Among other things, the federal government is one of the largest training organizations in the world, probably the largest. If you think about it, the government educates people on a staggering variety of subjects across a wide range of fields.
So this column is an acknowledgment of the people who work throughout government, largely unknown, and who help others learn what they need to learn. This can be done in formal training, or it can be done in the modeling of best practices and behaviors, or in a mentor-mentee situation.
Some people prefer the word education. I think it was retail giant Stanley Marcus who said, “You train seals, you train people.” Actually, it’s both. Ideas make people, but skillful direction followed by repetition makes us good at what we’re trying to do.
The other day before the Washington Nationals game, a marine precision drill team marched onto the field and demonstrated their skills with glittering rifles. Then a group of Golden Knights army paratroopers jumped out of a plane. The tiny dots in the sky turned into human figures dressed in black manipulating blue and yellow slides. One after the other, they landed precisely in the outfield.
I thought this was training. Whereas sitting in a class somewhere and learning theory from Clauzewitz and Baron Jomini? This is education.
Now, the theatrical side of the military—the drill teams, the formation flyers, the bands—may not be central to the mission to fight and win the nation’s wars. I would argue that they humanize the military and help make it a welcome and valued part of the national fabric at a relatively low cost. However, this indirectly supports their mission. It probably helps with recruitment as well.
Knowledge management is an ongoing challenge for federal agencies. companies too. But governmental organizations, to a greater extent than most private sector organizations, operate within a complex mix of laws, regulations, procedures and cultural traditions. Just knowing where to act at your discretion, rather than following the letter of the law or the rule – this insight does not come automatically.
Take the tax office for example. For various reasons, it struggles with processing paper returns, of which it still receives millions, and several other service issues.
I raised these issues with one of the IRS supervisors, Jessica Lucas-Judy of the Government Accountability Office. In some places, she said, the IRS just needs more people to handle the sheer volume. It uses various hiring agencies to hire people. But of course that’s just the beginning. One person may be the best accountant in the world, but it takes a lot of training and education in very specific things to be effective Inside the tax office. Understanding returns, knowing the nuances of tax legislation, dealing with anxious or angry people, learning many information systems – it doesn’t mean moving a load of stones from here to there.
On the DoD side, planners face a million questions. A fundamental question is how the armed forces maintain their advantage over potential adversaries. For several years, the Defense Innovation Unit has used an acquisition method known as a different transaction authority to rapidly bring technological innovations from the private sector to the military. A Department of Defense-wide practice has developed around this idea of quickly learning new skills.
OTA is a method of purchasing certain things — in this case, prototypes — outside of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, or the defense version of it. The Department of Defense has expanded its use of OTA in recent years, but Congress originally enabled OTA for NASA in the late 1950s. OTA is simple in the sense that a violin is simply a small wooden box with four strings stretched across it. Simple but in inexperienced hands, both fiddles and OTA purchases are likely to be disasters. In practiced hands, magic can happen.
That’s why I was intrigued by the interview with Cherissa Tamayori, Director of Procurement at DIU. Starting from the premise that OTA skills are in short supply, she created her own innovative training program based on the old surgery adage “See One, Do One, Teach One”. DIU, in partnership with Defense Acquisition University, is accepting applications for just six Department of Defense contractors, 1102s. You will spend a year full-time on a so-called immersion course in the deep intricacies of the work of OTAs.
The six Fellows each correspond to one of the six industry sectors DIU does business with: artificial intelligence and machine learning, autonomy, cyber, energy, human systems and space. The course will also teach what OTA is not, Tamayori said. For example, while it can enable quick acquisitions, it shouldn’t be used for emergency purchases, such as FEMA, which needs a million water bottles overnight. There is a FAR allowance for this.
Upon completing their training, Tamayori said, “What we expect from these Fellows is that when they complete their time at DIU, they can return to their unit, to their ministry, and become and train experts – trainer-type entities.”
The course has the dual effect of helping people improve at a critical mission activity and helping build a government-wide cohort, or community of practice, with expertise from DIU teachings, Tamayori said.
I would like to add that the DIU/DAU course promises to be a reference example of how human capital development coincides with a strategic need of government.
Almost useless factoid
By David Thornton
Researchers estimate that on any given day, 15.8% of people worldwide experience headaches.
Source: Washington Post