The Business of Government Hour

 

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The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

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Edward Harrington interview

Friday, March 30th, 2001 - 20:00
Phrase: 
Edward Harrington
Radio show date: 
Sat, 03/31/2001
Intro text: 
Contracting; Supply Chain Management...

Contracting; Supply Chain Management

Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, conversations with government leaders. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of The PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for The Business of Government. The endowment was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new methods to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the endowment and our programs by visiting us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour focuses on outstanding government executives who are changing the way government does business. Our conversation tonight is with Brigadier General Edward Harrington, director, Defense Contract Management Agency.

Welcome, General Harrington.

Gen. Harrington: Thank you, Paul. It's nice to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let's start by finding out more about the Defense Contract Management Agency. Could you describe the activities at DCMA for our listeners?

Gen. Harrington: Certainly. The Defense Contract Management Agency is what I call the Department of Defense's acquisition, support, and readiness agency and it is primarily focused on managing the contracts of all of our military services. We're the people that assure that the cost, schedule, and performance that the services need for the war-fighting systems and the readiness components of the different systems out in the field are assured and we have people in contractor plants that survey all the production and make sure the quality is perfect and also ensure that the contractors get paid. And we are that function that provides all the service acquisition managers that detailed information that helps them buy things better for the Department of Defense.

Mr. Lawrence: How large is DCMA in terms of the people?

Gen. Harrington: We've got about 12,000 people in 65 primary field activities throughout the United States and then all over the world wherever there are contractors supporting American military services. We in fact have small pockets of people in over 900 locations throughout the world that actually do the surveillance activities with those contractors.

Mr. Lawrence: What types of skills do these individuals have?

Gen. Harrington: Well, they range from senior-level managers who are responsible for coordinating and integrating all of the acquisition functions to the people that perform those functions, the engineers, the electrical engineers, software engineers, quality assurance specialists for everything from aviation fuels to production line spare components for tactical wheeled vehicles and aircraft and helicopters and ships to contract management specialists that ensure that the contract provisions are met and as well that the proper payment is made to our contractors wherever they are.

Mr. Lawrence: So it's a very diverse workforce?

Gen. Harrington: Yes, it is, with a lot of different skills. The integration of those skills I think is the value we provide and the one we most focus in terms of bringing value to the acquisition managers.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that DCMA was created in 1989 as part of the Defense Logistics Agency but became an independent agency in March 2000. What does it mean to be an independent agency?

Gen. Harrington: Well, I think now as an agency we are in partnership with the other defense agencies who comprise a large part of our customer base, and we're able to now dialogue with our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine service customers on a level that they can come to us and tell us what they need and we're able to provide those types of services and that support effectively now with a lot more visibility. And the ability to partner, I think, is really coming to the fore as far as our main strength.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the benefits of being independent?

Gen. Harrington: I think our independence goes to how we are actually able to connect in partnerships both with industry and with our acquisition managers and the readiness managers in each one of the services. So that independence just gives us a chance to work with our contractors and take the information we learn from our contractors and provide that to our acquisition managers more effectively.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's spend some time finding out about your career. Could you tell us about your career and the different positions you've held?

Gen. Harrington: Sure. I started out in the Army, was drafted but with the intention of joining the military so that I could serve my country. That was decided for me ahead of time before I ever graduated from college. I spent some time as an enlisted infantry man and applied for a commission through the infantry officer candidate program, earned my commission, and served in Vietnam as a platoon leader. Then, I came back and fully envisioned staying with the Army for a while longer to see whether I wanted to be a part of it for the long term.

And I spent some time at Fort Bragg doing the usual things a young lieutenant does with soldiers and training soldiers and then going out and supporting soldiers wherever they were in their deployment and their mission requirements.

And then part of the genesis of where I've come as an acquisition and contract manager is that I was assigned as a deployment and contracting manager at Fort Bragg and got deeply involved with detailing plans for contractor support for the 18th Airborne Corps there. That corps has a mission to go anywhere in the world and oftentimes we found that we needed to have some type of local ability to be able to find supplies for the soldiers on the ground and the ability to provide parts on an emergency basis.

And I learned a lot from that experience, in terms of what the soldiers need far forward when they go and are deployed. That experience comes back to me all the time in terms of how we provide support to our acquisition managers. The things we do for our acquisition and readiness managers mean readiness for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in the field.

