Bridging the ‘valley of death’ to deliver S&T to Soldiers

Faces of the Force: Dr. Charles A. Bass Jr.
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COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Defense Threat Reduction Agency
TITLE: Chief, Protection and Hazard Mitigation Division
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management
EDUCATION: Ph.D. in chemical engineering, New Jersey Institute of Technology; M.S. in chemical engineering, Johns Hopkins University; B.S. in engineering, UCLA; Licensed Professional Engineer, Commonwealth of Virginia
AWARDS: Defense Acquisition Workforce Award – Science and Technology Management; DTRA Research Directorate Distinguished Technical Fellow; DTRA Meritorious Civilian Service Medal; Army Superior Civilian Service Medal

By Ms. Susan Follett

“Besides budget battles, the hardest part of science and technology is getting new capabilities in the warfighter’s hands—[past] the famous ‘valley of death’ in acquisition,” said Dr. Charles A. Bass Jr., chief of the Protection and Hazard Mitigation Division within the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). “The best approach to overcome this is to stay in touch with the warfighter’s needs and priorities and to be product-focused throughout science and technology (S&T).

“New technologies are much easier to insert in a program when all ‘-ilities’ are addressed before the transition. Each year I learn where I have failed and how to approach this better next time,” he said.

Bass clearly has learned a lot from his past missteps, winning the Defense Acquisition Workforce Individual Achievement Award for Science and Technology Manager last year. His contributions to the Uniform Integrated Protective Ensemble Family of Systems, the Contamination Indicator Decontamination Assurance System and the Joint Biological Agent Decontamination System were key to making it possible for DOD to acquire three valuable capabilities within the next five years: a family of individual protective systems to address the threat of weapons of mass destruction; a spray that reduces the time and resources required to execute chemical agent decontamination; and a biological and chemical decontamination process that quickly returns sensitive equipment and aircraft to service.


Dr. Charles A. Bass Jr. receives the 2017 Acquisition Workforce Achievement and Development Innovation Award for Science and Technology Manager from the Hon. Ellen M. Lord, then-undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and now undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, at a Pentagon ceremony Dec. 6. At right are Patrick M. Shanahan, deputy secretary of defense, and Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, director, Force Structure, Resources and Assessment (J8), Joint Chiefs of Staff. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tammy Nooner)


“I was very pleased to receive the award. I have a great team and wonderful support staff. This award also reflects their quality and hard work,” Bass said, adding, “Success is a result of people working together, and everyone is capable of contributing.”

Bass manages an S&T portfolio to develop technologies that improve the warfighter’s physical protection against chemical and biological warfare threats. “I work closely with the acquisition manager for this commodity area, who takes these technologies into engineering and manufacturing development, production and sustainment. The important part of S&T is keeping the customer in mind and maintaining a product focus so the program yields capabilities that are effective.”

The range of capabilities in his portfolio—“from fundamental university research all the way to full-scale prototypes that are ready to go into production”—is something that others often find surprising. In one case, he and his team went from requirement to a limited fielding within four months. “This was the Transport Isolation System, designed to transport infected Ebola patients safely on military transport aircraft, and we were responding to an urgent requirement from the U.S. Transportation Command,” he explained. “This was a national-level crisis, so all the players—users, operational test agency, contractor, suppliers, etc.—were motivated to act.”

One factor in his team’s success was partnering with the Joint Project Manager (JPM) for Protection within the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. JPM Protection “worked closely with us on every step of the process,” Bass said, “negotiating a production contract before testing was completed, so we moved seamlessly from the urgent materiel release decision to production deliveries within several weeks.”

His staff is also working with universities to learn fundamental characteristics of nanomaterials to improve Soldier gear. “We are focused on materials that are good adsorbents of agents and possess catalytic activity to destroy the agents and expel the byproducts. These materials may one day be incorporated into the duty uniform to provide continuous protection with a suit that decontaminates itself.”

Bass, who served 20 years in the Army before retiring in 2000 at the rank of lieutenant colonel, noted that his greatest satisfaction “is finding technical solutions to problems that have been around since I served in the Army.” His first acquisition-related position was on an advanced development team for the M40 Protective Mask in the mid-1980s, when he was a captain. He gravitated toward acquisition after retiring from the Army. “This position gives me a great opportunity to apply my advanced degrees and experience as a warfighter.”

During his military career, Bass spent four years at what is now known as the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, taught chemistry at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and served in assignments and deployments with maneuver units at the battalion, brigade and division levels. After retiring, he spent several years managing research for a small business. “In addition to my work and active duty experience, Defense Acquisition University training on the program management track helped me understand how to interface with the acquisition program manager,” he said. “All these experiences address various aspects of what I do on a daily basis.”

Bass sees his role in part as the bridge between the researcher and the acquisition program manager, “so it is important to gain experience and training to understand the details of the activities in both domains,” he said. He recommends developmental assignments in areas where an employee’s experience may be lacking. “For instance, I facilitated a developmental assignment for a new S&T manager to spend some time working at the bench level in the lab that performed a large portion of the projects she was going to manage,” he said.

DTRA’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department developed the Scientist in the Foxhole program, which gives S&T managers a chance to observe tactical unit activities and get some hands-on experience so they can better understand the needs of the warfighter. Army researchers participated in exercises with the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives Command at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Other variations have included Scientist on the Flight Line, wherein researchers work with Air Force engineers at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, and Scientist at Sea, wherein S&T staff observed activities at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia. “We have swapped positions with our supported acquisition program management office, and we were able to train personnel and strengthen ties as a result,” he said.

“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-664-5635.

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