‘AID’ FOR TUITION ASSISTANCE

By September 12, 2022September 15th, 2022Acquisition, Talent Management
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TEAM AID: Acquisition Innovation Directorate team members, from left, Ron Crevecoeur, Rachel Solis, Mike Hildebrandt, Aric Sherwood, Erin Rusnak, Monica Wilkins and Solaiman Afzal in February. The team has two primary areas of focus: acquisition support and strategic initiatives. (Photo by Laura Edwards, PEO EIS)

 

 

PEO EIS gets Air Force and partner support to deliver ArmyIgnitED as a fully functional tuition assistance portal for Soldiers and civilians.

by Erika Christ

What do you do when you inherit a high-profile, software-based program that needs to be fixed fast? Stand up a new program office and plan a brand-new acquisition strategy? Send out requests for information or schedule an industry day to see what options are available?

If you’re the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS), you use your extensive programmatic and acquisition experience, as well as your in-depth technical expertise, to craft a different path forward—one that entails working closely with the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)) to tailor the Adaptive Acquisition Framework to rapidly respond to a critical acquisition problem.

ASSESSING THE CHALLENGE

When PEO EIS first became engaged in conversations about ArmyIgnitED, a tuition assistance portal that replaced the GoArmyEd platform in mid-2021, the system was experiencing stability challenges that hindered Soldiers from receiving tuition assistance, counselors from reviewing and approving applications, and the Army from making payments to educational institutions. The general thinking among stakeholders involved with the project—including its new owner, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), was that PEO EIS, with its strong understanding of business system requirements and acquisition, would be able to exercise the proper authorities and get the online system working as intended.

In January, PEO EIS’s Acquisition Innovation Directorate (AID)—known at the time as the Director, Acquisition Systems Management/Strategic Initiatives Group—rolled up its sleeves and got to work. The first order of business was briefing the then-senior official performing the duties of the under secretary of the Army, who gave PEO EIS a fall 2022 deadline to deliver the initial capability. Given the compact time frame, the directorate conducted an accelerated analysis of alternatives, taking into consideration falling back on GoArmyEd, potential modifications to the existing system and solutions implemented by other military services.

FIRST ‘AID’ TO PMOs

PEO EIS’s Acquisition Innovation Directorate (AID) relaunched under its new name earlier this year with a focus on helping the organization’s project managers and directors determine which project management office (PMO) should oversee a new program requirement, then working with that PMO to develop the acquisition strategy and documentation.

The directorate team—composed of several acquisition and program management specialists—has two primary areas of focus: acquisition support and strategic initiatives. Acquisition support provides guidance on all acquisition-related matters, from documentation review to transitioning new program starts for execution. Strategic initiatives leverage team members’ executive-level contracting and technical expertise to help plan new operational initiatives.

Besides ArmyIgnitED, some of the key initiatives that the directorate will be focused on in coming months include the Army case-execution system, the enterprise services infrastructure, and the theater medical information requirement. The directorate also will develop tools for PMO leadership, including a checklist of required documents for shaping programs in the acquisition pathway and supporting project managers’ execution of those programs.

NEW HEIGHTS: The right education will help civilians and Soldiers alike to soar. Getting Soldiers the tuition assistance they need is ArmyIgnitED’s job. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army Golden Knights)

WEIGHING A PROVEN SOLUTION

PEO EIS was particularly intrigued by the Air Force Automated Education Management System (AFAEMS), an enterprise-wide, web-based application used to manage the Air Force Voluntary Education and Training Program overseen by Force Development Flights. The education and training portal manages an Airman’s complete education and training record, tuition assistance budget and all related processes, automating all routine tasks performed by force-development personnel.

While Air Force processes differ from those of the Army, they fulfill the same function and have similar requirements, according to Aric Sherwood, director of the Acquisition Innovation Directorate at PEO EIS. During technology exchanges PEO EIS held with TRADOC’s Combined Arms Center and the Air Force, the technical aspects of AFAEMS seemed to be a good match, and Air Force leaders were receptive to the Army’s potential tailoring of the system to its own needs via business process re-engineering. In fact, many Soldiers currently use AFAEMS for education conducted by the Air Force, and the Florida National Guard uses AFAEMS for all voluntary education requests.

The Army University was open to the possibility of changing the underlying technology powering its ArmyIgnitED website and exploring the Air Force’s government off-the-shelf solution, which is hosted in Cloud One—the Air Force’s highly secure cloud platform.

