Shaping the Evolving Acquisition Work Force

In early May, SLD sat down with retiring (in only one sense of the word) Frank Anderson, President of the Defense Acquisition University till a few weeks ago.  Brigadier General Frank J. Anderson (Retired) is an articulate and persuasive advocate for innovation in shaping the future human capital strategy within DOD.  General Anderson wore dual hats as the head of the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and the head of the Pentagon’s Office of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (OSD AT&L) effort to shape a strategic plan for the management of the acquisition workforce.  General Anderson laid out his assessment of the way ahead in re-shaping the acquisition workforce as well as discussing new ways to shape learning for that workforce.

The interview was conducted shortly before his retirement.  He previously served as Commandant of the Defense Systems Management College, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Contracting , and Air Force Competition Advocate General . He also served as the first chairman of the Federal Iner-agency Working Group for Alternate Dispute Resolution . He was recognised by Attorney General Janet Reno for his leadership of the Federal ADR Working Group . He was selected for the Who’s Who in America for 2000 and has been selected to receive this years National Contract Management Association’s National Achievement Award.

He has served as a major weapon system program director , project group manager, director of contracting for a major acquisition center, commander of a plant representative office, and warranted contracting officer. He is Level III certified in Program Management and Contracting.

General Anderson is a graduate of the Defense Systems Management College, Air Command Staff College, Industrial College of the Armed Forces and has a masters and bachelors degree (Cum Laude) in Business. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Contract Management Association , the Washington Area Corporate University Consortium, and is a Trustee for the Contract Management Institute.

SLD: During your time at Defense Acquisition University, you have been shaping a virtual revolution in training  in two senses.  You have used the virtual world of the web as a cornerstone capability and, in turn, have used those tool sets to change the overall training infrastructure for the acquisition workforce.  Could you explain about the approach?

General Anderson: We want to enable and empower the workforce that we’re putting in place for tomorrow to not only be better than the workforce today, but to create an environment so that when they need a knowledge asset, they can easily access it. These are terms of art that we’re starting to use in relation with what we think the workplace or learning environment will be as we go forward. We want to deliver learning resources when a person needs it. What we have learned over time is the moment people tend to learn the most is when they’re trying to do something and when they’re really focused – when they’re actually really focused on that learning outcome. At that point in time, if we can deliver learning resource for that time “when I’m there working a source collection and I’ve gone through source selection training, but I didn’t use it right away; so now two years later, I’m on a source selection team, I know in general how to do it but I really need to refresh my knowledge”. The users will have gone through a resident training course. But now it becomes how do we use learning resources as performance support? My goal is to help a person excel at the job at hand.

SLD: And, of course, if you can have it structured so that, linking my experience with your tool set, I can give you feedback and modifies those tools.

General Anderson: Absolutely. So we need to be in a position where we can continuously update, where you know that idea of learning is not a static one-time operation. The idea of learning is in fact a dynamic process which you have to continuously update, and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to change with the certification structure that we’ve put in place.

SLD:    You’re going from essentially “permanently” structured learning process to one that is a lot more dynamic and fluid. So you try and measure skill sets rather than just perhaps testing information, which you are passing on through a structured course.

General Anderson: Right. You used a key term. We’re trying to deliver capabilities that are important to improve acquisition outcomes. It’s not about a static certification mode, and the term of art that we’re using is the ability to deliver learning resources at the individual employee’s point of need.

We’ve accepted the fact that to have a dynamic learning environment there is no theory. So when a person goes through certification training, that’s good for getting the basics, but there is no theory. Policies will change, consideration of the program they are working on will be different, i.e. when they get on the job, what they need to do know, understand, and be able to do, is what we have to help them address:  we do that by having learning resources that they can get to at their learning point of need.

Instead of being captured by a structure that’s shaped only by when we have a classroom, when we have an instructor, and we can schedule resources to get that person out of the workplace into the classroom environment. We’re also shaping a series of resources that’s not just focused on an individual’s acquiring skills.

We are doing what we’re calling “intact team training.” This is training where we will work as a team on a program objective program mission. So there is a different dynamic between myself as a student understanding the rules, regulations, and processes for doing engineering, and the Department of Defense, or the federal government, or as a team member doing contracting.  For example, how do I have to play as a member of a team working on the C-17 versus the F-22? We are shaping training so we can go work with the appropriate team. What are your skill gaps? What are the needs specific to that team operation?

SLD:    So presumably you have to have a core skill set training, basic tool sense for your acquisition role?

General Anderson: Right. Functional training. We have a huge capability to deliver learning resources. And by that I’m talking about policies and procedures; we are trying to shape a learning environment where everybody will know everything that they need to know at the point they need to know it.

So how does that work? The courses that we’re building now in the new contracting course, as well as the new basic fundamental course that was deployed in April, are a resident course, but uses web tools. Although it’s a resident course they operate in the classroom on their computers. They come and everybody has a laptop. The reason we want to do that is we want all the people going back to the field to have had exposure to going to the websites that we have available and that will provide supporting tools to an employee in the field.

SLD: Are you getting good support for this effort from the Congress and Administration?

General Anderson: We have had excellent support from the Congress. In fact, many of the things that we’re currently doing, we would not be doing but for the support and the direction that we’ve received from them.  We’ve had outstanding support. The Congress has been very active in the human capital space since about 2006. And the direction and vision that they’ve had for improving the acquisition workforce has been key to many of the initiatives that we have in place.

