WASHINGTON: Running weapons programs is a grueling job. Running Army programs, with their history of spectacular failures and cancellations, can be worse. That means Heidi Shyu‘s first achievement is endurance: in one senior position or another, the outgoing Army acquisition chief lasted five years amidst steeply declining budgets.
Perhaps her biggest achievement was to keep her sense of humor. After I’d cast doubt on the Army’s Humvee replacement, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, she hollered at me across a crowded room, “Go drive it, Sydney…. It’s awesome!” She summed up the problem with the Pentagon procurement system this way: “It blows your mind, utterly blows your mind, because [the program manager] is the driver of this very long bus and every stakeholder on the bus has a steering wheel and a brake” — but not a gas pedal.
With her quick wit, slight frame, huge glasses, marked accent, and grammatical slip-ups when excited, it was sometimes tempting to underestimate the Taiwan-born Shyu. But she has one engineering degree, two masters degrees and a mind that could flay false assumptions at 50 paces. In an archetypical immigrant success story, Shyu moved to the US at 10 with a poor school record and not a word of English, but soared through the American (and Canadian) education systems and graduated to some of the most complex programs in the defense industry.
Then, in November 2010, Shyu moved to the government as principal deputy assistant of the Army for acquisition, technology, and logistics — just in time for budgets to start dropping. As the service’s chief acquisition executive, she had to oversee the cancelation of the tank-like Ground Combat Vehicle and the abandonment of the Armed Aerial Scout helicopter before it even got off the ground. Surviving the wreck, so far, are the more modest Joint Light Tactical Vehicle — essentially an armored truck — and the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle — a turretless variant of the current Bradley. Lately, with a little help from the Kremlin, things may be turning around, with Congress enthusiastically funding a bigger gun for eight-wheel-drive Stryker deployed in Europe.
While the biggest-ticket items like GCV and AAS crashed and burned, Shyu did save some smaller programs. Above all, while she couldn’t fund many new vehicles, she kept modernizing current vehicles to meet near-term needs. Even more important, she protected research funding for the long term, even leading formulation of an unprecedented 30-year plan. In a few decades’ time, when a new generation of soldiers has a new generation of technology ready to deploy against new threats, they should remember to be thankful for Heidi Shyu.
Updated 4:40 pm: The Army provided us the gracious note that Ms. Shyu sent to her workforce:
For a little over five years, it has been both an honor and privilege to serve as your Army Acquisition Executive and to play a small part in the amazing work you do every day for our Soldiers. When I came to this office in November 2010 as the Principal Deputy, I had no idea that I would one day have the honor of serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) and the Army Acquisition Executive. As you are all critical members of my team, I wanted you to be among the first to know that I have decided to retire from this position effective January 31, 2016. This was not an easy decision for me to reach.
It has been a great privilege to lead the outstanding men and women of the Army’s acquisition workforce. I learned quickly that the more than 37,000 professionals who comprise our team are the most talented, dedicated, disciplined, and successful in the entire Department of Defense. I also learned that this community is vast and far-reaching – from developing, producing and fielding weapon systems and equipment to pursuing innovative technologies to enhance them; from eliminating the Nation’s stockpile of chemical agent to enhancing international security cooperation; and from responsibility for all Department of Army matters relating to logistics policy to ensuring that contracting is agile, expeditionary and responsive to our Warfighters.
I take great pride in what we’ve been able to accomplish together as one team and one family. We have worked to streamline the acquisition process, although there is more to be done to ensure that our systems and programs can keep pace with technological progress. We have made great strides in increasing the lines of communications between our partners internally across the Army, to OSD, as well as Congress, industry and academia. In addition, we have brought greater focus on program execution and affordability. The end goal of these efforts and our greatest achievements,have been enabling our Soldiers to accomplish their mission and the safe return to their families.
While informing you of my decision, I leave with the knowledge that you will continue to excel, continue to give the best of your intellect and energy, and continue your unwavering commitment to the success of our Soldiers and our Army. I’m confident that our strong ASA(ALT) leadership team will continue our progress and build upon the successes that we have achieved.
Thank you for your dedication, extraordinary work ethics and commitment to the Soldier!
HON. Heidi Shyu
Assistant Secretary of the Army
(Acquisition, Logistics & Technology)