An initiative pushed by U.S. Congressman Chris Smith has blossomed into over 200 additional jobs coming into Monmouth County.
"This news brings with it more job opportunities for Central New Jersey resident including some of the workers displaced by the ill-conceived closing of Fort Monmouth," Smith said. "These are federal jobs, and some of the federal employees losing their job at the Fort Monmouth already have similar work experience and can easily qualify/apply for these positions."
In the spring of 2008, Smith organized a meeting in his Washington office with officials from the Veterans Administration (VA) to help advance a proposal to open a new VA Technical Acquisition Center near Fort Monmouth. The primary focus of the center is to support acquisition requirements for VA's integrated technology programs.
With 160 jobs already created to date, the VA's presence is now expected to grow in the coming year to 370 employees. Smith met in Washington last week with Stephen W. Warren, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information & Technology, Jan Frye, the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Acquisition and Logistics and Glenn Haggstrom, the Executive Director of the Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, to discuss the jobs.
"The selection of the Monmouth County area for a new acquisition hub in our area proved to be a win-win for New Jersey and the VA," Smith said. "The VA was looking to expand its workforce of acquisition specialists, and I was looking to help bring jobs to a community severely impacted by the egregiously flawed decision to close Fort Monmouth. At the time, this proposal was expected to bring only about 150 high tech jobs, and now it's expected to employ 370."
"I am encouraged by their strong commitment to grow the operation in Central Jersey and bring more hi-tech VA jobs to our area," Smith said. "I have hopes that the workforce will increase."
During the late 1980s, the VA's annual procurement obligations were below $2 billion. Because of an increase in capabilities that provide services to address the needs of an expanding and changing veterans population, as well as an influx of veterans recently returned from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, VA procurement programs had grown to roughly $10 billion by 2009. But the workforce had not increased to keep up, and delivery of services has suffered.
As former chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Smith was aware of the challenges within the VA to utilize new technologies and internet capabilities to modernize its operations and improve the delivery of services -- health care and other benefits -- to the nation's veterans.
"It was evident that to help remedy this situation, the VA needed to establish a 21st century, one-stop shop for information technology," said Smith. "We've lost a lot of jobs at Fort Monmouth. The VA can take advantage of our highly skilled workforce, and the federal government is able to retain personnel with critical skills and address the shortage of qualified acquisition specialists. These federal employees have and will continue to easily make the transition to the VA."
The center is under the Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction. The employees are primarily acquisition contracting officers and systems engineers but the center will include others who perform management analysis, program management, legal and administrative functions.
Smith staunchly opposed the 2005 closure of Fort Monmouth as part of the Base Realignment and Closure actions, based in large part on his belief that the critical workforce will not relocate. He plans to help the VA find a suitable location.