IN THE ROTATION: Under the redesigned LEAD program, the entire cohort of fellows will complete a concurrent six-month rotation at the Pentagon, working as Department of the Army systems coordinators. (Photo by Getty Images, iStock)
The new LEAD program is dedicated to training future program managers
By Jacqueline M. Hames
The Army does a lot of training, and that includes getting Army civilians ready for leadership positions. That’s where the Director of Army Acquisition Career Management (DACM) Office comes in, when it launches the new LEAD program this summer.
Short for Leadership Excellence and Acquisition Development, LEAD represents the evolution of the DACM Office’s Competitive Development Group/Army Acquisition Fellowship (CDG/AAF), which has been preparing Army civilians for more responsibility since 1997. The CDG/AAF offered expanded training through a series of education, leader development and broadening assignments for its fellows. So far, 245 fellows have graduated from the program, with 121 remaining active as Army Acquisition Workforce professionals.
However, change must come to all things and the CDG/AAF program is no exception. In the summer of 2021, the redesigned program relaunches with the central goal of helping prepare high-potential GS-12s and GS-13s for program manager roles.
Kelly Terry, LEAD program manager, is spearheading the redesign effort. She has been employed with the United States Army Acquisition Support Center since about 1996—as one of the first acquisition career managers with the organization. She inherited the CDG/AAF program in the fall of 2018 and will be ushering her last cohort from CDG/AAF through graduation this May. “Then we will be all new, brand new, with just LEAD,” she said.
The LEAD program is a 24-30 month leadership development program offering expanded training through a series of education, leader-development and broadening assignments to build skills required for positions of greater responsibility. Fellows receive centrally funded leadership training and developmental assignments within the acquisition community—while that hasn’t changed from the CDG/AAF years, the way the training and developmental assignments will be executed has been modified.
The driving change behind the redesign of the program was twofold, Terry explained. The first was advice from the fellows themselves. “The cohorts wanted to enable a true cohort experience during their tenure, with standardization on training and rotational assignments, when feasible,” she said.
That didn’t happen with CDG/AAF Fellows were required to negotiate their own developmental assignments, and they varied in length—some were six months, others 18 months—and they had to fit those assignments around required program training, as well as a mandatory six-month assignment in Washington, she said.
“Now, the fellows negotiate and start a nine-month assignment at their home station, and then in March of the following year, they will all—at one time—go down to the Pentagon and work there for six months, with primary focus on a rotation as a Department of the Army Systems Coordinator (DASC). And they are all going to have a DASC assignment,” Terry said. “After the D.C. rotation, LEAD participants will report back to the home station for another nine-month detail,” she said. DASCs report to the Deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management and they work in high-visibility, fast-paced assignments that provide critical capabilities to the warfighter, she explained.
Training requirements were also streamlined under the new program design, via enhanced eligibility criteria. Applicants are, at this writing, required to be certified at Level II in program management and Level III in their primary career field, Terry said. Applicants also will be required to complete the Civilian Education System – Advanced Course distance learning module prior to program commencement.
The second driver of change was the intentional “back to basics” design, Terry explained. Since there is currently no dedicated career program for acquisition program managers, the DACM Office wanted to invest in training potential program managers to ensure “that we have the best at the top,” she said.
Some other changes to the program include a decreased length, allowing the application of the new skills and knowledge quickly; enhanced senior leadership involvement ensuring big Army issues are addressed during the program tenure, and the addition of a new writing assignment, Terry said. The program uses a virtual board and relative slating list (RSL). “We host a virtual board, who will review all the applications and develop an RSL,” she said. “The resulting RSL is then presented to the Army DACM Talent Management BOD [board of directors]. This is the first time we are engaging the TM BOD.” This enhanced process ensures Army leadership is not only apprised of the program, but enabled to use the participants to their full potential, Terry explained.
“The Army DACM Talent Management BOD is comprised of flag officers [general officers] and [Senior Executive Service members] from the acquisition community,” she said. The BOD will meet in January; afterward, Terry will present the candidates to the Army DACM himself, Craig Spisak, who will make the final decision on which applicants are accepted into the program. Results will be disseminated in February and participants activated shortly thereafter.
Terry was especially excited about the mentorship aspect of the LEAD program. “Before, participants were required to identify their own mentors while in the program. We are complementing that process this year by engaging prior program graduates for mentorship,” she said.
The mentorship aspect of the LEAD program will allow for more effective networking and greater promotion potential for graduates, Terry said. It also helps solidify LEAD as the premier program manager development program for the acquisition workforce.
Those interested in applying for the LEAD program will need to gather their Acquisition Career Record Brief, Senior Rater Potential Evaluation, command endorsement and organizational right-to-return forms, a statement of interest, and a resume. Follow the application instructions at: https://asc.army.mil/web/career-development/programs/lead/#apply.