Section I. Strategic Alignment of Acquisition with Agency Mission
A. HHS Mission
HHS accomplishes its’ mission of enhancing the health and well-being of Americans through several hundred programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving the American public at every stage of life. HHS is the United States government’s principal agency charged with protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. HHS administers more grant dollars than all other Federal agencies combined, acquisition support is required to sustain and perform HHS’ varied initiatives and programs, and as a result, HHS has the third largest contract spend in the Federal sector. The success of these programs and initiatives rely, in large measure, on the efforts of the Department’s acquisition community.
B. HHS’ Significant Accomplishments in Managing and Strengthening the Acquisition Workforce in FY13
In FY2013, HHS made strides in enhancing the management of and strengthening the HHS acquisition workforce. These accomplishments had both tangible and intangible benefits for HHS acquisition professionals. Tangible benefits included an increase of course offerings and human capital programs; furthered development of trained professionals; new and recertification, career advancement; clarification of workforce guidance; and improvements which help to properly track the members of the acquisition workforce. The intangible outcomes included enhanced collaboration among external and internal stakeholders, improved efficiency and effectiveness, improved communication and strategic planning between the acquisition community, enhanced productivity, and improved organizational efficacy in carrying out various acquisition initiatives.
HHS’ accomplishments in managing the acquisition workforce fall into three primary categories:
- Acquisition Workforce Efficiencies
- Acquisition Workforce Human Capital Programs
- Acquisition Training and Certification
Acquisition Workforce Efficiencies
Focusing on the acquisition community, the Division of Acquisition staff stays abreast of pending legislation and policy development in order to sustain exemplary policy and oversight. All while simultaneously forging proactive engagements with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP); Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI); Interagency for Acquisition Career Management Council (IACMC); and the Functional Advisory Boards (FAB) for Contracting, Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) and the Project/ Program Management (P/PM) functions. Collaborative involvement with these key organizations and councils enhances HHS’ ability to establish practical acquisition policy, launch creative training solutions, and share best practices within the department and throughout the government. HHS remains an acquisition leader because of its influential perspectives, integrity, diligence and expertise that reside within the Acquisition Community.
HHS made significant efforts in strengthening the foundation of the acquisition workforce by devising a method to identify the members based on positions and duties for those employees currently performing as contracting professionals and project/program managers.
Identification of HHS’ acquisition workforce is vital in the strengthening and managing an efficient workforce. Even though FAITAS is the official system for training and certification, it does not foster clear and concise data in regards to human capital. In partnership with HHS’ Office of Human Resources (OHR), we have developed a “unique identifier” for all members of the acquisition community that require certification. Contracting professionals are easy to identify because most of them are assigned to the GS-1102 series. The Contracting Officer Representative and Project/Program Manager are not easily identified, hence the need for a unique identifier. The purpose of the unique identifier is to ensure all employees performing acquisition functions are properly trained and certified, all while simultaneously improving our ability to manage, track and maintain HHS’ acquisition workforce’s onboarding, certification, promotion, and other critical professional development needs. The identifier will track HHS’ GS-1102s from onboarding until they have departed the agency. Anytime a GS-1102 receives a certification, warrant, and/or promotion, a notification will be sent to update the HHS Acquisition Workforce data ensuring real-time verification and validation.
A future initiative will include the implementation of unique identifiers to the HHS acquisition project and program managers (PMs). HHS PMs are critical in developing accurate government requirements, defining measurable performance standards, and managing contractor activities to ensure that intended outcomes are achieved. This level of management will ensure PMs are obtaining and maintaining certification at the appropriate level. The third community that will be included in this initiative will be the COR community. Most employees performing COR duties, in large part, assume this role as an ancillary duty and are assigned to contracts on an as needed basis. Because of this, implementing the unique identifier will not be as efficient, but there is still a need to develop an electronic method to identify all COR assigned to an active contract.
Acquisition Workforce Human Capital Programs
We leverage technology to provide innovative training solutions and implements industries best practices to train and develop acquisition professionals. HHS developed and implemented acquisition-related human capital programs, which focused on professional development initiatives. Coupling professional development with effective succession planning spawned two new programs:
- HHS Acquisition Strategic Leaders Program (ASLP) — a key attrition tool to ensure the agency has primed diverse leaders to achieve mission success within the field of acquisition. HHS’ Acquisition Strategic Leaders Program was designed specifically to develop leaders by supporting a climate of continuous learning and improvement, promoting challenging work, and providing opportunities for innovation and creativity across organizational boundaries. The Program’s goal is to build commitment, provide tactics to balance short- and long-term strategic goals, and educate leaders on how to better translate strategy into effective action. The program was developed and launched in 1st quarter of FY2014.
- HHS Acquisition Fellows Program (AFP) — prepares mid-level acquisition professionals to perform as strong leaders within the field of acquisition. This mid-level professional development program is focused on building the next generation on of leaders at HHS. GS-12’s and GS-13’s prepare for their careers at the senior levels through hands on experience, leadership training, sharing of best practices, organizational engagement, and critical thinking activities. The program was developed and launched in 1st quarter of FY2014.
Acquisition Training and Certification
HHS’ goal is to ensure its acquisition workforce is equipped to perform various functions in a concise and streamlined manner. Through analyzing FAI’s bi-annual Acquisition Workforce Competency Survey (AWCS), HHS’ Course Evaluations, and continuous outreach efforts, we are able to examine and assess its workforce’s needs, conceptualize competency-based courses and effectively implement training options to fulfill certification requirements.
