Army steps up warzone contracting oversight
February 24, 2010
By Kris Osborn
The U.S. Army has more than doubled the amount of Contracting Officers Representatives, or CORs, in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last year in an effort to improve oversight and help rebuild local communities, service officials said.
"We've spent a lot of time determining how best to get the oversight out there," said Col. Timothy Dixon, military deputy to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement.
Within the last year, the number of CORs in Iraq has jumped from a 59-percent fill rate up to a 94-percent fill rate, Dixon said. Similarly, the number of CORs in Afghanistan has more than doubled, jumping from a 38-percent fill rate in January of last year to an 80-percent fill rate by January of this year.
In short, the Army has added hundreds of CORs to the war zone to help oversee local contracting and ensure that goods and services arrive as paid for, Dixon said.
Prior to deployment, CORs must complete a thorough training process, said Lt. Col. John Coombs, Chief of Staff, Operational Contracting Support and Policy Directorate Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary.
"The Army recently issued a directive to all deploying units requiring Commanders to select and train CORs before they arrive in theater. In addition to online training on COR duties and ethics, the Expeditionary Contracting Command is proving on-site training to deploying units based on lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan," Coombs said.
The efforts are making a difference, Coombs and Dixon said.
"What we've been working on is getting more Contracting Officers Representatives identified and trained up as part of the pre-deployment process so that when they get into theater they are already ready to go. In most cases now the contracting officers in theater are able to pre-brief the CORs as they coming over with the types of contracts they are going to be dealing with," said Dixon.
For example, the CORs may have the responsibility to monitor the amounts of food, water and electrical power being delivered to a certain forward operating base to ensure the proper quantities arrive, Dixon said.
"We're doing better in Iraq but that of course is a much more mature theater. In Afghanistan we are still advancing into the base camps and expanding as part of the surge that we have had and the surge we are going to have. We are still working to get the number of CORs there higher," Dixon said.
One of the key programs in Afghanistan and Iraq that is related to these efforts is called Commanders Emergency Response Program, or CERP -- a way for local commanders to respond to urgent needs in local war zone communities by funneling money to specific projects.
"If commanders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan see a need in a local area, they have a limited amount of cash that they could use to assist in meeting that need. For example a commander coming through an area could identify a need for well. They could use CERP funds to get that well dug, or for instance, use the money to put the roof back on a school building. This program was successful in Iraq and is being expanded into Afghanistan," said Dixon.
Part of the rationale for CERP is to funnel needed reconstruction money into local projects and help stimulate combat-zone economies in need of rebuilding, Dixon said. CERP is governed by regulatory guidelines separate from those used for Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contracts.
"The money that comes through CERP is not in our standard DOD contract format; it is very limited but easy to do so that the project officer that is identified by the commander to use those funds can expend those monies to dig that well or put on that roof."
In fact, CERP officers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are given small, pocket-sized "Smart Cards" describing the benefits, limitations and rules involved in the CERP program. For instance, the CERP "Smart Cards" explain the processes and chain of command necessary to solicit bids and make an award to a vendor in theater -- all as a way to ensure proper oversight of CERP funds, indicated Coombs.
"We have mass produced those and sent those out to deployed units so they will have that as a pocket sized thing they can look at for reminders," said Dixon.
Also, U.S. Training and Doctrine Command is developing additional training materials on CERP and COR that should be out in early summer 2010, Coombs said.