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The Impending Exodus of “Experienced” Contracting Personnel: Crisis or Opportunity?

It seems that every few months we see a new article, report, or hear testimony predicting a mass exodus of “experienced” 1102s from the Federal workforce. Citing workforce data, the conclusion that is commonly drawn is that a “crisis” will result. If we just look at numbers it would seem that this would be a reasonable conclusion. However, has anyone given any thought to the caliber of the 1102s that are leaving the Federal workforce and those that are entering? Do we really need one new 1102 for every 1102 that leaves?

Consider the fact that one must now have a college degree to even be considered for an 1102 position, whereas most of the “experienced” 1102s that will soon be leaving did not have to meet such requirements. Many “experienced” 1102s entered the Federal workforce as clerks, typists, secretaries, etc., and stuck around the organization long enough to move into an 1102 position. That’s not to say that these folks did not work hard or that they don’t deserve their positions. I’m sure each office has its own success story to share in this regard.

In my experience, I have worked with “experienced” 1102s and I currently teach newbie 1102s. To generalize, the newbie 1102s are smarter, more motivated, and have more respect for the laws and regulations that govern their agency’s acquisitions. Give me an office full of 1102s with less than 10 years of experience and we will work circles around an office of “experienced” 1102s with twice the staff. Our processes will be more streamlined, our employees more productive, and our acquisitions fully compliant with law and regulation.

Nothing is more discouraging than to hear stories of how newbie 1102s return to their offices after training, intent on making the necessary changes to ensure that their acquisitions comply with the FAR, only to effectively be told by “experienced” 1102s “I don’t care what the FAR says, this is the way we’ve always done it and we’re not about to change.” I say good riddance to those folks.

To be fair, there are some “experienced” 1102s who are excellent–the Government will suffer when these folks leave. However, I would not place the majority of “experienced” 1102s in this category. When I hear about the impending exodus of “experienced” 1102s and the ensuing crisis, I’m reminded of a line from an REM song…”It’s the end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine.” How do you feel?

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Profile Photo Chris Hamm

Fortunately, my office has a healthy mix of new and seasoned 1102s. There is not an impending retirement wave that will decimate our service. The biggest challenge is actually found in the middle – 10 to 20 years of experience, interested in development towards management. I love the eager newbies, but most are still years away from leading teams and managing.

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Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Yep – I think the Gen X is the missing gap.

The question for me is how do we build that middle core:

-Do we recruit from outside industries? Or is the experience not that relevant?

-Do we focus on converting contractors who are often in that middle boat?

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Profile Photo Patrick A Reilly

I don’t think its an “either or” but an all of the above. No doubt about it, there is some dead wood in system that needs fall out, but I think a healthy contracting organization is one that can appreciate all contributing members. I love the newbies for all the same reasons you mention but a dose of wisdom and experience can be the Ying to their Yang. Healthy conflict of tradition being challenged by the next generation can make us great, but to much of either one can be dangerous.

What our field needs is dynamic leaders who can create a vision of high quality procurement organization and use leadership skill (not micro management) to motivate each of the different generational cohorts to execute continuous improvements to our system.

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Profile Photo Frank Stipe

Regardless of how you feel about the “quality” of those of us about to retire, the huge increase in organizational and individual workloads will strain the culture. I welcome the newbies for their drive, imagination and committment. But I also cherish the “old dogs” for their wisdom and insight in how to accomplish the client’s procurement goals.

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Profile Photo Sandy Barsky

All anecdotes aside, the evidence is there, see the Partnership for Public Service, and other trusted sources, there will be a loss of knowledge, unless we deploy tools such as the Business Process Management Systems (BPMS). Such tools will enable us to capture 1102 knowledge and to embed in the Business Rules Engines (BRE) of those systems, the FAR and DFAR, along with any policies and directives that must be applied.

I have supported GSA Contracting Officers and Specialists for most of my career and found them to be dedicate and focused to doing the best work and making the correct decisions for the taxpayers.

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Profile Photo Ron Falcone

What will be interesting to see is how long will the newbie’s stay in Government. There’s been a cultural shift where many younger professionals job hop every couple years. Maybe that mind-set will change based on current economic conditions and how fast the economy recovers. I think the Government will have to seriously address how it retains young professionals. It wouldn’t surprise me to see young professionals enter leave and reenter the Government workforce.

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Profile Photo Tova Churgin Stein

Your premise is unsupported in my experience. I find that both experienced and inexperienced contract specialists can be the intelligent, motivated workers you describe. It has less to do with experience and more to do with the culture of the community in which you work.

The one concern I have is that certain types of contracts have fallen out of favor and as a result some of our less experienced folks have not had the opportunity to learn by doing some of the skills they will need. We look for opportunities to teach those skills so I hope that before all of us old-timers leave we will have been able to pass along those skill sets also.

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Profile Photo Janina Rey Echols Harrison

I’d feel better if I were an 1102. Spent almost 20 years as a purchasing agent and contracts administrator in private sector but could not qualify for an 1102 without the college, My husband threw my copies of transcripts away saying I could always go to UCLA and get more. When I called, they had a fire and they could not find my transcripts. I had to know FAR to do contracting work with government, I knew regulations. Everyone is replaceable and we have some great people, as you say ‘ with less than 10 years’ and they are being overlooked for promotions while people who have been there longer are promoted. The problem I see is that the one being promoted aren’t as bright or customer friendly as those being passed over. I am just trying to understand the critireia for promoting.

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