The Detrimental Effects of Downsizing on the DoD's "Smart Buyer" Capability

While the Department of Defense's (DoD) "smart buyer" (SB) capability -- its in-house technical expertise for procurement of new military systems -- is sufficient today, RAND researchers found that it may be in jeopardy due to recent downsizing of the federal government workforce. The researchers discussed the effects of downsizing on the technical element -- the Service's workers who have technological, scientific, engineering and mathematical expertise -- of DoD's SB function in the Summer 2000 issue of Acquisition Review Quarterly

The Threat to SB 

Technological superiority is an essential part of the nation's overall defense strategy. In order to maintain its technological superiority, the DoD must also maintain its SB capability. The Army, for example, is increasingly using information technology to enhance its battlefield capabilities. As it evolves towards becoming a revolutionary, technology-driven future force, it requires knowledgeable government scientists and engineers (S&Es) who can keep up with the latest technological advances. 

Since a large number of the DoD's S&Es in the SB pool are government civilians, researchers found that the threat comes from a general government downsizing trend. Currently, mandated personnel caps are forcing the downsizing of all government civilians, including civilian S&Es. These cuts can cause personnel issues such as turbulence, loss of technical expertise, poor staff morale, and fragmented work.  These problems can hamper the DoD's efforts to maintain its SB capabilities.


Researchers discovered three elements necessary to a good SB capability:

  • A Collaborative Research Environment 

    Researchers reviewed studies supporting the view that wide exposure to the development of new technologies outside one's own organization is key to honing one's SB skills. This outside exposure can be gained through government's collaboration with private industry, academic institutions, and other government laboratories. The key to forming these collaborations lie in acquisition reform initiatives, but the Services' reluctance to embrace these initiatives needs to be overcome. This can be done through education and training for all laboratory personnel 

  • Communication among SBs and Concept and Materiel Developers 

    Researchers emphasized that each Service's concept and material developers should have access to the Smart Buyers and be able to use their talents. This does not necessarily require more direct physical proximity, but it does require more direct channels of communication. Of equal importance is how effectively SBs are being used. 

  • A Cadre of Talented and Trained Technical Staff 

    Each Service must have a talented technical staff of S&Es. This requires the Service to not only acquire, sustain, train, and develop competent S&Es, but to also be able to separate less productive staff. The Army is an example of one branch of the service facing numerous civilian personnel issues. Researchers examined staffing statistics at two Army laboratories and found that too few S&E were being hired after college graduation, and too many highly qualified S&Es had voluntarily departed. They also looked at problems at the Army Research, Development, and Engineering Centers (RDECs). Data for the Tank-Automotive RDEC (TARDEC) suggested that many S&Es are leaving because they can find positions with greater responsibilities and higher salaries in private industry.

A Strategic Approach 

Researchers recommended that, in order to counter the negative effects of downsizing on its SB capability, the DoD establish a strategic approach that includes the following elements:.

1) The Services should encourage R&D organizations to perform more collaborative research with other Services, government agencies, and private industry. Each service can do this by: a) identifying technology areas where collaborative efforts overlap with industry; b) proactively seeking partners in private industry by "marketing" its understanding of a company's market niche and strategic goals; and c) being flexible in negotiating with potential partners in private industry (for example, minimizing oversight and regulatory burdens). 

2) The Services' work environments must ensure that SBs, concept developers, and materiel developers can easily communicate with each other. Military R&D organizations need to work together with military strategists, program managers, or program executive officers to make sure that complicated mazes of reporting structures and command structures do not get in the way of communication and access between SBs and developers. 

3) The Services should maintain a cadre of talented technical staff through recruiting, retention, and career development efforts.  Researchers assessed the effectiveness of about fifty personnel reform initiatives currently being tested within the government. They grouped them into four force-shaping areas: acquiring, sustaining, training and developing, and separating. They found effective reforms in all four areas. 

Also, researchers urged that proven recruiting initiatives like the Career Related Experience Science and Technology (CREST) internship program be continued and that tools the Services have never used-- like recruitment bonuses -- should be tried. All S&Es should be allowed the opportunity to gain industry experience and acquire the skills necessary to perform the SB function. For the sake of their S&Es' career development, the Services should also support and encourage S&Es to perform hands-on research, gain general engineering experience, and obtain additional training and education at top universities.