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Do We Need a Service Academy for Acquisitions?

The VA Acquisition Academy Logo
The VA Acquisition Academy Logo

Currently, the United States suffers from an impending shortfall in acquisitions personnel, a major focus area for “inherently governmental” work.  “In fiscal year 2000, there were 56,000 federal employees to manage $208 billion worth of contracts. Seven years later, there were 61,000 acquisition personnel managing $517 billion. So, while the value of contracts in that period increased by 149%, the workforce devoted to managing them only increased by 9%,” Congressman Gerry Connolly said last year.

Also, “33% of the entire federal workforce has more than 25 years of service, which means they’re coming up on retirement. Another 27% have 15-24 years of service,” noted Congressman Connolly.  “So, when you look at the federal workforce, one of the challenges we’re going to face is, “How do we recruit and maintain a skilled workforce in the future?”

Maybe the answer lies in creating a service academy for acquisitions.  After all, there are service academies for the U.S. Merchant Marine and Health Sciences, so why not acquisitions?  This solution would solve two problems: the lack of trained and qualified acquisitions personnel and the undervaluing of acquisitions in the federal government workforce.

“The undervaluing of the importance of the acquisition workforce is apparent when the budget started skyrocketing, they brought in warfighters, but they didn’t bring in inherently governmental acquisition jobs,” said Jacques Gansler, professor at the University of Maryland and industry expert. “In 1990, we had five general officers with a contracting background.  In 2007, we had none.  If you’re a young major trying to decide what job to go into, if there are no general officers in acquisitions, you’re probably not going to pursue that career path.”

At the very least, creating a Defense Acquisitions University would show up-and-coming military officers that the government is committed to making acquisitions a viable career path.  The VA thought so, establishing an acquisitions academy in Maryland in 2008.  The VA has had a long track record of success, even creating what is arguably the world’s most successful large-scale health information network, so maybe the Department of Defense should follow its lead and create a service academy devoted to acquisitions.

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