ACAT-I Programs and the Business Financial Manager

     Acquisition programs designated as Acquisition Category (ACAT) I, are defined as Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAPs) with funding in excess of $365 million in Research Funding (RDTE), or $2.19 billion in Procurement Funding (APN/WPN/OPN). 

     Business Financial Managers (BFMs) assigned to these programs are given an extraordinary amount of responsibility to ensure the programs’ financial resources are used in accordance with budgetary authority. 

     One such BFM is Cmdr. Brett Wilcox, currently serving in his second tour at U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), and assigned Phototo the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office.  PMA 265 is a large and complex organization responsible for every aspect of sustaining, supporting and advancing the fleet of more than 1,500 Hornet, Super Hornet and Growler aircraft across the Navy, Marine Corps and seven foreign partners.  Domestically, the program averages an annual total obligation authority of about $4 billion and is responsible for managing two ACAT-IC, two ACAT II, an ACAT III program and a dozen other programs of record within the PMA. 

     Cmdr. Wilcox’s primary responsibility is managing the Program Office’s Research and Development funding.  The visibility and scrutiny applied to MDAPs are significantly greater than that typically experienced by non-MDAP programs.  However, the level of staffing and support is equally great which supports the successful management of all financial aspects required by the acquisition process.  Much of the scrutiny is applied through a number of mandatory reporting requirements such as Milestone Decisions, Program Readiness Reviews, Low and Full Rate Production decisions, as well as Navy Leadership and Congressional inquiries from the various House or Senate Committees, which require extensive briefings. 

     A relative newcomer to the BFM community, Lt. Cmdr. Chuck Mielkie accepted the challenge of assuming a senior BFM position for an ACAT I program head on.  Upon his graduation from the Naval Postgraduate School with a degree in Financial Management, he reported to NAVAIR where he now serves as the Deputy BFM, Advanced Tactical Aircraft Protection Systems Program Management Office (PMA 272).  In addition to his duties as the Deputy, he is directly responsible for the financial management of the Joint and Allied Threat Awareness System (JATAS/AAR-59) and the Common Infrared Countermeasures (CIRCM) System, two MDAP programs, with a combined total obligation authority (TOA) in excess of $4.3 billion across the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). 

     In addition to these major programs, as the Deputy BFM he is also responsible for overseeing the Integrated Defense Electronic Countermeasures (IDECM) program, a third MDAP program managed by the PMA, which has a TOA in excess of $4.1 billion across the FYDP.  The systems developed, procured, and managed within PMA272 support an array of Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army aircraft as well as those of our Allied partners through Foreign Military Sales.  PMA272 is a complex program office, and requires a high degree of coordination with each of the platform offices to properly align schedules, funding, and delivery of systems at the time when operational aircraft will be available for integration and installations. 

     As Lt. Cmdr. Mielkie quickly learned, the BFM is a vital component within the PMA.  Within two days of his arrival, he accompanied the program manager and JATAS Integrated Program Team (IPT) lead to the Pentagon in order to brief Vice Adm. W. Mark Skinner, Principal Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition, and no less than 20 SES-level civilians for the Gate 5/Milestone B review which made JATAS a program of record.  Program Managers rely greatly on the financial acumen and budgetary knowledge of the BFM and rarely attend major meetings without one at their side. 

     Lt. Cmdr. Mielkie believes a BFM’s success comes with having a high degree of knowledge of the inter-workings of the programs they financially manage.  They must have detailed knowledge of the Test & Evaluation and production schedules, software development and upgrade efforts, as well as the timing and schedule of key milestones.  This knowledge allows them to successfully plan for future efforts within the program and the platforms on which these systems will be installed.  They experience many requests for data that often come into the office requiring a response within just a few hours.  Having an intimate knowledge of all the programmatic efforts within their purview enables a BFM to provide a timely and accurate response.

     Similarly, Cmdr. Wilcox believes there are two sides to being a successful BFM.  Most Supply officers coming to NAVAIR focus on financial management, as it’s something they understand and have the required professional knowledge, technical proficiency and fleet experience to succeed.  What’s more challenging is the business management aspect of this business — those big picture decisions that will impact a program office for years to come.  This is an area where career civilian BFMs are so crucial to the success of the enterprise.  One cannot overstate the importance of establishing and maintaining good working relationships with the cadre of professionals who have performed this job for years, and have the corporate knowledge and experience, to balance with your own professional judgment.  For both officers, the experience of being a BFM is a highly rewarding experience as the position is a critical element to any successful program office.

By Cmdr. Robert Perez, SC USN, Cmdr. Brett Wilcox, SC USN, and Lt. Cmdr. Chuck Mielkie, SC USN