In FY2014, HHS piloted an 8 hour course titled: The Service Acquisition Workshop (SAW): Utilizing the Acquisition Requirements Roadmap Tool (ARRT). The SAW ARRT is a job assistance tool used to write performance-based requirements and automatically create a Performance Work Statement (PWS), Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan (QASP), and Performance Requirement Summary (PRS). ARRT uses a step-by-step approach that guides users through the process of creating well-written high level objectives, tasks, standards, and inspection procedures. This training uses acquisition-related scenarios to walk students through the steps of creating a SOW while utilizing the ARRT tool. This course was offered to the entire acquisition community.
HHS also piloted a new 40 hour Contracting Officers Representatives Refresher (COR) course. The refresher course focused on the traditional COR functions and principles but also included 16 hours of Federal appropriations law. This recertification course focused on a blend of COR competencies and Appropriations Law, which meets HHS’ specific COR Level II and Level III certification requirements. HHS requires appropriations law training as a certification requirement for its CORs. By including this within the current courseware HHS has been able reduce cost and the amount of time employees are away from the office.
Also, HHS requires its CORs and 1102s to complete Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) training and Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) training. CPARS and FAPIIS are used for the reporting of performance and integrity information. In accordance with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s memorandum entitled “Improving the Collection and Use of Information about Contractor Performance and Integrity”, HHS must improve compliance with past performance reporting requirements and to provide meaningful contractor assessments.
Lastly, HHS is currently delivering a variety of acquisition-related elective courses. While our training schedule doesn’t commence until June 2014, we have found that out of the 1140 available training seats there are still 351 seat vacancies. Cancellations, no shows, and the ability to fill seats are a continuous concern when providing free training to the acquisition workforce. With that said, HHS is developing a more targeted training schedule. HHS will target the following HHS employees: PMs that manage project/programs at a specific dollar threshold, 1102s that are required to be certificated at a specific level in order to support their grade and warrant levels, and individuals that are identified as needing to oversee a contract as a COR. All of these efforts will improve management of the training program and budget.
C. HHS’ Critical Challenges in Managing its Acquisition Workforce?
HHS continues to develop and implement various training methodologies to address the challenges of managing the acquisition workforce. We have the same challenges as those faced by other government agencies, employees being promoted to fast without the time to properly develop the required skills for the level of performance required for the current grade. In FY2014 the training plans include efforts to address critical skill gaps and other needs as identified during procurement management reviews and various acquisition review processes. All guidance related to the acquisition workforce is also being updated.
D. Goals for Managing and Strengthening HHS’ Acquisition Workforce.
Continuing to Build Bold Steps
HHS’ bold steps through FY2016 will continue to include developing a solid foundation for identifying, tracking, and managing its acquisition workforce. HHS will also continue to focus on its professional development programs (Acquisition Talent Exchange Program, Acquisition Mentor Program, Acquisition Strategic Leaders Program, and the Acquisition Fellows Program). These programs are closely monitored and analyzed for continuous improvements opportunities. Individuals who participate in these programs are officially recognized for their efforts and receive continuous learning points.
The Senior Procurement Executive (SPE) has also added Functional Acquisition Managers (FAMs) to address critical gaps in the community. The FAMs will be responsible for overseeing the functional acquisition areas as it relates to the three program areas (FAC-C, FAC-COR, and FAC-P/PM). The FAMs will also provide day to day guidance as subject matter experts, delivering training in various forums; assess skill gaps, and assist with the development of policy, procedures, guidance, and oversight related to the entire acquisition process.
Lastly, the SPE has created a vision for implementing “Learning Communities.” Learning Communities are designed to provide an integrated setting for training PMs, Contracting Officers/Specialists, CORs, Legal, and Small Business professionals. The various phases of acquisition are expounded upon in a role based manner to help all parties understand the importance of each role. So often we train based on function or roles separately but the acquisition process does not work without integration of PM, Contracting and COR functions. The expected outcomes are improved pre/post award processes to include project/program and contract management, which ultimately result in improving internal communications and processes.
Future Training Solutions
The scarcity of training dollars presents a necessity for concise and effective training. It has been noted in some areas of acquisition training that courseware has become dated and ineffective. Because of this, HHS plans to develop and implement a six month post training assessment questionnaire (based on the Kirkpatrick Four Level Training Evaluation Model). This questionnaire will allow the Department to increase the effectiveness of its acquisition-related training and support programs. The goal of this assessment is to ensure that appropriate training is being delivered to HHS’ acquisition workforce and that dollars are not wasted. HHS will be able to assess the feedback from the trainees within a reasonable timeframe after the training has been completed. This feedback will help to expose deficiencies and shape discussions with vendors to refresh any courseware that isn’t meeting agency needs.
FAC-P/PM Program Refresh Initiatives
HHS recognized the need to refresh the FAC-P/PM Program; concepts are being developed to assess the use of an electronic tool to assist with the FAC-P/PM Pre-Approval process. This Assessment Tool will streamline the process for selecting individuals best-suited for FAC-P/PM certification, based on experience and competencies, as well as objectively determining the appropriate level in which an individual should be certified. The tool asks the prospective applicant a series of questions relating to their level of practical experience in managing projects and programs. At the conclusion of the assessment, the tool provides real-time recommendations pertaining to the level of FAC-P/PM certification requirements the student may possess and the appropriate level they should apply for (Entry, Mid, or Senior level). The tool also includes a detailed analysis of the student’s results for each individual section of the assessment, allowing them to have a more granular understanding of the specific areas that they are most proficient, and those areas in which they may need more focused development. Applicants will be required to submit this data along with their applications.
Content last reviewed on April 28, 2014