Small Wars Journal

Navigating the Crossroads: ACCMA's Shift in Civilian Career Management

Tue, 09/26/2023 - 4:28pm

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Navigating the Crossroads: ACCMA's Shift in Civilian Career Management

By Atlas Vanguard

Within the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian American Art Museum resides a thought-provoking piece of art bearing the inscription, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” a profound statement by George Santayana in his work The Life of Reason from 1905. Surprisingly, this quote predates the more commonly attributed source, Winston Churchill's 1948 House of Commons speech.

The past is now circling back, and the Army Civilian Career Management Activity (ACCMA) is at a crossroad that presents several immediate problems to solve. First, huge civilian management decisions are underway with no inputs from Army senior leadership. These changes, done in a void, lack a clearly defined problem to solve and are based neither on strategic processes nor in-depth studies. This will potentially cause serious long term negative effects. Second, the identified loss of the SES led Functional Advisor (FA) team undermines the value proposition of our civilian workforce. Before we discuss the implication of those changes in depth, let’s review some recent Army Civilian Career Management Activity (ACCMA) decisions and walk through the changing landscape.

 As of 23 September 2023, ACCMA has successfully removed Career Program (CP) designators from civilian records and is in the process of shifting away from the SES led Functional Advisor (FA) team through the rebranding from CP to Career Field (CF) and the merger of disparate communities in an attempt to homogenize the 260,000 strong work force. We are compelled to question whether ACCMA is retracing a historical path—or forging a new one. In this article, we first delve into the dynamics of strategic documents, versus narrowly defined studies. We will then look at the recent historical context to frame the current trajectory of civilian career management, and then will offer some potential implications of ACCMA's not-so strategic choices.

Strategic Documents and Research Studies:

Is ACCMA walking down a known historical path by removing the CP designators on civilian records? To answer this question, let's first explore the concepts of strategic documents and research studies and their roles in organizational management.

A strategic document is a comprehensive, long-term plan that guides an organization's overall direction, while a narrowly defined study is a focused research effort aimed at addressing specific questions or issues. Both have their place in organizational management, with strategic documents providing a broader framework for decision-making and studies offering detailed insights into specific areas of interest.

Recent Historical Context:

In 2020, ACCMA was established to address disparities among the 32 distinct Career Programs in staffing and support levels. The integration of these functions was aimed at creating a synthesis among the 260,000 supported civilians, offering a solution to a recognized talent management problem. However, the establishment of ACCMA was designed to optimize cross communication and information sharing so that distinct communities could benefit from cross-collaboration. Removing the CP designator from HR systems has not been adequately evaluated, nor shown to offer a solution to even the identified disparities, let alone the tertiary effects identified prior to implementation. So where did this suggestion originate?

The DBB Study and Its Limitations:

The 2021 Civilian Implementation Plan (CIP) was crafted by an outside contract supplied team based on a 2018 Defense Business Board (DBB) study. This study, by its very nature, focused narrowly on human resource practices, defining talent management as "the anticipation of required human capital for an organization and the planning to meet those needs" (pg. 9). However, it lacked a connection to the specific needs of the Department of the Army's Civilian professionals. While not a perfect study, it provided solutions within its limited frame.

The Military Decision Making Process and ACCMA's Approach:

In a military context, during the Mission Analysis stage of the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), critical facts, assumptions, constraints, and essential tasks are identified. The question arises: does outsourcing this process hinder robust intellectual discussions necessary for strategic assessment, and does it limit the iterative development of a strategy? Additionally, we must consider whether the CIP itself qualifies as a strategic document.

ACCMA's Approach and Potential Issues:

If the CIP falls short of being a strategic document, ACCMA may inadvertently narrow its approach to civilian talent management, excluding the Department of the Army's mission requirements and the functional expertise held by Career Programs. This approach has likely led to known problems that need to be considered.


ACCMA's current trajectory involves the removal of both the Functional Advisor and the Career Program Manager from its processes, a move that appears more politically motivated than strategically considered. ACCMA is employing internal realignments and HR tools to enact these changes without obtaining consensus from Senior Army leaders. This process began with the issuance of a memo via M&RA, removing CP designators from civilian records, and continues with the rewriting of the 32 CP manager Position Descriptions (PDs), transitioning from direct links between CPMs and their Functional Advisors to a broader Career Field construct that eliminates both the functional expertise and the Senior Executive Service (SES) advisor. This transformation is expected to become entrenched as ACCMA plans to downgrade positions through attrition and make CP Analysts a completely HR function.

