Educated in the contracting school of hard knocks
April 3, 2013
Armed with a doctorate degree in getting it done from the school of hard knocks, Ruth Anne Ijames has been a fixture in the contracting world since 1970.
A retired federal annuitant working out of her Billings, Mont., home, Ijames recently helped in the Army Contracting Command Control Cell during the command's joint contracting readiness exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas. Ijames came into contracting when contracting officers didn't need a college degree.
"Do I have a degree? Oh heavens no. I told you I'm from the school of hard knocks," Ijames said. "I started in a construction field office around construction contracting as an administrative assistant. I was always looking for something to help the engineers and always wanted to learn something new. I didn't care if it was in my job title or not. I was doing pay estimates and lots of stuff. Then I was an admin assistant. Then I went to the district office as a purchase agent and the rest is history. I've been in contracting ever since."
Back then, Ijames said people came up through the ranks by doing the work.
"You might have started as a clerk and over the years you accumulated duties and eventually wind up as a contracting specialist. Now you have to have a degree to get in this career field," she said. Ijames learned the intricacies of contracting by immersing herself in her work and staying up to date with all the changes as they occurred.
"Contracting is like any other profession; you have to stay current," she said. "What's so neat about contracting is that it is dynamic. The rules are always changing by executive order or, (Department of Defense) policy letters. When Congress makes changes to a law or passes an authorization act, it's going to be implemented in the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation. We serve at the pleasure of the law-making process because contracting is law."
To stay up to date Ijames does what she has been doing since the 1970s. She reads everything pertaining to contracting. She checks the Federal Register daily and the Government Accountability Office comptroller general's decision for changes and any possible protests, as well as particular court cases. She also purchases new copies of the FAR and the DFAR when they come out.
Ijames said those two documents might be the best thing that ever happened to military contracting. Publishing the FAR in 1984, followed by DFAR, provided military contracting specialist
with over-arching government regulations that changed the way contracting specialists did competitive negotiations.
"It made it easier," she said. "The next big thing came along in the 1990s. The Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act gave professional status to contracting people. If you pardon the expression, I've grandmothered into that."
Working what she calls the night shift, Ijames supports the U.S. Central Command-Joint Theater Support Contracting Command.
"Working in the rear I can stay in the background and do a lot of the work, the reviews, keep up with the FAR and DFAR clauses for them," Ijames said. "I can answer questions from a lot of the newbie contracting officers going over there. I consider myself a resource for them to help them through tough issues, to help with policy and training presentations and suggestions."
Armed with two computers and a phone, Ijames provides the type of detailed, quality service that doesn't go unnoticed.
"I heard about her almost from my taking over the JCC-Iraq/Afghanistan command in December 2009," said Maj. Gen. Camille M. Nichols, ACC commanding general. "I would travel out to one of our remote contracting offices and the contracting officers would tell me about their advisor in the states - Ruth Ann. They shared amazing stories and only had the best to say about her sage advice and her timely responsiveness."
According to Nichols, Ijames professionalism, advice, and responsiveness are appreciated by almost everyone Ijames meets.
"She is an institution and a pocket of brilliance for all of the Department of Defense," Nichols said. "She mentored airmen, sailors, Marines and Soldiers for the last five years, giving folks answers on specific questions that provide knowledge for future efforts these contracting officers will experience in their careers."
What can an individual do to have people praise them as institutions and a pocket of brilliance? According to Nichols, it's Ijames' spirit and her dedication to her craft and to Soldiers.
"There was no office in eitherIraq or Afghanistan that was
operating without her expert
touch. She had been deployed in
the early part of the war and now
her reach was in rotation after
rotation," Nichols explained. "She not
only answered their questions on
contracts in the combat zone, but I
have had contingency contracting
officers that tell me they sometimes
work with her even today on their
issues on contracts in the states.
"Everyone appreciates her
professionalism, advice, and
responsiveness. Everyone has great
things to say about her and her
work," the general concluded.