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Getting Acquisition Closer to the Mission

A key priority of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) is managing the business of government. The overarching goal is to improve how the government acquires and manages products and services in support of other goals, including equity and sustainability. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently updated and clarified some of the goals and actions of that priority, including building an “inspired, engaged acquisition workforce.”

Acquisition’s Evolution

The acquisition workforce has been undergoing a gradual, yet constant, evolution for the past decade or more as they’ve had to learn about and adapt processes to meet the needs of cloud-based technology, a growing remote/distributed workforce, agile development, and general digital dependence. The focus in the PMA on aligning how government does business with the Administration’s values has elevated the role of acquisition in the mission.

The recent update to the PMA stated, “success of the Federal acquisition system directly impacts the ability of agencies to meet their missions and the degree to which contracting can act as a catalyst to support critical public priorities, such as equity and stewardship.” This recognition of acquisition as a mission-critical capability has changed the way people look at the skills needed for acquisition roles. No longer is it enough to understand the complex acquisition policies of the government; professionals also need to have a basic understanding of the equally complex technologies being bought and used across government.

Acquisition Gets Technical

A technical understanding does not need to equal technical expertise. No one expects acquisition professionals to become engineers or programmers. Technology training for acquisition needs to be a high level look at the end goal of a tech implementation and the steps needed to get there. Understanding those steps is critical to writing contracts that measure the right metrics.

A bill working its way through Congress focuses on just this kind of training. The AI Workforce Act is focused on artificial intelligence (AI) training for the acquisition workforce. This could include how AI works and its potential use and benefits for the Federal government, as well as risks such as equity and privacy issues. The goal would be ensuring that AI solutions procured are trustworthy and meet the latest national security recommendations for the technology.

This type of training is not new. With the growing dependence on technology, it’s critical to accept that the processes used to acquire tanks, buildings, and even computer hardware do not apply to digital as-a-service solutions. Over the past decade the acquisition workforce has been provided tech briefings on a range of digital solutions and services.

Getting Ahead of Acquisition Mandates

The specificity and action items of the Business of Government PMA goal will continue to evolve over the next several years. Training will be critical to keep up not only with technology, but the new processes introduced to modernize government procurement. Agencies should begin thinking about new ways to enable training and collaboration among technical and acquisition staff to bring these two operational groups closer together in support of the mission.

As the founder of GovEvents and GovWhitePapers, Kerry is on a mission to help businesses interact with, evolve, and serve the government. With 25+ years of experience in the information technology and government industries, Kerry drives the overall strategy and oversees operations for both companies. She has also served in executive marketing roles at a number of government IT providers.

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