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Acquisition Update Brings Workforce and Industry Together for the Warfighter

The Acquisition Update announcement poster.
Matthew Sablan / February 27, 2024

Acquisition Update Brings Workforce and Industry Together for the Warfighter

DAU’s annual Acquisition Update gives senior leaders, acquisition workforce members, industry and military members an opportunity to share critical insights on acquisition practices and requirements that support warfighter supremacy. 

Five Big Areas for Delivering Warfighter Supremacy

LTG Robert Collins, Principal Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) and Director, Army Acquisition Corps, opened the event outlining the challenges facing acquisition in the coming year, highlighting five topic areas.

  1. Acquisition has a need for speed, whether it is leveraging rapid prototyping and fielding capabilities or flexible authorities to provide capabilities more quickly. “Equipping timelines have to spin on the threat, not budget cycles,” Collins said.
  2. Acquisition professionals must continue to find ways to expand their authorities and leverage innovative acquisition approaches. These methods could include bringing in nontraditional suppliers and finding new ways to conduct experimentation and delivery at scale.
  3. Improving relationships with industry. “Our relationship with the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) is to keep it resilient and secure,” Collins said. This can be done by incentivizing the industrial base to seek innovative solutions while encouraging long-term investments. Collins also pointed to the rapid decline of the United States’ access to raw materials.
  4. Increasing focus and reliance on software throughout DoD and DIB means that there must be a renewed focus on digital transformation. Collins cited examples of improving software security, protecting intellectual property and assessing software agility. “Familiarization with the software pathway; software is essential and part of almost every military operation,” Collins said. The software focus also means that DoD must focus on data rights, interoperability and advanced digital upskilling for the workforce and key leaders. Collins also noted that a continuing challenge has been recruiting and retaining future talent. 
  5. The workforce is critical to providing sustainment and logistics support to make warfighters as fast, mobile and lethal as possible. “We have to think of sustainment through the lens of contested logistics,” Collins said. DoD must have a “wholistic approach that integrates all elements of sustainment across a wide range of threats and challenges.” One area the United States excels at currently is “maintenance at the point of need.”

New Workforce Framework

Dr. Rahda Plumb, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, presented how her office will focus on the workforce. This focus will allow the workforce to meet both new and existing challenges, such as producing at scale, while improving the number of touchpoints with the warfighter.

“Innovation is creativity,” Plumb said. DoD must “balance speed and rigor. We have to deliver what warfighters need.” The workforce must balance formal education, hands-on learning and the implementation of emerging technology, using private and public sector business practices to deliver capabilities at speed and scale.

DoD must address the fast, agile and well-resourced pacing threats facing America. “How do we get faster, more agile and better trained,” Plumb asked. The answer to that is found in the new workforce framework that Plumb submitted for signature. More information will be made available once it is signed.

Plumb shared the framework’s four pillars:

  • Acquisition innovation in the face of the pacing threat
  • Making DoD an employer of choice
  • Talent development in the Acquisition and Sustainment ecosystem
  • Continuously improve workforce policies, programs and processes

The continued development of the workforce will rely on self-directed learning. According to Plumb, self-directed learning will “empower the individual to have the tools and training that you all need to do your job on a day-to-day basis.” 

“Training,” she explained, “is not just to check the box or get a certificate. Training enables and empowers the workforce to make hard choices and decisions.” She acknowledged that workforce training is moving beyond classroom-based instructor-led training. Later, Ellen Lord, PPBE Commission and former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, recognized how DAU’s development of virtual training during COVID addressed this need. Self-directed learning is not just another task to add to an employee’s job, it should be a priority.

“Ultimately, the workforce framework is about lifting up and elevating the parts of our acquisition and sustainment workforce culture,” Plumb said. "It's not that people aren't upskilling or coming up with creative solutions. We need to make that happen at scale in a way that’s less cumbersome.” Self-directed learning will allow the workforce to make critical, strategic decisions on balancing speed, rigor, risk and failure.

“Our expectation is that people will try things that might not work out,” Plumb said. “We accept that some things will fail.” These failures will serve as an opportunity to learn and better prepare for future acquisition challenges.

Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) Reform Commission

Lord announced that the PPBE Reform Commission’s report will be published March 6, 2024. The commission included discussion with academia, industry and across Government stakeholders. The report will focus on two key issues:

  • Geopolitical events that are rapidly involving threat vectors from many areas which require agility and modernization.
  • The historical context of the origin of the PPBE process more than 60 years ago. For example, most innovation today comes from industry as opposed to when innovation came from Government. 

PPBE processes were built around the Government’s development of technology and could influence the testing and fielding processes. With technology moving more quickly, the Commission must reconcile the process with a 2-year budgeting process. “The pace of business process innovation is sorely lacking compared to the pace of technology innovation, demand signal,” Lord said.

Lord pointed to one area where DAU can assist: training and standardization related to justification books (also known as j-books or budgets books). “We need to standardize j-books similar to weapon systems,” Lord said. This would allow all PPBE discussions to be data-driven discussions. Second, Lord recommended more work be done with artificial intelligence to examine “what if” scenarios. The PPBE commission report, Lord said, should provide DAU with a “target-rich environment” for how DAU can support the acquisition community.

“DoD is too risk averse,” Lord said, echoing Plumb and Collins. “The default position in the department is to take legal advice and be risk averse so no one, particularly Congress in a hearing, could blame you. We need leadership to embrace risk taking.”

Additional Panels

Throughout the two days, attendees heard from speakers with various backgrounds in government, academia and industry. Full videos of the speakers will be available on DAU Media. The successes of the acquisition community were highlighted, showing a path forward. 

When looking at the challenge facing DoD to recruit and retain the workforce, multiple speakers turned toward the importance of the mission. “We know our mission sells,” Plumb said.

“We’re using systems developed in the 50s and 60s that still have lifecycle availability, even today,” said U.S. LTG Robert Rasch, Director, Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office. “We build systems right, but we don’t build them fast enough.”

The Acquisition Update announcement poster. Matthew Sablan