Army rebuilds acquisition workforce to meet Pentagon reforms

New tactics to save money demand better business arrangements and contracts, and a skilled workforce that can negotiate them.

Army officials today said their efforts to rebuild the service’s acquisition workforce fall in line with new plans to cut spending and make the Defense Department run more efficiently.

“The efficiency initiatives, from our perspective, are only beneficial to us because they reinforce what we do as a profession,” said Edward Harrington, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new tactics to cut overhead costs and reform defense acquisition strategies demand better business arrangements and contracts, as well as a skilled workforce.

Many of Gates’ plans, introduced Sept. 14, centered on DOD becoming a smarter buyer because a significant portion of DOD’s budget goes for contracts. From a $700 billion budget, DOD spends $400 billion on contracts and half of that is spent on services, not weapons, Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said during a briefing with Gates on the new programs.


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“I think it’s a recognition that we need additional personnel to handle these contracting matters and that we need a much improved and skilled workforce to do that,” said Jeff Parsons, executive director of the Army Contracting Command.

In a memo that described the details of the 23-point reform, Carter said “a capable, qualified and appropriately sized acquisition workforce” will be very important to saving money. While many defense office staffs are being cut, the acquisition workforce's increases will continue.

During the discussion today, several Army contracting officials said the decision to downsize DOD in the 1990s wiped out a large portion of skilled and seasoned acquisition experts. Now the Army is rebuilding that workforce through internships and those wanting to make a mid-career move.

“We are attempting to reconstitute our technical skills that were lost,” said Kim Denver, director of the National Contracting Organization for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Harrington said the majority of those who left the acquisition workforce in the 1990s were mid- and senior-level contracting specialists.

“Our biggest challenge is to restore that real savvy, seasoned buyer,” Harrington said.

Despite the decrease, the acquisition workload has grown dramatically. Acquisition workers now handle five times more transactions than they did eight years ago, Harrington said.

“We have a tremendous challenge of balancing the workforce with the workload,” he said.

About the Author

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

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