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Defense IT

Can you really fix DOD acquisitions in a week?

EDITOR's NOTE: Below is a Q&A from talking about the defense acquisition process.

The Section 809 Panel, established to find ways to streamline and improve the defense acquisition process, has advocated for drastic changes, primarily by empowering acquisition leaders to make buying and hiring decisions and boosting funding to train civilian acquisition workers, according to its latest report.

FCW talked with Section 809 Panel Chair David Drabkin and Commissioner and Ret. Army Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III about the panel’s June 28 report, a second of three volumes on streamlining acquisition regulations, to get their thoughts on how successful the recommendations would be if adopted.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

FCW: How do existing acquisition hiring authorities fail to address critical skill gaps through the hiring process? What are the gaps?

THOMPSON: One of the areas we knew we needed to work on was the acquisition workforce, roughly 150,000 in the Defense Department today. It’s one of the most professional workforces in the Department because of the certification and development requirements that are necessary to move from position to position.

But when we looked at the process of hiring new members to the acquisition workforce, it’s very cumbersome, and there’s really too many authorities out there. There are 44 different hiring authorities you can use to bring somebody into the acquisition workforce: Five of them are applicable for just the DOD acquisition workforce, 15 are broader DOD authorities that the acquisition workforce could be hired under and 24 apply to the federal government at large.

What we found is hiring managers -- the supervisors and the leaders in the DOD acquisition organizations, whether that be in a program executive office or a service materiel command -- often default back to the competitive hiring process that is really run under the tutelage of the Office of Personnel Management ... which is just too complicated.

FCW: What has the effect been on acquisition on the IT, technology side?

THOMPSON: If you talk to the services, or agencies in DOD, this is a very complicated world, and the level of technology change is unprecedented. And the Defense Department, just like everybody else, is in the competition for the best people in some very technical areas. There are gaps in skills there, but the agencies manage to fill those gaps. And if you want to be in competition for the best talent, you’ve got to be able to offer  a position that matches applicant's skills quickly. You can’t take 100 days or 180 days because people are not going to wait.

And that’s part of what this consolidation is trying to get to, to speed up the overall process. Find the right people that have the skills that you need, bring them in quickly and not get mired in a process that’s way too long.

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About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.

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