While both roles—Career Field (CF) Integrator (a 0343 analyst) and Career Program Manager (also a 0343 analyst) —are inherently related to civilian career management and workforce development within the Department of the Army, the crucial difference lies in the scope and focus of these positions. The Civilian CF Program Analyst assumes a broader, cross-functional perspective encompassing multiple career fields, necessitating a distinct talent profile rooted in human resources management skills. Conversely, the Civilian Career Program Analyst operates with a narrower, more specific focus on career management within a single Career Program, requiring a deep understanding of the unique characteristics of that program. Each facet could play a vital role in efficiently managing and nurturing the civilian workforce within its respective domain. It should not be an either-or proposition. However, the new role as an answer to an ill-defined problem, threatens to sever the invaluable connections and experience ACCMA requires for workforce development. Within a larger CF construct, CF analysts may lack the specialized knowledge and direct connections necessary to advocate effectively for the distinct needs of individual Career Programs, potentially leading to generalized approaches that fail to address program-specific requirements. Compounding this concern is ACCMA's notably higher turnover rate compared to the average Army Civilian rate. Studies consistently link employee retention to leadership, promotion potential, and job satisfaction. While it may not be difficult for ACCMA to induce CPMs to leave by moving them into positions they are unqualified to successfully implement, ostensibly "right-sizing" its GS structure toward a more transactional management approach, the implications of this shift warrant close examination.

  1. For consideration, below are some areas where a broader construct becomes a known shortfall:

Specialized Expertise: CPM Analysts possess in-depth knowledge of the specific Career Program they manage. Their expertise includes understanding unique skills, roles, and requirements associated with the program. In contrast, CF Program Analysts may lack this specialized knowledge—lacking the problem-solving skillset that comes with specialized backgrounds in the requisite field.

Tailored Solutions: CPM Analysts excel at crafting tailored career management and talent development solutions that directly address the distinct needs and challenges of employees within their specific Career Program. These solutions are often fine-tuned for maximizing individual potential and align skills with program goals. A generalist will miss opportunities due to lack of knowledge.

Efficiency and Relevance: Focusing on a single Career Program allows CPM Analysts to streamline their efforts, ensuring that policies, programs, and initiatives are highly relevant and efficient. This approach minimizes the risk of one-size-fits-all solutions that may not meet the unique requirements of individual programs.

Impactful Career Development: CPM Analysts have a proven and profound influence on the career development and advancement of employees within their program. They can identify growth opportunities, training needs, and career paths that directly align with the specific skills and roles found in their individual Career Programs, ultimately enhancing employee satisfaction and performance.

  1. Additionally, removing the Functional Advisor from ACCMA's vision of a Career Field construct risks relinquishing vital aspects:

Strategic Alignment: Closely aligning with Army senior leadership empowers CP Analysts to tailor talent management initiatives within unique Career Programs, directly supporting broader strategic objectives. This alignment ensures that each Career Program contributes significantly to the Army's overall success.

Influence on Policy: Strong connections with senior leadership grant CP Analysts opportunities to influence policy decisions affecting individual Career Programs. Their specialized knowledge allows them to provide valuable real time recommendations, shaping policies that benefit the Army and its employees.

Resource Allocation: Access to senior leadership facilitates resource allocation advocacy. CP Analysts can secure the necessary resources for effective talent management and career development programs, including funding for appropriate training and development initiatives.

Visibility and Recognition: Closer alignment with senior leadership enhances visibility and recognition for CP Analysts and their supported Career Program. Positive impacts on the program garner acknowledgment and support from senior leaders.

Adaptation to Changing Needs: Close ties to senior leadership ensure CP Analysts remain informed about evolving military priorities and requirements. This allows for proactive adjustments to career management strategies, ensuring continued relevance and effectiveness within the smaller Career Program construct.

Enhanced Collaboration: Strong connections with senior leadership foster collaboration between the Career Program leaders and other key Army departments or units. This collaboration can lead to cross-functional initiatives that benefit both the program and the organization.

In managing over 260,000 employees, no one-size-fits-all solution exists, and no current studies nor best practices suggest that removing details or creating broader categories of individuals will address an ill-defined problem. ACCMA would be better served by embarking on a strategic pause, engaging in a comprehensive strategic planning process that identifies the specific problems requiring resolution to align the entire Department with the Army's vision for 2030. Stepping backward and removing the tools used to identify critical populations should only occur following a complete strategic process, and only after senior leaders' concerns and questions have been satisfactorily addressed.

Concluding Thoughts:

Ultimately, ACCMA's decisions regarding Career Program designators and reliance on the DBB study demand a thorough assessment of their alignment with the Army's broader strategic goals and the unique needs of its civilian professionals. Foundationally, a strategic pause and meticulous strategic planning process is a toolset forged in Army doctrine, removing its use from civilian development should be pause for concern. It is imperative to continue the relationship between the SES advocates and Functional Communities, bifurcating those voices removes the Department from a large portion of its force.

Reaffirming these relationships would affirm ACCMA’s alignment to the Army processes and doctrine and allow a better exchange in the solutions needed to address a professionalization of the Civilian force that our Senior Leaders require to move to the Army of 2030. 

On its current trajectory however, ACCMA will severe the SES relationship and start down the path of ambivalence. From there it’s a short path to returning to past mistakes with no historical context. To quote a 1905 sculpture’s title “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. There is an inherent danger in not looking around the corner to recognize tertiary effects and that is a lesson already learned.





About the Author(s)

Atlas Vanguard has spent the last 20 plus years in service of the Department of Defense. Both on active duty and as an Army civilian. Atlas is a natural leader who enjoys spirited discussions to solve complex problems that require an iterative flexible approach. “No plan survives enemy contact” should be considered a life lesson. As an Army civilian, Atlas is deeply passionate about serving people and creating opportunities that foster both personal and professional development.