Program management versus contingency contracting: lessons learned from the field.
What follows are some of my observations as a program manager deployed to support contingency contracting Contracting performed in support of a peacetime contingency in an overseas location pursuant to the policies and procedures of the Federal Acquisition Regulatory System. See also contingency. for the Joint Contracting Command Iraq/Afghanistan. My intent is to highlight some of my lessons learned from the point of view of a soldier with a different perspective on contingency contracting: an Army Acquisition Corps officer trained primarily in program management and logistics but cross-trained in contracting. It is my hope that this article will give those who will be supporting contingency contracting some new perspectives and factors to consider for their missions.
I'll be addressing five questions that resulted from my experience:
* Should a contracting officer A US military officer or civilian employee who has a valid appointment as a contracting officer under the provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation. The individual has the authority to enter into and administer contracts and determinations as well as findings about such contracts. be a generalist gen·er·al·ist
A physician whose practice is not oriented in a specific medical specialty but instead covers a variety of medical problems.
generalist or specialist?
* Should program managers and junior contracting officers be allowed to perform the same duties as level III contracting officers?
* Do bank tellers A bank teller is an employee of a bank who deals directly with most customers. In some places this employee is known as a cashier.
Tellers are considered a "front line" in the banking business. and contracting officers' representatives (CORs) have more in common than we imagine?
* Are longer contracting officer tour lengths better?
* Can e-mail traffic be tamed tame
adj. tam·er, tam·est
1. Brought from wildness into a domesticated or tractable state.
2. Naturally unafraid; not timid: "The sea otter is gentle and relatively tame" ?
The following scenarios provide an example of a common occurrence in contingency contracting. After discussing each point, I'll suggest some practices I would implement if I were king for a day. Although the examples are Army-specific, the lessons learned are applicable across all of the Department of Defense.
Generalist or Specialist?
Contracting Officer 1: Look, I'm a contracting officer. I don't do "I Don't Do" was the debut single by glamour model Michelle Marsh, released on 6 November 2006. The single reached 27 in the UK in its first week, selling only 9,000 copies and over 16,000 copies as of January 2007. The single spend a total of four weeks in the Top 75. transportation. Besides, I contracted for the material, and the shipping terms are F.O.B. [freight on board], so it is the vendor's responsibility to get the items delivered. Besides, I have 20 contract actions on my desk.
Contracting Officer 2: I know. I had a similar situation last week, and I'm still waiting for delivery.
The contracting officer must have general experience in many fields--with transportation as the key field--but must be a specialist in the field of contracting. Contracting officers can quote the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations The Federal Acquisition Regulation (usually referred to as the FAR or F.A.R.), are a series of regulations issued by the Federal government of the United States that concern the requirements of contractors for selling to the government, the terms under which the System (DFARS DFARS Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement
DFARS DoD Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement ), and acquisition instructions as well as oversee a competitive selection process and all the other tasks associated with contracting. However, when the contracting officer drifts from his specialty, he exits his comfort zone. The same is true of all military branches. But in the contingency contracting environment, contracting officers have to learn the second-order effects of their actions and how to ask probing questions when they work with local nationals. For example, F.O.B. or FedEx[R] deliveries in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. and other noncombat environments work as advertised, conform to Verb 1. conform to - satisfy a condition or restriction; "Does this paper meet the requirements for the degree?"
coordinate - be co-ordinated; "These activities coordinate well" generally accepted terms, and are used in contracts with little concern about confusion--which is not the case in the contingency environment. FedEx doesn't deliver to a war zone.
The Army Acquisition Corps has begun requiring personnel to become broader in scope, which I think is a good thing. Knowledge of an alternate acquisition field will prove beneficial as one builds a bigger Rolodex[R] of resources for future assignments, missions, and challenges.
Now, you may be saying that I am stating the obvious, but we grow so accustomed to a certain level of service based on our experiences in a peacetime environment that we forget what a challenge everything can be in a contingency environment. What works well in peacetime does not work as well in a conflict. Knowing the right question to ask is paramount in getting to the ground truth and developing a working solution. Allow me to focus on transportation and provide an example.
Once upon a time, a field command sent an e-mail up the chain of command, and it rolled downhill and landed in the contracting officer's lap. Everyone's favorite question was in the subject line: "When am I getting my stuff?" So the contracting officer quickly got on the phone and, after multiple attempts, was finally able to get in contact with the local vendor. The vendor spoke broken English, and the contracting officer's Arabic was even worse. The summary of the vendor's response was, "Seven days." The contracting officer asked, "Are you sure?" The vendor replied, "Yes, seven days." This message of seven days was then communicated across the theater of operations Noun 1. theater of operations - a region in which active military operations are in progress; "the army was in the field awaiting action"; "he served in the Vietnam theater for three years"
field of operations, theatre of operations, theater, theatre, field , across horizontal and vertical levels and every chart and chain of command imaginable--and all was good with the world.
