20 December 2016

Kathleen Berst, Deputy Commander for Acquisition, briefs Col. William Geesey, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, on information regarding her six-month detail with the Defense Health Agency. (Photo courtesy of Erin Bolling, USAMMDA public affairs)
Loaning Out a Valuable USAMMDA Asset
Jeffrey Soares, USAMMDA public affairs
When you have something good, you should share it, right?

In some respects, this scenario played out earlier this year when the Defense Health Agency was looking for an experienced Department of Defense acquisition professional who could assist the organization in establishing acquisition and program management processes, consistent with DOD requirements and best practices.

Fortunately, the DHA was sent Kathleen Berst.

In her role as Deputy Commander for Acquisition at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, which serves as the premier developer of world-class military medical capabilities, Berst certainly understands the acquisition process, and the far-reaching capabilities of the organization she calls home.

“I came to USAMMDA in 2011, after working for Chemical Biological Medical Systems Joint Project Management Office [now called Medical Countermeasures Systems JPMO] for ten years, and I’ve held four different positions here before moving into my current role as deputy in 2013,” said Berst. “I am very passionate about USAMMDA because we are a highly innovative team that develops novel acquisition strategies tailored to our specific programs.”

Berst’s long history with medical product development in the DOD has provided her with the knowledge and experience necessary to tackle many obstacles across the military medical landscape, and this is the primary reason she was asked to help establish a new Program Management capability under the DHA’s Component Acquisition Executive during a six-month detail.

In short, the acquisition process within the DOD involves the development, management, procurement and sustainment of equipment, technology and products that are required to maintain national security and support the U.S. Armed Forces. In fact, proper practice is so critical that the DOD established the Defense Acquisition University in 1991 to train military and civilian staff, as well as federal contractors, on various aspects of military acquisition.

“At DHA, my purpose was to establish the program management capability under the Component Acquisition Executive office,” explained Berst. “The former DHA Director signed an advanced development standard operating procedure that changes the way the DHA does business, starting in fiscal year 2018; so the focus of this effort was to help establish this new framework.

“In light of this, we began work on an acquisition publication, which we are still writing, and this document will define how DHA implements the DOD-5000 series [DOD’s acquisition guidelines] throughout the organization.”

Berst explained that this publication will serve as a critical document to establish the framework for creating an effective acquisition structure for Defense Health Program-funded efforts. It will define acquisition and Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution governance, and will describe overarching procedures as well as roles and responsibilities for the DHA Medical Materiel Product Acquisition Program, from Materiel Development Decision to disposal. Undoubtedly, this document will serve as the new “bible” for acquisition within DHA.

Berst said that she typically interfaces with two groups at DHA: the Research and Development directorate, and the Component Acquisition Executive office. As Berst explained it, the R&D directorate owns the Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funding, and the CAE office is the acquisition authority, which is unique to the DHA structure.

Although Berst’s six-month detail was scheduled from April 1 through October 1 of this year, she actually remains “on loan” one day per week, as she continues to help provide guidance to DHA. However, she believes the relationship is mutually beneficial, as the experience informs her current role at USAMMDA.

“My time at DHA will absolutely benefit our work here at USAMMDA,” said Berst. “A very large and growing portion of USAMMDA’s portfolio is funded by the DHP, and therefore, the lack of processes for acquisition — and for programming and planning — has a huge impact on the way we do business. So, helping to establish this infrastructure, as well as the program management competency and capability, is critical for our organization’s portfolio.”

While Berst must focus on helping DHA establish its acquisition processes, she values the time she spends working with DHA personnel and the way the organization conducts its business. In fact, she speaks very highly of the DHA team, and her comments are clearly genuine.

“From the start, I was very impressed with DHA’s director, Vice Admiral Raquel Bono,” she said. “She is very transparent, and such an outstanding communicator. She makes sure that their strategic objectives as a Combat Support Agency are posted and communicated everywhere — DHA exists to support the Combatant Commands, and their focus on this is incredible. I truly enjoyed learning more about the organization, and how it interacts with the Services.”

In addition to its role as a Combat Support Agency, DHA supports the delivery of integrated, affordable and high-quality health services to Military Health System beneficiaries, and it is responsible for driving greater integration of clinical and business processes across the MHS.
Regarding the Services, Berst explained that a number of her DHA meetings involved the transition of technology from Service laboratories, such as the Office of Naval Research. She confirmed that several ONR projects will soon transition into the DHP-funded development portfolio, and these will be managed by various Services, including the Army.

Said Berst, “I think the collaboration between the Services [Army, Navy, and Air Force] and DHA has many positive aspects, and it shows how everyone can come together in support of our nation’s Service Members. I like using ‘defense-wide’ and ‘tri-Service’ to describe the relationship here. There is certainly a great effort by all to work together on our advanced development programs even though we aren’t a true ‘Joint’ organization. I worked with Air Force and Navy personnel to move their products into the DHA acquisition process, with milestones planned for later in 2017.”

While Berst certainly appreciates her connection with DHA, she is not shy about showing her feelings for her team at USAMMDA. She quickly admitted that during her six-month detail, she missed everyone while she was away.

“We have a tremendous, dedicated group at USAMMDA, and I truly love my job and the people I work with,” she said. “The breadth of this organization is so amazing, it’s impossible to know everything, so I learn something new every day, which keeps it fresh and exciting.”
Col. William E. Geesey, commander of USAMMDA, spoke highly of the Berst’s work for their organization, and he offered insight regarding her temporary assignment.

“This detail was a valuable opportunity for Kathy to not only learn about DHA, but to help shape and influence new processes and procedures related to medical product development at DHA,” said Geesey. “This was a double win, because understanding and shaping how DHA will manage medical product development will impact USAMMDA as we manage DHP-funded products.

“In addition, Kathy's absence provided us with an opportunity for others to step up and take on some of her duties,” he continued. “Again, this was a double win, as others benefited from Kathy’s detail. I’m happy to have her back, as she is now applying her new found skills and information to her position as Deputy Commander for Acquisition.”

It would be difficult to argue that the entire USAMMDA team greatly missed Berst as well, especially in light of all she offers in terms of her leadership. Clearly, Berst’s influence goes far beyond her post as an acquisition expert.

“I view my role here as a champion of our team, so anything I can do to make USAMMDA successful is my job,” continued Berst. “I try to remove any obstacles that may get in the way of our product managers, because their job is to focus on developing and delivering products to our Warfighters. Anything I can do to lessen their load, I’ll do it — no questions asked — because our men and women in uniform, who are working to keep us safe, need us to do our jobs successfully.”

Despite the difficulty of “wearing dual hats” while she continues to assist DHA, Berst truly believes this experience has helped her to appreciate USAMMDA, and the capabilities that exist throughout the organization, even more. Through it all, however, she remains steadfast in her pledge to help DHA establish its acquisition processes so it may move forward with its own development efforts.

“Although DHA may have a way to go in learning all of the ins-and-outs of the acquisition process, it will certainly get there, and I’m glad to help,” said Berst. “The main thing is to make sure that we’re always trying to enable the development of a product, rather than slow it down, because our Service Members are counting on this from us — that’s our job.”
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