• What Does It Mean to Be “a Defense Acquisition Professional”?

    From the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics
    Frank Kendall


    One of the seven goals of Better Buying Power 2.0 is to improve the professionalism of the total acquisition workforce. I thought it might be useful to provide some specificity about what I have in mind when I talk about professionalism. The following is based on various experiences over my career, including some formal education on the nature of professionalism in the military, including at venues like West Point and the Army War College, in my on-the-job training in program management and systems engineering by various Air Force colonels in the Ballistic Missile Office, and by mentors in the Army’s Ballistic Missile Defense Systems Command. I don’t intend this to be an academic discussion, however, but a hands-on practical application of the term “professional” in the context of defense acquisition.

    Defense acquisition professionals have a special body of knowledge and experience that is not easily acquired. Other professions such as attorneys, physicians, and military officers also have this characteristic. The situation for defense acquisition professionals is analogous. This characteristic applies equally to professionals in program management, engineering, contracting, test and evaluation, and product support, to name our most obvious examples. One should no more expect a lay person to make good judgments about something in these acquisition fields—be it a program structure, a risk mitigation approach, or the incentive structure of a contract—than one would expect an amateur to tell a lawyer how to argue a case, or a brain surgeon how to do an operation, or a brigade commander how to organize an attack. No one should expect an amateur without acquisition experience to be able to exercise professional judgments in acquisition without the years of training and experience it takes to learn the field. Like these other highly skilled professions, our expertise sets us apart. Defense acquisition professionals set the standards for members of the profession. One of the reasons we are establishing “qualification boards” for our various key senior leader fields is to infuse a greater element of this characteristic into our workforce. Our senior professionals should know better than anyone else what it takes to be successful as a key acquisition leader. A professional career-field board will make the determination, in a “peer review” context, whether an individual has the experience, education, training, and demonstrated talent to accept responsibility for the success of all, or a major aspect of, a multibillion dollar program. This is not a minor responsibility. These new boards are an experiment at this stage, but I am hopeful that they will take on a large share of the responsibility for enhancing and sustaining the expected level of preparation and performance of our key leaders. The boards will be joint, so that our professional standards are high and uniform across the defense Services and agencies. Setting standards for other members of the profession also encompasses the development and mentoring responsibilities that leaders at all levels, including AEs, PEOs, and other acquisition leaders, take on to strengthen and maintain the profession. They know that their most important legacy is a stronger—and more professional—workforce than the one they inherited.

    Defense acquisition professionals know how to deal with complexity. The problems we have to solve are not simple—we are developing and fielding some of the most complicated and technically advanced systems and technologies in military history. It is therefore an illusion to believe that defense acquisition success is just a matter of applying the right, easily learned “cookbook” or “checklist” approach to doing our jobs. There are no fixed rules that apply to all situations, and as professionals we know that a deeper level of comprehension is needed to understand how to make good decisions about such issues as technical risk mitigation, what incentives will best improve industry’s performance, what it will take to ensure that a product is mature enough to enter production, or how much testing is needed to verify compliance with a requirement. It is not enough to know acquisition best practices; acquisition professionals must understand the “why” behind the best practices—that is, the underlying principles at play. Many of our products consist of thousands of parts and millions of lines of code. They must satisfy hundreds of requirements, and it takes several years to bring them into production. Understanding and managing complexity is central to our work.

    “No one should expect an amateur without acquisition experience to be able to exercise professional judgments in acquisition without the years of training and experience it takes to learn the field.”

    Defense acquisition professionals embrace a culture of continuous improvement. The concept of continuous improvement should apply to our own capabilities as individuals, to the teams we lead, to the processes we create and manage, and to the acquisition outcomes we seek. Better Buying Power is built on the idea of continuous improvement, of measuring performance, of setting targets for improving that performance, and striving to reach them (“should cost” for example). We are willing to examine our own results and think critically about where we can achieve more, and we have the courage and character to learn from our mistakes and to implement constantly ideas for better performance. As leaders we encourage these behaviors in the people who work for us and who collaborate with us.

    Defense acquisition professionals practice and require ethical standards of behavior and conduct. Our ethical values guide how we interact with one another, with our supervisors, with industry, and with stakeholders including the public, media, and Congress. An Under Secretary whom I worked for decades ago told me once that when you lose your credibility you have nothing left—and you won’t get it back. We must speak truth to power about problems within our programs and about ill-advised guidance that will lead to poor results. Successful acquisition requires a culture of “telling bad news fast,” and that values accountability without a “shoot the messenger” mentality. Finally, it is particularly important that we treat industry fairly and with complete transparency.

