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Women In Defense Celebrates 25th Anniversary 


By K. Eileen Giglio 

The National Defense Industrial Association’s fastest growing affiliate, Women In Defense, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.

In addition to local chapter events and a reception in Arlington, Va., members celebrated the anniversary at a dinner held in October during the National Fall Conference in Washington, D.C.  

National President Margaret DiVirgilio, of Concurrent Technologies Corp., noted at the dinner that the organization had grown to 3,000 members with 16 chapters.

“This anniversary is not just about the organization’s milestone — it’s about the accomplishments of its members and women in general over the past quarter century,” she said.

The conference theme was “Learning from the Past — Looking to the Future.”

Erin C. Conaton, undersecretary of the Air Force, opened the conference by sharing her personal and professional journey from student to a senior government official. She recalled attending an all-girls high school in New Jersey, serving as a staff member on the House Armed Services Committee, and addressed the significant challenges she faces daily regarding budgets, personnel and resources needed to manage the Air Force mission and programs and equipment to support the war fighter.

Work force in-sourcing/out-sourcing policies emerged as a major topic at the annual meeting.

While the issue of in-sourcing is not new — government has always procured services from outsiders — the use of contractors has grown in recent years.

The current in-sourcing initiative designed to bring work back in-house, arises in the midst of numerous investigations. Audits and hearings have identified multiple and serious problems. Some have criticized the activities being outsourced and questioned the appropriate role of contractors in the performance of the government mission.

Clouding this issue are political sensitivities, budgetary constraints and deficits in mission-critical expertise and procurement personnel. The panel and audience participants agreed there is more than one side to this story: government requires both guidance and flexibility to figure out what it needs and how it can get it; contractors must understand the rules and current and future government needs to plan and adapt.

In addition to work force issues, participants discussed the current impact on technology and the industrial base, including U.S. export control policies, which are undergoing a broad-based review.

Luncheon speaker Karen C. Hontz, director of government contracting at the Small Business Administration, discussed new and revised directives and regulations in small business contracting, as well as proposed legislation to aid small businesses by encouraging innovation and creating more competition in the marketplace.

Looking to the future, a panel focused on the need to encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) initiatives to meet long-term defense needs. Laura Adolfie, director of the STEM development research directorate at the office of the secretary of defense, discussed her responsibility to lead education and training for the Defense Department. The goals are to “Inspire, Develop, Attract, and Deliver.”

The panel concluded that it is vital to stimulate and encourage students’ interest in science and math in the early years of their education and to provide coaches, mentors, and role models to help them reach their potential as scientists and engineers.

The last panel discussed the BP gulf oil crisis. The oil spill posed one of the greatest homeland security challenges in recent history. Juliette N. Kayyem, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, who was responsible for managing issues and keeping the relevant communities informed, reflected on leadership, sharing how she juggled her responsibilities as a wife and mother, and the need to focus her professional skills to solve a major crisis.

Links to conference photographs and the 25th anniversary video are available at

The next WID Fall National Conference will take place Oct. 19 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C.

K. Eileen Giglio is National Treasurer of Women In Defense. She is government liaison with the National Defense Business Institute of the University of Tennessee.  

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