Defense gets tough with acquisition training criteria

The Defense Department last month significantly raised the requirements for training and education for its acquisition work force, issuing a broad new policy framework for continuous learning and launching a reassessment of all acquisition training needs.

Released by Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, the new policy, "Reform Through Learning," is the result of a six-month effort by DOD to design a policy to push acquisition workers to maintain a solid understanding of commercial standards and business practices.

"As we move to more sophisticated processes and empower acquisition employees to assume greater responsibility, it is imperative that we couple these increased demands on the work force with the kinds of training, education and professional development that will enable them to assume these new roles," Gansler said.

In particular, the policy requires managers to ensure and certify that acquisition workers are being provided with the opportunity for enhanced professional development, education and training throughout their careers. In addition, it requires that all personnel who have completed the certification requirements for their positions earn a minimum of 80 continuous-learning points every two years. According to the policy, acquisition personnel can meet this requirement through participation in functional and technical training, academic courses at colleges and universities, individual development assignments and professional activities.

Stan Soloway, deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform, said the new policy is "among the most far-reaching and comprehensive frameworks for employee development and lifelong learning in the federal sector" and is partly a response to a need for more focused training in commercial practices.

Soloway said acquisition policy officials had become concerned that "the rapid pace of change and re-engineering was outstripping employees' ability to stay abreast of acquisition reforms and new business practices." Education and training are the "linchpins to change," he said.

DOD recently launched a live, interactive, World Wide Web-based distance-learning program designed to provide acquisition workers with easier and more efficient access to training in commercial standards and business processes. The target audience for the new training modules is a broad range of management and entry-level workers, and the training will reinforce a team focus, Soloway said. To date, 250 students have enrolled in the program, and Soloway said he hopes to have up to 1,000 people trained in the next six months.

However, DOD's acquisition reform office has begun to reassess all training requirements because of the demands placed on the community by a more commercial business environment, said Col. Charles F. Vondra, the military assistant to Soloway. New initiatives being considered include an immersion course on commercial business ethics and culture, given at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, as well as a "just in time" computer-based training module on performance-based service contracting, Vondra said.

Chip Mather, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc., said it was a bit confusing that DOD was "doing this again," particularly because the 1991 Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act was supposed to have established the standards. However, Mather said the policy to require 80 hours of training and education every two years and the switch to a team focus are laudable changes.

DOD "needs to change the way [acquisition personnel] are being trained," Mather said. "They need to get away from process training and focus more on case studies." DOD needs to be "teaching people that they need to think and be business managers."

DOD also is defining the composition and size of the acquisition work force. According to Soloway, the size of the work force will reflect the reality that not everybody employed by an acquisition organization is an acquisition worker. Of 300,000 people, DOD expects the final count to be 150,000 to 180,000.

"We have a definition. We have categorized [the work force], and we're doing the nose-counting," Soloway said.

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