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Acquisition Work Force Steps Toward Reform

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2009 – Big changes are ahead in the acquisitions community as the Defense Department increases and reshapes its acquisition work force so it’s better postured to support the reforms Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and President Barack Obama are championing.

The federal civilian defense acquisition work force is expected to grow by about 20,000 over the next five years, Shay Assad, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, told American Forces Press Service.

The Defense Department will increase the number of federal civilian employees conducting acquisitions-related jobs by 20,000, while reducing its contractor work force by about 10,000. This will expand the acquisition work force from its current 127,000 federal employees and 52,000 contractors to 147,000 feds and about 42,000 contractors by fiscal 2015, Assad said.

The first 4,100 of the new federal employees are expected to be hired through a competitive selection process during fiscal 2010.

Assad called the growth – the largest in some three decades for the acquisition community – a vital step toward improving the way the department does business.

It’s an effort that’s generated support from the president, defense leaders and Congress. All are “totally aligned on the need to increase the size and improve the capability of the work force,” Assad said.

Obama underscored the importance of acquisition reforms earlier this week during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix.

“We cannot build the 21st-century military we need and maintain the fiscal responsibility that America demands unless we fundamentally reform the way our defense establishment does business,” he told the veterans.

“It’s a simple fact,” Obama continued. “Every dollar wasted in our defense budget is a dollar we can’t spend to care for our troops or protect America or prepare for the future.”

So in addition to making tough decisions about what equipment and weapons troops need and cutting unnecessary programs, officials are working to ensure they get the most out of every defense dollar spent.

The department has increased its contract obligations almost three-fold over the past eight years, from about $138 billion in 2001 to more than $390 billion in fiscal 2008. Yet the size of the work force that awards and oversees these contracts has remained relatively unchanged.

“The secretary is very concerned about proper oversight,” Assad said. “This is not just about ensuring that we get a good deal. It’s about ensuring that once we issue the contracts, how do we ensure we, in fact, got what we paid for? And how do we ferret out any waste or abuse and -- although it doesn’t happen often, it does occur -- fraud from the process?”

The additional acquisition employees will focus on awarding more competitive contracts and providing more contract oversight. Others will be hired across the department to improve business management, logistics management, systems engineering and program management functions, jobs now conducted largely by contractors.

Beefing up the department’s professional acquisition work force will improve its permanent capability, Assad said, while reducing reliance on contractors will bring more stability to the process. “This is taking a look at those functions we want to have inherent to our government, and to help us build the kind of inherent program management and systems engineering capability we want to have,” he said.

The bottom line, he said, is ensuring the department delivers U.S. forces what they need, when they need it and in the most cost-effective way.

“You can have nifty processes, you can use clever contracting techniques, but at the end of the day, it is having a capable, competent work force who can execute on behalf of the warfighters and taxpayers,” Assad said.

“You have to have enough people,” he added, “but you have to have the right capabilities as well. That’s the work force we are going to build.”

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Biographies:
Shay Assad


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