Defense Acquisition Workforce:

Actions Needed to Guide Planning Efforts and Improve Workforce Capability

GAO-16-80: Published: Dec 14, 2015. Publicly Released: Dec 14, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has increased the size of its acquisition workforce from about 126,000 in September 2008 to about 153,000 in March 2015. The growth was accomplished by hiring additional civilian personnel, insourcing work previously performed by contractors, adding more military personnel, and re-categorizing existing positions. However, 6 of the 13 acquisition career fields, including 3 priority career fields—contracting, business and engineering—did not meet growth goals.

Difference in Planned and Actual Growth in Five DOD Priority Career Fields from September 2008 to March 2015.

Difference in Planned and Actual Growth in Five DOD Priority Career Fields from September 2008 to March 2015.

DOD has completed workforce competency assessments for 12 of the 13 acquisition career fields and added training classes to address some skill gaps. It is unclear the extent to which skill gaps remain, in part because 10 of the career fields have not conducted follow-up competency assessments to gauge progress. DOD has not established time frames for doing so. Office of Personnel Management standards state that identifying skill gaps and monitoring progress towards addressing gaps are essential steps for effective human capital management.

DOD has not updated its acquisition workforce plan, which would allow it to be better positioned to meet future needs. GAO's analysis of DOD budget information indicates that many career fields will continue to be significantly over or under the growth goals DOD established in 2010, especially in priority career fields such as contracting and engineering. In the past, some hiring decisions made by DOD components using the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund exceeded initial 2010 career field targets. In addition, over the past 7 years, about 2,700 personnel, or 26 percent of those hired with these funds, were in career fields that were not considered high priority in the 2010 acquisition workforce plan. An updated plan that includes revised career field goals, coupled with guidance on how to use the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund, could help DOD components focus future hiring efforts on priority career fields. Without an integrated approach, the department is at risk of using the funds to hire personnel in career fields that currently exceed their targets or are not considered a priority.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO and others have found that DOD needs to take steps to ensure DOD has an adequately sized and capable acquisition workforce to acquire about $300 billion in goods and services annually. DOD is required by statute to develop an acquisition workforce plan every 2 years. DOD issued a plan in 2010, in which it called for the department to increase the size of the acquisition workforce by 20,000 positions by fiscal year 2015, but has not yet updated the plan.

Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to review DOD's acquisition workforce plans. In the absence of an updated plan, this report examines DOD's efforts to (1) increase the size of its acquisition workforce, (2) identify workforce competencies and mitigate any skill gaps, and (3) plan for future workforce needs. GAO analyzed current and projected DOD workforce, budget, and career field data; reviewed completed competency assessments; and obtained insights on workforce challenges from the largest acquisition commands within the Army, Navy and Air Force.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD complete the remaining competency assessment, establish time frames for conducting follow-up assessments, issue an updated acquisition workforce plan, and issue guidance to prioritize the use of funding. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Timothy J. DiNapoli at (202) 512-4841 or DiNapoliT@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation, and has taken action to implement it. The Human Capital Initiatives Office completed an updated acquisition workforce plan in October 2016. The plan covers fiscal years 2016 through 2021 and identifies four broad goals for the department, including: (1) making DOD an employer of choice; (2) shaping the acquisition workforce; (3) improving the quality and professionalism of the acquisition workforce; and (4) improving workforce policies, programs, and processes. The plan also indicates that the DOD intends to shift its emphasis from rebuilding the workforce to improving its capabilities. Specifically, the plan states that DOD must sustain the acquisition workforce size, factoring in workload demand and requirements; ensure that its personnel continue to increase their professionalism; and continue to expand talent management programs to include recruitment, hiring, training, development, recognition, and retention incentives by using DAWDF and other appropriate tools.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD has the right people with the right skills to meet future needs, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics should direct the Director, Human Capital Initiatives to issue an updated acquisition workforce plan in fiscal year 2016 that includes revised career field goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation. In April 2018, the Director, Human Capital Initiatives issued guidance to military components for requesting DAWDF for fiscal year 2019 and 2020. The guidance states that DAWDF initiatives must demonstrate, in addition to statutory purpose, alignment and support for the strategy to strengthen and responsibly sustain acquisition workforce capabilities, and for each component, acquisition executive objectives. It specifically states that sustaining required capacity and reducing skill gaps associated with critical acquisition functions are specific areas of need that support Department-wide acquisition workforce strategic needs. According to the Director, Human Capital Initiatives, the military components are responsible for determining their critical needs and submitting DAWDF requests based on those needs. For example, the Army's fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019 DAWDF guidance identified priority career fields, including business (which includes financial management and cost estimating) contracting, systems engineering, and science and technology.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD has the right people with the right skills to meet future needs, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics should direct the Director, Human Capital Initiatives to issue guidance to focus component hiring efforts using the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund on priority career fields.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with the recommendation. Officials within the Human Capital Initiatives (HCI) office stated that DOD initiated a strategic analysis in fiscal year 2017 to better understand the acquisition workforce performing Production, Quality, and Manufacturing (PQM) functions. The PQM competency assessment is currently in process and a final report is anticipated in September 2018.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD has the right people with the right skills to meet future needs, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics should direct the Director, Human Capital Initiatives to ensure the functional leader for the production, quality, and manufacturing career field completes an initial competency assessment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation and has taken action to implement it. The Human Capital Initiatives (HCI) office issued an updated strategic acquisition workforce plan in 2016. This plan stated that conducting career field competency assessments at a minimum of every five years helps the acquisition workforce to effectively manage their careers. Officials within the HCI office stated that they are leveraging the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness competency assessment team to conduct competency assessments for each acquisition functional career field. They are in the process of conducting several career field assessments, including Production, Quality and Manufacturing (PQM) and Purchasing, with an anticipated completion date for all assessments by 2022.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD has the right people with the right skills to meet future needs, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics should direct the Director, Human Capital Initiatives to establish time frames, in collaboration with functional leaders, to complete future career field competency assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics

 

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