And that's where I've come. I've been a product manager and in charge of a group of project managers, and have had three assignments here in DCMA. So I think I've had a chance to see both sides of it. I've been a customer of DCMA and I've been a customer supporter in DCMA, so it's great to be back. And I tell the people, and I mean it sincerely, that I'm extremely proud to be the director and I think I'm lucky, also.

Mr. Lawrence: As you reflect on your career what positions best prepared you for your present job?

Gen. Harrington: I think more than anything else, Paul, the leadership experiences I've had as an Army officer have given me the training and told me a lot about myself, how I need to interact with people, how we collectively, the senior leaders and myself as the director, need to work with our people to communicate with them about the necessity for the criticality of the mission that they perform, to learn from our people about their needs as individuals as far as their skills go, to look at how we can help them develop their individual skills and then their teaming skills better, and then to flow that out, so to speak, to both of our contractor partners as well as the acquisition and readiness managers we actually support.

So the leadership aspect of it, I think, is what I've learned. And more than anything else I've learned that it is a continual improvement process. You're never that perfect leader. You're always learning.

Mr. Lawrence: What drew you to continue public service? You indicated in your description of your career at several points you had choices and you chose to stay.

Gen. Harrington: Well, I've always felt it's a continual assessment process, and I just was drawn to the Army because of a sense of obligation to serve my country. I stayed in the Army because of the soldiers I worked with, the noncommissioned officers that I worked with, and the superior officers that coached, counseled, and mentored me. And wherever I was I felt as though I was with a group of people that had a set of values with an organization that had a set of values that meant an awful lot to me.

And those values, I felt, were what I needed to strive in my own personal conduct as far as growth on a personal basis. So an awful lot of it had to do with a growing sense of personal growth and then a sense of obligation to my country and a growing likeness for the Army.

Mr. Lawrence: A second ago in another answer you talked about the importance of leadership. What are the qualities of good leaders?

Gen. Harrington: Well, I go back to the Army values. If you take the "E" and the "A" out, they spell leadership, loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, selfless service, personal courage, all of those types of values I say are intrinsic character traits that I think are necessary in a leader. A leader needs to be able to set the example in each of those traits and, more importantly, those traits that collectively as we go about our mission. DCMA comprises a group of professionals who I say need to set the example for those values, for the integrity in our acquisition process, for the courage to be able to do the right thing, for selfless service to the nation.

So I say I have an obligation to set the example for the agency as a whole and I look to the people in the agency to demonstrate that individually and then collectively. And I think they do it admirably. They're a good group of people.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's time for a break. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour in just a few minutes. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with General Edward Harrington, director, Defense Contract Management Agency.

Well, I understand that DCMA recently issued an annual business plan. Could you tell us about this plan?

Gen. Harrington: Yes, that business plan's foundation is what we call our strategic plan. Our strategic plan lays out our goals for the next year, but it also looks to the future in terms of what we want DCMA to do in accordance with the guidance we receive from Congress, from the administration, in terms of pursuing our acquisitions, support, and contract management mission in all of the acquisition reform and reinvention efforts that we need to address in support of our customers.

So the strategic plan is the basis upon which we formulate the business plan, which outlines the specific actions we need to take to be able to make our mission processes more effective and more efficient.

That business plan arises out of our continual assessment of how we're doing, and we have a DCMA integrated management system that we use as a structure to be able to assess every one of our mission processes and how we're supporting our customers. And it identifies for us our strengths and our weaknesses and the opportunities we have and then some of the threats that we have that we need to go out and address to be able to overcome.

We follow with the business plan, which is our contract with our Department of Defense superiors, and flow that out to our subordinate field activities who take that business plan and develop performance plans from that.

And in fact those performance plans become performance contracts with us at the DCMA headquarters level, and we assess their performance on a yearly basis through a series of reviews, management reviews and financial reviews and then special process reviews if we find a process that needs focus and needs correction or needs improvement.

And so the process is very mature. It's due in large part to the emphasis placed by the senior civilians at DCMA, their consistency in their leadership, and then the consistency and focus by each one of my predecessors as the commanders. It's a mature process. It's one we practice regularly. It's one we've seen that produces results for us. And it also highlights for us what we need to do for the customer in the future, which I think is a very, very important function.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, it's funny you mention the customer because you said you've been a customer of DCMA, and so I'm wondering what DCMA is doing to focus on customer service.

