New approach to buying digital services slowly becoming the norm

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy says there is growing demand for the Digital IT Acquisition Professional Program (DITAP) certification.

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Four years ago when the Office of Federal Procurement Policy set a deadline of 2022 to train acquisition workers to buy technology differently, it thought it was giving agencies plenty of time to accomplish this goal.

The idea of the Digital IT Acquisition Professional Program (DITAP) came from a competition held in 2015 to improve the federal government’s approach to buying digital services.

Joanie Newhart, the associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs at OFPP, said agencies will come close to meeting deadline set in 2018 to institutionalize the DITAP process.

Joanie Newhart is the associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs at OFPP.

“We have trained over 700 folks on how to buy digital services, which is a whole different skill than by pretty much everything else,” Newhart said in an interview with Federal News Network. “It’s a very immersive program, and it’s a cohort based program. People go through the six months or so together, we have five commercial vendors that now offer DITAP. The Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) offers a cohort or two every year for agencies on top of that.”

OFPP and FAI created the program in 2018 to improve the training for anyone who is a level 2 Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C) and above a $7.5 million threshold of buying for most digital services.

In 2021, OFPP and the U.S. Digital Service did open the door for agency senior procurement executives to waive the DITAP training deadline and set a new deadline of one-year after they have been assigned to such a digital acquisition that requires the certification.

“Agencies must be aware that noncompliance may result in increased risk to effectively soliciting, evaluating and administering critical digital service contracts that could have lasting ramifications on the agency. We implore agencies to assign actions to current FAC-C-DS contracting staff, or, when not possible, meeting compliance as soon as possible,” the 2021 memo stated.

Five vendors currently offer DITAP training and run cohorts based on agency requests for training.

The U.S. Digital Service receives the names of all graduates from the providers and creates a listserv to ensure continued communication and sharing of best practices.

Newhart said the feedback OFPP and FAI have received about DITAP has been positive.

“At the very first graduation, one of the graduates was a mid-level contracting officer, and she said that this program opened her eyes and just really reenergized her career as she saw the possibilities of how to apply what she learned to every procurement,” she said. “That was really heartwarming to hear. I hope all of the graduates feel that way and they take it back to all of their agencies.”

Workforce gap gets bigger

These DITAP graduates can track their training in a new system FAI completed earlier this year.

FAI shutdown the Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS) and moved all tracking of training to a commercial system from Cornerstone OnDemand, which started in June 2021.

OFPP continues to make acquisition workforce training and recruitment a top priority — as it has been for much of the last 25 years.

Lesley Field, the acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said the gulf between new and experienced acquisition workers is growing larger every year.

“In the acquisition workforce, there are three times as many people over the age of 60, as there are under 30. And there are more people over 70 than under 25. So that’s a pretty stark way of saying that only about 7% of the acquisition workforce is under the age of 30,” Field said. “I think that statistic alone is a pretty compelling case that for us to continue making workforce development and recruitment a top priority. So that’s really where we’re focused. We’re really pleased that it’s part of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). There’s just a lot more work to come. But I think we’re well positioned to do that work.”

OFPP is leading efforts to develop pipelines of contracting officer, contracting officer representatives and others with high-demand procurement-related skillsets.

Field said these initiatives include everything from modernizing federal acquisition certification programs to establishing cross-government workforce networking opportunities.

“I think in the way that we describe our work, we need to be a little more mindful of the language that we use to make sure that folks see this as the opportunity that it is the business of government and how we write our job announcements. I think it’s important to get folks interested,” she said. “We’ve been working with the community on writing those announcements in a way that make perhaps more compelling to the upcoming generation. We’re also working on streamlining some of the hiring procedures for the acquisition workforce in particular. I think modernizing the certification programs will help the folks once they get in the door. I think every agency that we’ve talked to is thinking about intern programs and are thinking about leveraging some of the hiring authorities that we already have. So just putting a finer point on some of those flexibilities, making sure that our community is aware that the pipeline issue really is a top priority, which they think they do.”

Field added that OFPP, FAI and the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council are considering other strategies, including possibly creating an upskilling or reskilling cohort from program managers or other skillsets in short supply.


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