    I hope that this doesn’t all come across as either preachy or aspirational. I believe that these are realistic expectations for defense acquisition professionals. I believe that they go a long way to defining what being a professional really means. My West Point class (1971) motto is “Professionally Done.” I have always thought that this is a pretty good motto, and a pretty good way to look back on a successful career or a completed project, including in defense acquisition.

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  • Acquisition Education and Training Corner

    Education and training opportunities


    By USAASC Acquistion, Education and Training Branch


    Defense Acquisition University-Senior Service College Fellowship (DAU-SSCF): The DAU-SSCF Announcement will open Jan. 29 and close April 2, 2014. This Military Education Level One (MEL-1) Army-approved Senior Service College (SSC) Fellowship provides SSC equivalency at your local commuting area if you live in either Maryland (APG), Alabama (Huntsville), or Michigan (Warren). The purpose of the SSCF Program is to provide leadership and acquisition training to prepare senior level civilians for senior leadership roles such as product and project managers, program executive officers and other key acquisition leadership positions. Participants not only graduate from an SSC, they will also complete the Army Program Managers Course (PMT 401), and have the option to complete a master’s degree. For additional information on this great GS-14/15 SSC, visit our DAU-SSCF website.

    The announcement will be offered through the Army Acquisition Professional Development System (AAPDS). To access AAPDS, login at the Career Acquisition Management Portal (CAMP). Next, click on Career Acquisition Personnel and Position Management Information System (CAPPMIS). Once in CAPPMIS, select the “AAPDS” tab, and then select the “Application Module” link. Click on “Apply” and view all Army DACM available opportunities.

    REMINDER: Applicants need to complete Civilian Education System (CES) Advanced Course before the start of the fellowship.

    School of Choice (SOC): There will not be a SOC Announcement in FY14 because of the current fiscal environment. Should a command have an urgent need to send a high performing workforce member to obtain his/her bachelor or master’s degree during duty-time, please contact the Acquisition, Education and Training Branch Chief Scott Greene, to discuss potential for the director, acquisition career management (DACM) office to fund.

    Acquisition Leadership Challenge Program (ALCP): ALCP began as an Army pilot in FY11. Now in its fourth year, ALCP is quickly becoming the foundation of Army acquisition civilian leadership development. This two-and-a-half day leadership experience challenges students to examine themselves and their environment in order to become stronger leaders within their current and future organizations. The Army DACM Office has split our FY14 offerings into four quarters. The announcement for Q2 will close on December 4. ALCP will not be announced using AAPDS. Please contact your command/organization acquisition career management advocate (ACMA) or organizational acquisition POC (OAP) if interested in order to obtain a command allocation.

    FY14 ALCP Offerings

    Having trouble keeping the dates straight? All of the opening and closing dates noted above are also posted to the USAASC Events Calendar.

    Defense Acquisition University (DAU) Training

    Students should continue to apply to the FY14 schedule using AITAS. Planning and applying early will afford students better opportunity in obtaining a class in the timeframe requested. Encourage your supervisor to approve your training request as soon as you apply. Supervisors must approve the training request in Army Training Requirements (ATRRS) and Resources Internet Training Application System (AITAS) for application processing by USAASC registration office. Students should view the DAU iCatalog to ensure they meet the prerequisite(s), before applying to a DAU course. Workforce members and their supervisors should plan their training and ensure they have adequate time to complete prerequisite training before attend the follow on course. Reservations in follow on courses are cancelled if prerequisite requirements are not met.

    It is imperative the student and supervisor email addresses are listed correctly on the AITAS student profile. Please apply through the AITAS. For more information on DAU training to include, systematic instructions, training priority definition or FAQs, please visit USAASC’s DAU Training webpage.

    TDY Funding for DAU classes: We received reduced DAU travel funds for FY14, so students should apply to the classes available in their next cost-effective location. At this time, USAASC will only fund Priority 1 and 2 students travel to cost-effective locations.

    DAU Training Best Practices: Here are some key points for how students can better prepare for a DAU resident course:

    • Reduce lag time between taking part A (online prerequisite) and part B (resident).
    • Review prerequisite materiel before attending a follow-on resident portion.
    • Review course objectives (available in the DAU iCatalog) before attending class.
    • Consult with instructors before class on their recommendations to ensure success.
    • Reach out to instructors and fellow peers during class time for further assistance.
    • Prepare by reading and having a general overview of the class materials before the beginning of each class.
    • Study nightly and review notes in the morning before class.

