By Geoff Fein

Months after establishing an initiative that would apply to Major Defense Acquisition Program programs, Acquisition Category I programs, all pre-Major Automated Information System programs, and selected ACAT II programs, Navy Secretary Donald Winter is now looking to grow the Navy’s acquisition workforce by upward of 1,000.

Growing the acquisition corps could be quite a challenge for the Navy as it would compete with the private sector for workers. But Winter believes the Navy has a lot to offer as the service strives to reform its acquisition efforts.

"We are looking at several changes to the acquisition process. The Gate Review process…we are making some significant investments in the cost estimating area, things of that nature," he told Defense Daily in a recent interview.

"We are also in the process of trying to build back the acquisition workforce, principally focused on a civilian staff that would be able to support the ongoing efforts. There are several aspects to that," he said.

One aspect has to do with the number of workers, in terms of making sure the Navy has room. That effort has started, to some extent, now, Winter said.

Fiscal year ’09 will be significant, Winter added. "And by the time we get to the 2010 POM (Program Objective Memorandum) we will be well over 1,000 additional people in the acquisition community. Those are numbers we are working on right now."

"We are looking at numbers on that order or larger, and that’s not just a wild guess. That’s worked through individual centers and competencies and things of that nature," he said.

It’s also buttressed by a commitment and ongoing activity to do a lot more training and development, in everything from cost estimation to systems engineering, Winter added.

"We’ve got the Naval Post Graduate School engaged, and, by the way, not just back in Monterrey, but doing road trips out teaching programs where the employees are and making sure people understand what is proper systems engineering and what has to be developed as part of a proper set of trades and optimization and things of that nature," he said.

"We’ve also had some organizational changes that have been made in terms of ensuring there is a senior civilian representative that is responsible for the development of the workforce," Winter added.

While some might question whether an additional 1,000 personnel in the acquisition workforce is a big deal or small deal, compared to what is currently in place, Winter said it’s a good start at the problem.

"If we focus it in the right areas, make sure we get good people, and part of my objective is to really hire those people that really have both current and long-term potential to really help us. We’ll be able to do a lot of the things we really want to do," he said.

But trying to increase the size of the acquisition workforce won’t be easy. The private sector can offer more perks and lures than the Navy can. Still, Winter is optimistic the service will find the right people for the job.

"We have a workforce including uniform personnel of close to a million people. We compete with the private sector all the time. We compete with the private sector for everything from basic labor all the way up to physicians and surgeons with specialty degrees and years of experience," he said. "It isn’t always easy but we have ways of working it. Part of what we can offer is the satisfaction of being in the middle of some very key decisions, and being able to impact the fleet of the future."

One of the things Winter keeps trying to talk about is that this idea is less about acquisition. "Acquisition is not the mission. Evolving the fleet is the mission."

"And the opportunity to get involved in that, whether it has to do with dealing with naval architecture challenges of future ships, power and propulsion issues, weapon systems, command and control, it even gets down to basic features like how do we accommodate the sailors of the future, what are their expectations, how do we really provide for them, how do we design ships that can be maintained and sustained more readily than right now."

As an example of a way people can make an impact, Winter pointed to Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP).

On a recent visit to NAVSUP Winter asked about the number of valves the facility had. He was told thousands and thousands. "There are huge opportunities to have an impact here."

"By the way, I will tell you there is a very good cross section of the American population…yeah they want to make good money, and we’ll be able to pay them a decent salary…but they want to really be able to have an impact and those are the right people that we want," Winter said.

One area within the acquisition process that many point to as troubled is cost estimating.

Winter said there are a few pieces to this.

"First, we have good basic skills, there is no question about it. We have some people here I would put up against anybody in that discipline that I have ever met," he said. "Yeah, we’ve got to build up in a few areas. We need to make sure cost discipline is there between the different stove pipes…get the best principles. [We] need to make sure the program management teams know and understand how to use the information they are getting–independent cost estimates, ICEs, whatever you want to call them, are only as good as their uses. They can have great leverage if they are interpreted properly.

"Do you take that information to determine what the trades should be? How do you use that information to determine where you get the greatest leverage in terms of evolving the fleet? What are the critical break points in terms of design requirements that can impact the cost of a system, [and] the schedule for a system as well," Winter said.

Quite frankly, he added, that is part and parcel of what the Navy is trying to do with the Gate Review process…force the discussion of what the service is trying to achieve, what the options are for doing it, and what the cost and schedule implications are going to be for taking on those challenges at timed reviews.

"Time in the process, not calendar time," Winter added.

Those reviews are attended by those people that truly have a stake in the process, he said. "The stake holders are a broad group of people, not just the acquisition professionals. It’s not even just the operators. When you look at crew accommodation issues or things of that nature, what are the expectations?"

"All of the stake holders, equity holders, in this process, have got to participate. And that’s what we’ve tried to do with the Gate Review process," Winter said. "By the way, in most cases we find you can have significant impact with limited cost as long as you do it at the right point in time. The difficulty comes when you try to make changes too late."

It is easy to lecture that, Winter said. "You can get it into people’s heads pretty easily. Whether you can get it into their gut is another question. I think it almost takes a few experiences [of] going through the process to understand what it means."