What We Learned

By May 18, 2015September 5th, 2018Contracting
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Lessons learned in expeditionary contracting have vastly improved the capabilities and professionalism of the contingency contracting workforce

By BG James E. Simpson

In the past decade, it has been an honor and a privilege for me to serve alongside great acquisition professionals who deployed time and time again to two vastly different theaters. Their deployments were a call to arms—not with weapons, but with pens and two books we fondly refer to as our contracting bibles, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Defense FAR Supplement (DFARS).

I must thank our sons and daughters in the acquisition workforce, both civilian and military, who deployed to support our warfighters. I also need to thank our acquisition workforce families for the sacrifices they endured at home, supporting our civilian and military acquisition workforce on long and short tours overseas. Across the Army, we’ve learned that deployment doesn’t just define those in theater; it also includes loved ones who remain at home providing stability and support to our men and women who deploy. And finally, I’d like to thank the entire acquisition workforce for taking on the extra work at home when their co-workers deployed.

Over the past 13 years, the Army contracting enterprise has learned many valuable lessons that will help us shape and train our acquisition workforce for future conflicts. Thirteen years of contracting in two unique theaters wasn’t easy. As the Iraq campaign began, our acquisition workforce experienced some challenges, but certainly nothing prepared them for the urgencies of contracting in support of contingency operations.

Applying Lessons Learned

APPLYING LESSONS LEARNED 1LT Jordan Springer, COR for the 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, based at Fort Hood, TX, asks a Liberian worker about adjusting the pipe for a well at an Ebola treatment unit in Tubmanburg, Liberia, Jan. 13. Contracting support to Operation United Assistance in West Africa has demonstrated the improved flexibility of the Army’s contracting workforce and its ability to serve as trusted advisers to operational commanders in situations often requiring split-second decisions. (U.S. Army photo by SGT Ange Desinor, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)

From my foxhole, the most valuable acquisition lesson we’ve learned is the need for strategic patience. We learned you can’t rush to failure; you can’t execute contracts without a strategic plan; and you have to answer the strategic questions: Will we need to rely on local vendors? Who are the subcontractors? Do we need to worry that someone along the contracting chain is supporting the enemy? Have we executed the right contract? Do we have the right oversight? Do we have a plan to close the contract? Did we follow the rules in accordance with the FAR and the DFARS? Can we honestly say that we’re good stewards of taxpayer dollars?

More than a decade ago, contracting for war requirements was new to our acquisition workforce. We quickly realized the importance of ensuring that our contracting professionals deploy with the right contracting skills to meet the challenges of contingency contracting. Combat is not a training ground. In contingency operations, it is vital that our contracting professionals be great business advisers and know how to successfully execute any type of contracting action, as well as how to determine which actions are right for the requirement at hand.

We learned that our contracting leaders need to better understand the operational environment so that they can provide the operational commanders the best contracting advice. In contingency operations, the battlefield often dictates split-second decisions, but in contracting, lack of strategic planning results in mistakes that are often very costly. By understanding the plan, contracting leaders can provide numerous options for the operational commander to satisfy the requirement, in many cases at significant cost savings. Now, looking back, I can see how often a contracting action could be executed without considering all phases of the plan.

One area of interest is part “lessons learned” and part “reminder” for future contingencies. That is the importance of proper contract oversight. For more than a decade, contracting was the subject of numerous reports and investigations that were very critical of the oversight processes. We learned a great deal from these reports and have worked hard to ensure that we do not repeat our mistakes or waste taxpayers’ dollars.


OPERATIONAL SUPPORT From left, 1LT Jake J. Chaput of the 1st Cavalry Division (1st CAV), CPT William Bass, contracting officer with the 928th Contingency Contracting Battalion (CCBn), and LTC Kelsey A. Smith of the 1st CAV review emerging life support requirements in Latvia in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve in fall 2014. Operation Atlantic Resolve, led by U.S. Army Europe, is an exercise that demonstrates a commitment to the collective security of NATO allies in light of the ongoing Russian intervention in Ukraine. Soldiers from the 928th CCBn, based in Grafenwoehr, Germany, supported the 1st CAV’s 1st Brigade Combat Team by conducting quality assurance of active contracts. (Photo by SSG Jonathan Robbins, 928th CCBn)

It all boils down to training. In theater, contracting officer’s representatives (CORs) are the contracting officers’ eyes and ears on the front lines. When we first hit the ground, proper contract oversight was lacking. As operations continued, we stepped up our game by providing much better pre-deployment training. Previous years saw COR responsibilities being added as an additional duty for Soldiers. Later, operational commanders recognized the COR’s role and the importance of contract oversight, and supported the process by providing dedicated CORs to oversee their contracts.

