New President must tackle buyer shortages and retention

20 January 2009

20 January 2009 | Paul Snell

US buyers are calling on President-elect Barack Obama to focus on the recruitment and retention of purchasers to tackle the problems facing government procurement.

They further advise that while recruitment needs a boost, Obama, who will be inaugurated today, should avoid rushing to introduce initiatives before current schemes have proved effective.

These were the findings of a survey of high-profile government buyers in the US. Published by supplier's organisation the Professional Services Council and accountancy firm Grant Thornton, it found buyers were clamouring for improved training, dedicated funding for procurement, and the appointment of qualified people to provide leadership for the profession.

The study, a follow-up to the same research conducted in 2006, found 40 per cent of respondents believe problems with recruitment and retention have remained the same. A total of 28 per cent think they have worsened. This is despite programmes to remedy the situation being put in place.

Many criticised the government's past schemes to reduce the size of the total federal workforce, "disproportionately" affecting back office functions such as procurement. The problem of competing for internal staff was also highlighted. "In this environment you're basically stealing from other agencies," said one purchaser.

Another told the survey that just hiring more buyers would not be the answer. "There is a numbers issue, but even if we solved the numbers issue tomorrow, it wouldn't fix our problems. The current acquisition workforce doesn't have sophisticated business judgement."

A lack of clear leadership was also criticised. "We need people behind the curtain who understand procurement," said one respondent.

Others called for a specific budget for procurement to hire and keep talent.

But buyers also pleaded for time to implement changes. "We've had Reinventing Government, the President's Management Agenda - what gimmick will be next? How about no gimmick, just step back," one purchaser told the study.

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