Military to turn more officers into acquisition

Provisions of a new law require the Defense Department to recast acquisition as an exciting career field to attract the best officers.

The House and Senate Armed Services committees made that recommendation in the fiscal 2009 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 3001) that President Bush signed Oct. 14.

In the law, Congress requires the each military branch to ensure that its general officers and flag officers are groomed for the acquisition field and assigned to it. Those officers who are considering acquisition as a career must especially see there are promotions ahead and ways to advance in the field. The law also requires the military to reserve a sufficient number of officer billets for the acquisition field to get the best managers for the growing field.

Although the law gave no specific figures, the Senate Armed Services Committee said at least 12 percent of the general officers and flag officers should be in acquisition and at least 10 percent need to have significant contracting experience, according to a report accompanying its original authorization measure.

Congress acted after a commission led by Jacques Gansler, a former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, found that the Army has not respected the skills and experience of its personnel in the contracting field. That mind-set has left the Army with a skeletal acquisition workforce increasingly burdened by a growing workload and greater scrutiny, the commission said.

However, numerous legislative and organizational attempts over the last 20 years to change that perspective have failed, the commission wrote in a 2007 report. The commission added that without major changes at its core, the Army acquisition processes can be expected to inevitably decline.

In a speech Oct. 16, Lee Harvey, deputy program executive officer for the Army’s enterprise information systems, said staffing is the service's biggest problem in contracting.

“I think they’re in a crisis,” he said about the Army's contracting officers. He also said the contracting field offers few rewards for the stressful work.

The Gansler Commission’s findings a symptomatic of a broader decline in the size of the acquisition workforce across DOD, the Senate committee said.

In fiscal 2000, 104 general officers — roughly 12 percent of all general officers in DOD — worked in acquisition positions. Seven years later, DOD had only 73 general officers serving in such positions. Meanwhile, DOD’s spending has almost doubled during that time.

The commission recommended increasing the Army’s military personnel by 400 and civilian personnel by 1,000. It also recommended adding 583 Army personnel to fill Defense Contract Management Agency jobs.

“Without increasing the number of general officers serving in these positions, DOD is unlikely to reverse the ongoing decline in its acquisition workforce and revitalize its acquisition and contracting practices,” the Senate committee wrote.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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