There's gold in them there mountains of boxes
April 23, 2014
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - Spending $10 million seems like a hefty sum. That expense seems much more reasonable when it helps the government recapture $300 million over the course of four years.
This hypothetical situation is reality at Army Contracting Command-Rock Island and it is better known as the contract closeout mission. The mission, executed in ACC-RI's Reachback Contracting Division has required approximately $10 million in staffing and resources, but according to Andrea Kalb, chief, Contract Closeout Branch, ACC-RI's efforts have resulted in the recapture of more than $300 million in current and expiring funds. The recaptured funds have been languishing for years on thousands of completed contracts. Once excess funds are identified and confirmed, the contract is modified and the funds returned to the original funding source.
"Our close scrutiny of these contracts results in proactively reclaiming dollars that can be reused," Kalb said. "Attention to this aspect of the closeout mission ensures excess funds that would otherwise be lost are utilized.
The majority of the closeout mission is anticipated to be complete by the end of fiscal year 2014, but some claims, litigation and maybe some payment issues will likely endure into the next few years.
"There's a lot of behind the scenes work that has to be done before the mission can be completed," said Joseph Jakubowski, contracting officer. "Claims will definitely lag behind because you can't really speed up a courtroom."
Other than the limited number of contracts that will require time in an Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals courtroom, the mission is noticeably winding down.
"We completed all of the easier contracts," said Thomas Petkunas, contracting officer. "Now we are coming into the more complex ones."
The first shipments of files arrived in February 2011 when the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Procurement), the office that established the Contract Closeout Task Force Office, moved the mission from San Antonio, Texas, to ACC-RI.
More than 8,000 of boxes of contracts awarded in Iraq and Afghanistan were relocated. To date, 96 percent of the 195,882 contracts are now closed.
Closing out many of the contracts hasn't been an easy task, said Kalb. Many files have missing, inaccurate, or incomplete information crucial to determining periods of performance, and inspection/acceptance of supplies or services. Additionally, strong investigative and analytical skills are necessary to determine if and how much contractors may still be owed and if excess funds are available for de-obligation.
"I believe there is a misconception that contract files received from Iraq and Afghanistan contain all the documentation and requirements that it takes to close it out," said Kalb. "That's not the case at all. These contracts were established in a contingency environment and there are many unresolved issues with them."
"I call it investigative accounting," said Christine Fricke, contracting officer. "For the most part, our work isn't automated. We can't just simply go into a system and find what we need. That is one of the challenges over the course of the mission, getting access to appropriate databases, because we're not just looking at closing contracts that were issued by the Army, we deal with a multitude of agencies."
Many contracts date as far back as 2004, and, in addition to making sense of logistics, a critical eye is necessary in order to address contractor fraud, waste, and abuse.
"We've probably seen every variation on contracting and how it was executed in theater," said Petkunas. "Some of the more clever attempts for the contractors to get paid include submission of documentation that might not be valid or true."
Petkunas said not all contractors' fraudulent efforts are savvy, however, including forged documents.
"On first sight, the letter looked legit," said Petkunas, of one contractor's correspondence. "It was presented as coming from a U.S. service member who had approved the delivery with a signature of CAPT. Adam Look Cool."
The recapture of millions of dollars is just one highlight of this challenging, fiscally responsible mission that has provided numerous benefits to the center, the Army and the U.S. at large, said Kalb. The branch is a success story in diversity. Of the branch's current 47 employees, 17 are AbilityOne Program contractors.
The AbilityOne Program is a federal initiative helping people who are blind or have other significant disabilities to find employment by working within a national network of over 600 nonprofit agencies that sell products and services to the U.S. government. The AbilityOne contractors work alongside government employees on a daily basis and have proved a valuable partner in this mission, said Kalb.
In addition to embracing a diverse work environment, the mission has proved to be a unique learning opportunity.
"Because of the wide variety of contracts, the closeout work has offered a great training ground for our employees to experience how contracting functions when done effectively," said Kalb. "They can see when someone goes outside the box the effect it has. They now understand when the rules and regulations (Federal Acquisition Regulation) we live by in contracting are ignored there is a trickle-down effect that negatively impacts the entire contracting process."