Gen. Harrington: Our focus on customers. We have a motto: One focus, customer focus, around the world 24 hours a day 7 days a week. That's just not an advertising slogan. Everything we do, we look at how we're interacting with the customer. We have customer liaison representatives in most of the large major acquisition and buying commands in each one of the services. Each one of our senior leaders in DCMA interacts regularly, has relationships with our senior military service acquisition and readiness managers. Likewise, I do that at the Department of Defense level along with the deputy director, Mr. Tom Bronk, so that we try to get a pulse regularly of what the customer requirements will be, how the customer intends to acquire either systems or components, assemblies, or spare parts, and then take from that where we need to apply our best efforts.

We use what we call our risk assessment management program to determine where the customer requirements need the most focus from our perspective. That mandates to us that we have a detailed dialogue with the customer where we can outline to the customer where best we think our skills need to be to be able to help the customer the best.

For example, if we have a brand-new acquisition program, if it's a fighter or if it's a tank or if it's a new ship, and the contractor has a supplier base, we want to take a look at how that contractor manages that supplier base so that we can assure that either material, aluminum, steel, printed circuit cards, those types of components that are required early on in a program for integration, that we are able to help the customer judge the effectiveness of those suppliers in providing those types of components for the start of the program.

And then we have processes that we use to go out and actually evaluate contractors and their processes. We provide those insights to our service acquisition managers and at the same time dialogue directly with the contractors involved. And where we see there's a need for improvement in the process, we have a very frank, open dialogue both with the contractor and with our acquisition program manager customers.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let me follow up on that because I did want to ask how does DCMA evaluate and monitor contractor performance?

Gen. Harrington: The risk assessment management program is a basis upon which we allocate the right people to the right contractor. We go through a series of pre-award surveys that go out and judge the contractor's business practices, the contractor's manufacturing practices. We use a set of commonly accepted processes and rules to be able to determine how effective that contractor is in their processes all the way from how they buy materials and how they subcontract to how they actually manufacture and then how they actually manage a program for a service customer.

After contract award, we engage with the contractor to go actually survey the production processes, whether it's hard steel production-type or aluminum manufacturing or airplanes or ships or tanks, to looking at how they manage their software development processes. And we've got skills in each one of those areas, including centers of excellence for those types of things. We have specific groups of people that we can bring to bear on helping a contractor resolve a problem or just making sure the contractor's on notice that they need to do something to help make it better.

Mr. Lawrence: How does DCMA help build the partnership between its customers and the contractors?

Gen. Harrington: I think we're a facilitator, Paul. We use such things as management councils. Management councils arose out of the single process initiative where the Department of Defense and Congress wanted to see more efficient processes, and where you could adopt a common process such as welding or packaging, the Department of Defense required us to be the facilitator between the program manager and the contractor to find commonality in processes.

From that single-process initiative management council process we've evolved, where we identify issues for resolution on a regular basis beyond those types of things where a contractor may have a problem with quality assurance, for instance, and their expertise may not be adequate or their quality assurance finds too many rejects.

We use the management council process as a way to facilitate corrective action, improvement in processes, and we pull in the program manager customer and the contractor. We're the ones with the facts. We're the ones with the information that says 'here's how you performed over the last quarter or the last six months and here are the areas that you need to look at and address to make it better.'

So, we're a facilitator in all that, but we also call ourselves a partner in trying to build that enterprise between contractor and program manager. Ultimately, it's the warfighter out at the front lines or in the air or on the ocean that will have to benefit from that. That program manager is one of the primary representatives of that user out there in the field and that's what we tune ourselves towards when we sit down with these folks.

It's a regular mature process, works very well. More is to be done regularly in that, but it's a good framework to be able to establish that partnership and to be the facilitator.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you think the promises of those type arrangements, the partnership arrangements, have been fulfilled? Let me give you an example. I mean, if done correctly in the private sector it could actually result in less competition. Good suppliers are rewarded, and yet the framework of the government requires competition and understandably so. So I'm wondering about that tension and whether it really ever comes to the level one might imagine.

Gen. Harrington: That's always a juggle. We want to foster competition. Our ability to go across the contractor base on a very, very wide broad spectrum I think engenders that competitive aspect because at times we'll focus on a contractor and there's always the implication that we're helping that contractor's competitive position.

We find that we're pervasive throughout the contractor base so if Contractor A produces something and Contractor B does most often we find we're with both contractors in different functions. Our defense contractor base, we have some contractors that have multiple contracts with the Army, with the Navy, with the Air Force, and with the Marines in some cases. So the ability to foster growth in that contractor, we watch the contractor. Their ability to compete I think isn't reduced because of our involvement with another contractor specifically.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be right back with more of The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and our conversation today is with General Edward Harrington, director, Defense Contract Management Agency.

