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The Contractor Recruitment Challenge Print
Posted by Michael Cohen

Last month, Secretary of Defense Gates announced plans to "increase the size of the defense acquisition workforce, converting 11,000 contractors and hiring an additional 9,000 government acquisition professionals by 2015 – beginning with 4,100 in FY10."

It's great to see the SecDef focused on the need to improve the acquisition workforce. But as David Isenberg points out this week, reading though the most recent SIGIR (Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction) report there is some reason for concern about whether these numbers can be met:
The SIGIR report found that the US military lacks the capacity to manage its contractors in a contingency environment. Selecting CORs (contracting officer representative) with limited or no direct contract management experience, providing them on the job training and then assigning them other principal duties, increases the government's vulnerability.

Considering that the inadequate performance of CORs was identified as a significant failure in the report of the independent Commission on Army Acquisition and Program Management in Expeditionary Operations (the Gansler report) released in November 2007, the SIGIR report confirms how difficult it is to get adequately trained and resourced government personnel into the field to monitor private contractors.

It found that the situation might well get worse in the future as difficulties in managing these contracts could easily be exacerbated as the US military draws down its presence in Iraq and this affects its pool of experienced personnel.


I recommend reading the whole piece to get a clearer sense of the issues that the SIGIR report identified. But the takeaway here is sobering. Most people agree that we need to build up the acquisition workforce, but I'm not sure the challenges involved in moving the workforce more dramatically to the public sector are being fully appreciated. There are tools to get there - from recruitment bonuses and higher pay to promotion tracks and better training of contracting officers -- and they need to be part of any approach taken by the Pentagon to shift the balance.

I hope that Congress has some tough questions prepared when this issue arises because it may well be up to them to hold the Pentagon's feet to the fire on contractor recruitment.
 
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