THE GRADUATE: Sgt. 1st Class Johnathan Patterson celebrates following Grantham University’s virtual graduation ceremony in July 2021. Patterson gathered with friends and colleagues to attend remotely from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, July 31, 2021. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Bob Yarbrough, U.S. Army Central Forward Public Affairs Detachment)

EXPEDITING THE ACQUISITION PROCESS

PEO EIS began quickly and methodically putting the pieces in place to officially assume ownership of the acquisition process, becoming the office of primary responsibility, identifying a source of funding from TRADOC G-8 and keeping senior leaders informed.

Given the tight timeline required for delivering initial capability, PEO EIS realized that the rigor and duration of the traditional acquisition process weren’t going to mesh well with the organization’s need to promptly award a contract. PEO EIS leaders worked closely with ASA(ALT)’s department of the Army systems coordinator and the deputy of acquisition systems management to keep the process moving and ensure that the required paperwork would get completed and submitted—even if somewhat later than usual.

In early March, PEO EIS received an informal approval to execute, and one month later, the acquisition decision memo was signed. PEO EIS awarded a blanket purchase agreement call order under an existing General Services Administration contract to the Air Force’s systems integrator and in late spring transitioned acquisition ownership of the program from the Acquisition Innovation Directorate to PEO EIS’s Defense Integrated Business Systems portfolio, where it has its own newly established product office under Keith Baylor, product lead.

“Due to the time sensitivity of the project, we appreciated the fact that ASA(ALT) placed full confidence in our recommendations and abilities,” said Sherwood. “While we are meeting the undersecretary of the Army’s immediate directives, we also will be applying discipline to the process by taking care of the necessary documentation and a sustainment plan.”

PEO EIS leaders are optimistic about their ability to meet the Army’s mandated timeline for delivering capability.

“We’re very confident that we’ll meet the timeline for completing the high-priority items like military tuition assistance and the rest of the capabilities in 2023,” said Sherwood. “Essentially, we’re conducting a real-time case study in how EIS and ASA(ALT) can collaborate to quickly address critical software acquisition problems. The approach is not without risk, but the alternatives in this case would miss the mark.”

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Cpl. Steve Mateo, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, who is conducting an internship at the education center through the career skills program, helps Master Sgt. Courtney Renee Smith, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, navigate the ArmyIgnitED website during the ArmyIgnitED workshop held Nov. 18, 2021, at the Fort Carson Education Center. (Photo by Norman Shifflett)

PRIORITIZING NEXT STEPS

As the new product lead for ArmyIgnitED, Baylor’s priorities are to complete development of the initial capability, conduct government acceptance testing and hold the first limited deployment authority-to-proceed briefing in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2022. As elements of the new ArmyIgnitED system are launched, the original system’s functionality will gradually be shut down, though both systems will operate concurrently for a time.

There are three key milestones in PEO EIS’s delivery of ArmyIgnitED:

  • By the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2022, the Army is planning to deliver the first phase—limited deployment of ArmyIgnitED’s military tuition assistance functionality, enabling Soldiers to join and request tuition assistance. At that time, the Army also will deliver the ability to back-pay educational institutions—a process that will require data to be ingested from the original ArmyIgnitED system.
  • For that first phase delivery, initial historical data will be used, and gradually more will become available for future phases that enable Army cadets to request Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship funding and for Army civilian training, education and professional development. Soldiers also will be able to apply for funding for credentialing assistance, a program that enables them to obtain a professional credential or licensure to enhance their careers.
  • By April 2023, the Army is expected to deliver the second phase—full operational capability of the system, following its tailoring to unique Army requirements. Once that initial project is complete, PEO EIS plans to continue its collaboration with the Air Force, including pursuing a follow-on joint contract for operation and maintenance services, as well as limited product enhancements. 

CONCLUSION

Delivering a fully functional tuition assistance portal to help Soldiers and civilians achieve their educational and career goals is a top Army priority. The ArmyIgnitED project is well suited for PEO EIS’s acquisition portfolio, where it can be nested with other mission-critical defense business systems and leverage existing infrastructure and processes to quickly deliver capability. Working closely with ASA(ALT), functional stakeholders, the Air Force and its industry partner, PEO EIS is committed to forging a new, expedited path to solving the Army’s most pressing software acquisition challenges.

By partnering with the Air Force—something that PEO EIS is exploring with its Army Contract Writing System and executing on select Defensive Cyber Operations projects—PEO EIS is helping enhance joint collaboration, delivering on the Army’s modernization priority and ensuring fiscal responsibility.

 


For more information, go to https://www.armyignited.army.mil/.

ERIKA CHRIST provides strategic communication contract support to PEO EIS at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, as a writer and editor for Bixal. She holds an M.A. in international relations and international communication from Boston University and a B.S. in international relations from Georgetown University. She has more than 25 years of experience in both the federal government and commercial sectors.   



Read the full article in the Fall 2022 issue of Army AL&T magazine. 
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