Contracting is a Team Sport

From Armor & Mobility October 2017 Issue

By MG James E. Simpson, Commanding General, U.S. Army Contracting Command,
Gene Duncan and Ed Worley

Teamwork can be defined as a group of people with different capabilities pulling together to reach a common goal. Sounds simple, but that hasn’t always been the case in the Army contracting world.

For years we’ve had the three key elements of the contracting triad—the requiring activities/customers, contractors and contracting officers—pointing fingers at each other when products or services were behind schedule or over budget. All three groups tended to work independently in stove pipes and then tossed the action “over the fence” to the next group so they could execute their part of the process. That “fence tossing” and subsequent finger pointing led to a process that was ineffective and inefficient. Rather than working in stove pipes, the three players must work as a team, putting aside their institutional biases and pulling together as one team to deliver the best products and services to our warriors—our sons and daughters—on the battlefield.

Proven Criticality of Cooperation

Teamwork leads to success. Teamwork is what it takes for Army Contracting Command (ACC) to enable Army readiness. Whether it is acquiring a new weapon system, updating and repairing existing systems, or providing the basic goods and services needed to operate an Army installation; ACC integrates and synchronizes with its customers to deliver what the Army needs when it needs it. In fact, the Army can’t function without contracting support, and it has been that way for centuries.

Army contracting has been around since the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress authorized the establishment of the U.S. Army on June 14, 1775. The next day, Congress authorized money to purchase the equipment and supplies the Soldiers needed. This was the beginning of an inseparable relationship between the U.S. Army and our American industry partners.

Contracting is “the cheapest, most certain, and consequently the best mode of obtaining those articles, which are necessary for the subsistence, covering, clothing, and moving of an army,” is how Robert Morris, “financier” of the revolution, founding father and superintendent of finance for the Continental Congress described the integral relationship between the American Army and contracting. The Continental Congress lacked money and credit in 1781 and could not support the American soldiers nor fund the movement of George Washington’s army from New York to Virginia. Morris used personal funds and credit to provide the logistical support for “the largest troop movement of the war.” To garner the best return on his money, Morris introduced sealed, competitive bidding contracts to obtain and transport the supplies and services needed by Washington’s Army.

The Yorktown campaign marks the beginning of organized contracting to procure supplies and services. This relationship between the Army, private businesses, and the U.S. government evolved through history shaping and adapting today’s Army.

Fast forward to the American Civil War. U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs insisted, “only good accountants and persons who have been engaged in business of a mercantile character…should be appointed assistant quartermasters.”

Meigs recognized the specialized skills required to navigate between the needs of the Army and the American industrial base. Similar to the need for a skilled interpreter, quartermaster officers who conducted contracting actions needed to “speak” both the language of business and the language of war.

During World War II, Lt. Gen. Brehon Somervell, Army Services Force Commanding General, recognized the importance of Army contracting in the proper strategic build-up and execution of the major Army operations worldwide. Operation Bolero, the movement of Soldiers and supplies to England in preparation for the invasion of Europe, began in early 1942. From landing craft to life vests, Army contracting officers began purchases and contracts early enough to ensure the troops would have everything they would need in 1944.

The contracting and logistics experts in the Army Services Force also realized the danger of swamping allied cargo vessels in the final months before D-Day, so they spread the shipping load of millions of tons over the 2 ½ year build-up. They proved the value of contracting officers and logisticians, and their ability to anticipate the needs of the Army early enough to provide the materials and troops at the right place, at the right time to allow the Allies to achieve victory.

Meeting Evolving Force Needs

Today, wherever Soldiers are, ACC Soldiers and Army civilians are nearby, ensuring our warriors have everything they need. From Afghanistan and Iraq to South Korea, ACC is providing the goods and services needed on the battlefield to prepare, deter and should the need arise, engage with overwhelming force. The sun never sets on ACC!

But as important as contracting is, there is constant pressure to do it better. So how do we define better? Is it doing things faster, saving more money or some combination of both? I think we’ve all seen how the pendulum can swing from a focus on speed to support Soldiers at war when funding is plentiful, to a more constrained budget environment with lots of oversight and focus on funding stewardship.

So how do we strike the proper balance between speed and compliance in today’s environment, with Army support to coalition combat operations still ongoing in Afghanistan and Iraq, increasing tensions in Europe and the Pacific, and uncertain funding?

At the same time, how do we change the environment that’s best described by the old adage, “There’s never enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over,” to an environment that focuses on the outputs and not the processes and activities that most people think about when they talk about contracting?

Contracting is team sport that includes the customer, the contracting organizations, other agencies such as the Defense Contract Management Agency and the Defense Contract Audit Agency, and our industry partners. We all have to work as a team, collaborating rather than operating in stove pipes.

We need to look at the entire process from requirements generation through delivery, and not focus on just awarding contracts. To do that, ACC is becoming more proactive rather than reactive. This means “working left of bang” to get ahead of the decision cycle by anticipating requirements. Early engagement with our requiring activities is key to getting contracting input to help them shape acquisition and contracting strategies.

Starting with Requirement Clarity

Getting a good requirement is the key to getting a good contract and ensuring warfighters get what they need when they need it. Poorly written, incomplete or late requirements directly affect our ability to execute a contract in a timely, cost-efficient manner. Generating better requirements helps our industry partners better understand the Army’s needs.

We’re working with our requiring activities to improve the requirements development process by standardizing requirements packages, and providing training to requiring activities on how to develop better packages. In some cases, we’re integrating contracting personnel with our major customers to help them translate their technical and functional requirements into contract requirements.

We use our industry partners’ help to shape requirements by engaging with potential contractors through market research, requests for information and sources sought, to ensure everyone understands what’s within the state of the art and is currently available. We also use our industry partners’ help with participating in forums like Advance Planning Briefings to Industry, requirements-focused industry days, and taking the time to review and comment on draft requests for proposals.

All of our systems contracting centers conduct industry communication events at least quarterly. These events provide industry an opportunity to ask questions on whatever topics they want. Major customers—the requiring activity—participate in these events so that they can help answer industry’s questions.

It’s also important that we have a transparent and accountable process to take our customer’s requirements and translate them into contractual actions.

We need to be able to see ourselves. To ensure we can, we’re developing metrics that focus on leading indicators to help us get ahead of the requirements, as well as compliance metrics to track performance against guidance and policy.

Being able to predict workload is key to being more proactive rather than reactive. It also allows us to better manage workload across the entire contracting enterprise.

One area of concern is the increased number of contract protests. Protests take time and resources for both government and industry. We’re looking to reduce protests by ensuring we have open and transparent procedures that encourage communication with industry throughout the process. We’re working hard to make debriefs to unsuccessful offerors more meaningful and detailed.

ACC wraps all of these initiatives together under the construct of operationalizing contracting. Operationalizing contracting is a key culture change to show how we are synchronizing and integrating capabilities of the entire acquisition team to deliver readiness, rather than counting dollars obligated or actions processed. We’re working to improve and streamline our internal business processes, including source selections to reduce the time it takes to award contracts. The risk-adverse culture of our contracting organizations is changing and we are encouraging more communication with industry. We are also becoming more willing to consider innovative solutions with acceptable risk. Budget and funding uncertainty has become a way of life. Senior Army leadership has stated that the lack of stable, predictable funding is the number one risk to readiness. All stakeholders must pull together if we are to overcome the budget risk, and deliver readiness to our requiring activities.

We can’t say enough that contracting is a team sport; no one entity can deliver readiness on its own. We all need to work as a team, anticipate and collaborate to ensure the world’s greatest Army remains the world’s greatest Army.