Q & A with Maj. Gen. Camille Nichols
September 26, 2012
When you left ECC, did you think that you might be back at ACC as the commander?
I've been very fortunate and blessed that the advances I've been able to make in my career have gotten me to where I am. When I left the Expeditionary Contracting Command to go out to command and combat, I felt I'd go do that and come back to some staff job and that would be the end. I think it's a great testament to Mr. (Jeff) Parsons (former Army Contracting Command
executive director), Dr. (Carol) Lowman (former ACC executive director and deputy to the commanding general) and the great men and women of the ECC and ACC at the time I was here to really be as successful as I was and am honored to come back here.
What's your impression of the command?
I'm really blown away at the progress our men and women have made in this organization. I
wouldn't say we're perfect yet and we still have some growing pains to make the ACC into what I see as an extraordinary, preeminent Department of Defense organization. To get there we still have some work to do. The men and women, who are out in the front of our spear, the contracting officers on our front line, are doing incredible things. All that positive energy enables us to do the other things we need to do.
What would you say is the strength of the organization?
It really is the men and women in our contracting offices who are the foundation for getting the Army what it needs each and every day. They are our bedrock. Their commitment, their passion allows us to excel. We just need to get them some more experience to be able to make more advanced business decisions and get them the resources they need to do their jobs and more
customer involvement in the contracting process.
Where do you think there are challenges and how will they be addressed?
ACC is only four years old. When it was stood up, there were some compromises made in the structure of the ACC, ECC and Mission and Installation Contracting Command headquarters. We are still learning how the operation of an integrated headquarters is going to run. That means we need to keep looking for opportunities to leverage the organization's strengths and to realign and streamline processes as we go forward. Some of that manifests itself in the tweaking of staff directorates. From a headquarters standpoint, we're working on some of those modifications now and then we will look to see how we can make sure our contracting centers and subordinate elements are getting the things they need and that interaction from above and below are working well. So we're not making dramatic changes, we're talking about refining things that have been put in place to be a better, more efficient organization.
What's the driving factor for any organizational changes on the horizon?
The nation is still in a recession. Just like the rest of the Army and the DOD, we're dealing with the global environment as well as the economic environment we're in. That means things will have to change. Combat operations drawing down will affect the amount of resources DOD gets and that directly affects the workload we get. The interesting thing is whether you're buying one tank or a thousand tanks, there is a certain minimum level of complexity that has to get done. So when people say "well the budget is going down, therefore you don't need any more contracting people" or "maybe you need less," we say well no you don't because the contracting lifecycle has a lot of functions in it. Only some are about pre-award and getting things obligated. The post-award activities have always been a weakness in our Army and that's something we must get hard after. We need to focus on contract life cycle much more holistically. It's especially important when we do less buying that those decisions on what to buy become much more involved and much more complicated. Then after we decide what to buy, our post-award management activities are then to ensure that our government, our war fighters and our taxpayers are getting absolutely everything we are paying for, maximizing our purchasing power. Those tensions and challenges reflect, in a certain way, in our manpower and the workload that we get. So we need to be able to show our viability, show the value of the contribution our workforce brings, both military and civilian, and then work with the resource folks so that if we have to take any cuts, they are done judiciously and done with great foresight. The challenges will really come as the dramatic impact of the budget comes out.
Watching our workforce, watching our workload, making sure our people are gainfully focused on the whole life cycle management of the contract will show our contribution. We will fight to retain our resources for the good of the Army and all of our customers.
Will ACC still be able to grow or sustain its force as planned?
The civilian growth will continue until the end of fiscal year 2013 and so we are working to make sure that is positioned in our organizations. Our military growth continues. It's only one of a handful of military force structures growing in the Department of the Army right now. We are in the throes of working on the fiscal year 2014 justification for the military growth in the officer and
NCO ranks. We feel very comfortable that the story we tell is resonating within the Army staff--as did the vision of the Gansler Commission (the 2007 report on Army acquisition and program management in Expeditionary operations). The Army's involvement in global operations and missions means there is a demand for contracting. We just need to communicate what that means and how we manage that. We are working that.
Any plans to formalize mentoring programs within the 1102 career field?
Time, like a fine wine, is what it takes to mature into excellence. The problem is we don't necessarily have the all the time in the world to take our mentors and our protégés and place them in a talent management work environment where we can assign good, sophisticated, experienced contracting officers to a mentoring program. We are looking at other opportunities to do something like that. We're also looking at possibly using some information technology and avatar-type work where we are partnering with others and getting some of our true experts
in different elements of the contracting process. We are also trying to possibly capture them as avatars where we can have virtual mentors and sponsors as we work through this next few years of our aging workforce and our newbies. It's very important that as we bring new military into the career field, we ensure they have someone who can mentor and tutor them. It's a work in progress and we need to make sure that our senior folks understand that this is essential for the lifeblood of our future. We're working on that now and are excited about those opportunities. We are working on strategies to create knowledge acceleration through the use of technology tools and video recordings of our contracting experts and capturing them in key roles/interactions with contractors.
How important is it for ACC to "get it right" for the Army?
There's always that one thing. You can have years of incredible work and accomplishments and then there's that one thing that distracts from the enormous professionalism of the folks we have. It's like in the Olympics where they have the best athletes in the world. And you can have a person who misses the time of their heat and gets eliminated because of a simple mistake and then that tarnishes or taints their reputation. We have enormously talented professional people doing amazing things each and every day and we are trying to expose that to our Army and the world. Knowing a little bit about them is important so that the stigma might be not as great when there is something that isn't done quite on time or perfect. So yes, it's important that we get it right. We get it more right each and every day. It is essential that we grow an exemplary organization that is postured for the needs of the Army. We're getting after it a little bit but we're never going to stop that one person. You can't legislate ethics and morals. We will continue to do our role in proper oversight and training and snuffing out those opportunities that could possibly weaken the contracting work that we do. The image the command has as trusted, professional, competent cadre that gets the mission done must be protected.
What do you see in the future for the command?
I see us being an integral part of the Army's ability to shape and manage the resources that it gets into the best viable capability for our men and women and their families as we look to take each and every dollar and have our purchasing power be as powerful and contribute as much as possible on each buy. I think that we, as business advisers, as experts, as partners with industry, are going to be an essential part in doing that so that we can maximize each and every dollar we get to shepherd it into the right things.
What do you do in your spare time to unwind?
I like to ride my bike. I've been biking up Monte Sano Mountain here in Huntsville (Ala.) and that's quite a challenge. I also read a lot. Trying to get inculcated into the job, there's a lot of background reading and other things I need to keep up with, professional development, shaping where the Army is going, a lot of new doctrine coming out. That is my passion.
It's been great getting out a little bit to see the folks in the field. They excite and energize me. We've got some shortfalls and we still have a ways to go with communicating across the command and making sure people understand where we are going. With their incredible passion and commitment to the mission all I need to do is help get the resources and provide the guidance. We have opportunities and challenges ahead and the folks in the field really want ACC to be successful. It's a great place to be in for me personally and for the command and a future I know our Army is embracing.