Panel predicts DOD contracting workforce to expand

Defense Department officials are expanding the contracting workforce to better handle the money DOD is spending.

A panel of high-ranking defense officials has predicted more employees and a larger role for the Defense Department’s acquisition workforce.

President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said they want to hire more people there, particularly skilled experts, and officials said they’ve started the hiring process.

“This is an unprecedented acquisition workforce growth initiative,” said Shay Assad, DOD’s director of defense procurement acquisition policy and strategic sourcing. “Essential to improving acquisition outcomes is a robust, highly skilled, ethical and professional workforce.”

DOD-wide, officials want to increase the acquisition community by 15 percent to 20,000 people through fiscal 2015, Assad said.

DOD intends to convert approximately 11,000 contractor support positions to full-time government employees. Officials want a better balance between government employees and contractors in handling contracting. He reiterated that agencies need to draw clear lines between inherently governmental functions. Obama’s March 4 memo on procurement reform asks for clearer definition of inherently governmental functions, which is work that only a government employee should do.

Meanwhile, the Navy needs to get more expertise in systems engineering to help write the technical requirements for contracts and contracting officers, said James Thomsen, principal civilian deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for the acquisition workforce.

Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said that service has those same needs, including business managers and experts in estimating costs.

The officials testified at a House Armed Services Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing about whether the acquisition workforce was viewed in DOD as a mere business expense or a major player in backing up the warfighter. Officials said that within the DOD, the contracting community has not been viewed as a major player.

“How do we get this mind-set that the acquisition people are the coolest people in the camp?” asked Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), the subcommittee's chairman. Snyder said in films based in prisoner-of-war camps, the pivotal soldier was the one who could get the materials the captives needed to escape.

People outside of acquisition need to recognize what the contracting community does, said Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.

“They have to value and trust those people. It’s that simple,” Thompson said. However, Thompson and other officials agreed that news accounts about contracting employees often note mistakes and crimes committed with the taxpayer dollars. “It begins to affect your mind-set after a while,” Thompson said.