Army Acquisition Executive stresses importance of investing in employees
During a visit to Picatinny, the Army's top civilian for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology told employees and leaders how important it is for an organization to invest in its employees.
Steffanie B. Easter, the Army Acquisition Executive and senior official performing the duties of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, or ASA (ALT), visited Picatinny Arsenal on Dec. 2 to familiarize herself with the installation, its organizations and missions.
Picatinny was designated the Joint Center of Excellence for Guns and Ammunition, providing products and services to all branches of the U.S. military. It is the third largest employer in Northwestern New Jersey, employing more than 6,000 employees, and provides 90 percent of the Army's lethality.
Easter said that two things struck her during her visit to Picatinny – the installation’s collective technical expertise and its investment in employees.
“Just like with a lot of things, technology is really great, but investment in our people far outweighs anything you will do from a materiel perspective,” Easter said during her visit.
In her current position, Easter oversees over 36,000 acquisition professionals, civilian and military, who collectively oversee Army research, development and total acquisition lifecycle activities totaling more than $20 billion in Fiscal Year 2016 alone.
During the visit she met with Picatinny senior leaders Jim Shields, the Program Executive Officer Ammunition and Brig. Gen. Alfred Abramson, Deputy Program Executive Officer Ammunition and Picatinny Senior Commander. PEO Ammunition is a subordinate organization to ASA (ALT).
She also met with John Hedderich, director of the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, also located at Picatinny.
Easter said she enjoyed seeing the priority that leadership has put on investing in training and education, highlighting the establishment of the Research Development and Engineering Command-ARDEC Armament Graduate School at Picatinny.
The Armament Graduate School (AGS) was founded at Picatinny Arsenal to formalize the development of engineers' and scientists' critical skills, a process that has occurred at Picatinny primarily through mentoring. The first class of students graduated with master’s degrees in 2015.
“When you invest in people, like I see here at Picatinny, the product will come and (the employees will) be motivated and excited about innovating new things and then that leads to getting the warfighter what they need,” Easter said. “And to me that’s the spectrum of what I’ve seen here and it’s been very impressive.”
"I'm pleased that Ms. Easter was able to visit Picatinny to see that wide-spectrum of armaments that we provide our warfighters," said Shields.
"Our culture at Picatinny is defined by an urgent commitment to meet the needs of those who defend us, and we know that we must foster the expertise and talent of our employees to match that commitment. I'm glad this commitment was on display as our engineers and program managers discussed with her our advanced mortars, artillery and ammunition products."
Easter advised the Picatinny community to “continue doing what you’re doing” by providing warfighters with the technology they need to be successful.
“You’ll hear the chief of staff of the Army say all the time that we have to be able to provide overmatch, and what I’ve seen here in the brief time today, is that we’re well on our way to doing that.”
She added that, unlike some of the Army focus areas such as aviation, ammunition is unique because it does not have a robust commercial industrial base.
“A lot of people would be concerned that we have this part of our warfighting capability that we’re so dependent on, that we have no industry base to support. But after today I can tell them that there’s nothing to fear because we’ve got a lot of talent right here at Picatinny and I think the role is to continue to focus on that unique army requirement, which I saw being done extremely well today,” Easter said.
In addition, Easter said that the acquisition community’s greatest challenges are staying ahead of evolving threats and grappling with how to balance shrinking resources in a way that allows the Army to plan for today and as well as the future.
“Our ability to stay ahead of the threat and to be able to operate in any given environment, perhaps multiple environments at one time, is going to be a great challenge for us,” she said. “And in order to be able to address that we have to be able to plan, we have to be able to innovate, but we also have to be able to invest.
“And in this environment of shrinking resources, being able to have the resources we need to keep our advanced technology going, to make sure that we balance that correctly,” Easter said.
“We have this constant battle because of where we are today – how do you balance taking care of today versus preparing for the future. And I think that’s something we have to always keep an eye on and make sure we have the right balance. We can’t sacrifice today for the future, but we can’t sacrifice the future for today.”
As the Department of Defense pivots to a new administration, Easter said that ASAALT needs to stay focused on “delivering materiel capability as an enterprise and doing what we’re doing today.”
“My focus would just be on getting better at it – I call it acquisition excellence. We have to make sure that we’re the best at what we do. Because, regardless of the where the new administration takes us, the foundation will be same.”
Easter ended by thanking the Picatinny community for hosting her. “I was telling Mr. Shields (Program Executive Officer Ammunition) this is probably the best kept secret in New Jersey or even in the world,” Easter said of Picatinny Arsenal.
“I was very impressed with the level of technical competence, with the level of innovation, and the level of commitment. As I walked through the floor today talking to the individual people, the excitement of what they do is rooted through everything they said and the way they presented it,” she added.
Easter remarked that she had talked with people who have worked at Picatinny for up to 20 years. “So that says to me that this is a great place to be, a place that focuses on its workforce, and focuses on the development of that workforce. And I’m impressed by that and I think we need to replicate this model wherever we can across the Army and even DOD.”
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