Often, such a scenario has a happy ending, but sometimes it does not. Trust me--in the contingency contracting environment, we should plan for the worst and hope for the best. And we should ask the right questions, which is something I learned while working with those in the transportation world.
Question 1: You should ask the vendor if he can fax or e-mail you a copy of your import clearance documentation. If, after you ask this question, you hear crickets chirping chirp
A short, high-pitched sound, such as that made by a small bird or an insect.
intr.v. chirped, chirp·ing, chirps
To make a short, high-pitched sound. on the other end of the phone, lightbulbs should be going off in your mind. If the host nation has not approved the shipment for import, I seriously doubt the delivery will arrive in seven days. The processing time alone for import authorization can be seven to 10 days.
Question 2: Assuming the product is local, ask for a location where you can inspect the item. If you again get crickets on the phone, know that not everything is going smoothly. I can assure you that in seven days, at 2400 hours, the commander will send a follow-up e-mail if the item is not delivered as advertised. And no, you won't get a "thank you" if all works as planned, but you will hear if people aren't happy. That is life.
So if I were king for a day, I would have a week-long orientation to teach contracting officers general knowledge about areas of responsibility that overlap with contracting, and give them an opportunity to meet the commanders and support staff. The contracting officer would be able to educate his commander about what he brings to the fight. The contracting officer would also learn about transportation and any other processes he needs to know about. That is what a ground commander does when he executes a relief in place [an act in which all or part of a unit is replaced in an area by the incoming unit, allowing continuity of operations The degree or state of being continuous in the conduct of functions, tasks, or duties necessary to accomplish a military action or mission in carrying out the national military strategy. ].
Realistically, perhaps there is no time for such training. In that case, the contracting officer must take the initiative to discover the key sources of information, find the person who has been there about a month ahead of him (that person will be most beneficial), and be prepared to learn on the job.
PMs in a Contracting Officer Role
Program Manager: All I know is, it was submitted to contracting over three weeks ago. Why they can't just go sole source is beyond me. I have everything ready to execute. All I need is that contract released, and we're bending metal.
Contracting Officer: All a PM knows is cost, schedule, and performance, and he can't even begin to spell contracting.
Effective immediately, we should expand the contracting officer "gene pool" and let contingency contracting commands be the vanguard in educating PMs and junior contracting officers (those who are at least Defense Acquisition Work-force Improvement Act level I) to work in contingency contracting. One of our military's greatest strengths has always been the cross-training of personnel.
Cross-training would do much to facilitate an understanding of each respective acquisition specialty. PMs and junior contracting officers can work in the contingency contacting environment and aid the contracting officer. The PMs need a shadowing experience with a contracting officer before the PM and the junior contracting officer can begin assuming more contracting officer duties.
Contracting officers will argue that they don't have time to babysit; however, given that the bulk of the items being contracted are consumables--printer cartridges
The attitude among contracting leaders sometimes seems to be that if you aren't a level III contracting officer, you aren't qualified. We all have our corporate cultures, but that attitude must change. It takes time to grow contracting officers, and though PMs might not quote the FAR by paragraph and line number, they at least come with a solid baseline of knowledge and can learn. The same holds true for the junior contracting officer.
Not expanding the human capital to those that are less than level III certified See certification. is a bad practice. If contingency contracting leaders maintain that they want only level III-trained contracting officers down range, how are we going to grow our junior ranks? Having level III-trained personnel in every office may be desirable, but you fight with the contracting officer force you have, not with the one you want.
I am a firm believer that people will rise to the height of the bar. I am not advocating we fill every billet with junior personnel, but I do submit that a junior contracting officer or PM could perform and assist with many tasks and thereby enable the senior contracting officer to focus on more complex issues. Those new to the contracting field must come with an open mind and be ready to learn. As Herb Kelleher Herbert D. Kelleher (born March 12, 1931) is the co-founder, Chairman and former CEO of Southwest Airlines (based in the United States).
Kelleher was born and raised in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. , chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines This article is about the American airline. For the former Japanese airline, see Japan Transocean Air. For the British airline, see Air Southwest.
Southwest Airlines Co. said, "Hire for attitude. ... Train for skills." So if I were king for a day, I would expand the gene pool for contracting officer to include PMs and contracting officers who are level I in their respective career fields.
Bank Tellers and CORs
Contracting Officer: I don't understand who that COR thinks he is, issuing a cure notice. I'm the contracting officer.
