Wright-Patt welcomes new cadre of acquisition workers

A group of more than 30 civilians raise their hands as part of the process to officially become federal employees.  After a period of training, the new hires, most with advanced degrees, will become contracting specialists working for various contracting organizations here. (Air Force photo by Ron Fry)

A roomful of civilians raise their hands as part of the process to officially become federal employees. After a period of training, most of the new hires, many with advanced degrees, will become contracting specialists working for various contracting organizations here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ron Fry)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The first crop of three groups of new civilian contracting specialists raised their hand here Monday, June 8 to become federal employees in the Air Force's acquisition workforce.

The 33 college graduates, nearly all with either masters or law degrees, are part of a group of 138 new hires that will join base contracting organizations by August 31, said Ms. Stel Kirbabas, lead contracting recruitment specialist with the Aeronautical Systems Center.

Defense Department officials want to build the defense acquisition workforce by some 20,000 over the next five years, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III told House Armed Services Committee members in May. The effort includes converting about 11,000 contractors to full-time government employees and hiring 9,000 more government acquisition professionals by 2015.

Wright-Patterson is a key Air Force acquisition hub for new aircraft and computer systems, as well as advanced research and technology. The new hires are part of a recently announced Air Force-wide effort to increase the size of its in-house acquisition workforce, following an extended period of restructure and downsizing.

The new acquisition jobs are in addition to approximately 1,200 military and civilian positions coming to Wright-Patt resulting from mission consolidation under BRAC.

Ms. Kirbabas called the group, "amazing" and among the most talented she has ever seen. She said most of the new hires in the contracting career area joined following a very successful January through May 2009 university and college recruitment effort. Air Force civilian personnel recruitment and contracting specialists visited Wright State University, University of Dayton, Bowling Green State University, Hampton University (Va.), Miami University, Ohio State University, Ohio University, University of Akron, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of Toledo, and Xavier University. 

"This is a pretty patriotic group," Kirbabas said, noting during recruiting interviews that applicants universally recognized the serious business of purchasing systems for American's warfighters. The group was hired under one of two authorities: the Defense Career Intern Program and Copper Cap. Both are focused on bringing a mix of experience levels into the contracting career field.

The new cadre includes a mix of recent college graduates and others who turned to civil service after working in the private sector. The employees are being accessed under the general schedule pay system at either the GS-7 or GS-9 pay grade. In the Dayton area that translates to a starting salary of between $38,800 and $47,460, with opportunity for advancement.

A varied group

Lindsey Jackson is a recent MBA grad from University of Toledo after beginning her undergraduate study in pharmacy. She said a U.T. email about the Air Force seeking highly motivated people to serve in its civilian acquisition workforce piqued her interest.

Ms. Jackson said it sounded "like an amazing opportunity and a great job."

"It's been a long wait and I'm very excited to finally get started," she added.

Mike Hill, from Cincinnati, received his undergraduate degree from Miami University and MBA from Xavier. For 15 years he's worked in a variety of jobs in manufacturing, including running a chemical plant and making steel for the auto industry in Middletown, Ohio.

"This is great opportunity and it's a chance for me to give back a little bit and do something for my country," Hill said.

Jamien Johnson is a Bowling Green State University graduate with experience in video production technology and as an investment funds and financial consultant.

He said being "a part of a team atmosphere, working something that is greater than myself," was very important.

"I figured Wright-Patt would be a great way for me to continue that path," Johnson said.

Amy Anaya-Smith, originally from New Mexico, is married to an active duty military member and is the mother of a 12-year-old. She comes to the Air Force with an undergrad degree from University of California Davis, a law degree from University of Dayton and an MBA from Wright State University. The former Montgomery County assistant prosecutor said she believes her skills will translate well to government contracting.

Learning a new craft

Michael Gill is inclined to agree that law and contracting go hand in hand. Mr. Gill serves as the director of contracting for Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson where he oversees contracting policies and people for the organization charged with keeping Air Force weapon systems ready for war.

"Thank you for choosing the Air Force," Gill said. "You ought to be proud of having the opportunity to be a part of the greatest acquisition workforce in the world...You're also a part of one of the most complex, most regulated, most overseen acquisition process in the world."

Mr. Gill acknowledged the DOD acquisition community is among the most scrutinized professions, because contracting officers who obligate the government make acquisition decisions that typically involve many millions of dollars in national treasure and the systems they purchase impact the security of the nation. The profession demands fairness, equitability and transparency, he said.

Gill said as contracting interns the new hires need to take advantage of the many training, educational and experiential opportunities available to become highly skilled at their trade.

"The one thing you need to focus on very hard is learning your craft. It's going to be complex, it's going to be difficult," Gill said, remarking on the sheer volume of federal acquisition regulations.

Gill added while all of the new contracting specialists have proven their ability to learn, they need to carefully focus on their training and professional development to earn the coveted contracting officer warrant "which comes with the authority and responsibility to obligate the government."

"You identify the requirements, and ultimately you're the one that will ensure that we get our money's worth."

The new contracting personnel will undergo nine weeks of intensive "Jump Start" training at Wright-Patterson to become Level-1 certified to join the acquisition workforce for either Aeronautical Systems Center, Air Force Research Laboratory, 554th Electronic Systems Group or the 88th Contracting Squadron at Wright-Patterson. 

Other new employees also start work 

Six other newly hired full-time employees from logistics, engineering and other functional areas also participated in the swear-in ceremony. With AFMC headquarters located at Wright-Patt, the base is a magnet for Air Force logisticians.

Separately another 15 full-time employees were acquired through the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), where undergraduate or graduate students worked part time for the Air Force while attending college then become full-time civil service employees upon graduation.

And 25 Wright Scholar students arrived for their first day of employment. They were selected from more than 250 applicants to be employed for 10 to 12 weeks as engineering aids, working under volunteer mentors in the fields of science and engineering. The program is designed to expose promising college-bound students with work experience at the Air Force Research Laboratory. The program, now in its eighth year, is seen as an important incubator for future government scientists and engineers, said Ms. Linda Cardwell, deputy base personnel officer.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is home to approximately 25,000 Airmen, civilian and contractor employees and the base personnel office services approximately 11,000 civilian positions paid from appropriated funds and physically located on base.