    Program Manager’s & Executive Program Manager’s Course: The two courses, also known as PMT 401 & PMT 402, are statutorily required for program executive officers(PEOs), deputy PEOs (DPEOs), and program managers (PMs) or deputy PMs (DPMs) of ACAT I and II programs. Board-selected ACAT I or II program managers should attend the course before beginning their assignment. PEO, DPEOs, DPMs must complete the mandatory training 36 months from encumbering their position. Please ensure work with your command and supervisor to ensure attendance in the required training. High potential Level III acquisition professionals in O-5 or GS-14 or above with extensive experience in acquisition, including four years in or directly supporting a program may participate on space available slots. More details of the course available on the DAU’s iCatalog. Each FY, the Army only receives scarce allocation of seats in selected offerings. Here is schedule of Army seats available for the remainder of FY14.

    Low-fill Classes: A low-fill listing, posted weekly on DAU’s website, allows students the opportunity to attend classes coming up in the next 60 days. Low-fill classes within 60 days from the start date of the class are available on a first come, first served basis for students priority 2 and 40 days for priority 3-5 students. Please remember that even if a class is on the low-fill list, students must choose the designated cost-effective location for their training.

    Alternate Delivery Method Courses: In a constrained fiscal environment, DAU is looking at using innovative delivery methods to provide the same level of seat capacity of 57,000, at the same time providing effective learning assets. Alternate delivery methods for student pilots include video teleconferencing (VTC), telepresence using high definition resolution, Defense Connect Online (DCO), flipped classroom). The pilots will continue to run until the end of FY14. DAU hopes to offer alternate delivery courses on the FY15 schedule. DAU is also pursuing more prerequisite requirements and video delivery of preliminary material to reduce actual classroom time.

    • If you have questions on any Acquisition Education, Training, and Experience (AETE) programs or DAU Training, please contact the the AETE Branch Chief Scott Greene @ scott.greene4@us.army.mil

    DACM News

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  • This One’s for you: The Army Acquisition Workforce takes center stage in Army AL&T Magazine

    Day in and day out, year in and year out, the Army Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Workforce performs feats that superheroes might only dream of. (SOURCE: USAASC)

    By Steve Stark


    The best-trained and most well-equipped Army in the world didn’t get that way without a workforce to take care of the acquisition, logistics and technology. That’s why the theme of the new edition of Army AL&T magazine—out now—is “The AL&T Workforce.” It’s dedicated to the women and men who take a concept and turn it into reality. The issue is packed with news you can use in every section, including career development, training and certification opportunities. Some of the highlights are outlined below.

    Faces of the Force
    Where would the Army be without you, the acquisition workforce? Check out the spread of pictures at the heart of the magazine. We have a workforce that does so many things in so many places that we wanted to see and share the stories of the many faces of our force. We had far more photos than we could put in the magazine, so take a look at our Flickr set. Go to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usaasc/sets/72157633512678452/.

    Setting the Gold Standard
    The Hon. Katrina G. McFarland, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, talks about DOD’s acquisition workforce and concrete steps being taken to improve it.

    Ready for Change
    Ushering in the Global Combat Support System – Army is a complex and careful process that promises sweeping benefits as it brings the Army an industrial-grade enterprise resource management system.

    The Methods Behind the Mystique
    Laszlo Bock, Google’s chief workforce manager, discusses the hiring, retention and professional development philosophies that set it apart.

    Career Corner
    The Career Corner is more than just a corner. It contains stories on career development, certification, and training opportunities, including, this month, “Six Steps to Certification,” and more.

    Army AL&T magazine is the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center’s quarterly professional journal, comprising in-depth, analytically focused articles. The magazine’s mission is to instruct members of the Army AL&T community relative to AL&T processes, procedures, techniques, and management philosophy and to disseminate other information pertinent to the professional development of workforce members and others engaged in AL&T activities. The magazine is available in hard copy and on the USAASC website – and now in a new app version, available for Apple iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) on the iTunes App Store, Android devices on Google Play, and Amazon Kindle devices on Amazon.

    Army AL&T wants your stories, your photographs and your opinions. For submission guidelines and other information, go to http://asc.army.mil/web/publications/.

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  • The ‘New’ Acquisition Workforce

    Dismounted Soldiers meet 'insurgents' in a training village near Oro Grande, NM, June 4, during NIE 12.2’s Capstone event to evaluate Tempus Pro medical monitoring equipment. Army medical personnel used the physiological monitoring and communication system during a mass-casualty training scenario. (U.S. Army photo by SGT Barry St. Clair.)

