There aren’t very many industrial property management specialists, but the work they do to account for government property can be vitally important to DOD and the Army.
by Ms. Sabrina Johns
How important to an organization is accounting for government property? The short answer is “very,” but for the long answer, come with me to the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO IEW&S) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, where how a property book officer, a logistics manager and an industrial property management specialist are addressing historical challenges associated with locating, establishing official records for and managing government property within the organization, as well as property provided to contractors.
PEO IEW&S is the first among its peers to develop such a team to begin creating and maintaining required government property records in support of Army audit readiness objectives. The Army is working to achieve auditable full financial statements by Sept. 30, in preparation for a first-ever DOD-wide independent audit in FY18. PEO IEW&S partnered with the Army Contracting Command – Aberdeen Proving Ground (ACC-APG) to leverage support from me, its industrial property management specialist, to evaluate the tracking of government-furnished property.
So, why should you care? Well, the Army Acquisition Workforce Human Capital Strategic Plan reports that there are only 52 people with Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act certifications in industrial or contract property management. The number of those who actually work within this career series is even smaller. The lack of industrial property management specialists in the Army and throughout DOD is of concern. They are among the principal stewards of government property, which represents money in a different form, and are critical to identifying and preventing as much fraud, waste and abuse as possible.
Between 2012 and 2016, the DOD Office of Inspector General identified property accountability as an ongoing systemic weakness in contracts and at contractor sites in both the United States and overseas. It also expressed concerns about whether the Army would be prepared to address government property audit requirements for 2017 and beyond, because of challenges in this and other areas. A lack of accountability can lead to unauthorized personnel obtaining access to government property, including weapons and other sensitive items, for use against American citizens, civilians overseas and in the commission of crimes in the United States and elsewhere.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF INACTION
Failing to perform this accountability duty has tangible results, totaling some $3.5 billion across the federal government, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Some of the more infamous recent DOD cases are:
- In May, Henry Bonilla and Richard Navarro were sentenced in federal court to 15 months and 12 months in prison, respectively, for conspiring to steal over $3 million worth of medical equipment from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
- In February, Philip Tomac, director of logistics at the Logistics Readiness Center at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, was indicted for mismanagement of equipment valued at between $500,000 and $6 million. The Deseret News reported that Tomac is being investigated for stealing military-grade rifle scopes and other “optic devices.” USA Today reported that Tomac is suspected of selling the stolen equipment on the black market.
- In December 2016, Roy E. Friend of Newport News, Virginia, was sentenced to 33 months in prison for stealing government property. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Friend, a civilian DOD employee who worked at Fort Eustis, Virginia, admitted to fraudulently obtaining goods through a U.S. General Services Administration website.
Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 45.101 defines government-furnished property as “property in the possession of, or directly acquired by, the Government and subsequently furnished to the contractor for performance of a contract.”
That’s government-speak for “everything a contractor uses to do government work”—from pens to batteries to computers to vehicles. However, providing government property to contractors is an exception to policy, per FAR 45.102(a); contractors ordinarily are required to furnish all property needed for a contract’s performance, but this may not be realistic for some fields. A contract information technology consultant certainly isn’t going to connect a personal computer to a government network. Likewise, a broadcast contractor probably won’t even own the “tools” of that trade because the expense is prohibitive. And if we contracted a dentist or medical professional, we certainly wouldn’t require them to bring their own equipment.
Therefore, the work of industrial property management specialists is about ensuring that the government provides those resources that a contractor cannot, and further, that the contractors are good stewards of the resources provided. Federal agencies increasingly rely on hiring people to perform services—with the value of service contracts increasing 90 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to the Congressional Budget Office—making the job of ensuring equipment compliance for contractors even more important.
This work includes performing audits, also known as property management system analyses, to verify that contractors are complying with contractual, FAR and other federally mandated property accountability requirements; handling government property loss cases; and addressing other situations as they arise. When we find a computer, printer or device not in use or when we find equipment being underused, for example, that equipment needs to be double-checked to be sure it’s in the inventory and reassigned to where it can do the most good. At the core, all that means keeping track of Army property no matter who the user is—Soldier, DA civilian or contractor.
There are few people currently employed in the General Schedule industrial property management specialist series, in part because of its very specific requirements and the numerous certifications required to work at the highest levels. As a result, anyone whose work involves systems engineering and technical assistance, contractor support, contractor support for test or range operations, logistics or maintenance, among other functions, often lacks a resource for addressing instances in which:
- Government and contractor personnel are unsure how to dispose of excess government property at the end of a contract’s period of performance.
- A contractor is unable to account for government property in their possession.
- Government personnel are unsure whether they should provide a contractor the government property it is requesting.
HOW IT WORKS AT PEO IEW&S
This brings us back to PEO IEW&S’s efforts to address its internal government property accountability. Maj. Gen. Kirk F. Vollmecke, the program executive officer, is acutely aware of the importance of the work that industrial property management specialists perform, both inside and outside of contracting organizations, and has expressed his enthusiasm and support for the work they do on numerous occasions. Since my arrival at PEO IEW&S from ACC-APG in January, he has joked that my supervisor, Clarissa Lane, should “lose” my temporary assignment paperwork so that PEO IEW&S can continue to receive “much-needed, dedicated support.”
Here are some details of the work my assignment has allowed me to do:
- Write the government-furnished property sections of “Standard Operating Procedures for Property Accountability” for PEO IEW&S and the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, to establish common practices within PEO IEW&S and the PEO community at large to account for government property provided to contractors.
- Conduct training for PEO IEW&S property accountability, contracting and other personnel to develop a common operating picture of how their joint efforts are required to establish and maintain accountability for government-furnished property.
- Write standard government property accountability-related language for use within the organization’s performance work statements to ensure that contractors perform to and accurately report government property accountability practices.
Even more important, I regularly meet with and directly support PEO IEW&S logisticians and others to address challenges they face in preparing for congressionally mandated Army audits. Further, I facilitate communication between PEO IEW&S offices and their servicing contracting centers to ensure that all parties are working together to overcome the obstacles that impact all of their operations. Over three months, we’ve identified outdated equipment (who needs a dot-matrix printer in 2017?), underused equipment and other unfulfilled contractor needs, and subsequently removed it from inventory, repurposed it to personnel who need the equipment and filed requests for changes.
You may not always see or feel the results of this work, since there are so few industrial property management specialists or government property administrators. Perhaps your office would benefit from having greater support from someone in my career field. Those who work directly with industrial property management specialists or who have had contract-related issues corrected by them often see a distinct benefit: Their operations consistently run more smoothly and efficiently, because of the support of personnel who truly understand the challenges that can arise when working with contractors and government property on contracts. As congressionally mandated government property and other audits continue, that is all the more reason to advocate for the work that industrial property management specialists do to address issues that are not likely to go away on their own.
For more information on qualifying for credentials in industrial or contract property management, go to the Defense Acquisition University website http://icatalog.dau.mil/onlinecatalog/CareerLvl.aspx?lvl=1&cfld=5, or the U.S. Office of Personnel Management website https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/classification-qualifications/general-schedule-qualification-standards/1100/industrial-property-management-series-1103/.
SABRINA JOHNS is an industrial property management specialist for ACC-APG. She holds an MBA with a concentration in information technology management from Southern New Hampshire University, and a B.A. in French and psychology from Lawrence University. She is Level II certified in industrial contract property management and in life cycle logistics and Level I certified in program management. She is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.
This article will be published in the October – December 2017 Army AL&T magazine.
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