In the first segment we talked about DCMA becoming independent and I'm curious. How did the organizational culture change when that happened?

Gen. Harrington: Well, I think our culture had evolved probably outside of the change. We were designated a combat support agency just like Defense Logistics Agency. We still consider ourselves a part of the family, frankly, at Defense Logistics Agency.

But what that designation meant to us is it raised our awareness of how much more we are important to the warfighting customer out there. So if there's a subtle influence on the culture at DCMA, it's just impacted us I think that we are now more conscious of the criticality of what we do.

It means that we have to look at what we do in terms of the actual provisioning of vital supplies and components and systems to the warfighter. We need to become engaged more and more in supply chain management, the Department of Defense's overall initiative, and each one of the services are working this very, very diligently to reduce the numbers of stuff, if you will, in the inventory, to depend upon response with an item as opposed to going to a large inventory.

We play a very prominent role in that because we are the individuals that are in the plant managing the actual production of those parts and components and assemblies and systems. So in that culture, that part of that culture, I think is for lack of better term business as usual. We understand that importance but now that the criticality of an item that needs to get to the front, so to speak, just underscores what we're going to do and need to do as a combat support agency. And that's the part of the culture I think we're going to grow into, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: What type monitoring takes place of an independent agency, say, by yourself or, say, perhaps by the Department of Defense?

Gen. Harrington: Well, the Department of Defense has its Inspector General function. The GAO at the congressional level has oversight over our activities. Congress does, also. Congress enacts laws and legislation and requires us to do our own internal reviews to make sure that we're complying with the laws, that we comply with regulations in terms of how we review ourselves to make sure that we are managing ourselves properly.

The Combat Support Agency review team as a DOD function will come out and assess our readiness as a combat support agency sometime in the next year, year and a half. So there's a variety of oversight for us that shows us that we need to be able to manage ourselves and how, as an agency with a scrutiny, such that we can demonstrate to our customers that we are an example as far as acquisition management and contract management and that our honest broker role in that regard is as pure as we can make it.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier you mentioned the integrated management system that helps you comply with certain GPRA requirements. Could you tell us about this and how you're doing against those goals?

Gen. Harrington: Yes. The integrated management system starts with an assessment of ourselves and we've called that the unit self-assessment. That's a mature process at each level in DCMA. Our field activities do it on a yearly basis. We do it at our own level. It obligates us to define where our strengths are, where our areas of improvement are, to look at the areas for improvement and the strengths and determine what is it that we need to focus our energies most on, improving or maintaining as a strength, and from that then we go into the strategic planning and business planning and performance planning process.

And as we follow on and have followed on with that we've developed a mature process we call unit cost, which complies with the tenet in the Government Performance and Results Act to do activity- based management and activity-based costing, and we've been able to develop a system where we can determine the costs of each one of the mission functions we perform.

And we group the mission functions in what we call service sets. And those service sets are what we offer our customers in terms of: performing mission functions for them, maintaining contract actions, doing quality assurance, payment functions, doing software surveillance, engineering activities, industrial analysis. We're able to quantify the costs of those and from that, determine how efficient and effective we are in each one of those mission functions in those service sets.

Mr. Lawrence: Do those tie to individual performance?

Gen. Harrington: They do. That's an area we have been working at. We've more work to do that, but our subordinate field activities have the performance contracts. That's beginning to flow down to the individuals in each one of the field activities and to our own people in our headquarters. We're not there yet. We have more work to do.

Mr. Lawrence: We know that the ranks of DCMA have decreased over the last 10 years as the result of downsizing. So, I'm wondering how you've dealt with that by perhaps changing processes or introducing efficiencies.

Gen. Harrington: We are like every other federal agency. In 1990, we were 26,000 strong; we're 12,000 now. That's mandated that we use such things as information technology to be able to take advantage of electronic information flows. We've looked at how we can integrate our processes amongst our personnel so that they can team better together.

We have what we call a One Book, which is a very detailed outline of the individual processes that we use for the customers. And then we take those processes, and we judge how much they cost to be able to determine how effective and how efficient we need to be.

We then take a look at where we're applying our skills with the risk-based management system we've got and say 'do we have the right people at the right place at the right time for the customer for the magnitude of requirements that customer has?' And at that point, it's a continual process.

We have a monthly management review process that we do. We look at the mission sets and the service sets and our financial management review where we look at the unit cost of our field elements and the individual mission functions we use, and then from that say, 'what do we need to do to improve?' And that's a group of senior leaders to include the field commanders at the district level in Boston and in Los Angeles, and here we have the commander for the international district who sits in on that with us. So, we get the field perspective when we sit down and look at how we're doing, and then figure out what the next steps are to be able to do the continuous improvement. I think that's a trademark for how we manage ourselves.

