Over the past several years, the U.S. Air Force has gradually shifted its focus on professional positions in the field of acquisition, including contracting, toward a more rounded, broad-based expertise and away from the traditional, specialized focus. Is this a wise shift in direction? Should acquisition management be moving in this direction? It has been taken almost as a matter of faith that this is a good idea, but there are arguments both for and against such a trend.
Historically, there were different fields of expertise within acquisition and they rarely overlapped. While the program manager was required to have a broad-based background, this was not true of others within their functional offices. The program manager expected that these experts would be able to provide day-to-day management of their responsibilities and provide support with complicated esoteric matters requiring their specialized expertise.
During the period that the U.S. Air Force had an Air Force Systems Command and an Air Force Logistics Command, the distinction was clearly drawn. Not only did employees have a specialty--such as contracting--but within this specialty they had a further specialty.
For instance, a person might be a systems acquisition functional expert or an acquisition logistics functional specialist. People were comfortable working within their areas of expertise.
While there were relatively few civilians with the broad-based background, there were many military individuals who possessed experience in the different contracting arenas due to the military's policy of rotational assignments. It was normal for a military officer to have spent a tour of duty in a systems center and then to have moved to a job at a logistics center. This crossover experience was invaluable to management when the Air Force Material Command came into being.
The new organization's leadership, however, was less satisfied with civilian employees' lack of expertise in these areas. The basis for the military crosstraining was twofold. First, there is the concept that every …