Achieving the FM Vision—people first! – financial management – Michael Montelongo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force

Achieving the FM Vision—people first! – financial management – Michael Montelongo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force – internship program for business students

David Trulio

Four Harvard MBA candidates and two undergraduates, one from Howard University and the other from Virginia Tech, spent the summer working for the Chief Financial Officer of the Air Force, the Honorable Michael Montelongo, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Financial Management and Comptroller).

Mr Montelongo is the driving force behind the interns’ presence in the Pentagon and regards reaching out to promising students as imperative to the future of Air Force Financial Management. The idea, as outlined in the FM Vision Statement, is to upgrade and upskill the FM workforce for the challenges of tomorrow. Introducing new and top talent from the best schools in the country to the Air Force and FM is one way to do that.

The graduate students, who had just completed the first of two years in their MBA program, interned within the Air Force Budget office, the Financial Management Transformation Program Management Office, the Financial Management Workforce Management directorate and the Air Force Cost Analysis Agency. The two undergraduate students worked in the Workforce Management office and Air Force Cost and Economics office.

Before Mr Montelongo joined the Air Force in August of 2001, interns from top tier MBA programs were not a priority and there was no formal program to recruit or fully tap their potential. According to the Assistant Secretary, the need to change that state of affairs was obvious: High performing organizations want the best talent they can get their hands on. We need to attract and sign up our fair share of that talent.

To Mr Montelongo, bringing in students with track records of success and strong interest in public service is a natural step toward transforming Air Force Financial Management into the strategic, advisory, value-added financial managers the Air Force needs to meet the future’s evolving threats. We must bolster our current menu of capabilities, cross-pollinate our workforce with fresh insights and new experiences, and bring in folks who have the competencies, training and skills we need.

The revamped intern experience is a win-win for all. The Air Force benefits in the near term from the fresh, unbiased perspective of these sharp students, most of whom have substantial relevant private and/or public sector experience. The interns, meanwhile, experience government first-hand at the senior levels. More importantly, they are thoroughly exposed to the high quality of Air Force personnel and the considerable opportunities involved in significant, challenging, and exciting work that affects US national security.

In addition to recruiting directly from this internship program, Mr Montelongo is confident that as these students return to their respective schools, word will spread about the strong appeal of an Air Force career, both in the short and long terms. After all, few private sector positions offer opportunities of the scale and impact found within the Air Force, especially in the early stages of one’s career. According to Virginia Tech intern Ron King, I worked on a number of multi-million and billion dollar projects that affect thousands of people and the security of our country. Charles Hansell, a current Harvard student and former infantry officer, added, The most rewarding aspect of my summer was the opportunity to take the lead on a key transformational project and interface closely with top Air Force leaders about it.

Over time, this program also serves to promote greater understanding and appreciation for the importance, sophistication, and diversity of military operations, especially among those who are likely to be the country’s future business leaders. This goal is especially relevant given the potential for more and more Americans to feel disconnected from their all-volunteer, career-oriented military. On a broader level, Mr Montelongo hopes other public officials will emulate his office’s program, and that promising candidates will be attracted to government service early in their careers. According to Harvard intern Sarah Strauss, For someone with no military background, working for the Air Force has been a great personal and professional learning experience that opened my eyes to numerous potential paths for the future.

But what about the pay? There is no escaping the reality that the private sector offers higher salaries, but significantly, Department of Defense compensation is comparable to that of the non-profit world. Moreover, the public sector value proposition extends substantially beyond money, offering individuals the enriching opportunity to be involved in their country’s truly important, meaningful work. According to Howard intern Halima Sow, Unlike private sector organizations that are profit-oriented, public service focuses on giving back and making a difference. Strauss added, I have always had a personal drive to ‘give back’ to this country … I feel incredibly blessed to have been given so many opportunities. Reflecting on his summer internship, Virginia Tech’s King stated, I couldn’t pass up the priceless chance to work &r the strongest military at the most influential military installation in the world.

Major intern projects included assisting with the review, analysis, and development of the Financial Management Strategic Plan; study and development of a Financial Management Competency Model and skills-gap analysis; preparation of business cases relating to proposed efficiency improvements; research, analysis, and recommendations pertaining to the implications of limits placed on defense contractor profits; development of a new retention model for financial managers; and development of an Air Force-wide strategy and approach to performance management.

In addition to their regular duties at the Air Force’s Pentagon headquarters, interns participated in regular educational lunches and meetings with Air Force decision makers, including Secretary James G. Roche and General John P. Jumper, and visited the US Senate, Langley AFB, and Wright-Patterson AFB.

Reflecting on this year’s experiment, Mr Montelongo is confident the summer will leave an indelible impact on the interns–one they won’t soon forget and one that will make for a very interesting What I Did This Summer essay when compared to their peers. It’s one reason why he’s hopeful that someday some of them will return to once again serve alongside the wonderful men and women of the United States Air Force!

Looking ahead to next summer, Mr Montelongo, who received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1988, will expand his office’s internship recruiting to other first-tier business schools. When contemplating the size of the Air Force’s workforce, budget, assets, global operations and overall complexity, we’re very similar to the largest companies in the country. If you’re looking for persons to take on line responsibility and manage complex operational sophistication, I think MBAs are uniquely well suited for those kinds of challenges. Given the Air Force’s critical role in guaranteeing the peace and security of the United States, Mr Montelongo asks, Why wouldn’t the American people want the best, most competent people occupying positions in our government?

Mr Montelongo’s passion for actively seeking out talent from previously ignored sources is part of his larger vision of how government service should be regarded. For those who do not plan on spending their entire careers in the public sphere, government work in one or more career phases constitutes not just a noble act of public service, but rather should be viewed as a career-enhancing step because of the inherent learning opportunities, challenges, and potential for far-reaching impact. Indeed, given the tremendous interplay between government and industry in today’s economy, if it were up to Mr Montelongo, an individual’s career would not be complete without some form of public service.

David Trulio is a Harvard MBA candidate. He has a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University. From 1995-1998 he worked for O’Melveny and Myers LLP in Los Angeles CA.

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