Strengthening the bond between government and industry, 35 Defense Logistics Agency employees participated in the second iteration of the two-week Insights into Industry Management Course at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The course trains students in current and cutting-edge business practices, helps them recognize business risks and opportunities, and trains them to anticipate potential changes in private businesses.
The October 2018 session was added after DLA Acquisition
officials received positive feedback from students who attended the inaugural course in May.
“We can be pretty good at our craft, but we need to understand industry’s perspective to really enhance what we do,” said DLA Acquisition Director Matthew Beebe. “It’s through understanding industry that we can better position ourselves to leverage what we need [them] to do for us.”
DLA office directors and commanders of major subordinate commands nominate civilians at GS-13, -14 or -15 levels who are in current acquisition-coded positions and have the required certifications. Participants ideally have a strong business, finance or accounting background, as the curriculum and projects depend heavily on these skills.
Getting views on how industry’s business processes might differ from those of the government was helpful to Pamela Tull, an integrative supply team chief with DLA Troop Support
“When a vendor submits a quote, we’re making an assumption that they’re [trying to] undercut another vendor, and it may not necessarily mean that,” she said. “It’s their strategy because they haven’t done business with the government and [the quote] is a means to get in.”
Charmaine Camper, director of expeditionary contracting in DLA’s Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office
, said it’s important that the agency’s acquisition team understand how contractors are crafting proposals.
“When we start seeing proposals from the companies we’re dealing with, we’ll have insight into their financial stability, which then gives us insight into whether they can perform [the work required] in the contract,” she said.
Students role-played as vendors in practical exercises to discover the myriad factors that go into pricing structures.
“The course gave us that insight into what industry is thinking about or what elements they’re considering when they’re estimating their proposals,” Camper said. “It’s not easy; that was a reality check.”
Other exercises involved students negotiating as a group with conflicting objectives.
“Each of us had our own agenda in terms of what we were trying to achieve,” Camper said.
Students were also required to discuss reading assignments and case studies in groups whose members often changed.
“We had to collaborate on and come up with a definitive type of solution or a strategy on how we resolved it,” Tull said. “You could see how it was useful to have a diversified group of people because they had perspectives that made you look at things differently as opposed to just the way you see it in your own supply chain.”
The best part of the case studies was the group work, Camper said, because participants learned from each other’s unique backgrounds.
“Based on their experience and their own knowledge and training that they’ve had, we’re all able to bring our expertise into the conversation,” she said.
A key takeaway for Kenneth Abrams, planning and industrial readiness division chief with DLA Land and Maritime, was the “decision tree,” a model of decisions and their possible consequences.
“In the decision tree, you consider the options [and] potential outcomes,” he said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find an absolute perfect decision. You’re going to find a solution that’s best among several others.”
Exploring various outcomes leads to deeper analysis and pursuing the most desirable option, he continued.
Faculty and guest speakers greatly impressed the students. Camper enjoyed speaker Jared Harris, who co-wrote “The Strategist’s Toolkit,” a book all students received.
“He was a lot of fun. It wasn’t presentation-based; it was more examining the concepts in his book, in terms of forming a strategy,” she said.
Concepts in the book dealt with acquisition analysis and risk analysis, both of which Camper said are particularly helpful for her job.
Guest speaker and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness David Berteau inspired Tull.
“He said we have an opportunity to create value, that we have an obligation to distribute and share,” she said. “It’s about community, looking at relationships and building them. We have so much capability, and that value we create is not just ours to keep for ourselves. We have to pay it forward.”
The course material was presented in a way that made government employees think outside the box, added Robbie Mitchell, a supply systems analyst in DLA Logistics Operations
“I thought it was one of the better courses I’ve attended with DLA,” he said. “All of the instructors and presenters were very knowledgeable. You could tell they were subject matter experts in their particular field.”
Mitchell has been with DLA for 20 years and said the course provided him invaluable information.
“Most courses we attend in DLA are geared toward understanding DLA better, but this course was the opposite. It was helping [us] understand our industry partners better,” he said. “The way the financial analysis and accounting was used in this course was a lot different from any other [instruction].”
Camper said it should be a regular part of required contracting training because it helps students understand the mechanics of financial reports and create cost estimates from an industry perspective. Having also attended the Eisenhower School in Washington, D.C., Camper expected this course to be similar, but Insights into Industry exceeded her expectations.
“It wasn’t an easy class to take because it was a heavy requirement: a lot of reading, a lot of case studies — and there were three books to read ahead of time,” she said.
Tull confirmed the training schedule was rigorous. Whether she was interacting with groups discussing case studies or preparing for projects, it was a constant grind, she said.
“It was no cake walk,” she added. “You really were engaged 100 percent of the time.” Although Abrams has recommend-ed the course to colleagues, he cautions that DLA will only send someone it believes can give the agency a return on investment. As Beebe put it, “This needs to be a quality program. The first thing I did when I attended the closing of the UVA program was congratulate all of them for being selected,” he said.
Regarding potential candidates, he noted, “This isn’t just who wants to go; this is somebody who’s viewed to be appropriate from whatever their role is, but also … that they are of the mindset of the talent that we want to cultivate.”
DLA Acquisition is building on the success of its programs with UVA and the University of North Carolina to create two other pilot programs.
One program, sponsored by DoD’s Human Capital Initiatives, will be a one-for-one talent exchange between the Department of Defense and industry.
“Then there’s our own internal rotation program, where we’re sending folks out to industry,” Beebe said. “Each of those is six months.”
Beebe expects to send six individuals from DLA’s acquisition workforce to industry for the internal program.
“[The military] services have been sending people out to industry for years; we should be doing that too,” he said. “It takes a little time to set up because you have to have an arrangement with these companies, and we’re working off the arrangements that the services already have rather than crafting our own.”
Betty Hoapili, chief of acquisition workforce development, said her industry initiatives program manager, Bethanie Healey, has been working hard on industry-focused programs.
“It’s Beth’s initiative and dogged determination that moved these programs forward,” Hoapili said. “We asked the MSCs and [headquarters organizations] who they’d like us to contact … Beth originally went out to 23 companies.”
The response is overwhelmingly positive, she said.
One DLA Troop Support employee recently began a 6-month assignment at Deloitte. “And about a dozen more companies want to get involved,” Hoapili said.
The other half of the equation is receiving people into DLA from industry.
“We deal with acquisition-sensitive information, so it’s a little more complicated,” Beebe said. “Fortunately, [Human Capital Initiatives] is piloting the first real exchange for the department.”
Although the programs are currently focused on the acquisition workforce, Beebe said participants need not be restricted to contracting professionals.
“Our acquisition workforce is much bigger than contracting,” he said. “There can also be people who are not part of the acquisition workforce who do other things within DLA who could very much benefit from an exchange with industry in some way, an accounting professional or human resources professional [for example].”
Finding more ways to engage with industry means a more in-depth dialogue, which Beebe hopes will result in a mutually beneficial arrangement.
“That is what these multiple efforts are trying to achieve,” he said.