“They’re going to the lawyers because they’re inexperienced,” she said in a phone interview.
The federal workforce charged with awarding more than $500 billion in contracts annually isn’t as seasoned as it was a decade ago, according to government data. Almost a third of the government’s acquisition officers had less than five years of experience in their jobs last year, compared with 6.8 percent in 2001, the data showed.
The lack of experience, most pronounced at the Pentagon, has delayed contracts and also may have contributed to rookie mistakes that have prompted protests, according to contractors and attorneys who represent them.
Contracting officers frequently haven’t mastered basic federal acquisition rules, said John Chierichella, a partner in Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton’s Washington office who has practiced procurement law since 1975. It’s an increasing problem, he said.
A vendor he represented in 2009 filed a protest after the Pentagon excluded it from a multibillion-dollar contract for technology services. The company, which Chierichella declined to identify, objected to the government’s cost analysis. It ended up that acquisition officials had not conducted one, and his client was awarded the contract after the delay.
“Too often, mistakes are being made that I find surprising,” he said in a phone interview. “They don’t seem to have the experience to know that when you ignore a mandatory requirement, you’re asking for trouble.”
Congress has recognized the need to educate the acquisition workforce. It allocated about $1.8 billion to a fund created in 2008 for hiring and training acquisition workers, according to a June report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm. The fund had been used to hire about 5,855 people and add 19,000 classroom seats at the Defense Acquisition University through Sept. 30, the report stated.
The Defense Department since 2009 has made “significant progress in rebuilding the capacity of the acquisition workforce,” Cheryl Irwin, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, said in an e-mail. “While some additional growth may be possible, other initiatives will continue emphasis on building the qualifications of the workforce we have.’’
Army attorneys at the command where Adams’s company is a contractor “provide legal guidance to government officials during the acquisition process whenever that guidance is requested by a program manager or contracting officer,” Andricka Thomas, a spokeswoman for the service, said in an e-mail.
The number of workers classified as contracting professionals increased 27 percent to 33,274 in 10 years, according to data compiled by the Office of Personnel Management. That growth failed to match the increase in spending on contracts, which more than doubled to $535 billion in the year ended Sept. 30, from $221 billion in fiscal 2001, according to federal procurement data.