Recapitalizing VA's Acquisition Workforce - Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy (VAAA)
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Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy (VAAA)


Recapitalizing VA's Acquisition Workforce

November 25, 2013

by Laura Edwards
VA Acquisition Academy Public Affairs Officer

The VA Acquisition Academy (VAAA) operates three intern training programs:  a two-year Acquisition Internship Program to develop contract specialists; an intern program designed specifically for returning Veterans called the Warriors to Workforce Program, which offers training in acquisition and program management; and a Project Management Fellows program for aspiring mission-critical project managers.  Each program uses a curriculum that includes formal instruction, skill-building workshops, business competency development, and on-the-job training, along with mission service projects to connect the interns to the mission of serving Veterans.

Acquisition is challenging, ever-changing, and demanding and it takes a highly-trained workforce to efficiently award and manage contracts for the goods and services needed to achieve VA’s vital mission.  The academy was created in September 2008 to train the entire VA acquisition team to include contracting professionals, program and project managers, contracting officer representatives, facility managers, and supply chain managers.  The academy’s training programs are a critical part of VA’s succession planning and workforce development.

“We can’t turn them out quick enough,” remarked VA Acquisition Academy Chancellor Melissa Starinsky.  “They are proving their value and making an immediate impact.”

Over the past two decades, the federal government’s acquisition workforce has shrunk, even as the contracting volume and complexity of the contracts has increased.  The Acquisition Internship School’s two-year Acquisition Intern Program is training the next generation of acquisition professionals using a unique holistic approach that focuses not only on technical contracting skills but the communication, program management, writing, leadership, business savvy, creative thinking, risk management, and interpersonal competencies needed to develop trusted business partners capable of providing innovative acquisition solutions that serve the Veteran.  Grounded by the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s (FAR) Guiding Principles, the program teaches interns how to deliver the best value product or service to the customer on a timely basis, while maintaining the public’s trust and fulfilling public policy objectives.  Interns graduating from the program will achieve the mandated Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Federal Acquisition Certification education requirements to achieve Contracting (FAC-C) Levels 1 and 2.  “We are proud of our success,” said AIS Vice-Chancellor Joanne Choy.  “During the internship interns work on actual contracting work under the mentorship of senior contracting officers, which creates added bench strength to VA contracting organizations,” she said.  “The number of job hosting offices has increased to 110 from one at the start of the program.”  To date, the school has graduated 3 intern cohorts, 69 have been successfully placed as contract specialists in VA facilities nationwide, and there are 5 active cohorts totaling 129 participants.

The three-year Warriors to Workforce Program (W2W), located organizationally within the Acquisition Internship School, was launched in December 2011, to prepare wounded Veterans for a career as a contract specialist.  In year one, interns complete the necessary college courses to satisfy the 24 hours of business credits required for the contract specialist field, undergo peak performance training, and are introduced to the fundamentals of contracting.  Peak performance is an innovative approach that uses biofeedback technology to improve memory recall, problem solving, and other skills that enhance the mind-body connection for better performance.  The second and third program years are the same as our proven acquisition or program management intern curriculum.  Upon program completion, participants are integrated into the acquisition or program management workforce.  All 23 Veterans in the inaugural acquisition cohort completed their first year and ascended into the two-year Acquisition Intern Program.  “They did a great job,” said W2W Program Manager David Sella.  “Not only did 100 percent earn the business credits required to advance, their cumulative GPA was 3.7, and 75 percent of the class achieved dean’s list status.”  In February 2013, the interns went out on their first job rotation in VA contracting offices where they “learned by doing” under the mentorship of a senior contracting officer.  A second W2W acquisition cohort is slated to begin in February 2014.

The W2W Program expanded in January 2013, with a cohort focusing on careers in project management.  The existing W2W Project Management cohort is funded and resourced by VA’s Office of Information and Technology.  Twenty participants in this cohort are in their first year of the program, which includes IT and business college credits, foundational program management training, and peak performance training.

The VAAA’s Program Management School oversees a Project Management (PM) Fellows Program, which is an accelerated professional development program for aspiring mission-critical program managers.  The two-year program includes a combination of formal classroom education, self-paced learning, and on-the-job training.  Participants remain an employee of their organization during the development period.  Successful participants obtain their FAC-P/PM entry level certification in year one, and achieve mid-level certification at completion of the program.  “We are pleased with the feedback that the program is already achieving demonstrable outcomes for both participants and the organization,” said PM School Vice-Chancellor Richard Garrison.  “PM fellows are applying best practices, tools and techniques to their organizations in real time, adding value for their organizations while in training.”  The fellows work on projects from their home organizations to use in the classroom.  The projects currently addressed by the fellows in the program total over $37 million in approximate value and include team members across various VA organizations.  These projects are selected by the fellows with their supervisors to ensure that they appropriately apply and challenge the concepts and skills they are learning in the classroom and deliver an immediate return on investment.  The fellows have accomplished approximately 200 new tasks in the last year to support these projects.

The pilot cohort of 14 fellows is in their second and final year of training.  Two additional cohorts have been accepted into the program and are scheduled to launch within the next three months.  The long-term goal of the PM Fellows program is to foster a broader program/project management community of practice for all VA staff engaging in PM activities to work together to address VA’s toughest acquisition challenges, to stay abreast of the PM-related trends and innovations, and to communicate with one another across VA organizations, identifying best practices and lessons learned.  To assist in growing this community of practice, PM Fellows also provides continuous learning points for VA project managers who want to get involved as mentors or job rotation hosts for fellows currently in the program.

more information on academy intern and training programs, visit the VAAA website.

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