By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 01, 2016) -- Katrina McFarland, the Army's assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, is retiring Tuesday after nearly 30 years of public service and nine months with ASA(ALT).
McFarland joined the Army in February 2016 to serve as the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. In that role, she oversaw the execution of the Army's acquisition function, including life-cycle management and sustainment of Army weapons systems and research and development programs. During her time at the helm of ASA(ALT), she advanced two elements the Army deems critical to its future: modernization and acquisition reform.
She was also responsible for managing the Army Acquisition Corps and the greater Army acquisition workforce, and she served as the science advisor to the secretary of the Army and as the Army's senior research and development official and senior procurement executive. McFarland also held principal responsibility for all Department of the Army matters related to logistics.
Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said he was impressed with McFarland's ability to move his modernization and acquisition reform agenda forward.
"Katrina has done a fantastic job of focusing the department's efforts on the challenges of streamlining acquisition and on bringing Army modernization efforts to the forefront," Fanning said. "She may have only been in the Army a brief time, but I've worked with Katrina in OSD and elsewhere within the Pentagon. She's a fantastic engineer, a thoughtful mentor for so many, and has been a close, trusted advisor to me and General Mark A. Milley. She'll be greatly missed in the Army, but the legacy of her work lives on in all the places she's contributed to our Nation's defense, and all the people she's taken the time to teach and develop."
McFarland said she knew she would be with the Army for just a short period of time. Her position, a political appointment, would by tradition end with the election of a new president. Knowing her time would be limited, she said, she entered the office with specific ideas she wanted to implement.
"I felt there were things I could contribute ... So I focused on those," she said. "A lot of them were about programs, capability, process, practice, pretty much all-around things I had sort of targeted. I went into the chief and the vice and the acting secretary, and ... said, 'Here's what I think I should be doing. Do you have anything different?' They gave me a couple of additional items to pull together."
One new priority that McFarland spearheaded was the Army's Rapid Capabilities Office, which stood up Aug. 11. She had already helped the Air Force stand up its own Rapid Capabilities Office in a previous role as the assistant secretary of Defense for acquisition. She describes that office and the Army's own Rapid Capabilities Office, as being similar to Lockheed-Martin's "Skunk Works."
"It's a means of achieving a quick, non-risk-averse delivery of capability," she explained. "It requires people who have skills to identify and understand risk well. It requires senior leadership to be there to afford them the direct insights they need to answer to senior leaders' needs that are oftentimes not a corporate view -- which we tend to focus on."
The Army's Rapid Capabilities Office provides a "sweet spot" for the acquisition and delivery of critical technologies that are of immediate need to warfighters. The goal is to deliver those new capabilities to the force between one and five years, much faster than traditional acquisition -- which can take decades -- but not quite as fast as the Rapid Equipping Force capability, which can deliver in less than six months.
At the helm of the Rapid Capabilities Office will be the Army's senior-most leadership. The reasoning is that the interest and buy-in of senior leaders will ensure the Rapid Capabilities Office can deliver new technologies to the force quickly.
"When I came here, it was very clear that the Army wanted a Rapid Capabilities Office," McFarland said. "And luckily, having had some experience in the matter, ... it was one of those things where we were able to take advantage of [what] they learned, and create our own. ... We're in the process of executing it. ... And we have some very good talent to help that understands risk well."
Another priority developed by McFarland was the "program management review" process, which was meant to address what she described as "a lot of churn" among program managers that could sometimes divert them from their regular duties.
"We didn't have a standard method of agreeing on how programs were being executed," she said.
In the program management review process, when a program was proceeding according to plan, program managers would have the latitude to make decisions on their own -- freeing them up from repeatedly having to return to higher authorities and stakeholders to explain their decisions.
"As long as they are on track and show me they are on track, I don't ask them to come in," McFarland said. "And that's the agreement with the stakeholders as well. So the burden of how many reviews, how many times they go up to the Hill, how many times they are trying to convince somebody who is new in the organization, is limited. That allows them freedom of motion."
McFarland said she had about 68,000 acquisition personnel working for her while she headed ASA(ALT).
"They are phenomenal," she said. "They are the under-spoken, often over-burdened, and [often-criticized] people who execute what's been imposed upon them. But you can't believe how much they have been able to put out the door. It's amazing. We do chemical/bio for the entirety of the DOD. We built the Zika vaccine, the Ebola vaccine. People don't realize how much we transition from government to the rest of the world."
McFarland started in government in 1986 as a general engineer at Headquarters Marine Corps. Returning to a ground-combat community, she said, felt like coming home.
"Any ground-combat community is most-loved by me," she said. "My background is having spent 27 years of my life with the Marine Corps, coming back to ground combat is lovely. And also the whole mission of what we do in terms of national security runs in my blood."