Throughout my federal career, I was involved in acquisition functions. I was a Contract Specialist and a Program Analyst for the Department of the Army. Acquisition functions are found in all of the agencies and branches of the military.
Congress is responsible for the passing of the federal budget and the appropriation of funds. Once these funds are appropriated, the federal government can acquire goods and services to include real property.
The procurement process is initiated through the use of contracts. Government contracting is heavily regulated and subject to many statues and other regulations including the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). All procurement activities must follow the FAR that deals with the federal contracting process.
Each branch of the military and all federal agencies have implemented additional regulations, which are derived from the FAR, and unique to that particular branch or agency’s procurement practices.
Government contracting agents are required to obligate funds, through contracts, for the procurement of goods, services, or real property. Federal employees are assigned agent responsibilities and many contract types and solicitations are used in the procurement process. The federal employee (agent) can negotiate contract terms and conditions and this is strictly controlled by the FAR and other statues.
Once a contract is negotiated, and awarded, the funds are allocated for payment. The contracting officer has signing authority as government contract agent. The agent’s authority is granted by a warrant and the agent cannot deviate from it in any way. The warrant gives the Contracting Officer authority to sign a contract up to a certain dollar amount.
Funds can’t be obligated unless funds are authorized. The Anti Deficiency Act, states that no one can obligate money to make payments on a contract unless the funds have already been authorized. The contracting officer must sign off that funds are available and authorized. They legally obligate the government for the expenditure of funds.
The contract specialist is the most prevalent job category in the Acquisition career field. The job classification is GS-1102 . Other procurement jobs under the GS-1102 series include contractor administrator, contracting officer, and procurement analyst. The salary range for grades GS-05-15 is $31,628.00-$149,333.00. These salaries depend upon the grade level, location, and if it is a non-supervisor or a supervisory position. You can also explore several related occupations including Purchasing GS-1105  and Procurement Tech GS-1106  jobs.
Contract Specialist Requirements
The contract specialist acts a business advisor and assists in the planning to acquire needed goods and services. Contract specialists are in high demand, especially after 9/11. The majority of the procurement activities have become technically complex and of longer duration. Contract Specialists must constantly keep up-to-date with the laws that govern procurement processes.
The contract specialist prepares the proposal package, negotiates the contract if applicable, and awards the contract. Only the contracting officer is authorized to sign and administer the contract once it is awarded. You must be a U.S. citizen to be a contract specialist.
Typically, the entry grade is at the GS-5 level, which is considered a journeyman/training position. At the GS-5 level, you can have either a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience. Contract Specialists above the GS-5 level, have the same basic requirements of a Bachelor’s degree. Within that degree an applicant must have at least 24 hours in business-related courses in the following fields: accounting, business, finance, law, contracts, purchasing, economics, industrial management, marketing, quantitative methods, or organization and management. (This requirement can be obtained within the degree or in addition to the degree).
At the GS-07-15 levels, you will need additional specialized experience that includes providing business advice and performing all pre-award and post-award job functions. This additional job experience must be at least 52 weeks in length, is at the previous grade level, and depends upon what grade you are applying.
The contracting officer position starts at a GS-12 level and all the other specialized experience applies. An additional requirement for a contracting officer is a warrant. The warrant gives the contracting officer signing authority (at certain dollar thresholds) to obligate funds for contracts.
Review the related qualification standards  for additional information.
The contract administrator starts at a GS-11 level and are assigned to the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). DCMA is located all across the United States and overseas.
The main functions include monitoring of contractor’s performance and delivery schedules. Negotiate supplemental agreements for the contracting officer’s signature. Close out contracts once final delivery has been made. A contract administrator should have a broad knowledge of estimating costs, pricing systems, financial policies, and cost control procedures are monitored, analyzed, and evaluated in accordance with financial and contract administration requirements.
- Contract administrator  job listings
The procurement analyst starts at the GS-12 grade level. They still must meet all requirements of the GS-1102 job series. The applicant requires good decision making and analysis skills. They must have customer service experience to resolve difficult contract issues and they often coordinate procurement management reviews. Additionally, they should have a mastery of acquisition concepts, principles, practices, laws, regulations, methods, and techniques.
- Procurement analyst  job listings
Challenges of the Acquisition Professional
The acquisition professional is a very specialized job category. The contract specialist must have an understanding of procurement laws and acts as an agent for the federal government to obligate funds. The acquisition process can be very long and tedious due to complex regulations that must be followed. The federal government is constantly reviewing and addressing the acquisition process to make it more manageable.
The acquisition professional plays a vital role as steward of the taxpayer’s dollars. They work to get the best price, timely delivery of services, and ensure the integrity of the procurement process.
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