COR: I'm an 11B. What am I doing being a COR? I can never get in contact with the contracting officer. ... I have to get this moving. The commanding officer is on my butt. I'll issue a cure notice. That will get the vendor's attention.
If a contracting officer has no idea what an 11B is, it is probable that an 11B has no idea what the FAR is or what the whole concept of contracting is about. Now, an 11B is the military occupational specialty A Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) is a job classification in use in the United States Army and Marine Corps. The occupational specialty system uses a system of letters and numbers to identify general and specific jobs of military personnel. for an infantryman. They are in every military service, being the troopers Troopers in the United States civilian police forces usually refer to members of state highway patrols, state patrols, or state police agenciess. who are put into every mission under the sun. Yet we take an inexperienced in·ex·pe·ri·ence
1. Lack of experience.
2. Lack of the knowledge gained from experience.
in person, put him through a one-hour class, and then turn him loose as a COR--and two or three months later, we wonder why the contract performance is all fouled up. It is my opinion that PMs and the contracting community set themselves and the COR up for failure.
The military does not have a monopoly on this approach. Consider bank tellers. Banks will spend millions on an ad campaign to gain customers, but the one person in the bank who has the most interface with the customer--the one who will most influence the customer experience--is often the least-paid and possibly the least-trained bank employee: the teller TELLER. An officer in a bank or other institution. He is said to take that name from tallier, or one who kept a tally, because it is his duty to keep the accounts between the bank or other institution and its customers, or to make their accounts tally. . The same thing can happen in the world of contracting.
If I were king for a day, what would I do? Starting next week, I would have all contracting officers routed through a one-hour class on patrol techniques; and once a week for 24 hours Adv. 1. for 24 hours - without stopping; "she worked around the clock"
around the clock, round the clock , they would be required to conduct a route reconnaissance Reconnaissance along a specific line of communications, such as road, railway or waterway, to provide new or updated information on route conditions and activities along the route. in the red zone with their 11B COR brethren. One week they would be drivers and the next week they would be in the 50-caliber machinegun turret, and so on. This quality time would foster better communication and a collaborative spirit between the contracting officer and the COR. Is this extreme? Yes, but think of the teambuilding that would evolve.
The contracting officer community solution for CORs must be equivalent to what contracting officers would desire if they had to perform a route reconnaissance mission. If we do this, we'll have a quality COR program. Give all CORs a satellite communications phone, digital camera, and laptop Same as laptop computer.
laptop - portable computer so they can communicate effectively with the contracting officer. Empower the COR. No one shows up wanting to fail. What costs more: the solution I propose or the manpower required to recoup recoup
To sell an asset at a price sufficient to recover the original outlay or to offset a previous loss. the losses from a poorly executed contract?
Contracting Officer Tour Lengths
Contracting Officer 1: I have 20 days left until my six-month tour is over. I'll have to file my TDY TDY
temporary duty [temporary duty] settlement upon return.
Contracting Officer 2: Has your replacement arrived?
Contracting Officer 1: No, he's been delayed for some training in Kuwait.
Contracting Officer 2: So how much cross-training will you get?
Currently, contracting officers have six-month tours, which tend to progress like this: The first month, the contracting officer is learning; the last month, he's marking days off a calendar. We all do it, at least mentally. Then we overlay (1) A preprinted, precut form placed over a screen, key or tablet for identification purposes. See keyboard template.
(2) A program segment called into memory when required. the seven to 10 days during which the contracting officer will execute his or her rest and recuperation The withdrawal of individuals from combat or duty in a combat area for short periods of rest and recuperation. Also called R&R. See also rehabilitation. pass. In all, the commander essentially achieves a little less than four months of combat effectiveness from a six-month contracting officer deployment. I'm not making a judgment here; that is merely the battle rhythm I've observed with six-month deployments. If I were king for a day, all contracting officer tours would be 12 months.
Many contracts are for services or span periods of performance that do not terminate when a unit rotates out of theater. To ensure that we have continuity in managing those contracts, we need to stagger contracting officer rotations in relation to the relief in place and transfer of authority of combat units. Or we should extend the tour until the new unit is established in country, which I believe requires at least 45 days from the date of the completion of the relief in place. Otherwise, the unit COR, whom we've trained and worked with for over a year, departs when his parent unit departs; and the contracting officer, junior contracting officer, and PM then must train a whole new unit COR team. The contracting officer is the continuity factor in this scenario and must remain on station until the new unit is established.
On a positive note, the contracting command for Iraq and Afghanistan has held firm on requiring a replacement to be on the ground and a battle handoff Switching a cellular phone transmission from one cell to another as a mobile user moves into a new cellular area. The switch takes place in about a quarter of a second so that the caller is generally unaware of it. conducted before the outbound out·bound
Outward bound; headed away: outbound trains.
