FROM THE DIRECTOR FOR
ACQUISITION CAREER MANAGEMENT
CRAIG A. SPISAK
Back-to-Basics puts defense acquisition workforce in a whole new world.
The Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act of 1990 paved the way for our current acquisition workforce framework. That framework served us well for 30 years. But as the defense workforce is faced with rapidly evolving technology, near-peer threats and diminishing resources, a readjustment is required.
Dramatic, necessary changes are coming.
On Sept. 2, Hon. Ellen M. Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment (USD (A&S)), released a memorandum outlining Back-to-Basics (BTB), the first major reform of the defense acquisition workforce management framework since the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) was enacted in November 1990.
The point of this change in policy is to focus the acquisition workforce on the core functions that do the design, development and fielding of operational capabilities to our warfighters. We started Oct. 1 with the beginning of this transition phase, with the goal of full implementation by October 2021.
Moreover, there are budget realities that require workforce training and development to focus on a leaner, basic approach that empowers the workforce for success. We can no longer afford for everyone to get a “one size fits all” acquisition education.
To enable the workforce to focus on the design, development and fielding of operational capabilities, BTB consolidates our traditional 14 career fields into six:
- Business-financial management/-cost estimating.
Engineering and Technical Management.
- Program management.
- Test and evaluation.
As we prioritized our efforts, we needed to look at which career areas are going to give us—for the Army and for DOD writ large—the best posture to be competitive against near-peer adversaries. And that may mean the removal of some current career fields as part of the coded acquisition workforce. That doesn’t mean that what you do is not important. It just means that in a redefined acquisition workforce, we need to reprioritize training and development resources.
Why is this happening? Let’s look at the 30-year-old acquisition framework established under DAWIA. The three-level training and education for certification tended to come early in a career and was a one-size-fits-all construct for anyone in a certain career field. It included excessive requirements and lacked flexibility to respond to demands in a changing and complex environment. Under BTB, there will be streamlined certification requirements that will include lean acquisition core training early in a career, followed by job-relevant training and on-the-job experience. The idea is to create a 21st century continuous-learning environment where training happens closer to the point of need—right-in-time training.
There are also budget realities that need to be taken into account. Defense Acquisition University (DAU) simply can’t continue to teach at this level. Under Defense Wide Review 1.0 and 2.0, DOD significantly reduced funding to DAU and the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Account. BTB requires innovation to equip the workforce with the training and knowledge it needs in a more resourceful and effective manner
For instance, a Level III certification in contracting currently requires 650 hours of training. Senior contracting leaders are planning to reduce the higher level of contracting certification down to 250 hours, which will free up contracting professionals for job-relevant and on-the-job training.
The education and training offered by DAU will change. In November, Alan Shaffer, deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, and Jim Woolsey, DAU’s president, wrote about how DAU will be transforming from “a schoolhouse to a highly networked platform, using many different modes and methods to provide information, tools, and training from numerous sources.” DAU plans to have its training be higher quality, more engaging, tailored more to the user’s needs, a bigger focus on online learning and, of course, shorter classes. Read the complete message at https://www.dau.edu/News/Defense-Acquisition-Workforce-Reform-and-DAU’s-Transformation.
BTB will place even greater emphasis on the supervisor-employee relationship. Training will no longer be as simple as checking a couple of boxes each year. With less prescriptive training required for certification, it will be incumbent upon the workforce member to seek out specialty training. Acquisition training and development will include increased point-of-need, often virtual, job-relevant training and credentials as part of its 21st-century continuous learning environment. To meet the needs of supervisors, the Army DACM Office has created a portal that ensures supervisors have the latest information on how to best support their employees. Explore Supervisor’s Corner at https://asc.army.mil/web/career-development/supervisors-corner/.
We know that these changes are daunting and, for many, may be unsettling. Be assured that we understand that. I know you have many questions, questions which right now may not have answers. As this new policy and its implementation evolve, updates will be announced on the Office of the USD(A&S) Human Capital Initiatives’ Back-to-Basics Defense Acquisition Workforce Transformation website, at https://www.hci.mil/btb.html, and our DACM Office has a web page dedicated to BTB at https://asc.army.mil/web/dacm-office/back-to-basics/. The DACM Office page also has answers to frequently asked questions, at https://asc.army.mil/web/topics/btb/. As soon as any new changes are finalized, we will let you know.
It’s the people who do the work. If we’re not focusing on the people and the talent they bring to the table, and what we can do to give them the tools to be really successful and good at what they do, then we’re sort of missing the boat. I know this is a lot of change over a relatively short time. But the Army Acquisition Workforce faced the sudden challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t miss a beat. I expect the AAW’s shift to BTB will be just as seamless.