    COL Gail Washington

    When you think of Army acquisition, you might picture PowerPoint briefings, memos for signature, Pentagon strategy sessions, or testimony on Capitol Hill.

    You probably don’t think of innovation in the desert.

    But during the past year, a team of military, civilian, and contractor personnel from across the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology community has expanded what it means to work in acquisition. As the Army executes Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) as a key component of the Agile Process, these individuals—engineers, technicians, planners, operations experts, and other staffers of all stripes—are working constantly behind the scenes to ensure a successful transformative process.

    The NIE environment—encompassing Fort Bliss, TX, White Sands Missile Range, NM, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, and other sites across the country—poses unique challenges. The sheer number of Army organizations, industry partners, and Soldiers involved makes coordination a monumental task. The pace of the events is brisk, with one NIE executed every six months and others simultaneously in various stages of planning, risk reduction, and follow-up. Add to that the personal sacrifices that our employees make in support of the NIE mission, and it’s clear that this job is not for everyone.

    The ability to work within the team is paramount out at the NIEs, and the ability to form personal relationships and leverage people’s expertise is the only way to get things done.

    Here’s what it means to be part of the agile acquisition workforce: Put aside your organizational allegiances for the sake of a better-integrated solution for the Soldier; stay flexible and accept that the process will continue to evolve with each NIE cycle; be willing to learn not just in a classroom or from a policy manual, but from those around you and through your own hands-on experience; and even when the work is mundane or complex, keep in mind the big picture—because in the big picture, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

    The goal of the Agile Process and NIEs is to field integrated capability sets that deliver unprecedented network connectivity to Soldiers for a decisive operational advantage. Starting this fall, the first of these capability sets will be fielded to brigade combat teams bound for Afghanistan. Our work to build, integrate, and validate these capability sets through the NIEs will pay huge dividends when Soldiers downrange receive game-changing gear that has been tested and is ready for the fight.

    As the NIE and Agile Process have matured from a new concept to the Army’s official way of doing business, we are standardizing and refining the supporting policies and procedures. These improvements include additional upfront integration before each NIE, a well-trained and multidisciplinary NIE “trail boss” team, and better-defined roles for each member of the NIE triad: the Brigade Modernization Command, U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, and System of Systems Integration (SoSI) Directorate.

    The NIE process still isn’t perfect. Like any major change, it is taking time to realize the Army’s ultimate vision. But we are making progress, thanks in large part to the individuals of the “new” acquisition workforce. Here are some of their stories.


    Clif Basnight

    Role and organization: DA civilian, Program Executive Office Command, Control, and Communications – Tactical (PEO C3T)

    NIEs participated in: 3

    For Clif Basnight, the clock started ticking in April 2011.

    That’s when the Army first launched the NIE concept, with the first exercise planned for June—leaving a very small window for engineers like Basnight to grasp and integrate dozens of tactical communication systems that had never been forced to work together.

    “That entire two to three months that we had, I spent in the lab learning the different technologies, trying to decompose and trying to understand,” said Basnight, a retired Army staff sergeant who specialized in computer intelligence.

    The process allowed the Army to dig deeper into claims made on paper and “come to that ground-truth understanding of a system or a technology,” he said. “And from there is the only place that you can springboard into a solution.”

    It was meticulous work. Every application, network device, radio frequency signal, and other network component had to be boiled down to its actual performance. Then came gluing the pieces together.

    “It was fun. It was a geek’s fantasy,” Basnight said. “But it’s so intense.”

    Building a functioning network in time for the first NIE also required technical experts from various Army organizations and industry to look beyond their own systems and join forces for a common goal.

    “It was a leveling ground,” Basnight said. “For the first time since Force XXI, you had an activity with the right people on the ground, the actual experts, the people who could actually see beyond what somebody wrote down.”

    Together, the engineers produced an end-to-end network design that for the first time would deliver an integrated voice and data capability throughout the brigade combat team formation. That baseline has continued to evolve through subsequent NIEs.

    After running network operations for NIEs 11.2 and 12.1, Basnight has turned his focus to tactical radios, serving as the Technical Management Division Chief for PEO C3T’s Product Manager Network Systems. There, he is attacking a challenge similar to what he faced before the first NIE: evaluating numerous technologies from government and industry to ensure that they meet expectations and, if they don’t, figuring out a solution that does.

