The importance of federal acquisition

March 4, 2019

By Rachel Verlik

With federal agencies focused on bringing in scientists, law enforcement personnel and other professionals to help them realize their missions, it can be easy to overlook the many support functions that help the government run. But the public servants who work in information technology, human resources and other administrative services are no less essential for achieving missions.

One mission support area, in particular, deserves more attention than it gets: acquisition.

Acquisition professionals manage federal contracts that ensure agencies obtain the goods and services they need. These employees procure everything from the IT systems that generate critical weather information to weapons that protect citizen safety. They even negotiate contracts enabling agencies to conduct studies that advance cures for diseases.

As they help agencies obtain the goods and services that they need to operate, acquisition professionals also serve as stewards of taxpayer money. They cultivate fair and open competition in the federal marketplace to get their agencies the best services at an affordable cost.

The labyrinth of complicated procurement legislation for federal acquisition can be daunting and, as a result, the field attracts individuals who excel at technical aspects such as analysis and legal review.

But those skills aren’t the only ones that acquisition professionals need. Negotiating the best contracts, attracting new service providers, and streamlining and simplifying the federal acquisition process requires more than technical knowledge. Agencies need creative acquisition leaders who excel at “soft skills” such as communication and collaboration.

However, the technical nature of acquisition jobs sometimes leads agency leaders to assume acquisition professionals don’t need to be expert in communication and other skills to do their jobs well. That notion can close doors to leadership development opportunities for these professionals.

In addition, with the budget uncertainty that stems from regular continuing resolutions, more work gets piled on the desks of acquisition professionals, which reduces the time they can spend focusing on leadership development.

As a coach with the Partnership for Public Service’s Leadership Excellence for Acquisition Professionals program, I’m familiar with how procurement employees need to develop these skills to excel at their jobs. And I know how developing these skills empowers them to become leaders capable of improving federal acquisition.  

The Partnership’s LEAP program helps members of the procurement community focus on self-awareness, leadership capability and communication skills, using acquisition as a frame of reference.

Participants learn how to manage and motivate others, lead teams, manage through change and achieve results. The lessons are practical, so the acquisition professionals can immediately apply them when they return to their jobs.

As a result of LEAP, participants have told me they have become more confident in public speaking; have enhanced their emotional intelligence and conflict management capabilities; and have built a strong network of peers.

Federal acquisition is critical to our country. With stronger acquisition leaders, we’ll have a stronger government. Let’s invest in our acquisition professionals so they can be the best employees, leaders and people they can be.

Rachel Verlik is a coach with the Leadership Excellence for Acquisition Professionals program.