Mr. Lawrence: Sometimes things don't always go all right. So, I wonder if you could tell us about the Contract Dispute Resolution Center.

Gen. Harrington: Right. Actually Paul, I think that's a good news story. This Contract Dispute Resolution Center is the place we all go: us, the program managers, the acquisition managers, and the contractors, where, for instance, if a contractor has a claim and we cannot as a government achieve some type of an agreement to adjudicate that claim so that we can both pursue our best interests, we go to the Contract Dispute Resolution Center and go through a process called alternative disputes resolution.

And we found that we can reach consensus that's agreeable to the contractor, for instance, or that's agreeable to the government to be able to resolve a claim without going through an extensive amount of litigation and in fact taking people to court endlessly and consuming resources on both the contractor's part and on the government's part to adjudicate claims actions and grievances, if you will, that normally you'd have to go to court for. So it's been a good news story and I think you'll see it's a growth business these days because we found some success in it, and that we can resolve these claims to the satisfaction of all involved.

Mr. Lawrence: I was going to ask what are the lessons learned from seeing these resolutions come out so positively?

Gen. Harrington: We're beginning to learn that we can go further back into the process. And before that claim starts, is there something we can do to reach consensus to resolve that up front? And then is there something we haven't done way back at the start of this thing that we ought to go do and we need to advise our customers in the acquisition and program management world? Or is it something we did in contract administration that we could have done differently or better or identified sooner?

Every now and then there might be a regulatory change we want to propose that helps us or a contractor stay away from saying we've got a very, very contentious issue here. Can we resolve it with regulatory guidance, for instance?

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. We'll be back with more of The Business of Government Hour in just a few minutes.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with General Edward Harrington, director, Defense Contract Management Agency.

Well, one of the toughest challenges that many employers are facing now is recruiting and retaining good employees. Does DCMA have this problem, and if so, how are you dealing with it?

Gen. Harrington: We're like, as I mentioned earlier, Paul, every other federal agency. Our average age of our workforce is in the neighborhood of 50 years and in 5 to 6 years 50 percent of our people will be eligible to retire. That's nothing in terms of a news story for anyone. We well understand it.

We have begun and we have a very good program right now we call our keystone program that I think we're going to be able to recover that loss and those expert skills in the workforce. This keystone program takes in what we call interns with career paths targeted to higher grades and more training and specializing as well as skill development. And at this point we've got around 400 people we've taken in this year. We're looking at the same number over the next couple years.

So, our mandate is to refresh our workforce and our greatest concern is that we bring new people in while we retain the seasoned, skilled, experienced people so that they can impart those years of experience to the new people along with the formal training they'll get.

Mr. Lawrence: We hear a lot of talk about the struggle of retaining employees, higher pay, different jobs. I mean, especially in contract management how does that come out?

Gen. Harrington: It's a difficult challenge. We're competing with industry. We're competing with other government agencies. We're competing with state governments. What we have are, I think, very good programs that we have an obligation, I think, to market better. I use "market" not as a derogatory term but to be able to portray both the career capabilities we have and the ability to grow as a government person in the Defense Contract Management Agency as well as the skill training every step of the way.

And it's an important part of what we're looking at right now to be able to foster that growth in the workforce, so it's a challenge right now. We have a particular challenge with information technology specialists because private industry has a very attractive career path for them that we're unable to match as far as pay goes.

We're challenged constantly in terms of 'can we go and be outsourced?' Can a private contractor take our functions over? And the results of those types of things are analyses that say no, we need these government people in an awful lot of these positions because they are very critical to pursuing the government's interests and protecting the laws and regulations.

That part of it I think rings true. We're able to provide relocation bonuses and retention bonuses. I think we're getting some excellent support to be able to use those types of tools to be able to retain our quality people.

Mr. Lawrence: As the federal government outsources more and more tasks and services how do you think contract management will evolve?

Gen. Harrington: I think, Paul, that contract management will always be an essential part as a government entity that the government will need to hold onto. And I know that there will be challenges to that, but we have regulatory guidance that is set in law that says our contracting officers, either pre-award or post-award, are what we call warranted. And that's a specific requirement that says they have to have an independence to be able to pursue the government's interests without any undue influence.

