Pentagon looks to reshape acquisition workforce

With 50 percent of the Defense Department's acquisition workforce eligible for retirement in the next five years, the Pentagon could find itself having to hire about 65,000 procurement specialists. Now is the time, officials said, to examine the acquisition workforce and plan how it should face the future.

Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said this week that his office is developing a strategic plan to revitalize the quality and morale of the acquisition workforce.

"The purpose … is to start doing some human capital planning," said Rick Sylvester, deputy director of acquisition initiatives for systems acquisition. "In the military, they look at careers and missions and continuation rates, etc. We don't do that for civilians."

Aldridge's plan will look at areas where DoD may need more people--and fewer.

For instance, Aldridge said during an Aug. 15 meeting with reporters in the Pentagon, DoD will need more specialists in information technology and a workforce that understands the uses of information technology in the acquisition process. DoD will probably not need as many specialists in procuring traditional logistics items, he noted.

The strategic plan is a work in progress. "Part of it is tied to the Quadrennial Defense Review," Sylvester said. "We will continue to work with the services."

The average age of civilian acquisition workers today is 48. Many will become eligible to retire in the next five years, officials said. People generally have retired as soon as they are eligible, they said. The real problem is the lack of skilled, experienced staff to take their places, they said.

DoD will have to replace retirees by hiring across the breadth of age groups. During the 1990s drawdown, hiring freezes and attrition caused the workforce's average age to rise as younger, lower-graded employees were promoted but not replaced. A drove of retirements would ravage the workforce's middle and upper management, so the department cannot solve the workforce problem by simply hiring young people to fill lower positions, officials said.

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