Adj. 1. outbound - that is going out or leaving; "the departing train"; "an outward journey"; "outward-bound ships" person departs the theater of operations. It's not always easy, but it appears to be working, and it ensures that replacement personnel are received and cross-trained. Most departing personnel are professional and have a vested interest Vested Interest
A financial or personal stake one entity has in an asset, security, or transaction.
For example, if you have a mortgage, your bank has a vested interest on the sale of your house.
See also: Right in cross-training their successors because they remember what it was like when they arrived.
If I were king for a day, all e-mail accounts e-mail account n → cuenta de correo would be duty/functional-specific and we would halt the practice of using name-specific e-mail accounts. We should begin using e-mail addresses See Internet address.
e-mail address - electronic mail address such as "KO1@iraq.mil An Internet address domain name for a military agency. See Internet address.
(networking) mil - The top-level domain for entities affiliated with US armed forces. ," with a display name of "Contracting Officer 1." Using such a functional e-mail account format rather than a name-specific e-mail account like "firstname.lastname@example.org," will greatly facilitate continuity of communication, halt the transfer of the personal e-mail files, and improve business communications.
Using name-specific e-mail accounts often disrupts continuity of communication with local nationals and within our own commands whenever a new person arrives and backfills for someone with whom all parties are used to working. How many times have you lost a contact and tried to find his or her replacement within the same office? And we're on the same DoD team! By using functional e-mail addresses, no longer would the military unit or vendor get "failed mail" messages because the last point of contact they had was redeployed. They also will not have to spend two weeks trying to reestablish e-mail contact. Trust me, with six-month rotations, gaining and maintaining contact is paramount for contingency contracting success, and it's a nightmare for vendors and the contingency contracting command when communication lines are broken.
You may advocate establishing a pseudo Similar to; made up to appear like something else. See pseudo compiler, pseudo language and pseudonymous.
(jargon) pseudo - /soo'doh/ (Usenet) Pseudonym.
1. An electronic-mail or Usenet persona adopted by a human for amusement value or as a means of avoiding negative e-mail or "distribution" e-mail account that allows for e-mail to be sent to KO1@iraq.mil and then automatically be forwarded to john. email@example.com. The problem with that format is that John Doe John Doe
formerly, any plaintiff; now just anybody. [Am. Pop. Usage: Brewer Dictionary, 329]
See : Everyman will build his file folders and organize his own PST PST Paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, see there files under his own account. When he departs, his successor will have to start from ground zero and have only a PST file as a historical reference. Another concern with that approach is that as soon as John Doe replies to the inquiry forwarded from the KO1@iraq.mil e-mail account, the value of the functional e-mail address is lost. That's because most users invariably in·var·i·a·ble
Not changing or subject to change; constant.
in·vari·a·bil hit "reply," and the default e-mail address that loads into the message for the reply will be the name-specific firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes, the contracting officer is going to get saturated by local nationals' e-mails once they get the duty-specific e-mail address. But that is no different from the situation in the United States when vendors reach out to get the contracting officer's attention once they get his e-mail address. Just copy and paste To copy files from one location to another or to copy text and images from one document to another. All modern operating systems and applications have a copy and paste capability that is typically selected from an Edit menu. See cut and paste and Win Copy between windows. a form letter and refer the vendor inquiry to the Web page that hosts all solicitations and educates the local national on the contracting process or the local host national business adviser. And remember, you could have that junior contracting officer or PM share those tasks. If we stop getting e-mails from local vendors, then we have real problems.
An additional benefit of duty-specific e-mail addresses is operational security. How long do you think it takes before the local vendor population starts using the Army Knowledge Online or Defense Knowledge Online e-mail format once they have your name? The local vendors quickly learn that the address protocol is email@example.com.
Failure is Not an Option
Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom are not the first, and they certainly won't be the last, to have contracting challenges. I've learned much from many different people during my experiences. This article merely present one man's opinions, and it provides a few rules of thumb and a path ahead.
Lastly, remember this: Chuck Norris Carlos Ray "Chuck" Norris (born March 10, 1940) is an American martial artist, action star, and Hollywood actor who is known for playing Cordell "Cord" Walker on Walker, Texas Ranger and his iconically tough image. never fights, he just contracts for private security. Those who have been down range will get this one. Those who don't get it, come on down; we're hiring. Keep moving forward; failure is not an option.
The author welcomes comments and questions and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lt. Col. Russell Dunford, USA
Dunford is assigned to the U.S. Army Program Executive Office-Aviation. He served with the Joint Contracting Command Iraq/Afghanistan and the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq Security Assistance Office from April 2007 to April 2008.