When you look at those duties you say to yourself 'I'm not sure we can go contract those duties out.' But when you take a look at the types of information that a contracting officer has to have, they have to have people also that are in the same relationship as far as independence goes to provide the right information, so they can execute the contracts in accordance with the government's interests.

So I would suggest that these types of folks need to be independent, they need to be able to have a government chain of command, and they need to be government people. And that may not be a popular notion, but it's pursuant to the government's interests.

All of our other people for the most part are what we call acquisition professionals and those individuals are governed by specific statutes. So where there's an, I think, opportunity to look at outsourcing there's a core nucleus of people in the Defense Contract Management Agency that I believe need to be government people and serving our government and our nation.

Mr. Lawrence: There's one scenario where government employees actually do less and less, and I heard someone talk about this once. They said eventually all government employees will simply be contract administrators and I'm wondering what's your reaction to a statement like that?

Gen. Harrington: I've heard that, too, and I don't understand the rationale for that statement. The specific skills that we bring to the acquisition process, to the ability to look at a contract in total in terms of what it provides, either acquisition managers for systems or it provides readiness managers for components, in my view requires a set of skills that feed into that contract specialist. The engineering skills, the industrial specialty skills, the quality assurance skills, those types of expert skills I think are essential to be able to provide a balanced assessment of how a contractor is performing.

Without those, the contract specialist, I think, would be all alone and without critical information from people. I don't think we can develop an individual in and of themselves with the time they have in government service to embody all of the specific traits in each one of those very technical skilled areas.

Mr. Lawrence: What types of technological advances do you see DCMA needing to provide the kind of services you just described?

Gen. Harrington: Right now, we are taking advantage of the advancing information technology that is just geometrically achieving greater levels of processing capability. This global information grid that we see coming will be a great enabler of our mission processes because we are all over the world, and we populate a central database with very critical contractor information.

So, the speed that we're able to populate that database from the far reaches of the world and all over the United States, I think, is critical to how well we can assimilate that information and draw from it insights for both contractors and program managers to use better.

We have people in, as I said, 900 locations but they literally go to over 25,000 contractor locations. Their remote connectivity to us and to that central database is essential. I think as we see advancing technology provide better capabilities that's going to mean a very critical improvement to our mission functions, so advancing technology is very important to us.

Mr. Lawrence: It's getting harder and more complicated. What type skills are these people going to need in the future?

Gen. Harrington: I maintain that the technical skills we have now are going to grow. The contract specialists, the contract administrator, the administrative contracting officer, the engineer that's the electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, or software engineer, the industrial specialist, we have got to be in pace and in most cases anticipating industry's changes. When you look at the advancing technology industry is using to be able to produce and manufacture better we've got to understand that. We've got to have the skills to be able to judge that properly.

At the same time, I tell everybody we all need to be information technology experts, too. We need to know how to harness not just the individual Microsoft Word or spreadsheet application but how the global information grid and the database elements that we use can provide us advantages. So I think information technology is a critical aspect, something we've not looked at in the past, but it is a mandate for the future.

Mr. Lawrence: Will this change to a new economy change the way we make purchases? For example, someone said that a lot of what takes place in the acquisition process came from our buying commodities around World War II and now things are so different. You've talked about technology and software a lot more than, say, commodities and goods. Will this change?

Gen. Harrington: I think so. When you look at the standard procurement system it is going to every service and it's going to be a tool that the Department of Defense can use across the board. It is really progressing towards a standard acquisition system and it's going to involve interfaces with each one of the Army's, Navy's, Air Force's, and Marine Corps' contract writing systems, its financial management systems.

So those types of interfaces and that type of growth in the future I think again mandate to us that our ability to harness that stuff for ourselves and to be partners with the different agencies that use those systems is just essential.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I want to thank you, General Harrington. We're out of time. This has been a great conversation.

Gen. Harrington: Thanks, Paul. I appreciate you having me here.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. To learn more about the endowment and its programs visit us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

See you next week.

Edward Harrington interview
03/31/2001
Edward Harrington

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IBM Center for The Business of Government
Leadership Fellow & Host, The Business of Government Hour

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Recent Episodes

10/16/2017
Bryan Rice
Department of the Interior
Director of the Office of Wildland Fire
10/09/2017
Bob Rosen
Author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World
10/02/2017
Baligh Yehia
Department of Veterans Affairs
Former Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care
09/25/2017
Bill Marion
Air Force
Information Dominance & Deputy Chief Information Officer
09/18/2017
Commander Eric Popiel
U.S. Coast Guard
Program Manager for the Evergreen Program