We also made tremendous improvements in contractor accountability. Contractors are part of the total force—we depend on them for all of our life support requirements. We must account for them in all phases of the operation and communicate with them so they are made aware of changes in the operation and adjust accordingly.

In the early years of the wars, contractor accountability was sporadic—almost nonexistent, one could say. The Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) helped us get a much better handle on our contractor population. SPOT, a Web-based system, is the central data repository for contractors deploying with the force; it holds contract capability information for use by federal contractors, government agencies and the military. It and other tools allow us to verify a person’s identity in theater, track the person’s movements and provide theater commanders up-to-date visibility into contractor assets and capabilities. We also put new policies in place to look for prime contractors and subcontractors who might be engaging in human trafficking or aiding our enemies.


SEASONED CADRE Simpson, second from left, poses with the headquarters staff at C-JTSCC in June 2014 at the New Kabul Compound, Afghanistan. Over the course of three deployments, Simpson learned that operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have reshaped the acquisition workforce into a leaner, more qualified and more efficient organization. (Photo courtesy of C-JTSCC)

After three deployments, two in Iraq and a final deployment in Afghanistan, where I served as commander of U.S. Central Command’s Joint Theater Support Contracting Command (C-JTSCC), l can proudly say that the acquisition workforce emerged as a leaner, more qualified, better-trained, more efficient and more valued workforce than when we headed into these conflicts more than a decade earlier. We learned that our personnel must have the proper contracting skills and that contractor oversight must not be an afterthought.

During my year in Afghanistan, I saw many of our processes and policies put to work as we began the drawdown. Our deployed acquisition personnel had the tools in their rucksack to execute high-quality contract actions in support of the warfighter. We developed our acquisition workforce into a highly professional, skilled cadre of men and women, both civilian and military, who understand contingency contracting.


Simpson addresses the new 51C Senior Leadership Course at Fort Lee, VA. A well-trained, highly qualified Army contracting enterprise is essential to managing the risk associated with the nation’s strategic requirements, and NCOs play a major role. (Photo by MSG Eric James Sears, U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center)

We must continue to improve because our future contingencies may take place in different environments under different conditions. For example, in the summer of 2014, we deployed a contracting support brigade to establish secure and disease-free troop life support areas and construct Ebola treatment centers in support of Operation United Assistance. Our support to the Ebola crisis in West Africa demonstrated the improved flexibility of our highly trained workforce.

Today, Army contracting is well-­positioned to support operations worldwide. A strong, well-trained and highly qualified Army contracting enterprise is essential to managing the risk associated with these strategic requirements. Ours is a force of military and civilian personnel deploying together on missions in support of our warfighters. With continued strategic patience, we will not rush to failure but will proceed to success shoulder-to-­shoulder with our warfighters.

For more information on contingency contracting, go to the Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy Contingency Contracting website at http://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/pacc/cc/index.html.

Closing the deal

CLOSING THE DEAL CPT Ural Jones of the Washington, DC, National Guard’s 1946th Contingency Contracting Team finalizes a contract Feb. 26, 2014, while being assessed by CW3 Matthew Nolan, a contracting specialist, at the Camp Atterbury, IN, Contracting Center of Excellence during their monthlong pre-deployment training in support of contingency operations in Afghanistan. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan showed the importance of preparing contracting professionals before they go into combat situations, because combat is not a training ground. (Photo by Timothy Sproles, Camp Atterbury Public Affairs)

BG JAMES E. SIMPSON is director for contracting in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. He holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Arlington, an M.S. in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, an M.S. in administration from Central Michigan University, a B.S. in political science from Lander University and an associate degree in criminal justice from Piedmont Technical College. He served as commander, Defense Contract Management Agency, Central Pennsylvania and York, PA, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2006; as senior contracting official – Iraq, C-JTSCC, from 2011 to 2012; and as commander, C-JTSCC, Afghanistan, from 2013 to 2014. He is Level III certified in contracting and Level II certified in program management, and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.

This article was originally published in the April – June 2015 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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