    “We’re trying to be on the edge of the Agile Process, and the only way that I know to do that is to continuously do discovery learning,” Basnight said. “We’re asking these guys with new technologies to come in, get us smart, and help us make informed decisions. [That way] we can provide our leadership with intelligence versus information. Information is just what it is. Intelligence actually leads to something accomplishable.”

    MAJ Naim Lee (center), Trail Boss for 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, confers with other trail bosses during an NIE at Fort Bliss in September 2011. (U.S. Army photo by Travis McNeil.)


    MAJ Naim Lee

    Role and organization: Trail Boss for 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, SOSI Directorate

    NIEs participated in: 3

    As the Army built its integration team for the NIEs, it faced something of a cultural divide between newly hired civilian engineers and the Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1 AD).

    Lee helped bridge that gap.

    As a trail boss, Lee serves as the liaison between the acquisition and technical communities and the Soldiers who evaluate their equipment. He leads a group of engineers focused on the systems used by the 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment within 2/1 AD.

    “No one on my team had any military prior experience, so it’s like every day they learn something new about the military,” Lee said. “I try to get them a lot of face time with the unit so the Soldiers know who to go to as far as support.”

    Through three NIE cycles, Lee has had the satisfaction of watching his team members mature, not only in their understanding of military operations but also in their technical savvy about the network.

    “The knowledge base is definitely growing and getting a lot better,” he said. “A lot of them came in lacking knowledge, and when you’re lacking knowledge, you’re going to lack confidence. Now that they have the knowledge, now they have the confidence.”

    Before joining the acquisition workforce, Lee served as an infantry company commander in Iraq, where he deployed a total of four times.

    “We were a lot less blessed with equipment than what I’m seeing out there on the ground now,” at the NIEs, Lee said.

    That experience also influenced Lee’s leadership approach, ensuring that his team looks beyond individual systems to understand the big picture of how integrated communications gear will make a difference on the battlefield.

    “Although a lot of my team aren’t military, they do understand the importance of what they’re doing,” he said. “They come in motivated and give 100 percent effort every day to actually provide these Soldiers with the best equipment they can. That is definitely something I applaud them for.”

    The Prototype Integration Facility and other Army laboratories at Aberdeen Proving Ground support the NIE, Agile Process, and capability set development. The labs provide assessments that both inform the Army’s technology candidate selections and allow for necessary integration work to take place before insertion into the NIEs. (U.S. Army photo by Katie Cain.)


    Tim Selph

    Role and organization: DA civilian, PEO C3T

    NIEs participated in: 3

    Tim Selph knows how to juggle.

    As the NIE Operations and Integration Lead for PEO C3T, which supplies many of the core systems comprising the Army’s tactical communications network, Selph facilitates everything from training to system safety certification, to fielding and technical integration.

    With PEO C3T located at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Selph at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, he serves as a critical link to daily activities on the ground. Selph ensures that the right people are involved in the extensive and complex number of working groups and integrated product teams involved with NIE—several of which he leads himself—and pushes and pulls information to where it needs to go.

    “The ability to work within the team is paramount out at the NIEs, and the ability to form personal relationships and leverage people’s expertise is the only way to get things done,” said Selph, who has been working for PEO C3T since 2005 in various military, contractor, and now government civilian roles.

    Selph was drawn to military service in part by his father, who served in the U.S. Air Force. The younger Selph traveled around the world for roughly 10 years as an armor officer, serving along the demarcation line between East and West Germany, in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm, and in Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. He understands Soldiers’ frustration with military technology lagging behind commercial industry.

    “I’m a big fan of the NIE objective of getting technology into the hands of the Soldier sooner,” Selph said. “The NIE is a great venue to test and turn things around, to see if certain technologies are of value to the military.”

    When Soldiers obtain their own commercial-off-the-shelf solutions in theater, multiple issues often arise with network interoperability and the ability to make efficient network upgrades, he said.

    “It behooves everybody to let the experts in procurement provide new technologies quickly through the NIE and get inside the unit’s decision cycle, so we’re fielding them viable equipment before they go out and look for it on their own,” Selph said. “That requires more of an Agile Process than we have used in the past.”

    Additional profiles appear in the July-September 2012 edition of Army AL&T Magazine, in the article “The New Acquisition Workforce – Getting Dirty and Making It Work,” starting on Page 42.


    • COL GAIL WASHINGTON is Project Manager Current for the SoSI Directorate. She holds a B.S. with a concentration in marketing from East Carolina University and an M.S. in information and resource management from Webster University. Washington is Level 3 certified in program management.

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