WHY ASK WHY?

By August 31, 2021General
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TITLE: Fellow, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, Training and Doctrine Command, Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston, Texas
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 8
YEARS OF MILITARY SERVICE: 8
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level III in program management, Level III in science and technology management
EDUCATION: Ph.D. in pharmacology and molecular sciences, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology and B.S. in Spanish, both from Ursinus College; Project Management Professional (PMP) from Project Management Institute
AWARDS: Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Meritorious Service Medal (2nd award); Joint Service Commendation Medal; Army Commendation Medal (2nd award); Joint Service Achievement Medal; Army Achievement Medal; Army Superior Unit Award; Korea Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Service Medal; Expert Field Medical Badge; 2019 Edison Award (Gold) for Applied Technology, Lessons Learned; Alan Faden Award of Excellence, National Neurotrauma Society Symposium.


 

 Maj. Andrea Mountney

 

by Ellen Summey

 

Some kids are just born with the need to know why. Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly? Why is thunder so loud? For Maj. Andrea Mountney, that’s a very familiar story. “I was always very curious, always into science, whether it was biology or physics. My son is two and a half now, and my mother reminds me that when I was his age, my favorite word was ‘why.’ Everything was ‘Why? Why? Why?’ ” And so far, she hasn’t stopped asking.

Mountney did not follow the most common path to her Army commission as a research psychologist and medical acquisition professional. She already had earned a Ph.D. in pharmacology and molecular sciences from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and was working as a research scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, when an active-duty colleague asked her if she’d ever consider commissioning as an Army research scientist. “All credit to Lt. Col. Kara Schmid,” she said. Schmid, an Army neuroscientist, had planted the seed in Mountney’s mind, and the idea was too intriguing to pass up—even when she was offered a direct-hire government civilian position.

“I took quite a bit of time reflecting on the decision, because turning down a direct-hire position in the D.C. area was not insignificant,” she recalled. “Ultimately, I joined the Army because of the challenge. It was a nontraditional career path, but the opportunity to serve as an Army officer, particularly as a research scientist, was a once-in-a-lifetime decision, and I didn’t want to look back with regret—so I submitted my packet for consideration.” She was drawn to the idea of conducting research that might enable better outcomes following traumatic brain injury (TBI) and help improve the lives of service members bearing the “invisible wounds” of combat. And though her work has taken on a different focus, she said she knows she was right to join the Army. “I know it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

Mountney has taken to acquisition like a duck to water, a transition she credits to the similarities between the profession and her earlier studies—and the encouragement of Schmid and her broader professional network. “The day I came back from (the Basic Officer Leader Course in) San Antonio, [Schmid] said, ‘Great, you’re here. You can do Acquisition 101, and get started on it right away.’ Researchers, especially in the medical domain, are inherently acquisition professionals, yet we need help seeing the broader role we play executing full-spectrum operations as military officers. My graduate degree set the stage while [Defense Acquisition University] classes, my assignments and my mentors helped to translate critical thinking into tangible problem solving and solutions for the DOD and broader U.S. population.”

Mountney spent the last year and half working as the program lead for the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense’s (JPEO-CBRND) Joint Project Manager for CBRN Medical assisted acquisition for needles and syringes program in support of the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign. “We worked alongside the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] to provide vaccination materials as part of the ‘whole of government’ effort in response to the global pandemic and COVID-19 public health crisis,” she said. She had previously served as the deputy joint product manager within Chemical Defense Pharmaceuticals, “leading the alternative autoinjector portfolio and life cycle management of chemical defense products.” In that role, Mountney and her team received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for an autoinjector to counteract chemical warfare agents, “the first approved chemical defense autoinjector by the DOD in 16 years,” she said.

She has encountered many things that surprised her since commissioning eight years ago, including the scale and scope of responsibilities given to Soldiers, even relatively early in their military careers. “In terms of personnel development, one area where the Army truly excels is that it gives a high level of responsibility to a junior officer who might not necessarily have that same opportunity in the private sector,” she said. “I’ve been in the Army for eight years, and the last year that I was working at the JPEO, my budget was approximately $350 million. With that responsibility, you’re also accountable. The Army is very good at developing leaders. While it feels like ‘sink or swim,’ where your leadership gives you challenging, high-profile, high-impact programs, they help prepare you to execute them appropriately. Those who take the opportunity and trust in the system and their network are set up with the tools for success. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of that leader development and investing in acquisition professionals—particularly medical—in order to respond to the current crisis and prepare for future pandemics and similar biodefense-related threats.”

The scale of the effort is also something that surprised Mountney’s friends and family when she started on the needles and syringes project. “We had to secure 1.03 billion needles and syringes on contract,” she said. “The complexity of the procurement and distribution processes are immense—the team worked, and is still working, to ensure that products are manufactured, shipped and tracked to support kitting activities with the HHS Strategic National Stockpile for distribution to states across the country and potential international support, if directed. This challenge also involved regulatory engagements, so in addition to acquisition expertise and leadership, technical and regulatory expertise for medical products were critical for our success.”

The key, she said, is integrating all the various skills needed in the day-to-day while focusing on effective communication and stakeholder management. “Understanding logistics, program management, how to build a portfolio, risk recognition and mitigation, proactive planning, how to appropriately engage with national senior leaders, and how the joint services work, along with prior project experiences I had, where we worked with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the Strategic National Stockpile and the FDA, all helped with skill development. Building relationships was a critically important factor in the last year because it truly was a ‘whole of government’ effort. There are so many entities involved.” She was in regular communication with leaders of Army Contracting Command, Operation Warp Speed, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and others. “Failure wasn’t an option, and this was truly was a capstone effort that capitalized on everything I had learned over the previous eight years.”

What’s next for Mountney? She’s still asking questions. Last month, she officially transitioned out of JPEO-CBRND and began a fellowship with the FDA, through the Army Medical Department’s Long-Term Health Education Training program, which is similar to the Army’s Training with Industry developmental opportunities. “The goal is to gain a better understanding of the FDA’s regulatory approval process, which will allow me to be a more effective leader in highly regulated and technical medical research, development and acquisition that can only help in serving the Army and joint force in future programs and assignments. Ideally, I should be better at knowing how to accelerate schedule, in order to deliver medical products through the process faster, and at lower cost while sustaining the high quality required of all medical acquisitions.”

Ultimately, she is driven by the knowledge that her work directly impacts the wellbeing of others. “My greatest satisfaction as a member of the Army Acquisition Workforce is working to provide tangible medical products to the field in real time that are critical to saving lives. It’s a humbling experience and I am grateful to be part of the team.”

   

“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 go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.

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