What we’ve done with training have been driven primarily by the team that we have here and excellent support from DOD leadership. So when you go look at my time here, I have really worked with several leaders within various administrations, but because we have had a strategic vision and direction, whether Republican or Democrat, we have had broad support for what we’re trying to do. So we have benefited greatly from stability of mission and direction, as well as  stability of the leadership team that we have in place, and a long term, positive relationship with the Hill.

SLD: One of the major challenges in reshaping the acquisition workforce is that as you hire you loose a significant cadre of experienced people.  How are you dealing with that challenge?

General Anderson:  We have worked very hard to shape a data-driven understanding of the detailed nature of our acquisition workforce.  We have built data beyond broad characterizations of the folks in the workforce, and have shaped an understanding of the specific skill sets which folks possess.  We then can make judgments on the age cohorts we have within the acquisition work force, which retiring capabilities we need to seek to retain while we shape the new workforce, and which new workers have which skill sets to meet current and emerging acquisition needs.

Dr. Carter recently signed out a document on the DOD human capital strategic plan, which was built around the database, which we have crafted. We have a good strategy in place of where we want to go and this is not a document that we just worked in isolation. This document has been in evolution for almost two years.

SLD: Could you provide some further understanding with regard to how you have broken out the workforce into age cohorts and core competencies?

General Anderson: We break the workforce into three core hard groups. We do analysis with regard to three categories:  future, mid-career and senior. This helps us understand when various functional communities are most apt to retire.

It will also help us to develop targeted retention strategies that are not peanut butter spreads that you often see. In  2009 the acquisition workforce hired approximately 15,000 people. We lost approximately 8,000, which represents a net gain of about 7,000 people. And that’s new hires and replenishment hires. The growth strategy we added increased in size about 2,000 people.

So, as we understand the dynamics, we’re getting smarter and we will be smarter next year than we are this year. We will continue to grow, so it’s an evolving process. But the good news is we have the right foundation in place. That’s hiring and recruiting.

The learning piece we set up so that we can connect to people anywhere in the world:  seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day at they’re learning point of need. They’re no longer depending on us just to schedule a classroom. We do that and we’re very good at it. We now have a total learning environment that’s available to support this workforce and they are an evolving set of new web tools that are available for individuals to have more control over their learning environment. And that’s unique.

SLD: How did you develop your web tools?

General Anderson: The Learning Management System (LMS) that we are using was developed internally: we did that because when we were starting the journey, there were so many critics. Our LMS is becoming a standard in the department. Other organizations are starting to use our LMS as well, which allows us to share the cost of ownership across multiple organizations and just not have one organization that’s paying the total cost of an individual solution. That’s a best practice.

What most people don’t know, the largest provider of acquisition training for the federal government is Defense Acquisition University. This is a national asset and not just for the Department of Defense where we leverage the investments made in training here.

SLD:  You’ve mentioned  the transformation of the Defense Acquisition University, and one of the more interesting points you made is how it was basically self-financed.  Can you describe this approach and process?

General Anderson: In 2000 we made a proposal to the senior leadership in response to a tasking from the (then) Under Secretary of Defense Acquisition Technology and Logistics, Dr. Jack Gansler, to re-engineer the learning environment for the acquisition workforce. We went back with a proposal that said there are two strategies for doing this, we can either get new money that will allow us to go do the things that we’re being asked to do, or we can take money out of the existing budget which means that we would draw down training for a period of time and hiring and we would re-purpose and re-use that funding to rethink the learning paradigm for the acquisition workforce.

The direction that we received was to work the program through our internal funding and strategies and we did that. Fundamentally, such a process involved relocating to the acquisition workforce population center in Huntsville, Alabama. We were already at Wright Patterson, San Diego, and other locations where we could reduce travel and per diem dollars. And that money was then reinvested in expanding the learning resources that were available for the community. We were very, very successful in doing this.

SLD:    So  you basically moved from requiring people to come to your stadium to play ball to playing away games, deploying to where the acquisition professionals needed to be and this is a good foundation for the web learning approach that you’ve now taken.

General Anderson: Exactly. What we were able to do by co-locating with the workforce has put us in a position where we can start a very active consulting or mission assistance support program that’s in place and has been very effective to date; we then look at the best way to create an environment so that we could do seven day, twenty-four hour support worldwide. That required a significant investment in our web or “e” presence. Today that is an integral and very big part of the practice. What many people thought is that we were cutting or eliminating resident training in order to grow the “e” practice. We reinvested the funds that were regenerated and today we actually deliver more resident training than we ever had in the history of the Department and the web based presence has been a national resource. Not just for the Department of Defense, but for the entire federal sector, as well as many of our defense contractors.

SLD:    The final question  focuses on the dual hat mission that you’ve done. It’s very good for the nation that you were making this transformation because when the renewed emphasis on human capital investment occurred you were ready to help lead in this effort: could you tell us a little bit about your dual hat effort.

General Anderson: Absolutely. In 2006 Ken Krieg who was then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Technology and Logistics gave me the additional role of preparing a strategic plan for the acquisition workforce. There was a lot of legislation that was being passed by the Congress relative to the acquisition workforce. Krieg did not believe we had a strategic view about how successfully to manage the acquisition workforce. He asked me to take on that role and that has been very exciting, very challenging, and it allowed the Department to be well positioned to support Secretary Gates and ATL Secretary Carter in their strategy to grow and improve the acquisition workforce as a part of the new acquisition and reform initiatives.

*** Posted on June 29th, 2010

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

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