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Army secretary: ‘Army in a renaissance right now’

Almost a year ago, the Army embarked on the biggest change to its acquisition organization since the Vietnam War.

Now Army Futures Command is starting to get its legs under it and the Army is expecting to deliver weapons systems in faster cycles that are able to compete with near-peer competitors like China and Russia.

Acquisition isn’t the only thing changing in the Army, however. The way it approaches talent management, housing and intellectual property are all changing under the new threat landscape.

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Army Secretary Mark Esper sat down with Federal News Network at the Pentagon on Tuesday to give us an update on where the Army stands today.

“If you look at our budget you will see a dramatic shift in the budget we put forward just to make sure we were consistent with the National Defense Strategy,” Esper said. “Whether it’s how we man, organize, train or equip the force we are making big shifts. I like to say that the Army is in a renaissance right now.”

Acquisition

Futures Command is sprouting its first teeth and, with that maturation, the Army is expecting big things.

“The purpose of Army Futures Command is to envision the future and how our enemies will fight,” Esper said. “Secondly, to envision how we would need to fight to defeat them, and then thirdly, determine the requirements for equipment and other things to make sure we are prepared to fight and win that fight.”

The Army nestled Futures Command in Austin, Texas, one of the technological hubs of the United States, as part of the University of Texas.

“Futures Command has come a long way,” Esper said. “They are not yet fully operationally capable, but they will be near ready soon. Hiring is the hardest part because you want to get the best people. They are already making a number of major strides driven largely by our cross functional teams.”

The teams are in charge of researching and developing the Army’s top six modernization priorities, which include: vertical lift, soldier lethality, missile defense, network, long-range precision fires and next-generation combat vehicles.

“We finally have a command that is bringing together the entire modernization enterprise to provide our soldiers the equipment they need when they need it,” Esper said. “We need to be good stewards of America’s hard-earned tax dollars, so we are doing that at cost and we are already seeing accomplishments by command leader Gen. John Murray and Futures Command on both fronts, and I’m very excited about the future and his ability to deliver capabilities on time, on cost with the performance parameters and requirements we need.”

Intellectual property

One of the stickier issues with acquisition is how the Army and industry treat intellectual property. There is a natural tension between the service wanting to own enough IP to sustain its weapons systems and companies wanting to keep proprietary information to profit from.

The Army is walking that tightrope.

“Late last year the Army came out with its own intellectual property policy that we worked closely with industry on,” Esper said. “I think we’ve gotten rave reviews across the board because what we try to do is take a very business-like approach to IP. Simple things like deciding which equipment or technology we need the IP for and which we don’t. If we think we want the IP, then how do we work through a market-based solution to get it? Whether it’s buying it up front or it’s a royalty-based solution that would endure over time. We bake that into the agreement before we ever begin production.”

The Defense Department is currently looking at the Army’s policy as a model for its own IP guidance.

Esper said the point of the policy is to be flexible in approach, so the Army can tailor how it handles IP for each situation. That makes it easier to work with a big company or a startup.

Civilian Personnel

The Army is facing an inflection point in hiring with its daycare professionals and other civilian positions. The hiring process is taking too long and the demand is too high. Esper said the Army needs another way of hiring civilians in order to release some of that pressure.

“In many cases it takes well over 100 days to hire somebody. Your good talent is not going to wait around for three or four months to get hired,” Esper said. “We need across the government a hiring system that is much more flexible, adaptable, transparent and quick in terms of making these decisions.”

Esper said he pushed hard for direct hire authority and wants Congress to consider giving DoD the ability to hire civilians without going through the Office of Personnel Management.

Housing

The Army, along with the rest of the military services, is facing a crisis in privatized military housing. Military families are reporting mice, mold and lead paint in their homes.

Esper said the Army has a long road ahead of it before the problems are remediated, but the service is taking some immediate steps to help tenants.

“I think we are getting our arms around it,” Esper said. “In the early weeks we set up a 1-800 hotline for people with problems whose landlords would not resolve issues. We had town halls. We jumped on work orders, we sent out our own quality assurance and quality control people,” Esper said. “At this point we’ve moved pretty far in setting up things like apps that give work order transparency to improving customer service.”

Esper said the hard work comes in the next few months. The Army is working on a tenant bill of rights.

“Once we finalize that bill of rights, what we have to do is translate those rights into a new lease agreement between the landlord and the resident that will really help our families a good deal,” Esper said. “Between the Army as an enterprise and these private companies that run our houses we need to reset the incentive fees and structures.”

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