FROM THE DIRECTOR OF
ACQUISITION CAREER MANAGEMENT
CRAIG A. SPISAK
For the Army Acquisition Workforce, training has continued in spite of the limitations brought on by COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the world and every aspect of our lives. This is true as well for the Army Acquisition Workforce (AAW), emptying workplaces as we learn to do our jobs from our homes.
In our spare time, we’ve binge-watched shows (my wife and I are fond of “Dead to Me” and “Schitt’s Creek”), adopted pets, started new exercise programs, ate far more home-baked bread, cooked many more homemade meals and worked in our gardens. Some parents have learned how to keep their kids engaged in school, prepare meals and work full-time jobs simultaneously. Needless to say, things have been very different these last several months.
So what does the future hold for the AAW? As we receive guidance from leadership and gather data on how our affected operations are working, we have to envision and plan for what will follow. I suspect that our “new normal” will be somewhere in between what we used to consider normal—full offices with maybe a day of teleworking—and our current reality—virtually empty offices and full-time teleworking. I think we’ll have to find the right balance between a reduced footprint with greater telework when and where appropriate, keeping the health of the individuals in our workforce at the forefront of all considerations.
I’m concerned that the suspension of so many development activities will have a negative impact on the workforce. But one of the many areas in which we could not falter in the face of recent COVID-19 events is the competence and associated training we need to do our jobs. The Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act was enacted in 1990 to professionalize and establish education and training standards for the defense acquisition workforce, not even a pandemic could stop that.
Center of Excellence
The Army Acquisition Center of Excellence (AACoE) has conducted three virtual classes utilizing the Defense Collaboration Service (DCS). Twenty-three students completed the nine-week Army Acquisition Professionals Course; 20 students completed the one-week Army Engineering and Test and Evaluation Course; and 21 students completed the four-week Army Intermediate Contracting Course. AACoE has now changed its virtual platform from DCS to Microsoft Teams, which doesn’t require a CAC, and began an Army Acquisition Professionals Course with 36 students in mid-May.
How was the AACoE able to accomplish this on short notice? In early March, Director Kevin Zurmuehlen and his team began to develop contingencies in the event classes couldn’t be held in person. They decided to use DCS, since it was already up and running. Some changes were made to the curriculum, limiting group collaboration and revising some group work into individual work. To ensure the virtual classes went smoothly, a monitor was designated for each class. The monitor was responsible for troubleshooting technical issues and assisting the instructors and students if issues arose. This allowed the instructors to focus on teaching and the students on learning. In short, the entire AACoE staff came together to adjust the curriculum, learn the platform in minimal time and provide the instruction in a new and creative way.
The Defense Acquisition University (DAU) has had to scramble to convert its traditional in-person classes into virtual ones, and that process continues daily. From mid-March to the end of May, 463 classes had been on the DAU schedule; 373 of them were successfully converted to virtual instructor-led training (VILT). That’s an incredible rescue rate of over 80 percent. Nearly 12,000 students had originally planned to take those classes; 9,301 were able to take the VILT offering. That’s in the midst of a pandemic that forced DAU to change the way it does business virtually overnight.
The DAU schedule for fiscal year 2021 has not been released, but the first quarter is expected to be all VILT. Such class sizes are a bit smaller than live training. Having too many students in an online class degrades the quality of instruction each student receives. Student priority and reservations will continue to be determined by the Army Director, Acquisition Career Management (DACM) Office.
At the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, there are typically 1,700 to 2,000 students in residence at any time during the year—mostly active-duty military—with just as many students learning by distance, typically civilians. NPS was able to turn some 300 in-residence classes into distance learning classes, to go along with the 117 classes that were already taught by distance learning.
The Training With Industry (TWI) program conducted a virtual orientation on May 7 for the incoming fiscal year 2020 cohort and our industry partners. The DACM Office provided all the necessary information via a digital meeting platform and followed up with a supplementary information packet. All current TWI fellows are either teleworking or at their workplaces, depending on their company’s policies. We are planning on moving forward with TWI as soon as the fellows can safely get to their new duty stations.
On May 19, the DACM Office-sponsored DAU Senior Service College Fellowship held a virtual graduation for 26 students who completed the 10-month program. The celebration combined cohorts from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Warren, Michigan; Huntsville, Alabama; and Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey. The cohort heard a recorded message from Dr. Bruce D. Jette, the Army acquisition executive and assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, and were congratulated virtually by senior acquisition leaders. It’s not the same as the live ceremony usually conducted, but it was important to recognize the graduates’ significant achievement.
The coronavirus pandemic is not something that we planned for. But our ability to quickly respond and maneuver has made it possible for the AAW to continue the important and required training it needs. It may not be the world we want, but for now it’s the world we live in. We’ll make the best of it now and at every new turn we encounter.
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