The memo from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy last week consolidating acquisition training oversight to the Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS) is more than just another attempt to standardize the education of civilian agency procurement workers.
In many ways, it’s the first step toward applying the concept of strategic sourcing to yet another common function across all agencies.
Joe Jordan, OFPP administrator, said the memo is part of the evolution of addressing shortcomings in the acquisition workforce. He said FAITAS will be both a one-stop shop for all things acquisition training and the ability for agencies to share resources, including filling open seats in classes run by federal centers of excellence.
“What this memo does is for all the civilian agencies, it pulls their registration for training classes, certification information and, most importantly, workforce management tools into one place,” Jordan said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “With FAITAS, it really allows us to optimize our resources. On the front end, when individuals are registering for classes, this is a way to track open seats, track availability 60 days out and trigger a note to other folks who might be interested in the class so we really maximize the efficacy of every training opportunity.”
Part of the way OFPP wants to improve the efficiency of training opportunities is through a new contract run by FAI and the General Services Administration.
Jordan said the Federal Acquisition Council on Training (FACT) will oversee several initiatives, including developing a new contract for all agencies to buy acquisition training from. “This contract and this effort will allow for volume discounts and also robust reporting to FAI, so they can monitor class prices, actual utilization of the contract, the seats and the training. It allows agencies to share information on the training they are developing in-house so we avoid having multiple agencies develop the same training,” he said. “When something new arises, be it an opportunity or a challenge in the acquisition world, a lot of times a bunch of forward-thinking folks at the agencies start to develop their training around it. This allows us to instead of having those people do it individually, we’ll do it collectively.”
Jordan said he didn’t have any further information on the contract because OFPP doesn’t get involved in that type of effort.
“I do look at there being a proliferation in the past of talent management systems and this tries to address that,” he said. “We still want to embrace some of the great acquisition training institutes that agencies have set up, but we want to tie the execution of those training functions through this one system.”
Jordan said Treasury’s Acquisition Institute is one of those facilities that will begin using FAITAS to alert non-Treasury federal employees of open seats in classes.
“Just because we are in constrained budgetary times, that’s no reason to stop good, smart investments in our people,” he said. “The same is true for agency learning events. Both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Transportation Department have opened up their agency acquisition learning events to other agencies because they were able to see through this system that there was a significant desire and need for this type of learning, and they had some extra capacity.”
Those budget reductions and broader acceptance of shared services is one of the main reasons Jordan is optimistic that the consolidation around FAI will work this time.
The administrations of both President Barack Obama and George W. Bush have tried to bolster FAI over the years.
Under Bush, GSA asked to use some of the leftover money (in the private sector it’s called profit) the Federal Acquisition Service had at the end of the year to be put toward FAI. But Congress never approved that change.
Congress eventually passed and Bush signed the Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA) of 2003 that created the Acquisition Workforce Training Fund. Under that provision, GSA could take 5 percent of the fees collected from non-Defense Department agencies using governmentwide contracts, including the schedule contracts, and use it for training of acquisition workers.
Obama requested an increase in funding of $6.2 million and two more full-time employees for FAI in fiscal 2014. That would increase its total budget to more than $15 million.
Congress also tried to pass several bills to improve FAI, finally doing so in December 2011 as part of the Defense Authorization Act. The provision in the NDAA, however, didn’t include any new funding.
Jordan said the cuts in agency training budgets may be the forcing function, but for maybe the first time there also are clear goals and senior level attention to making FAI successful. The senior level attention includes a relatively new position in OFPP, the associate administrator for acquisition workforce development, which is held by Joanie Newhart.
Better collaboration with DAU
Additionally, FAI and the Defense Acquisition University continue to expand their relationship. Jordan said he doesn’t want FAI and DAU to act as disparate organizations and wants them to be tightly joined.
“There were a number of things FAI learned from DAU, and we benefited from DoD’s system,” he said. “Going forward both in terms of the structure of the training and workforce management systems and the content of the training and the delivery of the training, we’ve got to be joined at the hip to ensure consistency, efficacy and efficiency.”
The memo is among the first of several expected outcomes from OFPP and GSA’s memorandum of understanding signed earlier this year to explicitly detail the roles and responsibilities of each party.
Jordan said the MOU helped alleviate any real or perceived concerns about who is running FAI and what are its goals.
“This is an important moment where we feel comfortable that all the civilian sector should move into using the system, but there will be additional workforce development, training improvements over time because I think we’ve got a lot of great opportunities,” he said.