Army: Bolstering acquisition workforce could take 10 years

It will take three years to hire 1,400 employees and even more time to properly train them and get support from service leaders, Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson said.

Building up the Army’s acquisition workforce into an adequately staffed, experienced labor force will likely take as long as 10 years, a top Army officer told a Senate panel Dec. 6. The Commission on Army Acquisition and Program Management in Expeditionary Operations stated in a report released Nov. 1 that the Army should add 1,400 employees to balance the dramatic increase in defense spending since the 2001 terrorist attacks against the 25 percent of the acquisition workforce cut in the 1990s.Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said it would take about three years to fill 400 positions with military contracting officers and 1,000 jobs with civilian contracting officers. But getting contracting officers training, certification and essential hands-on experience will require the most time, he told the Senate Armed Service Committee’s Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee. Thompson’s estimates reflect demographics, the military’s recruitment statistics and the low unemployment rate, he said. Nevertheless, “we have to make sure we get the message across…that this is a viable and lucrative career field, and that we value their service,” Thompson said. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), subcommittee chairman, said he’s concerned about Thompson’s timeline. “I hope that that’s not true, though. I hope we can do it sooner than that,” he said. “We’ll certainly press for that effort” as the subcommittee considers this as an issue that must be fixed. Bolstering the workforce will be tough also because contracting is considered a dead-end job in the military, lawmakers and Army officials said. The commission said the Army’s acquisition workforce is overworked, undervalued and under-supported by Army leaders. It recommended adding general officers who would offer incentives to pursuing a military career in contracting. Claude Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, told the subcommittee that the service has already approved a two-star-level Army contracting command organization under Army Materiel Command, with subordinate commands. He said the service is looking for officers to fill those positions. “We plan to grow our military contracting structure in the active force in line with the commission recommendations,” he said. Jack Gansler, chairman of the commission and former Defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said the commission said the service must raise the stature and increase the number of military and civilian contracting employees, particularly for wartime and emergency contracting operations. “We need contracting people who are in uniform,” Gansler said. Lawmakers are concerned about the various aspects of the contracting issue. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said “tens of billions of dollars go down the drain” because of contracting problems that were pointed out after past conflicts but Army leadership failed to solve them.Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he hopes the commission’s recommendations will spur Army officer to act.