Conference highlights challenges facing acquisition workforce

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Acquisition leaders and professionals from across the country gathered on the campus of the Air Force Institute of Technology's Kenney Hall here June 14-15 to discuss important issues facing the acquisition community during the 2016 Acquisition Insight Days.

The symposium offered the rare opportunity to have a frank dialogue with senior acquisition leaders from across the Department of Defense on cutting edge issue that will shape the career field for years to come.  The individual sessions were specifically designed to not only allow leaders to give a behind-the-scenes look, but also receive instant feedback from the field during robust question and answer periods.    

This year smashed the previous record drawing more than 1,000 acquisition and industry professionals in person and to the live broadcast. 

Jointly organized by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and Defense Acquisition University, the two-day workshop featured guest speakers who discussed a wide range of topics including foreign military sales trends, congressional perspectives, lessons learned from the B-21 Program and space acquisition. It also featured training sessions on a variety of issues facing acquisition professionals.

Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, Air Force Materiel Command commander, was the keynote speaker at the event and during her presentation she discussed the importance of Air Force acquisition in maintaining air superiority as part of the "Third Offset" strategy - envisioned by the Department of Defense to ensure the military keeps its technologically advantage over future adversaries.

The general emphasized that despite the role technology plays in continuing air dominance, acquisition efficiency is crucial to future success.

"It's not all about the technology of the Third Offset," said Pawlikowski. "It's about our ability to streamline our processes and be more agile and effective in getting technology to the warfighter at an affordable price and at an accelerated time period."

Pawlikowski also said that acquisition professionals have to be really good at what they do and they have to make smart decisions, which she underscored by talking about the importance of prioritizing employee development through events like the workshop, as a way to prepare the workforce for future challenges.

Overall the goal of the event was to broaden the knowledge and skillset of the Air Force acquisition workforce by providing them with the opportunity to engage with senior leader experts on a variety of topics, as well as network and share best practices with each other.

Attendees were able to listen to perspectives on a range of issues including developing additive manufacturing or 3D capabilities to reduce downtime for aircraft maintenance, creating efficiencies between acquisition, intelligence and requirements and accounting for weather in the acquisition process.  

Some of the senior leadership participating in workshop panel included Terry Emmert, deputy assistant secretary of Defense (Materiel Readiness), Jen Santos, U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee staff member, Shay Assad, Director of Defense Pricing, and various program executive officers.

In the current environment of limited budgets and long periods of uncertainty operating with continuing resolutions, Assad spoke about the importance of accountability.  He provided examples of interactions between the U.S. government and industry partners that represented both successes and disappointments.

Assad stated in these austere times, action at the grassroots level is imperative.  He urged the audience to challenge industry partners rather than accept the status quo.  Assad also said success was dependent on the government side finding increasingly innovative ways to do business with more transparency and less cost.

Heidi Grant, the deputy under secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs spoke to the duty to support international customers that rests with the Air Force workforce and the government as a whole.  She said that consistency in communication was vital - noting that the government and industry need to speak with one message to our international partners. Grant added that a depth of understanding of various cultures is absolutely key to success in any interaction.

"Acquisition Insight Days was a huge success," said Mary Hagan, an organizer for the event. "We had a great turnout, both at AFIT and through video teleconference. In addition, the speakers were all outstanding. Jen Santos' down-to-earth presentation was not only educational, but uplifting and motivating--it made me want to bring my best effort and energy to work.  

Based on the overwhelming success of this year's event, AFLCMC and DAU have already scheduled the 2017 Acquisition Insights Days for June 13-14 at AFIT.