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Research Questions

  1. How have the acquisition workforce growth initiative initiated in 2009, DoD budgetary pressures, and economic and demographic trends influenced the acquisition workforce?
  2. What modifications and new approaches to the analysis that RAND provides to DoD have researchers adopted since the publication of the previous volume, in 2013?
  3. How can DoD managers use the RAND workforce projection model?

The defense acquisition workforce is charged with providing the Department of Defense (DoD) with the management, technical, and business capabilities needed to execute defense acquisition programs from start to finish. This workforce must itself be managed so that the right numbers of the right personnel are in the right positions at the right time. Since 2006, RAND has been helping develop data-based tools to support analysis of this workforce. This volume updates RAND's 2008 and 2013 reports by documenting revisions to methods, providing descriptive information on the workforce through fiscal year 2017, analyzing characteristics of recent cohorts entering DoD's civilian acquisition workforce, and describing the evolving policy environment.

Key Findings

Recent trends in the defense acquisition workforce

  • DoD has been successful in growing the size of the acquisition workforce over the past decade, with gains concentrated in the civilian acquisition workforce.
  • An infusion of new hires from outside DoD coupled with the ongoing retirement of baby boomers has led the distribution of the civilian acquisition workforce to skew younger than it was one decade ago, and workers are, on average, better educated.
  • Attrition rates remain lower in the civilian acquisition workforce than in the DoD-wide civilian workforce.
  • The size of the military acquisition workforce has held fairly steady over the past several years, though it experiences more turnover than the civilian acquisition workforce.
  • Military acquisition workforce members are more likely than their civilian counterparts to serve in program management roles.

Improvements to the study approach

  • RAND now receives key data files from the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) on a quarterly rather than annual basis, enabling closer-to-real-time updates on gains and losses to the acquisition workforce and subsets of it.
  • RAND researchers have begun to analyze the flow of workers into and out of the military acquisition workforce in addition to the civilian acquisition workforce.
  • Researchers have refined their projection model and the process by which they merge and manage DMDC data.
  • Researchers have developed a methodology to identify cohorts of new entrants to the civilian acquisition workforce in a given fiscal year and analyze characteristics of recent cohorts.


  • DoD should use analyses of the acquisition workforce to inform the decisionmaking process — for example, in understanding how the size and composition of the acquisition workforce is changing across services and agencies, where DoD-wide human capital shortages or surpluses may be developing, and trends in acquisition workforce career fields across agency lines.
  • DoD should consider mechanisms to make data on acquisition workforce gains and losses available to managers in the military services and Fourth Estate agencies in a timely manner.
  • DoD should continue efforts to better understand the role of the contractor workforce and the prior career experiences of new acquisition workforce hires who come from outside DoD.

This research was sponsored by the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment (USD[A&S]) and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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