OCS effects go beyond individual contract actions

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By Daniel P. Elkins

EL PASO, Texas — A joint, cross-functional team of subject matter experts took a deliberate approach to building awareness of the far-reaching impact of operational contract support (OCS) as part of the Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise 2016 (OCSJX-16), which took place here March 21-April 8.

A team of policy, contracting, program management and logistics experts representing the military services and coalition partners made up the operational contract support capabilities analysis cell at OCSJX-16.

Sponsored by the Director for Logistics, Joint Staff J-4, OCSJX-16 exercised the full spectrum of contract support, from operational through tactical levels. J-4 works across numerous logistics organizations, including DOD, combatant commands and multinational and interagency partners, to integrate logistics planning and execution in support of joint operations. More than 500 joint, interagency and multinational participants took part in the DOD-funded exercise.

Members of the capabilities analysis cell, commonly referred to as the futures cell, examined the state of OCS today and the way ahead at the tactical, operational and strategic levels, operating from the fundamental premise that the concept extends far beyond a purely contract action.

“Specifically, the team looked at second- and third-order effects of OCS,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Michael Venning, superintendent for the 673rd Contracting Squadron at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. “We looked at how we can shape the battlefield, meet the operational objectives of the commander and move in parallel with kinetic effects.”

Air Force Col. Renee Richardson, director of contracting for Operating Location-Pacific at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, led the futures cell at OCSJX-16. She said the significance of studying these effects emerged from a growing reliance by the U.S. government on contractors since the 1990s to provide goods and services in a combat zone, where the number of contractors now practically matches that of military members.

She explained that the first pillar of OCS is to define requirements. A well-defined requirement, including second- and third-order effects, sets the foundation for successful OCS. It ensures warfighters get what they need as a first-order effect and sets the condition for mission success. The second pillar of contracting for the supply or service is most effective when the requirement is well-defined and there is time to use competition to obtain fair prices, Richardson noted. The third pillar is critical to best serve the taxpayer by ensuring the U.S. government receives what was contracted for and that the commander’s intent, with respect to desired second- and third-order effects, is achieved.

Richardson said these joint exercises afford an opportunity to advance OCS understanding and planning by all involved in the acquisition process while also serving to increase awareness and oversight mandated by law.

“Properly integrating OCS strategies into the American way of war helps to ensure our taxpayers get the biggest bang for their hard-earned money and that we effectively use the nonkinetic power our dollars carry,” she said.

Although concentrated on the quality and timeliness of forces support, OCS actions can have both positive and negative impacts on the civil-military aspects during all phases of a campaign, whether intended or not. Contracts awarded in a theater of operations rely on local contractors and subcontractors to provide goods and services in support of the joint force. Properly planned and executed, Venning said, OCS actions can indirectly support strategic, integrated financial operations that boost the local economy, promote goodwill and contribute to stability.


Air Force Lt. Col. Christy Lee briefs on concepts developed by the operational contract support capabilities analysis cell for OCSJX-16. The absence of proper planning and oversight can lead to potentially serious problems that in some situations can undermine an operation or campaign objectives, Lee warns. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)

However, Richardson cautioned, “During stabilization operations, if friendly forces flood the economy with a foreign currency, they can potentially devalue the local currency and destabilize the economy. Commanders at all levels need to be aware of the nonkinetic power that they can wield by properly integrating operational contract support into the campaign. In peacetime, operational contract support is a very effective means to gain access to a nation. One possible way to increase the security around a post or base is to employ the local population through contracts.”


OCS without proper planning and oversight can lead to potentially serious problems that in some situations can undermine an operation or campaign objectives. “OCS is often considered in a fairly narrow spectrum that views a physical contracting action as done, once it’s done,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Christy Lee of the Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office at Headquarters Defense Logistics Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. “As we think of those second- and third-order effects, we’re finding that they’re a result of decisions made by those who actually have the requirement, and also from the command and staff.”

For example, Lee explained that a requirement for bottled water can have negative consequences on a community and its economy, as it may strain local supplies where another source of water is not readily available. “On the other hand, what is our ability to bring in bottled water to mitigate the impact? Not only do we need water, but what is the effect of our operations on the people in the local community, the other services and our partners?” she said. “It’s opening it up and looking at the bigger picture, and not just from a contracting perspective.”

Richardson said both positive and negative second-order effects were demonstrated as feedback to the exercise audience. Role players serving as news reporters communicated the positive effect of increased employment in the local area. As exercise scenarios developed, simulated newscasts reported an international backlash against the United States because of human rights violations on a contract, representing a negative second-order effect.

In the months leading up to the exercise, planners methodically mapped a variety of exercise scenario injections related to second- and third-order effects to test and observe reactions by the training audience and capture responses for future operational practice.

In previous operations, contracting was very unit-centric, said Venning, which may have limited opportunities to leverage OCS capabilities. “Sometimes it’s very beneficial to buy on the local economy, other times it’s disastrous,” he said. “But it can’t be the unit making that decision and it can’t be the contracting officer making that decision. It needs to be fully aligned with the strategic commander’s intent, whether it be the joint task force or combatant commander.”

