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Marine Corps bids farewell to first, only PEO

By E.A. Pacheco, PEO Land Systems Public Affairs | Marine Corps Systems Command | June 22, 2016


MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia—After nearly 10 years as the Marine Corps first and only Program Executive Officer, the man charged with building the organization is moving on to his next challenge.

William “Bill” Taylor, PEO Land Systems and a member of the Senior Executive Service, was recently selected to be the next assistant deputy commandant for Sustainment for Marine Corps Aviation. Taylor relinquished his responsibilities to acting PEO LS Col. Andrew Bianca June 21. As the former aviator “departed the pattern,” he left knowing the programs he initiated and those that were handed off to him are all on solid footing, and that both Marine Corps and DoD leaders have a better understanding and appreciation of Marine Corps acquisition.

“I think one of our biggest accomplishments as a PEO is having gained, over time a reputation for knowing how to successfully manage major programs through the application of focused and disciplined executive management,” said Taylor. “Our ability to turn around a number of ailing major programs has contributed to that credibility. I take great pride in knowing that our programs are firing on all cylinders now.”

PEO Land Systems is the Marine Corps’ only PEO, and its 400 military and civilian employees manage 21 major programs with a budget of nearly $7 billion. The PEO has more than a dozen programs in sustainment, another half dozen in production and deployment, and two in the engineering and manufacturing development phase—including the Marine Corps’ top ground acquisition program, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle. During his tenure, Taylor is credited with revitalizing several major Marine Corps acquisition programs, including the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle; Common Aviation Command and Control System; and Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar, or G/ATOR.     

Building a PEO

Taylor, a veteran Marine helicopter pilot, was selected as the PEO in January 2007, when he was still a colonel in the Marine Corps. While he had never been a PEO, his background and experience as a program manager at Naval Air Systems Command, working for a PEO, provided him a solid foundation.

“I adopted and instituted that were familiar to me—that I knew to be tried, true, tested and above all else, very successful—;i.e., Naval and Marine Corps Aviation,” Taylor said. “It’s all about managing and operating Aviation programs within a focused, disciplined framework, built on a foundation of process, procedure, analysis, risk assessment and transparency. To be successful, it’s also pretty important to understand what your boss views as important.”  

Developing and sustaining robust, disciplined and formalized processes have been instrumental to the PEO’s growth and success. According to Taylor, one of the top strategic goals PEO Land Systems laid out at its very first management meeting, which is still in place today, was establishing timely program reviews. These are done in an environment where representatives of all the PEO’s organizational stakeholders not only gain insight into the acquisition programs they champion, but provide clarification to program managers as they seek solutions to warfighter requirements.

“Reflecting back now, I’m very proud of the fact that whenever we reviewed our strategic objectives, I always offered our PEO leaders an opportunity to propose revisions or additions, and they never saw the need to take me up on it,” Taylor said. “Those objectives are as rock solid and germane today as they were nearly a decade ago. They established and maintained the right culture, tone and environment to ensure our program teams flourish and succeed in delivering the required capabilities to our warfighters.”        

“We work for the Marine Corps.”

Another major challenge has always been getting Marine Corps leaders to fully understand the PEO’s authorities and reporting relationships. According to Taylor, it is a challenge that still exists today and is unique to the Marine Corps.

He explained that it is not about the Marine Corps having confidence in the PEO’s abilities to manage its portfolio, or its perceived value to the Marine Corps. It is essentially a misunderstanding of the PEO’s organizational alignment and the fact that, by law, PEOs report to their Service Acquisition Executives. In the Marine Corps case, this is the assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition.

“In my opinion, the crux of the problem is that there are two services within the Department of the Navy,” Taylor said. “In the other departments, the Army, Air Force and Navy view their service acquisition executives as part of their greater service family. But at some level, I think the Marine Corps views ASN (RDA) as really being part of the Navy secretariat, and by extension, PEO LS as somehow really working for the Navy.”

No matter the organizational structure and reporting chain, Taylor’s mantra has always been, “We report to ASN (RDA), but let there be no doubt that we work for the Marine Corps.”

The more things change

In the last 10 years Marine Corps acquisition has transformed and evolved, but one thing has remained the same—Marines are demanding customers.

“The Marine Corps wants its capabilities yesterday, not a dozen years from now,” Taylor said. “We have made great progress in professionalizing the Marine Corps Acquisition Corps. The fact of the matter is that the PEO is now recognized within the Corps as best suited to successfully manage its major acquisition programs.”

The Marine Corps has also made great progress in professionalizing its uniformed acquisition corps with the establishment of an acquisition professional primary Military Occupational Specialty for Marines. A decade ago, it was difficult to find qualified Marines who could compete for program leadership positions, but that sight picture has completely turned around, Taylor said.

“Without question, Marines now hold their own at acquisition slating boards,” he added.

Building acquisition leaders

Taylor said he is often asked to address those Marines and other new program managers, and he shares the same advice for surviving and succeeding in the world of acquisition.  

“Above all other advice, I stress that their success as a program manager is in large part based on building relationships, and constantly using those relationships to their advantage,” he said. “Although being viewed as a subject matter expert is always important, your willingness to do the right thing, tell the truth, build consensus, and yes, strike compromise when required, is even more important.”

Taylor said he departs PEO Land Systems knowing Marine Corps acquisition is in a much better place than when he first started.

“I certainly hope to be remembered as competent, but above all else I want to be remembered for my transparency, speaking the truth and always doing the right thing,” he said.