in requirements and it’s still there somewhat,” said Michael Fischetti, the executive director of the National Contract Management Association. “I think this is a good step to bring everyone into one uniform standard, a high standard hopefully.”

He said part of the way OFPP is bringing together this disparate training regime is by having the Defense Acquisition University and the Federal Acquisition Institute commit to having similar levels of education and training classes. DAU and FAI already share quite a bit, but ensuring that everyone is one the same page across the board is an important piece that has been missing.

Fischetti said it also helps contracting officers move from DoD to a civilian agency or vice versa more easily and ensures they are better prepared to work on acquisitions more quickly. The memo also calls for reciprocity among training different DoD and civilian training levels — something that, without these standards, has been a problem in the past.

Fischetti said, over time, he’d like to see these standards expanded to both other disciplines such as technology or financial management as well as working with industry to create standards based on the FAC-C or other government-wide requirements.

Applying rigor to certification expectations

Blazek said the changes were needed because the contracting officer role for 1102 has become more complex.

“They are going beyond training. Change really starts with recognition that this challenge is beyond training. It’s about developing the workforce so they can achieve their agency’s mission,” she said. “It isn’t about just saying, ‘Take these six courses and you will be certified at this level.’ We are seeing evidence the new FAC-C is addressing competency gaps in cost and price analysis and FAR fundamentals. The plan goes beyond the certification training to include “CORE Plus” specialization they are discussing where once you are certified you can then move into an IT or perhaps a construction or a services or a small business specialization area depending on your job and your needs.”

Blazek said she believes the FAC-C is applying more rigor to the process to make sure contracting officers are developing competencies and skill sets and have the opportunity to apply what they are learning. She said the training focus is much more application and analysis based, which requires contracting officers to demonstrate competencies at a level that is more than just book or test deep.

The FAC-C update is the third time OFPP has updated the acquisition workforce’s certification requirements over the last three years. OFPP first issued new requirements for contracting officers technical representatives (COTRS) and changed their titles to CORs in September 2011.

Then in December, OFPP issued the new certification requirements for program and project management.

Fischetti said this standard adds to the broader goal of professionalizing the acquisition workforce.

“The skill sets that are required, whether you are buying pens and paper or airplanes, are the same. Obviously the complexities are very different and some of the tools you need are different, but I think the movement is toward a contract manager and, irregardless of the organization, you should be expecting a certain caliber of individual,” he said. “When you hire an attorney or accountant or CPA, you expect a certain standard. If you have a FAC-C Level III contracting officer, you have to know you are getting a good person who has gone through (a) rubric of education, training and various developmental so they are trying to develop that standard. So they are trying to develop that standard. I think that’s all a very good movement.”

In fact, OFPP, the Federal Acquisition Institute and OPM are developing 1102 career paths. OFPP says these career paths are anticipated to be completed in the first quarter of fiscal 2015 and will give workforce members a roadmap on possible career paths for a contracting professional. When completed, the career paths will be located on the FAI website, OFPP stated in the memo.

Going forward, Field said her office also is refreshing its Acquisition Workforce Development Strategic Plan for civilian agencies which was initially issued in October 2009. Furthermore, she said OFPP is doing some work around smarter IT delivery, including developing tools to support the use of agile development. They are working closely with the E-Government office on the Smarter IT Delivery Agenda announced last week.

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