ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - Government and small business leaders from across the country gathered at the National Defense Industrial Association's Midwest Small Business Government Contracting Symposium and the Rock Island Center of Excellence Advanced Planning Briefing to Industry, held May 7-8 in, Moline, Illinois.

This year's symposium focused largely on how the Army is changing to adapt to force reductions, restructuring, budget cuts and ever-changing needs. Army leaders also briefed industry on how they can identify the Army's needs and alter their business plans in order to align with those needs.

Army Contracting Command was represented by Michael R. Hutchison, deputy to the ACC commanding general, and Melanie A. Johnson, executive director, ACC-Rock Island. Hutchison provided an overview briefing about ACC, while Johnson updated industry on Enhanced Army Global Logistics Enterprise contracting and led a session outlining some of ACC-RI's current and upcoming requirements. Hutchison and Johnson also took part in a senior leader panel..

Hutchison and Johnson shared ACC's myriad challenges of balancing budgetary restraints, insufficient staffing levels, an inexperienced workforce, additional workload assigned to the command and continuous policy changes.

Despite the challenges, Hutchison and Johnson see several areas of opportunity that industry can assist the government with in order to foster a more streamlined and effective contracting environment, including simple day-to-day business practices.

Hutchison said the biggest challenge facing ACC is staffing levels and the pressure to obligate money. He asked that industry help government contracting by fully understanding requirements, not performing any work beyond those requirements, and submitting complete information in a timely manner, to include invoices.

"We need you to submit your invoices in a timely manner," said Hutchison. "The DOD is pulling dollars back from the Army because we are not getting them on contract fast enough, but they are also pulling back dollars because we are not disbursing money fast enough. Invoicing is key to disbursement."

Johnson stressed the importance of feedback, both constructive feedback that can be used to enhance processes, as well as positive feedback about processes that are working well. She also discussed improving open communication, particularly between contracting officers and contractors.

"I think it would be good to develop some ground rules outlining the things that we can talk about and when, and also the things we can't talk about and why we can't discuss them, so that there's not a perception of there being any secrets," said Johnson.

ACC leaders were joined by several other Army leaders during the symposium, including John Nerger, executive deputy to the commanding general, U.S. Army Materiel Command. During his keynote speech, Nerger discussed the importance of an industrial base that can adapt and transform itself to meet the shifting needs of the government.

He said that industry's continued partnership and adaptation is critical for two very important reasons. First, the reliance on having the most advanced, effective, and efficient capabilities will increase as budgets decline; active duty and reserve strengths decrease; and the U.S. military's global footprint changes. Second, Nerger said the development and proliferation of more advanced military technologies by other nations has ushered in an age in which American domination can no longer be taken for granted.

"These two facts make the industrial base one of the most important elements, maybe the most important element, of our national security," said Nerger. "The United States Army can recruit the best force, but we are depending on (industry) to help sustain and maintain the best force. There remain great opportunities and a need for your services as we move forward."