Air Force launches crowdsourcing-like approach to acquisition

Thursday - 10/31/2013, 4:05am EDT

Jason Miller interviews Maj. Gen. Wendy Masiello, director of contracting for the Air Force.

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The Air Force lost 35 veteran contracting officers over the last year with a combined 700 years of federal experience.

Instead of trying to replace them over time, the service is pooling its resources from across the world under a new installation contracting agency.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Wendy Masiello, the director of contracting at the service, said the virtual agency stood up Oct. 1 and will move to full operating capability over the next year.

Masiello, who spoke Wednesday at the Coalition for Government Procurement conference in Falls Church, Va., said the Air Force realized it wasn't going to be able to replace the civilian experts who left easily or quickly, so it needed another approach to make up for the lost knowledge and abilities.

"It was born out of that whole idea of we can't do it on our own. We've got to do it as a team, and how do we pull those teams together from major commands that are in Texas, Hawaii, Europe and Langley, Va.? How do we make them one team?" she said. "We started talking to each other and figured out this is how we will have to build this cohesive team and figure out how better to manage. Right now, we have organization stood up. The policies and procedures are pretty well defined in terms of authorities. But now for the next year as we move from initial operating capability to full operating capability we start fleshing out the details."

New leaders in place

The specifics the Air Force still needs to figure out include how best to manage the people, the process to do the acquisition reviews, the technical procedures, the systems and software needed to do work.

"The whole idea is to maximize our resources, to realize we will not get anymore, and over time understand where the strengths are and capitalize on those strengths," Masiello said.

She said Brig. Gen. Casey Blake is the commander of the new Air Force Contracting Agency, and Tom Robinson, the associate deputy assistant secretary for contracting, will be the top civilian senior executive service member in the organization.

Masiello said the team will have its first meeting in the next month, so when they operate in a virtual environment, they will know each other.

Across the Defense Department, the acquisition workforce is at risk.

Frank Kendall, DoD's undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said he's worried about the workforce, especially in light of how its been treated over the last three years with pay freezes, furloughs and the government shutdown.

Kendall said DoD faces an additional $50 billion cut from sequestration in fiscal 2014. The impact of those reductions would further take DoD out of balance along several areas from research and development to readiness to workforce.

He said he saw what the cuts in the 1990s did to DoD and how long it took to get back into balance.

Legacy of well-trained workforce

Part of that imbalance comes from people leaving and the time it takes to hire and train new employees.

Kendall said one of his goals is to leave a legacy of a better trained and equipped acquisition workforce.

Masiello said the Air Force realizes a better trained acquisition workforce is a laudable goal. But in the short term, it will be hard to achieve.

Instead, the new office and the virtual environment it's developing will make up for the lack of experience through sharing of resources.

She said the new contracting agency will pay close attention to the acquisition workforce.

One major problem is acquisition workers have fallen behind on their certifications because of deployments overseas.

Masiello said the Defense Acquisition University can't satisfy all the Air Force's training needs, so it is buying help from qualified third parties.

"We are putting those courses out there in population concentrations," she said. "This organization helps us identify those population concentrations and helps rebuild our training capacity."

The Air Force is paying for this training through the use of Defense Acquisition Workforce Fund.

Faster acquisitions

In the meantime, the Air Force hopes this new organization will ease the personnel shortage.

Masiello said, for example, one office in Hawaii may need help reviewing an acquisition strategy. It could put the documents into the secure sharing portal and someone in Europe could review them; then the next day Hawaii time, the documents would be ready for the next step.

"In my mind and as we get better at this, that actually facilitates and improves our acquisition time line because you're not cued up based on the limitations of one major command," she said. "Now we need to start fleshing out all those policies and all those procedures. We already have some that are well defined: Who's going to manage our purchase cards? Who's going to manage our deployment opportunities? Who's going to help us with our contractor performance assessment reports? Where are our strengths? Who helps us with our information technology making sure our contracting writing systems are working? Those are being shared around the Air Force already."