News | Jan. 31, 2022

New Back to Basics framework emphasizes career-long learning for acquisition staff 

By Beth Reece

The one-size-fits-all approach to training used by acquisition professionals throughout the Defense Department is shifting to a new framework that emphasizes basic knowledge and skills followed by job- or role-specific education.

Called Back to Basics, the initiative is the first major reform of the defense acquisition workforce since 1990 and affects over 9,000 Defense Logistics Agency employees starting Feb. 1.

“The new framework brings the 1990 Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act into the 21st century,” DLA Acquisition Director Matthew Beebe said. “I’m excited and encouraged by how it moves us toward using current and relevant methods to train and develop while preparing us to meet future requirements.” 

Back to Basics streamlines 14 career fields into 6 functional areas: business financial management/cost estimating, contracting, engineering and technical management, lifecycle logistics, program management, and test and evaluation. Most DLA employees fall under the  contracting or lifecycle logistics functional areas. 

The previous three-level certification model has also been compressed into a 1- or 2-tier framework that includes foundational, practitioner and advanced tiers. No functional area includes all three tiers. Contracting, for example, uses only the foundational tier while lifecycle logistics uses practitioner and advanced tiers. 

Functional area leads and acquisition career managers are conducting certification “crosswalks” with employees to determine which tier their current roles and certifications fall within. Employees and supervisors can help smooth the transition by ensuring their certification status is updated in the Defense Acquisition Talent Management System by Jan. 31.

The Defense Acquisition University, which provides training to DOD’s acquisition workforce, offers resources and tools on its website to help employees determine how their current certification fits into the new framework. 

Beebe said functional leads are near the end of a months-long endeavor involving DLA Human Resources to ensure employees’ position description correlates to their new functional category. He and DLA HR Director Sharyn Saunders stressed that employees will receive credit for training they’ve already taken as long as it’s listed in DATMS. 

Though employees typically have 24 months to complete certification requirements, the new framework sets different timelines for each tier. The foundational tier has three years; practitioner, five years; and advanced, four years.

Employees are still required to earn 80 continuous learning points every two years, but Saunders said Back to Basics makes it easier to earn CLPs through job-relevant training such as DAU “credentials” and other career development training.

“You can earn CLPs by attending a course that’s beyond your basic curriculum and through experiences such as a rotation with another office that expands your knowledge beyond your core job,” Beebe added. “You can also earn CLPs by going to an association event.”

Back to Basics will foster a career-long learning practice, especially as new methods are developed for meeting warfighters’ needs, Saunders said. 

“Training now homes in on giving the workforce the education they need in their current daily duties instead of giving them all the information they’ll need throughout their career up-front with the expectation they’ll have retained that information when they’re further out in their career,” she said. 

DAU is restructuring its curriculum to fit the new framework. 

“DAU will be moving away from some of its multi-week resident courses to get to a quicker, shorter curriculum, some of which can be virtual, to give employees the basic knowledge they must have,” Beebe said. 

Although Feb. 1 marks the start of Back to Basics, implementation and HR-related support are ongoing. 

“It’s important that folks don’t go into a big pause while we roll out this new framework,” Beebe said. “Learning is valuable, and people have been signed up for classes for a reason, so I would encourage everybody to proceed with training plans and then adjust them to meet guidelines of their new functional area.”

Beebe and Saunders characterized DLA as being ahead in implementing the program, which was announced in September 2020 by Ellen Lord, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. They also credited the agency’s progress to the partnership between DLA’s acquisition and HR specialists. 

More information on Back to Basics is available at the Defense Acquisition University website