Magazine article National Defense

Reform Agenda Targets Acquisition Workforce

Magazine article National Defense

Reform Agenda Targets Acquisition Workforce

Article excerpt

The Pentagon's cadre of procurement workers often derided as "professional shoppers" could see a wave of reforms in the coming years, as the Defense Department remains under unrelenting pressure to fix its buying practices.

Reacting to a steady stream of criticism during the past several years about escalating costs and delays in weapons programs, acquisition officials are acknowledging change is needed.

The so-called "acquisition corps" is composed of 138,000 procurement specialists, most of whom are civilian workers. They oversee purchases of products and services worth nearly $100 billion a year.

Among the problems that call for immediate action, officials say, are inadequate training, lack of technical expertise and insufficient knowledge of the industries that supply goods and services to the Defense Department.

The Army, with nearly 50,000 procurement workers, has launched 58 initiatives to reform its acquisition corps, says Craig Spisak, director of the Army Acquisition Support Center.

The adjustments include mandates for technical training in areas that increasingly are consuming more of the Army's procurement dollars, such as information technology and tactical networks.

The Army's top military procurement official, Lt. Gen. Joseph Yakovac, is among the senior leaders who have been pushing for additional training for service buyers. He often has expressed concern about the Army's ability to manage the escalating complexity of military systems, which is a reflection of the Army's transition to a high-tech digital force. The Army's acquisition bureaucracy, Yakovac says, is comfortable buying traditional hardware such as tanks, but not always versed on the latest information and communications technologies.

Spisak says it could take years to bring about major changes. "It takes time to overcome the inertia it takes to convince people they need new skills and capabilities," he says during a Worldwide Business Research industry conference.

The Defense Acquisition University, which is responsible for educating the procurement workforce, already has begun to alter its curriculum to reflect these evolving needs, says Lenn Vincent, a retired Navy rear admiral and professor of military acquisitions at DAU.

"We have a shortfall in services acquisition training, such as information technology services," he says at the conference. "The training is skewed to hardware acquisition ... We are trying to get the training to match the complexity of the acquisitions."

One of the most disconcerting trends for the Defense Department is the shortage of young, qualified workers. "There is a competition for good people," Vincent says. Corporations and governments all vie for a limited pool of candidates with technical degrees.

The Defense Department also wants procurement workers to learn how to collaborate with budget and requirements agencies. Traditionally, they all work in isolation, which is blamed for miscommunications that lead to cost overruns and unmet customer needs. As a result, DAU plans to begin shifting some of the traditional classroom training to interagency group instruction. In traditional professional military training, Vincent says, "we train as individuals but now we also need to train 'as we fight' in groups ... as an organization."

The university will create virtual simulations to make the training more realistic. "That's where we are going to go and get cross-functional performance driven training," he says. "We'll bring a whole program management team to train together. …

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