Heidi Shyu’s legacy in Army acquisition
From the Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army
for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology
Mr. Gabriel Camarillo
Throughout a five-year period of remarkable change and instability, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)) Heidi Shyu has left a remarkable legacy as a leader, professional—and, to many, a mentor. Her tenure in the ASA(ALT) organization has left not only lasting impacts on the warfighter and the acquisition process, but also an indelible mark on the Army acquisition community, and all those she worked with and alongside during her time with the Army. We will miss her significant contributions to the Army.
Ms. Shyu first joined ASA(ALT) in November 2010 as the principal deputy. She was nominated to serve as the ASA(ALT) in February 2012 and confirmed that September. During her tenure, I have had the distinct privilege and pleasure to serve as both her special assistant and principal deputy—a proximity that enabled me to learn a great deal. Watching her gracefully assume and execute the heavy responsibilities of leading a workforce of nearly 5,000 people and managing more than 600 Army programs, I quickly came to appreciate her business acumen, strong technical expertise, unparalleled leadership and, above all else, her unwavering commitment to the warfighter.
Her time in the Office of the ASA(ALT) spanned one of the most austere fiscal climates in the history of the service, with steeply declining budgets across DOD, and saw a significant drawdown of personnel and equipment from two theaters. Despite these challenges, I was always impressed by her commitment to a future that needed preparation: capabilities that required investment, threats that required a planned response and future leaders in the organization that called for mentoring. Throughout it all, she infused our work—the Army’s mission—with an uncommon humanity and disarming sense of humor. Working in Army acquisition became more than a noble calling; it became an exciting and enjoyable endeavor on behalf of our Soldiers.
MANAGING WELL ON MULTIPLE LEVELS
Secretary Shyu’s accomplishments are too numerous to describe here, but three stand out as she leaves ASA(ALT). First, she established a successful emphasis on core competencies for the enterprise. Sound program planning, risk management and detailed execution reviews were her hallmarks. She worked tirelessly on evenings and weekends, often summoning us to technical “deep dives” that lasted hours to help define a program strategy. The result was a set of programs that were managed well with clear direction and strategy. This no-nonsense approach to acquisition offered a lasting counterpoint to critics who pointed to a history of program cancellations and false starts.
Second, Secretary Shyu succeeded in guiding the Army’s equipping efforts beyond the immediate needs of current operations to focus on capabilities required in the future. Her push for a comprehensive approach fundamentally changed the processes used to plan investment in research, development and acquisition to allow for extended planning over a 30-year horizon.
This had the effect of linking processes for defining investment in science and technology with existing acquisition programs and Army sustainment efforts in new ways. These effects will be appreciated for years to come. Finally, in yet another era of acquisition reform, Secretary Shyu reminded us all of an often unheard voice in the debate—that of the program manager.
Contrasting what she saw in acquisition with her own experience in the private sector, she highlighted the differences experienced by government program managers who often lack the ability to flexibly use resources—both fiscal and personnel—to overcome technical challenges and achieve innovative results. She often relied on humorous analogies about the burdens on the program manager who faces accountability for results but shares responsibility across a diffuse set of stakeholders. Army acquisition will miss her ability to communicate these challenges so effectively using inimitable charm and engaging personality.
Without question, Secretary Shyu has left an indelible mark on the heart of the Army and DOD acquisition communities. While I know we will all miss her greatly, I remain confident that her commendable dedication to our Army will continue to inspire us long after her departure. I am profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from her and serve with her. She has earned a well-deserved break from those five-hour technical deep dives, and I wish her all the best in her next challenge.
This article was originally published in the January – March 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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