Blue Horizons fellow promotes changes to key acquisition course

The Air Force Institute of Technology will update its Fundamentals of Acquisition 103 course to better prepare students for acquisition challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo/Brian Brackens)
The Air Force Institute of Technology will update its Fundamentals of Acquisition 103 course to better prepare students for acquisition challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo/Brian Brackens)

Preparing the junior acquisition workforce for success is a subject that Maj. Jessica Wright, an acquisition professional most recently with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate, is passionate about.

Last year, she was selected for the highly competitive 2018 Blue Horizons Fellowship program sponsored by the chief of staff of the U.S Air Force. Since then she has used the fellowship as a platform to advocate for changes in the way junior acquirers are trained.

The focus of Blue Horizons is to find solutions for top Air Force challenges, and every year the CSAF proposes a question or problem statement to the new fellows. This year’s question was “How do we maintain competitive advantage in an era of rapid obsolescence?”

“During my fellowship, I’m looking around and these guys are coming up with incredible ideas [to address the CSAF question],” said Wright. “But I’m thinking to myself, ‘We can’t acquire these under today’s [acquisition] system.’ We are acquiring things too slowly, and we need to learn how to accept more risks and be willing to fail. To do that, we have to have a paradigm shift in how we train our acquirers.”

Wright started looking at the training available for new acquisition professionals and ways to improve it.

“Right now [through the Fundamentals of Acquisition 103 course] we only train our acquirers for 14 days,” Wright said. “After 14 days they are expected to get on the job training or mentoring. But it’s not sufficient to train people for 14 days and make them responsible for billions of dollars.”

The secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition sets the criteria for FAM 103, while the Air Force Institute of Technology offers the course, Wright added.

Working closely with AFIT and other stakeholders, Wright was able to successfully lobby for major changes to the course.

“I talked to my own community [acquisition] about what they would want to see in the course,” she said. “I also talked to senior leaders in operations. The A2, the A3, A5 and I asked, ‘What do you need to see in your acquisition workforce?’ Believe me, I got very passionate responses about that.”

Some of the changes to the course include additional focus on acquisition best practices, as well as Other Transactional Authority training and information on Defense Innovation Unit Experimental or DIUx and AF Works.

The course will also have an expanded section on critical thinking.

“The goal is to create an acquirer who can problem solve, which is to say they are not just going to take the requirement from the lead command and march out in the way that all the past requirements have been executed,” said Wright. “The acquirer will ask, ‘What’s the problem and does it need a materiel solution? Is this something I can solve uniquely with something I saw in industry recently?’ This is about a mindset change just as much as it is changes to academic training. Culture is a hard thing to affect, but this course is the first step toward reforming our culture.”

Tony Jones, the course director for FAM 103, said the updates to the course will be beneficial to the 400-600 acquisition professionals who enroll every year.

“We are going to add lessons on rapid acquisitions, which Maj. Wright has been championing,” said Jones. “So we are looking at topics such as rapid prototyping, rapid fielding and non-FAR based contracting efforts. These additions [including the critical thinking expansion] will help students make better decisions on their programs in the future, as well as help them streamline their programs to deliver quicker when possible.”

Currently the revised course is projected to be available in early 2019.

“Part of what I hope to do with the revised course is create a new mindset,” said Wright. “Creating a warfighter focused mindset where we are training the junior acquisition workforce to come in and acquire capability at the speed of relevance to provide to the warfighters in the field.”

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