Building a Professional Acquisition Corps in the Department of Veterans Affairs: VA Is Institutionalizing Repeatable Acquisition Management and Oversight Practices and Raising Standards for Acquisition Employees. This Will Benefit Veterans' Services and Offer Opportunities for Employee Advancement and Training
Haggstrom, Glenn, The Public Manager
Acquisition is a mission-critical capability for any government agency. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the fourth largest agency in terms of procurement dollars spent, responsible for more than 233,000 procurement transactions per year. VA manages billions of dollars of funds to acquire the material and services that its employees need to fulfill the mission to serve America's veterans.
VA's Office of Acquisition Logistics and Construction (OALC) is responsible for directing the acquisition, logistics, construction, and leasing functions for the department. OALC provides a full range of innovative, cost-effective business solutions and responsible services tailored to meet the ongoing and emerging needs of our customers in support of America's veterans and their families.
VA is continuously taking steps to improve the management and over-sight of acquisition programs, including initiatives to develop the quality and professionalism of the acquisition workforce. In the past, there was not a focus on the "Big A" acquisition culture, which focuses not just on the procurement, but on the entire acquisition process--from the identification of business needs, through the procurement, to the retirement of the program or project.
On April 1, 2010, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki authorized OALC to establish a professional corps as part of a transformation model, which is structured to address the root causes of departmental acquisition deficiencies. With Shinseki's marching orders and the continued emphasis across the federal government on being good stewards of tax dollars, VA transitioned to the Big A acquisition culture by building on previous efforts and institutionalizing repeatable acquisition management and oversight practices.
One anticipated change initiative being led by OALC's Office of Acquisition and Logistics (OAL) is to establish a professional acquisition corps, a cadre of high-performing, well-trained contracting and program management professionals who are qualified to manage VA's most critical and highly visible programs and procurements. This highly competent workforce will influence the acquisition process through innovative and broad-spectrum planning and programming to ensure the products meet customer needs.
The acquisition corps initiative will provide a benefit to VA by attracting and retaining the best and brightest from among the acquisition community, and will improve VA's business performance outcomes by having the right personnel with the appropriate experience and education serving in critical acquisition positions across the department. The initiative is also beneficial to our employees because it will provide a roadmap for success by offering enhanced opportunities for advancement and training. We are making progress with this initiative and anticipate the first VA employees will receive acquisition corps membership within the next several months.
Determining What Success Looks Like
As with any major change effort, it is important to define what a successful implementation would entail. Although it may take some time for the acquisition corps to mature from an initial operating capability, successful implementation requires an integrated management process that matches qualified personnel with positional requirements.
The department also is updating the current acquisition program management framework (APMF) model. The enactment of the APMF will apply a more rigorous approach to designing, obtaining, and retiring acquisition programs. Implemented in conjunction with the acquisition corps, APMF will improve the quality and professionalism of the VA acquisition workforce.
Implementing the VA Acquisition Corps Initiative
By leveraging lessons learned from the establishment of the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps and the Defense
Acquisition Corps, VA identified eight actions to implement the corps initiative: