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Research Questions

  1. How did the defense AW evolve from FY 2006 to FY 2021?
  2. What is the current state of the AW?

The defense acquisition workforce (AW) is responsible for providing acquisition, technology, and logistics support for products and services to ensure that the U.S. military is an effective fighting force. The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment has directed the deployment of a comprehensive workforce analysis capability to facilitate assessments of the AW, and RAND researchers have aided in this effort by providing reports with updates on workforce gains and losses, as well as targeted analyses of specific topics of interest. In 2022, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) began implementing the Back-to-Basics (BtB) initiative — the most significant change to the defense AW management infrastructure since its inception in the early 1990s. In this report, the researchers provide an update to their previous work and a final characterization of the pre-BtB AW. They present a descriptive overview of the AW as of the end of fiscal year (FY) 2021, describe changes to the AW over time, discuss the potential implications of a recent transition for the workforce, and identify opportunities for the collection of new data that could support decisionmaking.

Key Findings

The DoD AW has grown since FY 2006, driven by increases in the civilian AW

  • Between FY 2006 and FY 2021, the DoD AW grew by 57,677 people, from 128,187 people in FY 2006 to 185,864 people in FY 2021. Civilians accounted for nearly all of the increase (57,153 people).

The civilian AW remains predominantly white and male but has a larger share of workers under age 40 than in FY 2011

  • The age distribution of the workforce shifted, with 29 percent under age 40 in FY 2011 and 35 percent in FY 2021.
  • At the end of FY 2021, 69 percent of the AW was male and 73 percent was white, similar to FY 2011.

Civilian AW attrition rates remain low

  • Members of the AW have a greater attachment to the DoD civilian workforce than DoD civilians do overall.

Recent civilian AW cohorts have been larger, with a large share composed of hires from outside DoD

  • The size of incoming cohorts rose from about 8,000 in FY 2006 to 18,224 in FY 2019.
  • The new hires that fueled the AW growth initiative came from outside DoD, a majority of whom had no prior experience in DoD.

The acquisition workforce is largely meeting certification requirements

  • At the end of FY 2021, 70.5 percent of the AW met or exceeded certification requirements — up from 60.4 percent in FY 2011.

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 Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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