2 June 2010 | Nick Martindale
The Pentagon is seeking to build up its in-house procurement expertise as it looks to manage record numbers of suppliers.
In a frank account of the challenges of buying for the US army, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for procurement Edward Harrington outlined the Obama administration’s strategy after years of headcount reduction.
In an interview with The Washington Post he said: “The biggest challenge we have is restoring the contracting workforce, building both the numbers of the workforce back up as well as advancing their skills. As the contracting dollars have gone up, the government’s contracting workforce has gone down. That left us with a relatively minimal staff of senior contracting experts.”
The Pentagon intends to recruit 4,100 in-house staff over the next five years to boost its acquisition workforce, he added.
He said: “For this fiscal year, we were supposed to in-source 1,414 positions. Of those, we have done 454. We’ve also hired 500 contracting interns who spend two years in a training programme and come out as a contracting officer.”
The positions have attracted a large amount of interest, added Harrington, with 3,000 applications received for 50 jobs in one instance.
He said: “We’ve had people who are interested in coming to us from the auto industry, and they’re a good fit because they have experience as purchasing agents.”
Harrington’s office estimates its workload has increased by 1,000 per cent since 1987 while headcount has reduced by 25 per cent. The number of contractors compared to soldiers has increased from a ratio of 1:60 at the time of the Gulf War in 1990 to 2:1 in Afghanistan today.
He said: “Contracting is a practice, a profession. It is similar to law or engineering, where you develop your expertise and skills over a number of years.
“It takes time to get the training as well as to get the experience with all of the various contracting regulations. Those mid and senior-level individuals are essential to coaching, counselling and mentoring our entry-level people coming onboard.”
Harrington is responsible for an annual spend of $132 billion (£89.8 billion), ranging from computer software to weapons, and tanks to contractors.