Army Ombudsman Makes Difference With Industry
July 6, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--With 27 years of experience related to Army acquisition and business management, Randy Richardson was an easy pick back in 2004 for the Aviation and Missile Command’s ombudsman position.
Since then, Richardson, who actually wrote the guidelines for the ombudsman’s responsibilities in the late 1980s, has been helping AMCOM’s industry partners understand the ins and outs of Army contracting.
The job can often seem daunting; with Richardson working long hours to answer industry questions, address contracting issues, and keep the communication lines open between AMCOM and industry partners.
But if the job’s done right, it can be very rewarding.
“It’s about talking with industry about what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s not working,” Richardson said. “The mission is to communicate with industry, and to make sure industry knows what we’re doing and how they can help us support Soldiers.
“Open dialogue is real important because industry is our partner. The Army team is Soldiers, civilians and contractors. It’s a team effort. It’s important to make sure we keep that communication with industry open so each of us understands how to support the Soldier better. It’s a great opportunity to be the AMCOM ombudsman. This job gave me an opportunity to make a difference.”
But as of July 1, Richardson is no longer one of the few ombudsmen in the Army. He has retired to join his wife, Ellen, who is also retiring as a contract specialist with the Lower Tier Project Office, Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, in a new chapter of their lives. With their three children grown, the couple are considering some new options and perhaps a slower pace of life.
“Together, we’ve had 67 or 68 years combined federal service,” Richardson said. “We both have an opportunity to retire, so it just seemed like the right time. We’ve loved our jobs, and working for the best Army in the world and the best Army team. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Richardson grew up in Redstone Arsenal’s acquisition community. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, he had set his sights on a promising career in retail when the Army came calling. He had scored high on the Professional Administrative Career Examination, a standard civil service test given at the university, and Redstone Arsenal was interested.
“Back then, if they had an opening that fit you, they would call you,” Richardson said. “I was contacted by Roland Volk (a government employee well-known for recruiting college graduates for the Army). It’s kind of ironic because 20 years later he was helping me find interns to hire. He helped with 300 to 400 interns that came into acquisition here.”
It was a cold day in January 1977 when Richardson reported to work at Redstone Arsenal.
“I saw the job as an opportunity to learn something,” he said of his position as an acquisition intern. “The third year of my internship, I got to work for the chief of the contracting office. Then his deputy got deployed, and I got to do a lot that gave me great insight into what happens in the contracting world.”
At the time, Redstone’s mission was focused on missiles with missile programs divided under two Army commands -- the Readiness Command, and the Research and Development Command " that reported to the Army Materiel Development and Readiness Command. Richardson was part of the team that consolidated the two subordinate commands in 1979 into the Missile Command.
In every challenge he was presented, Richardson was in a position to learn a lot about how the government does business.
“I bought spares, TOW systems and the first laser site for a TOW missile to go on a Cobra helicopter,” Richardson recalled.
“I ran the team that bought Pershing spares, and we were redesigning and deploying Pershings to Germany all at the same time. The Pershing helped to dissolve the Soviet Union. It was such a tremendous weapon system and Russians wanted them gone from Europe.”
When he wasn’t negotiating and writing contracts, Richardson was working in business analysis, helping to report on budget resources, overseeing manpower functions and working toward automation in the work force.
“I was involved in the Business Management Function, helping to move us to a paperless contracting environment, hiring interns, and taking apart a work force and putting it back together again” with the merging of the Missile Command and the Aviation and Troop Command in St. Louis.
At the time, in 1997 during the Reagan-Bush era, there were more than 900 employees working in missile contracting at Redstone and about 600 working in contracting at the Aviation and Troop Command. With Base Realignment and Closure recommendations, those two organizations were consolidated and the contracting work force had to be reduced to 700.
“We were involved in a major restructuring of the Army, and in the middle of that we were fighting Desert Storm,” Richardson said. “We got the aviation and missile commands consolidated, but we didn’t have much time to get back on track before 9/11.
“Since then, there has been such a demand all over for people who can do federal contracting. We spend almost $30 billion in federal contracting in North Alabama (for all of Team Redstone). By itself, AMCOM has about $20 billion of that. There’s a tremendous demand for the contracting skill.”
Richardson served as AMCOM’s second ombudsman, following after John Vickers. No matter who holds the job, they are given the privilege and responsibility of representing AMCOM’s commanding general to industry.
“We are part of the command group and the commanding general’s voice to industry,” he said. “At the time we created this position, there wasn’t a lot of communication between industry and contractors. The government tended to keep their contractors an arm’s length away.
“But as the commander’s voice, I’ve spoken with industry on behalf of two aviator commanding generals " (then) Maj. Gen. Jim Pillsbury and Maj. Gen. Jim Myles " who understood the 24/7 mission. They knew what the fight was all about and the mission we had to do. Now, with Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, he understands what the Army and AMCOM need to do to bring down the size, and to become more efficient and effective.”
AMCOM does business with more than 3,000 contractors annually. Richardson said he has meetings with 100 to 200 of those contractors each year, and often represents AMCOM at business conferences.
“The commanding generals and their deputies have allowed me to use my skills to keep communication open with industry,” Richardson said. “I’ve been able to put his voice out in the contracting community without interfering in the commanding generals’ and the deputies’ abilities to run the command and support Soldiers.”
Even with an open door policy, Richardson said there is a growing concern among industry about how the federal government is doing business. The last 18 months have been busier than ever for the AMCOM ombudsman’s office.
“The economy is so tough, every single contract we issue means jobs, and sometimes those contracts mean whether a company succeeds or not,” he said. “It’s a lot more intense as unemployment has gone up and contracts have gone down.
“The answers we give industry may not always be what they want to hear. But, hopefully, we can give them an answer to their questions and keep communication lines open. We want to make sure they understand the Army’s decisions so that we can all be good at supporting Soldiers.”
And hopefully, that communication will reduce the number of contracting protests filed by industry.
“Protests across the government have been higher in the last couple years because every contract means jobs,” Richardson said.
With a long Redstone Arsenal career behind them, Richardson and his wife are looking forward to making future plans, which include continuing to live in Madison.
“It’s time for us to do something else,” he said. “I don’t know what, but I want to use what I know to help industry support Soldiers. When you’ve been part of the Army this long it becomes part of your life. Supporting Soldiers is not just something you talk about. It’s something you believe in.”