Cassandra K. Simmons-Brown
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Business Analytics and Audit Management, Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense
POSITION AND OFFICIAL TITLE: Director
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 15 (9 with the Army; 6 with Defense Threat Reduction Agency)
CERTIFICATIONS: DAWIA Level III in program management, financial management and business – cost estimating; DOD Level III in financial management; SAP Certified Associate in Business Process Integration with Enhancement Package 6; Certified Defense Financial Manager – Acquisition; member, American Society of Military Comptrollers
EDUCATION: M.A. in public administration, University of Maryland University College and Bowie State University; B.A. in political science, Marymount University
AWARDS: Defense Acquisition Workforce Individual Achievement Award for Financial Management; Army Achievement Medal for Civilian Service (2); Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Financial Management Award for Individual Achievement in Improving Financial Management Systems
by Susan L. Follett
The phrase “big data” means lots of things to lots of people, but for Cassandra Simmons-Brown, it’s an important tool for reducing redundant business activities, cutting overhead costs and improving fiscal accountability—all of which lead to making better-informed decisions that ultimately benefit warfighters and taxpayers.
Simmons-Brown is director of Business Analytics and Audit Management at the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND). She oversees the execution of a diverse portfolio of CBRN defense projects valued at approximately $1.7 billion a year, across four funding sources: the military services, the Chemical Biological Defense Program, foreign military sales and Nuclear Matters, a program within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs, which coordinates modernization and sustainment of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and handles nuclear counterterrorism and counterproliferation issues.
Those funding sources cover multiple appropriations—research and development, procurement, and operations and maintenance, for example—across multiple accounting systems, including the Army’s General Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS), the Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System and Navy Enterprise Resource Planning, the Navy’s financial system of record.
Those systems are more than just acronyms: Harnessing new tools in analytics, they put data from a lot of disciplines—finance, budget, program management, contracts and logistics—into one place. “Previously, those datasets were stovepiped and not congruent, making it difficult to make an informed decision,” Simmons-Brown said. “But with the new tools we have, we can see so much information in one place: contracts, invoices, which congressional districts received funding, for example, and leverage that to make better decisions. For example, maybe there’s a radiological device that we could provide to every warfighter. But do we need to purchase that many? With the systems that are now in place, we can determine the number of forces working on missions that would require it. Or, when we’re considering vaccine production, we can determine more precisely how many doses we would need and when, and how much it would cost to store it.”
Simmons-Brown has been in acquisition since 1991, first as a contractor supporting several organizations, and then with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). She joined the Army Acquisition Workforce in 2010 as the business finance manager at JPEO-CBRND’s Joint Project Manager for Information Systems, then joined headquarters to lead the implementation of GFEBS. “What appealed to me was being a part of a team that helps maximize the Army and DOD’s buying power to provide products and capabilities to our fighting forces,” she said.
Simmons-Brown has received several awards over the course of her career, including the Defense Acquisition Workforce Individual Achievement Award for Financial Management in 2018. For her, the most meaningful award is the first one she received: the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Financial Management Award for Individual Achievement in Improving Financial Management Systems, for her work to implement a system “that bridged budget and accounting at DTRA in 2005,” she said. “At that time, we were still a very paper-driven organization, and processing documentation took forever. But we implemented a tool that made it possible to track requirements, expenditures, payments—it represented a paradigm shift from paper to technology for decision-making.”
That shift isn’t the only one she has seen. “I remember the first changes to reform acquisition and break down bureaucracy in 1995. We’re still making changes and looking to streamline processes even further. Policy changes and new requirements mean that the workforce is now more diversified in terms of the areas we need to learn about. It’s no longer just having a finance background; you need experience in contracting, program management—it’s all interconnected. Years ago, a logistician just handled logistics. Now, they’re involved in a logistics property audit, which requires background in several different areas.”
Simmons-Brown noted that she’s fortunate that JPEO-CBRND “promotes programs and opportunities such as Army’s Civilian Education System, Senior Enterprise Talent Management and developmental assignments.” Among the most valuable she has completed is the Civilian Education System Advanced Course. “That course provided me tools to develop my team and personal insight about how my values align with the Army and DOD,” she said. “What I learned helps me empower employees to make decisions at their levels, to build coalitions and ultimately answer the increasing demands for reliable business, financial and accounting data.”
If there’s one thing she regrets, it’s not taking advantage of the Civilian Education System programs earlier. “I should have paid more attention to developing ‘soft skills’—critical thinking, active listening and the ability to influence or persuade others—along with my technical skills earlier in my career,” she said “The soft skills mattered most when leading and developing the acquisition workforce, influencing and changing culture, and transforming business processes. I earned my degrees and technical certifications, but then had to circle back to enhance my soft skills.”
She’ll add more tools to her arsenal over the next few months, departing JPEO-CBRND in July to attend the acquisition course at the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy. She’s hoping the course helps her further strengthen the leadership skills needed to transform budgeting, financial systems and audit management. “I believe that I can improve budgetary and financial ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems to capture true cost of defining, acquiring and fielding equipment and capabilities to protect our forces. Improving financial stewardship and accountability across the Army and DOD will allow decision-makers to efficiently allocate our scarce resources.”
In addition to working to develop her own career, she mentors junior acquisition personnel. One of the ways she helps is to create a snapshot—“Where are you now, where do you want to go, and what’s stopping you from getting there? It helps the individual identify and understand their personal or professional gaps and map out a plan of actions and milestones.” Also important, she said, are leaders who take the time to develop junior personnel “no matter how busy the day is. It’s vital that we take time to invest time in mentoring and coaching to develop the workforce that’s coming up behind us.”
“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.
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