He added that OCS planning efforts come with an understanding that in the heat of war, units often get caught at the tactical level of having to execute daily actions of an immediate need, and the opportunity to align such decisions is missed. Nonetheless, he believes that bringing OCS planning into the initial phases of an operation can make a difference.

“This cell, in particular, highlighted the leverage that we can gain versus the mistakes that we used to make. So we’re looking to the future and deliberate planning aspects,” said Venning.

Operational orders focus on the plans and operations throughout each phase of a campaign but often neglect the contracting element in the initial planning efforts, Lee noted. “We don’t think through all of the options of what can be contracted, what shouldn’t be contracted and what the second- and third-order effects are,” she said, adding that it sometimes takes a thought-provoking measure in the initial planning phase that leads to that “aha” moment.

British Army Lt. Col. Richard Devonshire, another member of the OCSJX-16 futures cell, offered a confirming approach from a coalition perspective to some of the principles being developed by the cell. As a staff reserve officer from the 2 Operational Support Group, 104 Logistic Support Brigade, he is responsible for helping ensure effective contract support for the British Army deployed in support of operations.


Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Michael Venning discusses the concepts that the operational contract support capabilities analysis cell surveyed and developed at OCSJX-16. Designed to exercise the full spectrum of contract support from operational through tactical levels, OCSJX-16 involved more than 500 uniformed and civilian joint, interagency and multinational participants, and ran from March 21 through April 8. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Patten)

“We can assume with the demands on the size of our armed forces that we’re going to be increasingly reliant upon contractors to supplement military activities and efforts,” Devonshire said. “One of the key things is ensuring that in the joint operation planning process, the sort of opportunities of nonlethal capabilities that can be provided by contracting are provided early on. It’s an integral part of the planning process.”

Devonshire added that the principles learned at the exercise also have practical application for U.K. capabilities, enhancing interoperability with coalition forces.

“In our war space, we so often do have a coalition partner, and our OCS efforts are not always aligned,” Venning said. “So again, how can we look to the future to leverage their capability and our capability, their kinetic efforts and our kinetic efforts along one single commander’s intent versus accidentally going in slightly different directions?”

That unified approach by the cell also took into account organizations such as the Red Cross, the U.S. Agency for International Development and entities outside of DOD in a whole-of-government approach.

“At the strategic level, we work with other governmental organizations on the civilian side to make sure we’re synchronized together toward the same effort,” Lee said. “A whole-of-government approach means reaching out to those agencies, including the State Department if it’s overseas.”

The futures cell also examined potential effects on local economies in an area of operations. Seemingly simple decisions such as paying a contractor can become complex when considering cash or electronic methods, the use of U.S., local or a common currency, and the standard rate at which contractors are paid—which can sometimes be considerably higher than local salaries. The same considerations must be taken into account when coalition forces withdraw from a contingency area, and requirements that have been spurring economic growth are no longer there to sustain the goodwill that has been established.

“That decision-making process has to be taken into account with each phase of the operation,” Devonshire added. “It requires being cognizant in the initial planning phase of an operation that a certain decision may limit the freedom of actions later in the campaign. Leaders have to think it through, given the imperatives of time.”

For instance, Richardson said, forces responding to a local disaster may not want to tax the country’s logistics capability, but initial ground troops may have to contract for vehicles because they do not have them organically.

“Just like any military effort, as we go into an operation, we need to be planning for and actively working toward our end state,” Richardson said. “As we go into an operation, we may have limited choices in how we obtain supplies and services. If our forces need a supply or service and they do not have it organically, the only choice is to contract for it. As the operation matures, the commander can be much more strategic about what we bring into the country, either organic or contracted for outside of the affected area, and what we contract for to stimulate the economy.

“If we do not intend to remain in the country indefinitely and we want to leave a stable economy, we may need to attempt to limit the local contracting we do or incrementally step down the local contracting as we exit,” she said.


Venning said that OCS planning for the future is not a new idea, but one that is being built upon year after year. Lessons learned at the joint exercise each year are incorporated into an evolving OCS doctrine that drives operational objectives and intent at the highest levels of command while promoting an enhanced understanding at the lowest levels of execution.

“We’re sowing the seeds in our next generation, where the individual contracting action that a junior enlisted person is taking part in today has more than just an effect on that contracting action,” Venning said.

In addition to all members of the futures cell returning to their respective home stations so they can assess and apply the principles developed at OCSJX-16, DOD policy requires that OCS be integrated into professional military education (PME) across the board. “The products that we developed here are going to end up in some form or fashion in PME,” Venning said. “If you have a solid understanding of OCS effects on the battlefield by all functions, your contracting skills just amplify that understanding.”

Because contractors are now an integral part of the total force, Richardson noted, deliberate integration into operational plans requires expertise and attention from all functional players and broader staff to include the intelligence community.

“As a result of lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, we are starting to have a much more robust discussion with the intelligence community and other related experts so they can help us ‘target’ where our funds go and where they do not go.”

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