Loss of Critical Training & Development Budget
Participants in the ECBC Leadership Cohort Program take a tour of the laboratories in the Research and Technology Directorate. This marquee three-month program is broken into eight sessions that feature formal classroom sessions, tours of ECBC facilities and group work where participants are divided into three teams to analyze and address real-life organizational concerns.
The era of “doing more with less” commenced with across-the-board budget cuts due to sequestration and became a reality when furloughs were implemented in the beginning of July, impacting the work schedules and paychecks of thousands of federal employees working for the Department of Defense. Despite the fiscal challenges, the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center continues to invest in its most valuable asset – its employees – by seeking new ways to support opportunities for training and leadership development.
ECBC is part of the Research, Development and Engineering Command, and serves as the nation’s principle resource for non-medical chemical and biological defense that develops technology for the Warfighter and defense community in the areas of detection, protection and decontamination. As ECBC looks to maintain its industry-leading research and engineering capabilities into the future, the Workforce Management Office has implemented key programs to develop the careers of its workforce who will drive the organization’s future in the years ahead.
Traditionally, ECBC has offered marquee programs such as a mid-level career development program, mentoring program and leadership cohort program, but with current fiscal constraints, it is unclear how continuity for some of these may be affected. The Center also offers two on-going developmental assignment programs that have not been impacted by funding. These include the Executive Officer program, which allows GS 13-level employees to work directly with a senior executive in other organizational units within the Center on a six-month rotation, as well as the Executive Trainee Program, which provides selected applicants an opportunity to work with the Center’s Technical Director for six months before spending another six months at the Pentagon. Each of these programs not only provides opportunities for the ECBC workforce to develop professionally, but also creates an experience intended to empower them to excel.
Developing the Acquisition Workforce
Approximately 500 of the Center’s total 1,143-person workforce are members of the acquisition workforce. An employee is considered in an Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology workforce position, more commonly referred to as an “acquisition” position, if 50 percent of job duty time involves the planning, design, development, testing, contracting, production, introduction, logistics support, and disposal of systems, equipment, facilities, and supplies or services in support of military missions.
Recognizing current fiscal constraints, budget limitations and diminishing customer funds, ECBC sought central funding avenues for workforce development programs by applying for Section 852, Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Funds. This fund allows the DoD to recruit and hire, develop and train, and retain its acquisition workforce. Through a highly competitive application process, ECBC successfully secured $110,000 in Section 852 funds earmarked to support four acquisition training/professional development initiatives.
One of the initiatives was the creation of a computer lab. This endeavor involved transitioning an engineering laboratory into a new facility space with eight computer stations. The refurbished space is now a learning center for acquisition employees who can use it to complete required training to meet acquisition career field certification or continuous learning to maintain their professional and technical proficiency. Now, employees have a dedicated location to complete their acquisition training requirements without the distraction of their local office environments.
A subset of the acquisition workforce includes positions designated as requiring Acquisition Corps membership. “These supervisory acquisition positions are at the senior level and part of AC criteria includes the requirement to have attained a number of business credits,” says Kim Hoffman, supervisory project management specialist in the WMO. “For those graduating with a business-related degree, this is not typically an issue. However, ECBC has a large engineering and science workforce who have been educated in a predominantly technical curriculum. It is not uncommon for these employees to have challenges with meeting the business credits required for AC membership and that can impact career progression.”
In addition, transitioning from a purely technical position in scientific research and engineering to management can be a hardship for many employees who are unfamiliar with business-related topics. Employees have traditionally had more access to pursue educational opportunities outside of the Center, but because of sequestration, training has been curtailed with the primary focus dedicated to required training for certification, licensing or mission critical job-specific duties. Recognizing these limitations, the WMO has been able to use Section 852 funding to put into place an onsite four-course business credit series provided by Harford Community College. These courses include: Accounting Principles, Purchasing & Material Management, Principles of Marketing and Principles of Management. This was ECBC’s first step in trying to provide an opportunity for acquisition employees to earn business credits while also cultivating business acumen skills that are needed for future opportunities.
“We view professional development in a holistic way. Traditional classroom training, coupled with experiential learning, can produce great results. In fact, the Aberdeen Proving Ground Senior Leadership Cohort has done that very thing and has provided a great opportunity for folks to better understand our organizational story, create networks among colleagues, and hone leadership skills,” says Hoffman.
The Section 852 funding was also used to support ECBC acquisition workforce employee participation in the APG Senior Leadership Cohort, a program modeled after the Office of Personnel Management’s Executive Core Qualifications. The cohort was created to build a self-sustaining leadership community among high potential GS-14/15 and equivalent level managers at APG, and to develop leaders as individuals within team and organizational atmospheres across the installation. Although the Center has produced 24 graduates in past years, this was the first year ECBC used Section 852 funding to support participation in the program. While the current program is still ongoing, last February, three ECBC employees were among 49 total APG participants that graduated, including Steve Norman, Chief of the Chemical Services Laboratory within the Directorate of Program Integration’s Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction Business Unit.
What started as a capstone project for the team that Norman was a part of has turned into a vital resource that keeps employees connected. The SHARE (Seeking Help Through Available Resource Exchanges) program is a community-based project developed by the cohort team that Norman was a part of, and is a web-enabled milBook product that facilitates the exchange of goods and services in a collaborative effort to accomplish APG missions. Using the digital interface, users can create blogs to start discussions and receive notifications of new posts. Information can be tailored and formatted in ways that facilitate advertisements and solicitations.
“There’s a lot of talent on APG that we really aren’t taking advantage of. This project came about as an electronic media where you can advertise resources,” says Norman. “If we let some other folks know what our skill sets are and what talents we have here at ECBC that are available, that may also help generate funding opportunities. A majority of the work we do is customer-funded so we have to get out there and find new ways to capture the work ourselves. This is almost an avenue to advertise what we can do for folks who need our capabilities.”
Engaging APG’s workforce in the digital space can also lead to creative problem solving in real time. The unique, yet simple, concept of the SHARE program fosters a resource-sharing environment where APG tenants can reach out to the local Army workforce for support. As a result, it equips the installation with better buying power capabilities during a challenging DoD climate of sequestration, wartime drawdown, contract reform and reduction in force. This year, participation in the current APG Senior Leadership Cohort class was made possible through WMO’s resourcefulness in seeking new funds, and serves as an investment in employees who will be part of teams that produce innovative solutions for the APG community the same way Norman has done.
The fourth ECBC initiative supported by Section 852 funding was a four-part “Women in Science” speaker series in March that honored National Women’s History Month. The 2013 theme, “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” allowed women in senior-level positions from the local and APG community, including Jill Smith, director of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Command, an opportunity to share their career accomplishments with junior members of the acquisition workforce.
As a U.S. Army laboratory, ECBC provides support over the entire acquisition lifecycle – from basic research through technology development, engineering design, equipment evaluation, product support, sustainment, field operations and disposal. The WMO at ECBC has not only adapted to the current environment, but also expanded the cadre of development and educational opportunities for its acquisition workforce while upholding the experience many of its traditional programs continue to provide. I95