•  Carrier

Joe Sciabica, SES

The first director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center shares his thoughts on building the new agency into a world-class organization and working with industry to support our nation’s servicemen and women.

Joe Sciabica, SES, highlights his plan as Director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, during the unit’s activation ceremony Oct. 1, 2012, in Hangar 1610 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

TME: Congratulations on your appointment as the first director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC). The center consolidates several legacy organizations—the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment (AFCEE), Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency (AFCESA), and the Air Force Real Property Agency (AFRPA)— under one organization, as was done previously with the Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL). What are the major lessons you have learned from your AFRL experience that you can apply to AFCEC?

SCIABICA:The experience of bringing the research labs together and developing what is now a world-class organization provided a master’s course in organizational design, psychology and development lessons. It showed us that change is an opportunity for improvement. It also validated what I believe are keys to organizational transformation: keep the team informed; keep focus on the customer; have a clear vision; empower the team to lead the change; and be willing to take smart risks.

We were successful in building AFRL into the organization it is today because we didn’t underestimate the amount of effort needed to put into the transformation. Integrating multiple organizations that are geographically separated and have very different cultures and processes is difficult. We planned on five years to get there on the easy stuff and longer for the culture changes. We established a “Grassroots Review Board” to make available to all employees an opportunity to provide inputs into AFRL stand-up and reorganization, and we had periodic reviews by outside experts who had experiences directly and indirectly with the Air Force labs. Taking that into account, we established a clear vision on where we needed to go on our “journey.” Lab leadership empowered subordinate directors to lead the change. And we took smart risks by making decisions and implementing what sometimes was a 70-percent solution, then tweaking from there. All the while, we didn’t lose sight of providing products and services to our customers.

We learned very quickly at AFRL that a siloed or stove-piped organization would not produce the results the Air Force needs as the systems of today are highly integrated and multifunctional. Hence, our technology solutions needed to be highly integrated and multifunctional to be relevant. Our organizational construct had to be grounded in enduring technical competencies that nurtured and grew the workforce’s technical competencies, managed our fiscal resources and kept our research facilities at the leading edge.

Similarly, AFCEC’s mission to support the Air Force major commands and enable the warfighter is dynamic and complex. AFCEC has an opportunity to truly transform the way the civil engineering community supports the warfighter, and I intend to not lose this chance to effect change in the way we do business. When we’re done with our journey, the warfighter will be able to enter AFCEC in any of our business units and be provided full-spectrum solutions to their needs—a single point of entry, yielding a complete solution.

Those who knew the strengths and diverse capabilities of the legacy units that merged to form AFCEC (AFCEE, AFCESA and AFRPA) will recognize we have a ways to go to become a one-stop provider.

So to answer the question about what I am going to apply at AFCEC from my experience at AFRL: First, I will not lose sight of the fact that people are my most important asset. I plan to take care of all of my team and empower them to make decisions and implement the changes we need. We need an engaged workforce to make AFCEC a reality. I will encourage the team to make decisions on the available data we have and come up with as complete a solution to an issue as possible, then implement the idea and adjust as we move forward—the only bad decision is one that isn’t made.

We also have an opportunity to review our business practices across the board and make changes that reflect our new business environments and IT capabilities. I plan to benchmark others in “my industry,” recognizing that I’m pretty much a one-of-a-kind organization, and to use an independent review team and a grass roots team to ensure we are making practical value-added changes along the way. And as I mentioned, I will not underestimate the amount of effort needed to make Civil Engineer (CE) Transformation a reality. Many believe the heavy lifting is done when the organization is stood-up, that we stand down the transition team as a sign of “success” and then go back to the tyranny of the urgent. That would be the demise of AFCEC.

TME: One of the key components of AFCEC is contracting, which is under the Enterprise Sourcing Group (ESG) headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Of concern to industry is the effectiveness and timeliness of the acquisition process. How will AFCEC interface with ESG to obtain efficient, effective and timely acquisition support for AFCEC’s programs?

SCIABICA: I have had discussions with Steve Zamparelli, ESG Director, about this subject and we are in-sync about continuing our partnership efforts to enhance strategic sourcing execution. In today’s resource-restrained environment, we must accurately assess our contract needs, get to industry quickly with those requirements, and execute contracts much more expeditiously than we have in the past. The Department of Defense is notoriously slow to field. We want to change that by aligning our processes and building stronger relationships with private industry. ESG is vital to that effort.

The 772nd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron, ESG’s unit that conducts our strategic sourcing, is co-located with AFCEC in San Antonio and at Tyndall AFB, Fla. The unit previously belonged to AFCEE before it joined ESG, so there is a history of close alignment with our operations. We see ESG as more than a group we go to for contract support: ESG is a collaborative partner that helps us find and execute solutions to our customer’s needs.

