Making USACE more efficient - One manpower study at a time

U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville
Published March 13, 2014
Suzanne Murdock, of Huntsville Center's Engineering Directorate Civil Structures Division, listens to recommendations from manpower study team members Rick Breedlove and Sivi Holmes.

Suzanne Murdock, of Huntsville Center's Engineering Directorate Civil Structures Division, listens to recommendations from manpower study team members Rick Breedlove and Sivi Holmes.

The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville is almost through its turn under the manpower microscope. The five-person team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Manpower and Force Analysis Division wrapped up its on-site analysis of the Huntsville Center and is now in the analysis and recommendation phase. The team's two-week visit in February included interviews of some 60 employees to get a better understanding of what happens across the organization.

Manpower studies admittedly make people nervous, said Sandra E. Welch, the study director and USACE Manpower and Force Analysis Division chief. Employees often feel like they are under a microscope and become defensive trying to justify their jobs, but it’s critical they cooperate with the study team.

She tells employees, “Don’t be nervous; this is not supposed to hurt – it’s supposed to help.”

The goal of the manpower assessment is to study the people and the processes within the organization to ensure it is efficient and effective and determine the appropriate workforce for the organization to achieve its missions, said Dr. Ayanna D. Lenard, requirements team leader. She explained that employees are interviewed and observed to validate their requirements, their workload and how their daily activities contribute to the organization’s mission.

“We look at every employee as the subject matter expert in their area of specialization,” Lenard said. “We need them to thoroughly and accurately explain what they do, how they go about it, why they do it, and the time it takes to do it, so we can articulate that through the study and be able to defend them - if necessary - when we present our results and recommendations to the Army for approval.”

This is the Huntsville Center’s first manpower assessment – in fact, very few USACE entities had ever been evaluated before 2010, when then USACE Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. Temple (now retired) directed a commandwide manpower assessment, according to Rick E. Breedlove, manpower management analyst. The headquarters along with the major subordinate commands were first, followed by the Field Operating Activities and Centers.

Despite recent budget constraints, Welch said USACE leadership continues to support and place emphasis on the manpower study program to get a good sense of how manpower dollars are being used in terms of what is USACE paying for and what is being accomplished.

“It’s critically important for us to validate that we are using our people the best and most efficient way we can,” said Huntsville Center Commander Col. Robert J. Ruch. “To remain relevant and effective for the Army Corps of Engineers, our Army and the nation, we must continually be asking ourselves, ‘Do we have the right people in the right places accomplishing the right missions to meet the needs of our customers?’”

The team is in the process of studying all USACE entities, according to Welch, who came to USACE in 2010 from the U.S. Army Manpower Analysis Agency (USAMAA) and was tasked to lead the commandwide manpower assessment.  She said the team has a complicated mission that ultimately makes each organization - and USACE as a whole - more efficient.

“We have to objectively analyze and make recommendations on each USACE organization and its missions, defend each organization’s manpower requirements, missions and functions to USAMAA, and also help the organization put its packet together in a robust way that fully explains its mission and requirements,” Lenard added.

Each manpower study starts with a fragmentary order, or FRAGO, that outlines the goal of the study and the specific information required from the organization in the baseline submission package.

“We provide training to the work centers within the organizations being studied so they know and understand what is required for us to complete our analysis – all information pertaining to the center, including the mission, functions, workload and organizational structure,” Lenard explained.

While some missions and sections are constant across the command – such as special staff sections – others are unique to an organization, so the team has to conduct a lot of research in advance of the onsite analysis. For those unique sections, the study team might spend more time interviewing employees about what they do so they can provide and accurate analysis and recommendations, as well as explain to the headquarters what that section does and justify requirements and recommendations, said Sivi L. Holmes, study team member.

“The things we learn from one study to the next are not cookie cutter,” Welch said, adding that the team never tries to make offices fit into a mold created years ago in another organization or during a different environment. “We strive to ensure every organization is given the same overlook - every office is unique in its own sense.”

Team members are also careful to not make assumptions about what employees do from one organization to the next. As an example, structural engineers in Philadelphia District’s Marine Design Center support designing boats, at the Institute for Water Resources structural engineers specialize in dams and levees, and in Huntsville Center structural engineers look at design specs and construction for buildings – everything from munitions bunkers and ranges to hospitals, Breedlove explained.

After the front-end analysis of an organization’s baseline submissions, the team then travels to the organization to conduct on-site analysis and verify the information received in the baseline package. While the manpower team may engage in some comparative analysis across the different units, Welch said each unit is independently assessed in terms of what is required to perform its mission(s). 

With Huntsville Center's on-site assessment complete, the manpower team moved into the analysis phase and developing its recommendations.

Ruch and his staff have the opportunity to review and rebut the team’s draft results and recommendations before the study goes final and is presented to USACE Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen. Todd T. Semonite. After USACE review, the team briefs the U.S. Army Manpower Analysis Agency and, with their validation, the study goes to the Army G-3 for final approval.

“We have a pretty good track record of completing thorough studies and having them validated by USAMAA and approved by the Army G-3,” Welch said.

“We conscientiously implemented the USACE review program when the VCSA reinstated the manpower studies process in 2010.  Our manpower team is tops and no one else across the Army is performing them as aggressively as we are,” said Wes Miller, USACE Director of Resource Management.

The end result of the Huntsville Center study – which began in October and is expected to be complete by the end of May – is an approved manpower requirements study, as well as an approved HNC mission and functions regulation, which the team updates throughout the study process and prepares for the organization.

Depending on the size of the organization, a study can take six to nine months. The headquarters study took about a year, and Welch anticipates the upcoming study of the Engineer Research and Development Center – which has some 2,000 requirements - will take up to two years. Huntsville Center is the 14th unit being assessed, with five more to go before the team starts the cycle all over again with the headquarters.

While manpower studies are a complicated, time-consuming process that requires great attention to detail and good communication skills with employees who are often reluctant to cooperate, Breedlove said he has the best job in the world.

“I didn’t know what the statement ‘value to the nation’ truly meant until I started going out and doing these studies and seeing what the people on the ground are doing for our nation and our world. It’s incredible what our people are accomplishing here in the Huntsville Center and across the command.”