The Office of Management and Budget is solving two long-standing issues for contracting officers with the stroke of a pen, and months of effort.
A new memo obtained by Federal News Network details how the Biden administration will bring the entire federal government — Defense and civilian agencies — under one education and training standard for contracting officers.
The updating of the Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C) requirements solves the challenge contracting officers have had over the last 50 years of moving between Defense Department and civilian agency contracting shops. Now all contracting officers will be under one umbrella.
The memo also solves a second big problem by requiring contracting officers to pass a professional certification exam. Whereas none existed before, this new requirement will bring a larger degree of expertise and esteem to the position through a standardized, independently administered assessment of contracting professionals’ competencies, which validates their initial readiness.
“The new certification program for contracting professionals is exciting because it allows these valued employees the opportunity to better navigate the increasingly complex and dynamic landscape of the federal acquisition environment,” said Lesley Field, deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, in a statement to Federal News Network. “By empowering federal contracting employees through a more agile, more tailored certification process, we are setting a new training and development standard for performance, efficiency and stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”
OMB’s update to the FAC-C Professional is the first since 2014. The Bush administration originally created the FAC-C in 2006.
The new FAC-C Professional goes into effect on Feb. 1. OFPP said all current civilian agency contracting officers at Levels 1-2-3 will automatically become FAC-C Professional certified. New hires after Feb. 1 will have 12 months to achieve certification, which mandates four core courses of training:
Contract foundational skills
Contract post award
“This FAC-C modernization reflects a new model of lifelong learning that reimagines how the federal government develops the workforce. It shifts us from a talent management system based on early career classroom training, to one that reflects best practices in modern learning, training agility and continuous professional growth,” Field wrote in the memo. “The new program is also designed to attract more people into the contracting workforce from a variety of sources — colleges, industry, internal candidates from other functions and state and local governments.”
FAC-C Professional will not apply to DoD.
Buyer, seller perspectives
OFPP developed the new approach over the course of the last year through conversations with the Defense Acquisition University, the Federal Acquisition Institute, the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council and others. The FAC-C Professional is based on an American National Standard approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and National Contract Management Association (ANSI/NCMA) ASD 1-2019. ANSI/NCMA published edition 3 of the standard last year but OFPP has not adopted the new version yet.
By moving to the ANSI/NCMA standard, OFPP is aligning with DoD, which used the standards to develop a new contracting competency model published in June 2020.
“A benefit of this new competency model is that it represents both the buyer and seller perspectives, which will foster increased mobility across DoD, civilian agencies and industry,” the memo states. “Throughout their career, workforce members can build specific knowledge and skills at the point of need through curated learning packages, called credentials. Credentials provide knowledge and associated skills to perform job-centric, niche and/or emerging functions in acquisition, such as service acquisitions, construction contracting, category management, system acquisitions, innovation and price analysis. FAI will utilize DAU credentials where possible and develop a framework and governance for civilian agency credentials.”
This FAC-C Professional update is yet another piece to a multi-year effort to address contracting officer training.
Last summer, OFPP and FAI updated the system that tracks continuous learning points, moving from a homegrown system to a commercial one.
OFPP recognized more than four years ago with the emergence of digital transformation that contracting officer skillsets needed to keep up. It launched the Digital IT Acquisition Professional Program (DITAP) and has trained more than 700 contracting officers through this approach.
Flexible to address changing requirements
Another major change that comes with FAC-C Professional is agency leaders will have more control over what contracting officers need to know based on their agency’s mission and goals to create a more targeted set of skills and knowledge base.
OMB said this learning model will give agencies the flexibility they need to respond to the ever-changing requirements by delivering training to build needed skills through credentials and experiential learning. Examples of this may include data analysis and acquisition innovation techniques.
“The adoption of the updated FAC-C will result in better stewardship of taxpayer dollars by keeping contracting professionals sharp and up to date on best practices through continuous learning opportunities and tailoring an individual’s training requirements to their professional needs instead of a one size fits all approach,” OFPP says.
Another big change is increasing the number of continuous learning points contracting officers must obtain every two years, going to 100 hours from 80 hours. OFPP says this requirements begins in May 2024.
Beyond the memo, OFPP plans on creating a working group to ensure a more structured and standardized implementation of the new FAC-C (Professional). This body will develop guidance and templates around topics such as professional development and continuous learning and the selection and appointment of contracting officers.
OFPP said it’s planning to work with senior procurement executives and acquisition career managers over the next few weeks to get these groups together so they can begin to develop and deliver the appropriate materials to ensure a consistent and coordinated implementation of this new program.