Pentagon workforce could benefit from Wall Street layoffs

Robert D. Ward/Defense
Laid-off financial sector employees might not need to look any further than the Pentagon in their quest for a job. The Defense Department's chief acquisition official on Wednesday said former private sector finance officials could be a perfect fit for thousands of jobs that will come open under a recently announced plan to boost the Pentagon's contracting workforce.

"Frankly, we're getting a lot of folks applying for positions who have financial management backgrounds and no longer have jobs in that environment," said Shay Assad, director of Defense procurement, acquisition policy and strategic sourcing, during a breakfast hosted by Government Executive. "Many of those folks with that kind of background are well-suited to be trained to do what we want to do."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday announced that the Pentagon will replace most support service contractors with more than 30,000 new full-time government employees during the next five years. About 20,000 of those jobs would be for acquisition professionals; Gates intends to add 4,100 contracting officers in the next year alone.

While some observers are skeptical that Defense will be able to compete with other agencies and the private sector to reach its ambitious hiring goals, Assad said Defense is not struggling yet.

"We are doing very well in terms of hiring acquisition professionals in the Department of Defense these days," Assad said. "So is it a challenge? Yes, especially in [the Washington] region, but this is a five-year process for us, it is not 'Let's run out tomorrow and try to hire as many people as we can.' "

Assad stressed the importance of making major workforce changes, including large staff increases, with thought and deliberation. Before Gates announced the significant shift from contractors to federal employees, the department conducted extensive assessments of the workforce's gaps and capabilities, he said.

"I don't want to leave the impression that we decided two months ago that we were about to do this," Assad said. "The ultimate decisions were made by the secretary as to the degree of it, but … getting that there was a need to increase the capability and size of the workforce was a deliberative process that frankly took a while to get our arms around."

The Office of Management and Budget will play an important role in helping agencies governmentwide assess the capabilities and needs of their acquisition workforces, according to Assad. By reviewing the integrated workforce and determining the appropriate roles for contractors, OMB will be able to guide agencies toward a measured evaluation of their human capital, he said.

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