Value of Defense Department, Industry Exchanges

By Wai Kwan Chung

iStock photo-illustration

At the heart of the defense industrial base is a critical workforce of Defense Department civilians and industry employees.

This dedicated group has committed their professional lives to ensuring the U.S. military remains the most advanced and capable force globally.

The National Defense Industrial Association and its Emerging Technologies Institute believes that for this workforce to continue to grow and develop, members must have opportunities to better understand how the department and industry maintain critical relationships and execute daily business with each other. In support of this concept, we are pleased to highlight ETI’s participation in an exciting program, the Public-Private Talent Exchange, operated by Defense Acquisition University’s office of human capital initiatives.

This program gives mid-career government and industry employees the opportunity to temporarily join either a government agency or an industry counterpart to learn and share knowledge about each other’s business practices and processes.

Specifically, the program enables high-performing civilians to embed with a private company to learn how they develop and execute strategies and create new capabilities to meet requirements. This program is also open to employees of private companies to be placed in Defense Department program offices. These employees learn more about their customers, including how the department develops requirements and moves through the procurement and acquisition of goods and services.

I recently participated as a Public-Private Talent Exchange fellow with the NDIA’s Emerging Technologies Institute. Prior to joining, most of what I knew about the association was through National Defense, which is widely circulated throughout department offices.

I knew even less about NDIA’s new institute aside from the initial interviews with my future team members.

I didn’t fully grasp just how the association helps support the overall defense community — from the planning and budgeting phase to fielding products — until coming on board.

After my orientation, I quickly learned that NDIA has a larger role than just the publisher of a magazine. I gained a better understanding of its capabilities in bringing together academia, industry and government stakeholders to solve defense challenges.

Throughout the next several months, I was tasked with a variety of projects ranging from policy guidance draft reports to supporting their many conferences and workshops to supply chain studies. These are just a few ways the association supports the defense industry.

Back “home” within the Defense Department, my regular job as a program manager is to develop medical countermeasures — a topic I know well from years of experience in the infectious disease field.

The easy choice would be to stay in the office and continue working on my assigned programs, but what appealed to me about the fellow opportunity was the chance to experience how industry supports the defense community. I gained a greater understanding of industry’s perspective on program management of complex issues.

On a deeper level, I also wanted an opportunity to learn about diverse topics such as aircraft, artificial intelligence and special operations forces, none of which I was exposed to within my biodefense world.

When applications opened for the Public-Private Talent Exchange program in 2021, I jumped at the chance to apply. Unlike other professional development opportunities, this one required an endorsement from my organization’s command, which set the tone for higher-than-average expectations of the program. A few months later, I was accepted into the program and began interviews which culminated with my placement at the association.

The length of my assignment was a short three months, yet I immediately saw the impact of the association’s work. They conduct research and collaborate with industry, academic and government partners to produce thought-provoking content on defense issues, but this doesn’t capture the massive amount of coordination that takes place behind the scenes to get the right people together at the right time.

This is facilitated by the networks and collective experience that NDIA staff bring with them from their former lives in the military or as staffers, advisors and aides on Capitol Hill and within the government.

Part of the organization’s ability to get the right people at the table is that staffers are themselves the “right people” at the table.

What I gained from this experience is a greater understanding of how recommendations and policies are brought to the attention of decision makers, the influence that NDIA has in the nation’s defense policies and greater exposure to broader defense challenges that our nation faces.

Leaders across the Defense Department and industry continuously emphasize the importance of maintaining and growing a robust and agile workforce that can respond quickly and effectively to the threats and the multifaceted, complex mission environment, making this program critical.

Participants in the program gain invaluable insights into how their government or industry counterparts operate and offer ideas for improvement. This knowledge transfer is essential to enhancing the critical relationship that industry and the department share.

More information can be found by visiting https://www.hci.mil/ppte.html. Here you will find a program overview, starter kit and the appropriate documents that need to be completed to begin the process. The program team is available at ppte@dau.edu to answer any questions and facilitate an organization’s and employees’ participation in the program.

Wai Kwan Chung is an ETI Research Fellow from JPM CBRN Medical via the Public-Private Talent Exchange. Sarah Bain, a Human Capital Manager, Human Capital Initiatives, DAU, contributed to this article.

Topics: Defense Department

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