Treasury Acquisition Institute adjusts delivery model to reach more students

Listen to Jason's interview with Kelvin Wood

wfedstaff | April 17, 2015 8:31 pm

The Treasury Acquisition Institute has seen about a 20 percent increase in the number of federal employees it trains each year. And the appetite for training is only going to increase, forcing TAI to rethink how it delivers workforce education.

Kelvin Wood, the director of the Treasury Acquisition Institute, said in the 22 years since the IRS launched the acquisition workforce training organization, changing requirements are what’s come to be expected. But as budgets for travel and training continue to get reduced, TAI is turning up its virtual capabilities to enhance its mostly in-person classroom training.

“We consider ourselves to be responsive and nimble, and so based on what their direct training needs are as we can articulate through surveys of the workforce and discussions with managers, we’re able to provide what we consider to be interesting, higher level training so to speak that is in direct response to skills gaps and other needs of the workforce,” Wood said.

One need Wood and other acquisition training leaders hear time and again is the ability of contracting officers, program and project managers and contracting officers representatives to be critical thinkers.

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“That is where I’m focused and I think we will get there within the next year or so,” he said. “We are, at this point, trying to make sure we can accommodate the workforce in terms of their absolute certification training. In terms of the combined team approach, that is certainly on the list of things to do and I anticipate by fiscal year 2016 I would want to have a significant amount of that training.”

Wood said the courses, such as how to be a strategic business adviser, that focus on critical thinking are among those that are most popular.

“Those critical thinking skills are, I don’t want to say are in shorter supply, but they really don’t get exercised enough, principally because we have homogenized the type of work the workforce does,” he said. “There’s much more GSA schedule buys and a lot more firm fixed price activity, so critical thinking is not as in demand as it was with more complex types of acquisitions. I think we are going to make greater use of that type of training. It’s perishable and we’ve had many requests to introduce it into our curriculum and we are.”

Open to all feds

As part of our special report “Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform,” Wood described how the institute is changing with the times.

TAI trained about 1,600 people from across Treasury and civilian agencies in 2014, which Wood said was a bit down compared to previous years because of the government shutdown.

He said the students are split evenly between Treasury employees and other civilian agencies Non-Treasury agencies must sign a memorandum of agreement with FAI and pay a fee for their employees to take classes.

Wood said the trend around acquisition training is consolidation and sharing of resources. That’s why he expects business to continue to grow over the next few years.

But as funding for travel and training continues to tighten, TAI is offering more online courses.

“We are putting more content online as our challenge is to reach acquisition workers where they are as opposed to where we’d like them to be,” Wood said. “There also is a greater reliance on what I’m going to call a tailored approach with regard to online modules. That means it’s going to have to be more focused on specific-agency needs and there will have to be just in time training in terms of the content. And they also have to be affordable. That is going to be critical because cost is an independent variable and most agencies aren’t going to get a lot more money so you will have to do the proverbial more with less.”

Not enough hours in the day

At the same time, customer agencies will have to provide the technology and infrastructure to ensure their employees can access the online training.

“What we’ve been investing in is the capability to reach them so they can actually participate in classes that are happening here in Oxon Hill, Maryland,” Wood said. “I don’t think we are unique in that way, however, with the tightening of training and travel budgets, this is critical to reach out and include in various offerings.”

TAI also takes advantage of online courses from the Federal Acquisition Institute and the Defense Acquisition University

“We also have about 20 percent of our workforce distributed throughout the country, so we will make sure they get training in several different ways,” Wood said. “Some will happen by vendors going out to establish a class locally. FAI also provides training in those areas.”

The biggest challenge for TAI isn’t necessarily funding, but getting acquisition workers to its classes. Wood said agencies are so short staffed that letting contracting officers and other acquisition workers take a day or a week for training is becoming more difficult.

“For us, the resource we are more in need of is actually time over money,” Wood said. “Our budget has been reasonably stable. We’ve been able to accomplish all the training that we need to for our workforce.”

More from the special report, Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform:

After decades of DoD acquisition reform, Congress has yet to tackle cultural issues

10 ways to improve program management

Acquisition workers as critical thinkers: A change that has to happen

Column: Successful DoD acquisition programs start with funding for the workforce

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