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Improving CBP’s Acquisition Workforce, Pt. 2: CBP’s Acquisition Structure

CBP’s Secure Border Initiative (SBI) was officially cancelled in January of 2011, but had already been re-organized at the beginning of the fiscal year as the Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition (OTIA). As part of the transformation, our boss became the Component Acquisition Executive, or CAE, for all of Customs and Border Protection. What that meant for my team, which was originally in charge of developing SBI’s acquisition workforce, was that we suddenly had the responsibility for developing CBP’s entire acquisition workforce.

Before I get ahead of myself, and before this blog gets really interesting, it helps if you understand how the acquisition community functions in CBP. First, it’s important to understand that CBP is part of DHS, and is therefore subject to the policies, procedures, and laws that govern DHS. Although there are numerous senior procurement officials and review boards at the DHS level, there are three major players at CBP’s level: the Head of Contracting Activities (HCA), the Chief Information Officer (CIO), and my boss, the CAE.

The HCA is the head of CBP’s Office of Administration/Procurement Directorate (OA/PD), and is essentially responsible for the training and development of Contracting Officers (CO’s) and Contracting Officer’s Technical Representatives (COTRs, sometimes called CORs). The HCA derives her authority from the FAR and the DHS-specific supplements to the FAR, the HSAR and HSAM.

The CIO is the head of CBP’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), and derives his authority from the Clinger-Cohen Act and DHS Directive .0007. The CIO is essentially the head IT person for CBP, and is charged with oversight of all IT programs/projects to ensure that they support existing DHS/CBP architecture and support DHS/CBP’s missions and goals.

Finally, the CAE is the head of OTIA and is responsible for the training and development of program/project managers and their supporting staff. This essentially means that all non-contracting certifications are the responsibility of the CAE (there are currently five non-contracting certifications recognized by DHS, with two more in development). The CAE derives his authority from OMB Policy 05-01, as well as DHS Directive 064-04, which specifically splits the responsibilities of contracting and non-contracting personnel between the HCA and CAE.

Unfortunately, our team quickly discovered that the “swim lanes” for each of these players are poorly defined, which is why initial data calls sent to CBP generally resulted in replies of “who are you, and what do you think you’re doing?” We also hit the wall with some very fundamental questions: who is the acquisition workforce? Where are they? What skills do they possesses? Do we have the people we need?

Our team realized that we weren’t going to find the answers to any of these questions, or figure out the roles played by the CAE, HCA, and CIO, without help from our sister acquisition offices. We floated the idea of a CBP-wide IPT (integrated product team) to improve the acquisition workforce to our boss, the XD for OTIA’s Acquisition Policy and Oversight, who then met with the HCA and representatives from the CIO to achieve consensus about starting an IPT.

Several weeks later, the order came down: “Dan, write me a charter. You have two weeks.” And thus, CBP’s Acquisition Workforce Development and Sustainment IPT was born.

Stay tuned. In my next posting we draft an official charter for our IPT, recruit people from across CBP to work with our team, and figure out what, exactly, our IPT is trying to accomplish.

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Mark Kagan

Your first two posts have been fascinating to a wonk like me. Don’t “procrastinate” about writing your next post. And just who is your boss, the XD?

Brian Sellers

Very interesting posts, Daniel – thanks for sharing your experiences!

I notice that you mentioned the roles of the HCA and the CIO as being responsible for the FAC-C and FAC-COTR training, respectively. I’m wondering what your experience has been with the “third arm” of the acquisition workforce, the Program and Project Managers, and their FAC-P/PM training at DHS/CBP.

This is something that my company, the Federal Acquisition Certification Academy, is heavily involved in across several Federal agencies, and I’d be interested to get your thoughts on the traction that the FAC-P/PM program has gotten at DHS/CBP.

Daniel Crystal

@Brian: the HCA actually has responsibility for COTR and FAC-C training, the CIO’s current responsibilities only include overseeing IT projects, although there is a IT Program Manager cert in the works.

As for Program/Project Managers, DHS follows DoD’s model, which is a bit more comprehensive than the FAC-C/PM program for FAI. We’ve found that employees are generally comfortable with taking the required courses for certification, since DHS has already committed quite a bit of time and resources into developing its own PM curriculum and certification requirements.

What’s been more difficult for us is defining who is a “program/project manager,” and figuring out who actually needs to be certified IAW DHS/federal policy. There are plenty of employees who are functionally program managers, even if they don’t have the actual job title.

More on that in my upcoming blogs, I promise. If you have anything specific you’d like me to answer, shoot me a message.