TME: While the two principal geographic locations for AFCEC are at Port San Antonio and Tyndall AFB, we understand there will be other regional offices and operating locations. What are the primary functions to be served by these additional operating locations?

Maj. Billy Allen, USAF, Chief of AFCEC’s Airfield Pavement Evaluation Branch, updates AFCEC Director Joe Sciabica on the coring equipment his team uses to test airfields around the world during a tour at Tyndall AFB, Fla.

SCIABICA: AFCEC enables full-spectrum installation engineering services worldwide. Our people are on the job at more than 70 locations around the world. They are providing support across a range of mission needs, including environmental remediation, energy management, military construction, real property support and more. In order for us to execute our mission to sustain the Air Force’s warfighting platforms—our installations—we have placed regional and installation support teams at key locations around the country and overseas. AFCEC has two “storefront” operations at Ramstein AB, Germany, and at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. These forward-deployed teams support our customers in those regions and provide the full range of AFCEC products and services. At the former McClellan AFB in Sacramento, Calif., an AFCEC team manages BRAC-related issues in the western United States, including environmental remediation and property transfers at closed installations.

This on-location posturing allows us to have a broad footprint, with the agile expertise needed to ensure we work closely with major commands and installations to support and execute the missions in our charge. I told the AFCEC team when I became director that our primary focus was to support and enable the warfighters in the field. From a mission perspective, this is priority one for us, and our global operating locations allow us to be good customer service providers.

TME: SAME has a major focus on professional development, leadership and mentoring. Please share with our readers your thoughts how you plan to lead AFCEC and promote professional development and mentoring in AFCEC.

SCIABICA: The Air Force Civil Engineer, Maj. Gen. Tim Byers, USAF, along with his staff, and supported by the CE career field team at the Air Force Personnel Center, conducts an excellent force development program that supports the general’s priority goals of building ready engineers, great leaders and sustainable installations. We all have a stake in that, especially CE senior leaders. At AFCEC, I will ensure the entire team, not just the people in civil engineering disciplines, has the opportunity to get the training and development they need to advance and reach their professional potential. Certificates, qualifications and licenses are a part of this, as are professional military education programs and advanced college degrees. We will face some challenges in a constrained budget environment, so we will rely on distance learning, in-house programs and other innovations to get our people the opportunities they deserve to achieve their goals.

Everyone can and should be a mentor in some form or fashion. It is often a natural offshoot of good working relationships among the team. As baby boomers move toward retirement, opportunities are opening for people to compete for positions of higher responsibility. This, in turn, opens the door for new engineers to join the team.

I’m a champion of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program that the Air Force developed to recruit talent for future science and technology programs in the service. As we hire new engineers, our mentors need to be ready. I will develop and encourage an active AFCEC mentorship program so we can build tomorrow’s leaders.

TME: What are some other aspects of AFCEC operations that may be of interest to SAME members?


Brig. Gen. Vince Saroni, USAF, AFCEC Deputy Director, and I presented our mission briefing at the SAME Texoma and Missouri River Joint Engineer Training Symposium here in San Antonio in mid-October 2012. It was our first public outreach event as AFCEC. Our message to the nearly 600 SAME members in attendance—and to the entire SAME community—is that we cannot accomplish our mission without private industry partnerships.

The construction, environmental remediation and other work we contract with industry for is critical to achieving our priorities of sustaining installations and enabling combatant commanders in the fight. In addition, we are excited about the opportunities that enhanced use leases and other public-private partnerships provide for the Air Force to work with industry in mutually beneficial arrangements.

We want to make sure industry gets to know the new AFCEC organization and business opportunities we will have going forward. To that end, we’re planning an Industry Day in January in San Antonio that will cover all of our mission areas and highlight the types of opportunities industry has to work with us. This is the first of many outreach events and information campaigns we will conduct to get the word out about AFCEC. Interested SAME members should check AFCEC’s website at www.afcec.af.mil where they can get registration information, as well as visit our library link to learn more about our mission operations.

[article first published in the January-February 2013 issue of TME]

Joe Sciabica, SES, became the first Director of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in October 2012. In this role he leads a 1,600-person civil engineer field operating agency—he directly oversees the execution of $11.8 billion in contracts, indirectly controls $49 billion in contract vehicles and manages $7 billion housing and $5 billion enhanced use lease portfolios on an annual basis. Prior to his current position, Sciabica was Executive Director, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio. Among his additional senior assignments are service as Director, Sensors Directorate, AFRL, Wright-Patterson AFB; Associate Director for Space Technology, AFRL, Kirtland AFB, N.M.; and Deputy Director, Space Vehicles Directorate, AFRL, Kirtland AFB.