Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act is Now Law

Yesterday, the President signed into law the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as had been predicted. The NDAA establishes spending levels of about $626 billion for the base defense budget and an additional $66 billion for contingency operations (e.g. Afghanistan). It calls for a 20,000 member increase in the number of armed forces and a 2.4 percent salary increase for existing armed services members. And, of course, it includes all of the various provisions we've been discussing here on this blog over the past few weeks.

A couple of provisions we have not addressed are those related to improving the hiring and training of the acquisition workforce. These are included in Sections 841 and 843. Although improved hiring practices and better education might improve the acquisition process, one of the most glaring weaknesses among the acquisition workforce is the excessively high employee turnover rates resulting in little continuity and slim experience levels among those most responsible for ensuring wise and effective expenditures of taxpayer dollars.

Section 841, Enhancements to the Civilian Program Management Workforce, establishes a Program Manager Development Program for civilian Defense Department and military department personnel. The Secretary of Defense is required to implement a new career development program for highly qualified, competitively selected civilian employees to increase the pool of experienced civilian employees qualified to serve as program manager for major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs). It also requires an independent study of personnel policies and incentives needed to attract, retain, and hold accountable civilian and military program managers for the largest and most complex acquisition programs. Attracting highly qualified program managers does not seem to be the problem. Figuring out how to keep them (retention) is a problem.

Section 843, Improvements to the Hiring and Training of the Acquisition Workforce, among other provisions, will require the Comptroller General (GAO) to submit a report on the effectiveness of existing hiring flexibility for the acquisition workforce, as well as the need for acquisition training for personnel who work in acquisition programs but are not formally considered part of the acquisition workforce. The GAO study must also include a description of the flexibilities available to the Department to remove under-performing members of the acquisition workforce and the extent to which any such  flexibilities are used. It also includes a provision that requires DoD to evaluate gaps in knowledge of industry operations, industry motivation, and business acumen in the acquisition workforce.

Initially, this provision included a requirement for DCAA to report on strategies to enhance the professionalization of its workforce to meet "increasing demands" but this provision was omitted in conference committee.

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