CDR Michael Schilling joined the Naval Postgraduate School faculty in July of 2021. He is an alumnus of Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), with a Master of Business Administration in Acquisition and Contracting, and holds a Bachelor of Science and Business Administration in Finance from The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business. He currently teaches Principles of Acquisition & Contract Management (MN3303), Acquisition Management & Contract Administration (MN3315), and Contracting for Services (MN4311).
Prior to reporting to NPS, CDR Schilling was a Senior Procurement Analyst at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition. He has also served as Director of Operations at Naval Supply Systems Command, Fleet Logistics Center Yokosuka from 2015-2018, and Deputy Division Head of Aircraft Support Contracts and Contracting Specialist at Naval Air Systems Command from 2012-2015 after his graduation from NPS.
CDR Schilling and family at Morro Bay State Park.
How did you get into the research field of acquisition?
I luckily fell into the acquisition career field by my random placement as a student in the Acquisitions and Contracting curriculum at NPS. Originally, my first pick was Supply Chain Management as I’m very passionate about that area and am certified Life Cycle Logistics Level 3. My placement in the NPS 815 program turned out to be a blessing, as I have thoroughly enjoyed the contracting field, specifically my education, experience and predominantly the challenges, not to mention the wonderful workforce I’ve met during my involvement in the acquisition community.
As a student, I was fascinated by the somewhat overwhelming process of defense acquisitions. I love to deep dive into process improvement and was given that chance on my ARP-sponsored research project analyzing the project management triangle of major DoD acquisition programs.
Right now, you are the only active-duty Navy instructor of acquisition teaching in the Department of Defense Management. How does that perspective shape your work with students and the acquisition curriculum?
I do believe there is something very different an active-duty military member brings to the classroom. Having that recent relationship and relevance closer to the fight can provide an easier understanding of the learning objectives. I constantly incorporate real world examples that resulted in or have future impacts on the acquisition process throughout the world.
Given my previous assignments as a Naval officer, I especially enjoy mentoring the junior Supply Corps Officers. But I’d like to think I represent more than just the Navy. My approach to teaching always considers the larger context of defense acquisition as well as the diverse student population at NPS that includes military and civilians from all branches of DoD, and even foreign military students. Regardless of where the student comes from, they all share the same mission—defending our nation and supporting the warfighters on the front line.
Our informal classroom conversations provide an opportunity to share these different perspectives, information, and backgrounds. This interdisciplinary learning environment—unique to NPS—has the potential to broaden the thinking of everyone involved, myself included. At the end of the day, this diversity helps achieve our NPS mission to improve our future leaders and improve our warfighters’ effectiveness at defending our nation.
How has the Acquisition Research Program (ARP) supported your research and professional development—or that of your students?
I was introduced to ARP as a student and was lucky enough to have that support. Beyond the direction and formatting support that I’m sure our advisors were grateful for, ARP also supported us in our data mining that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to accomplish in the amount of time we had to complete our research.
I recommend that all my students check out ARP because of that support I received as a student. Now I’m in the advisor role for students working on ARP sponsored topics. Sometimes the hardest part for the students is picking a topic. I’ve seen this even on smaller assignments I conduct in class. Those struggling students who reach out and receive an ARP sponsored topic are usually off and running towards completion of their research project.
How does your research (or teaching/mentoring) impact current acquisition or operational processes?
Another great question, and I refer to my earlier mention about the inability to truly quantify our impact here at NPS. I believe the time students have here at NPS provides an education that could only be topped by years of experience. I have had countless students tell me they learned so much from class discussions or assignments, and the broad experience shared from classmates multiplies the knowledge gained for many students.
I like to think that knowledge will be applied to current or future acquisitions our students will be working on. I try to stress the importance of the entire acquisition team working together throughout every procurement. Each member, be it the program manager, contracting officer, COR, engineer, financial manager, legal, warfighter, or any other member of that acquisition team plays a key role in every procurement. The challenge is making sure every member’s voice of the team is heard and applied to improve each buy.
What advice would you give students considering research in acquisition generally?
First, really focus on what is important to your research to begin with; be it a problem statement, hypothesis, curiosity, or any other basic reason for the research. Second, consider the data set required. Is it quantitative, qualitative, or both? Often the data may not be obtainable because information can be restricted or unfortunately hard to come by, and the DoD is far from masters of knowledge management. Also, what are the second, third, or fourth order implications of the data and research?
Third, who cares? Identify stakeholders of your research, but don’t let that differentiate your direction or product. Which parties could be impacted by any of the findings? At what level or timing of the acquisition will this research apply? Finally, pick something you are truly curious or passionate about. Your research process will be so much easier and enjoyable if you are truly devoted to your topic.
Put on your predicting hat: What kind of information and analysis do you think will be most needed by the acquisition community in the next 5 years?
Wow, where to start? I think the obvious answer is technology, specifically as it applies to machine learning, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and alternative energy to name a few. Also, just as important are supply chain resilience, humanitarian efforts, and global/space requirements or impacts. Earlier this year, NASA’s Perseverance rover found remnants of metal debris on Mars. The week before, the world’s most powerful telescope, costing roughly $10 billion, launched into space and was damaged by a meteor. Those are examples of ‘minor’ details that could have huge ramifications on tomorrow’s procurements.
Recently, we have seen the importance of supply chain and humanitarian impacts. The world has been very reactive to both of these challenges, and we need to start thinking proactively. The COVID pandemic is an example of this. We can point at almost every global epidemic or natural catastrophe and say we should have been better prepared for that, and this seems to repeat on every occasion. Part of it is the command and control (C2), but I see a large effort in the acquisition challenges: supply chain, procurement, or the like. I saw a respectable response by the SECDEF to COVID by quickly standing up a procurement task force to supply emergency and medical supplies across the nation.
I don’t believe we have invested or focused enough on alternative, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly energy resources. I have major concerns from a national defense perspective of the impact of Red Hill fuel facility being shut down. Beyond the impacts to local population which I won’t discuss, look at the logistical challenge that needs to be addressed. We had acquisition and sustainment challenges prior to the Red Hill closure with the fuel gap across the Pacific. Now, it’s been compounded. From a DoD and acquisition standpoint, we need to develop alternative solutions. Oil tankers and in-flight refueling resources are a few band-aids we can apply, but from an acquisition perspective may not be ready within the next five years. Project Pele and the micro nuclear reactor could be a solution, but again how long to acquisition fruition?
Finally, I think the acquisition community needs to look at possible reform of the Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act. With the exponential growth of technology, our freedom may depend on intellectual property rights. A possible solution to this is the use of blockchain in intellectual property rights. The power of blockchain technology and smart contracts could benefit both industry and government. Contracting of this sort will not be an easy task, but nobody ever said acquisitions are easy.