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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

VA Acquisition Academy's "Warriors to Workforce" Ribbon-Cutting
Frederick, MD
January 19, 2012

Jim [Benson], thank you for that kind introduction. Let me just acknowledge:

  • Tony Principi—it's always great to see you;

  • General Bob Magnus—it's great to see you again;

  • Administrator Martha Johnson [GSA Administrator];

  • Ed Chow [Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs];

  • Other flag and general officers;

  • VA leaders—Joan Mooney, Mike Galloucis, Jan Frye; Chancellor Lisa Doyle; Program Manager David Sella;

  • Dr. David Rehm, Provost, Mount St. Mary's University—our academic partner in this important initiative;

  • Representatives from other federal agencies with whom we've collaborated—DoD, OPM, GSA, among others—and our crucial VSO partners;

  • Dr. Lou Csoka, whom I've known a long time. We grew up together. It's good to see you again;

  • Senate office staff members—Juliana Albowicz [Sen. Mikulski's office] and Robin Summerfield [Sen. Cardin's office];

  • Most importantly, today's honorees—our 23 interns in this inaugural class of VA's "Warriors to Workforce" program;

  • Other distinguished guests, fellow Veterans, VA colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

I'm honored to help dedicate this space for our new "Warriors to Workforce" Acquisition Internship Program. I'm especially proud to welcome these new interns to the VA family. You will find working at VA both challenging and rewarding.

As disabled Veterans, nearly all of you have already been exposed to our large, integrated healthcare system—152 medical centers, over 800 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, nearly 300 Vet Centers, and a number of outreach and mobile clinics that seek our most rural and remotely located Veterans, wherever they live. And beyond healthcare—

  • VA is second only to the Department of Education in providing educational benefits of $10 billion annually.

  • VA guarantees nearly 1.6 million home loans with an unpaid balance of $248 billion. Our foreclosure rate is the lowest in all categories of mortgage loans.

  • VA is the Nation's 8th largest life insurance enterprise with $1.3 trillion in coverage, 7.1 million clients, and a 95 percent satisfaction rating.

  • VA also operates the country's largest national cemetery system—131 cemeteries.

Why do I share all of this with you? Because in size and scope, VA looks like a Fortune 15 company. And for this Fortune 15 entity, Veterans are key to all our most important successes. For example, nearly three-quarters of the employees in our National Cemetery Administration are Veterans [73.5 percent], and for the past 10 years, they have been this country's top-rated customer service organization—public or private—according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index—out-performing Google, Lexus, Apple, all the others.

Veteran employees contribute to VA's successes in other areas, as well. Just two years ago, we were meeting only 30 percent of our IT delivery milestones—huge investments with little to show for it. So we beefed up our IT operations with qualified Veterans. Nearly two-thirds of our IT developmental work is now being done by Veterans, and our IT product development group met almost 90 percent of its 2011 delivery targets. I'm told the industry average is 32 percent.

VA's Veteran-heavy workforce performs well in other areas, too. Our Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy filled over 111 million prescriptions last year and was recognized by J.D. Power and Associates as one of their 2011 customer-service champions—one of 40 organizations to earn that distinction out of more than 800 evaluated. And, in 2009, our Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center received the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award—America's highest honor for innovation and performance excellence presented annually by the President—only the second federal agency to be so recognized in 23 years.

More than 316,000 good people come to work at VA every day. One third of them—over 100,000 of us—are Veterans, and VA has raised its Veterans employment goal to 40 percent. These new interns are helping us achieve that goal. Their military training stressed the importance of integrity, and they've learned to work together in diverse teams to achieve difficult operational objectives. Those are precisely the attributes we value in our professional Acquisition Corps.

VA is the fourth-largest procurement and supply agency in the federal government—over $17 billion for supplies, services, and construction last year—from pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and other critical patient-care supplies to major and minor construction and leases. We maintain nearly 160 million square feet of real property to house the multiplicity of our business lines.

Recognizing the criticality of the acquisition process, VA reorganized its Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction [OALC] into two, clear, and distinct business lines—a new Office of Acquisition and Logistics [OAL] to handle acquisition planning, procurement, management, and close-out operations, and the Office of Construction and Facilities Management [CFM]. These changes greatly improve service delivery, earning the trust of our business partners.

This VA Acquisition Academy was established in 2008 to train new acquisition specialists and strengthen the overall professional competencies of our Acquisition Corps. In its first year, the academy received the Office of Management and Budget's Award for Acquisition Excellence—the first of more than half a dozen awards since. In the past two years, the academy has trained over 5,700 contract specialists and over 9,600 program managers. Last year alone, we conducted 144 contracting courses, 250 program management courses, and 124 "contracting officer representative" courses.

This "Warriors to Workforce" initiative is part of the academy's effort to innovate acquisition training and professional development. The three-year internship includes college courses in business from Mount Saint Mary's University, an accredited institution; in-house contracting and leadership training; case studies and simulations; mental strength training; and on-the-job operational experience at various VA activities. It's a unique opportunity for anyone, but especially for these Veterans, to embark on challenging and rewarding careers.

They all have served in highly professional, military formations, which were entrusted with critical operational missions. Now they belong to another highly professional organization, also dedicated to a critical national mission—caring for those, like yourselves, who have, in Lincoln's words, "borne the battle," and for their families and survivors.

If you think the Nation owes you a job or an education, you're in the wrong place. The training you're about to receive wasn't offered to the wounded warriors of my generation—or even to the 180 or so wounded warriors of your own generation who applied for this program but were not selected. You were selected because of your potential for success, based on your background, your abilities, and your stated determination. It's now up to you to fulfill that potential—to excel and earn the honor of serving Veterans as acquisition professionals.

It's sometimes said that "people succeed because they are destined to, but," in truth, "most people succeed because they are determined to." So give us your best efforts. Come to excel, not just attend classes.

Two small bits of advice: First, help each other. When troops run alone, they don't usually run as far or as fast. When they run in formation, everybody keeps the pace, and almost everyone finishes.

Second, make this internship a commitment to lifelong learning. Stay curious. Keep asking questions about the things you don't know or understand. Keep challenging the quick explanations people often give to make the complex appear simple. Life simply isn't that way. Grapple with the complex—do your own simplifying. In the process, challenge all the assumptions. In doing so, you will make education the lifelong journey that it should be for all of us—and you won't be bored.

I have no doubt that you will meet every challenge that life will thrust at you, and, in William Faulkner's words, "not merely endure [but] prevail." You can prevail, not just endure. And that's a worthy goal—not just for yourselves, but for the men and women with whom you served who won't have this opportunity.

Congratulations on your selection as "Warriors to Workforce" interns. I wish you every success. Make us proud.

God bless those who serve and have served this Nation in uniform. And may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.

Thank you.