By Austin Nooe /

Defense Policy Bill Establishes a Defense Civilian Training Corps

The corps will address “critical skills gaps” in the department’s workforce.

The newly released compromise version of the annual defense policy bill will establish a civilian training corps to address skills gaps at the Defense Department. 

One priority of the $738 billion fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that House and Senate negotiators agreed to on Monday is making the Pentagon more efficient and accountable. The authorization act will establish the Defense Civilian Training Corps as one way to accomplish that, and outlines a plan to expand the corps from now until August 2023.

“Making the Pentagon more efficient, while helping our troops become more agile, is critical to maintaining America’s competitive edge,” said a summary from the House Armed Services Committee. “That’s why, since the [fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act], Congress has instituted numerous reforms, including an updated military retirement system, an improved health care system, a sustainable commissary benefit, and a major reorganization of Pentagon bureaucracy and business systems and practices. Just like [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] trains individuals for the Armed Forces, for the first time, the Defense Civilian Training Corps will train civilians for public service.”

The Government Accountability Office reported in March that skills gaps “played a significant role” in many of the Defense Department’s programs at high risk of management problems. Specifically, the watchdog cited gaps related to business systems modernization, financial management and contract management. 

The corps program will train students in engineering, science, acquisition and other areas chosen by the Defense secretary at civilian educational institutions throughout the United States that offer bachelor's degrees. According to the bill, the secretary will determine the criteria to track and report progress, students’ eligibility, acceptable institutions, a financial assistance mechanism and a path for successful graduates getting a job at the department. 

The bill outlines a three-step process for initial implementation (one institution), expansion (five institutions) and full implementation (at least 20 institutions with no less than 400 members enrolled in the program) of the corps by Aug. 1, 2023. To start, the secretary is required to submit a plan and schedule by Feb. 15, 2020, to implement the corps at one institution no later than Aug. 1, 2021.

The Professional Services Council welcomes the conference agreement on authorization act, said Alan Chvotkin, the contractor group’s executive vice president and counsel. Although the group has some concerns about the contractor provisions, it “believe[s] that, if implemented effectively, the creation of the Defense Civilian Training Corps and improvements to other certification and training programs will help address current challenges.” 

After about three months of negotiations, the House is expected to vote on the Defense authorization act as early as Wednesday, Politico reported. Among the many compromises, the Trump administration agreed to provide federal employees with paid parental leave in exchange for Democrats’ consenting to create a Space Force branch of the armed services.

“We look forward to ushering the conference report through the House and Senate as soon as possible and on to the President’s desk for his signature,” leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees said in a joint statement. “The [Defense authorization bill] remains one of the few authorization bills that Congress passes year after year.”

The Defense Department did not immediately respond for comment.