By Jack Cunnane, 419th Contracting Support BrigadeOctober 1, 2015
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina (Oct. 1, 2015) -- Creative thinking and innovative business practices are what it takes to do more with less. The Army Contracting Command has been employing contracting support elements, or CSEs, since it stood up in 2008. Elements are made up of teams of seasoned contracting professionals responsible for bridging the gap between customers at requiring activities and their supporting contracting organizations.
When Col. Carol Tschida, the 419th Contracting Support Brigade commander, established the brigade's contracting support element to support Mission and Installation Contracting Command operations within the Military District of Washington, she added assisting the local contracting office with contract oversight to its list of duties and responsibilities.
The 419th CSB's MDW contracting mission, led by the MICC-Fort Belvoir contracting office in Virginia, is immense -- supporting seven geographically dispersed Installation Management Command installations, numerous tenant activities, Arlington National Cemetery, and Headquarters MDW. The contract oversight mission across this geographically dispersed footprint is equally extensive and challenging with the responsibility for riding herd on more than 300 contracting officer representatives and approximately 200 service and minor construction contracts requiring monthly contractor surveillance reporting.
In this era of limited and declining resources, unpredictable funding, changing requirements and increasing emphasis on oversight, doing more with less requires creative thinking and innovation. The contracting support element brings three initiatives to the table that fall under that umbrella and are scoring high marks with the command and customers -- the contracting officer representative communications plan, performance scorecard and smartcard.
Effective COR communications plans
Contacting officers and specialists directly engaging and communicating with contracting officer representatives, or CORs, to ensure monthly contractor surveillance reports are completed and filed every month is effective, but it is also extremely time consuming and requires constant monitoring. In an effort to reduce this time commitment and administrative burden on the contracting team, the CSE developed a communications plan designed to provide MICC-Fort Belvoir's COR population continuous prompting and reminders on the importance of their role as CORs and the status of completing and uploading surveillance reports for their assigned contracts. The communications plan does not replace ongoing dialogue between contracting officers, contracting specialists, quality assurance specialists and their appointed CORs, but rather compliments it.
MICC-Fort Belvoir commander, Lt. Col. Jonathan Patrick, explains "if we can save a contracting officer or contracting specialist a few minutes each day, that's time that can be spent on other pressing matters."
The intent is simple in design -- provide broadcast correspondence to the primary COR population and supervisors thereby reducing the need for individual follow-up by the contracting team. The communications plan consists of three recurring, scheduled broadcast email notifications, varying slightly in targeted audience and message.
When managing hundreds of CORs in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment, maintaining an accurate and comprehensive email distribution list is challenging. To simplify executing the communications plan, the CSE leverages a modified version of the ACC headquarters-generated MICC Monthly Surveillance Report summary report created by Bob Burns, an ACC quality assurance specialist. The modified report supports the CSE's COR performance scorecard initiative, but it is also an excellent tool for maintaining an accurate and updated email distribution list. Both the primary and modified versions of the MICC Monthly Surveillance Report draw COR profile data from the Virtual Contracting Enterprise-Contracting Officer's Representative management module and allow manipulating the data via pivot tables, the latter providing access to email addresses. COR and COR supervisors' email addresses can be easily copied from the pivot tables and used to prepare notification emails. The pivot tables also facilitate easy sorting of data to establish the desired target audience email distribution lists, e.g., all assigned primary CORs, only CORs with outstanding MSRs due for the current month, and COR supervisors for either combination. Because these MICC MSRs are generated frequently, establishing tailored, targeted email distribution lists for CORs with outstanding and delinquent MSRs is quick and easy. But, effective communications is just the beginning.
COR performance scorecard
Working hand-in-hand with the communications plan is the COR performance scorecard, a CSE developed initiative, engineered by Burns and managed by Venancio Biela and Kathy Manokey, MICC-Fort Belvoir quality assurance specialists. The scorecard graphically depicts the performance completion by CORs of uploading required monthly contractor surveillance reports for the requiring activity's service and minor construction contracts to which CORs are appointed. COR reporting performance is reflected as on-time, late or no report filed with data provided over a rolling seven-month period. The intent of the COR performance scorecard is to jump-start and encourage customer leadership involvement in their CORs' contractor surveillance mission. By all measures, the scorecard concept appears to be hitting the mark -- customer leadership and COR supervisor comments and feedback are unanimously positive, and the scorecard is recognized as a simple and effective tool to fix accountability and track COR performance.
Bottom line: the results speak for themselves. The communications plan and COR performance scorecard were implemented at MICC-Fort Belvoir in January 2015, and the organization's performance against MICC Contracting Operations Metrics has trended "Green" every month since inception, closing the second and third quarters of fiscal 2015 at 92 percent and 94 percent, respectively. This positive trend represents a significant performance increase from the previous several quarters that reported in at 69 percent for the first quarter of fiscal 2015, 34 percent for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014 and 23 percent for the third quarter of fiscal 2014.
The MICC Contracting Operations Metrics is an interactive measurement initiative that increases the command's collective focus and discipline and improves the organization's performance in 18 specific operational contracting areas. Aimed at stimulating and empowering contracting offices to perform more efficiently, the program provides end-to-end performance measures, from awarding contracts to small business to decreasing its backlog of overaged contract closeouts. By placing accountability with contracting offices and their leaders, contracting brigades and their commanders, and headquarters champions and staff elements responsible for the subject area, MICC Contracting Operations Metrics are helping to drive command behaviors to improve customer integration, contracting execution, policy and oversight, and small business programs.
Scorecards are generated for requiring activities with service or minor construction contracts with CORs appointed. The data provided on the scorecard is limited and tailored specifically to the target audience -- customer leadership -- and is designed to provide a straightforward and easy-to-understand status and assessment of the organizations' contractor surveillance program. The data provided on the scorecard consists of the contract number, contract description based on product or service code, the name of the COR and COR supervisor, the COR's organization, directorate and office symbol, and a rolling seven-month history of COR reporting. This reporting history is depicted by color code to reflect status. "Green" is assigned to reports uploaded on or before the monthly cutoff date. "Amber" reflects reports uploaded into VCE-COR after the due date, and "Red" indicates no report is filed. Monthly surveillance reports are required to be uploaded in VCE-COR by the 15th of each month following the monthly report period, and upload dates are annotated on the scorecard for each instance of reporting. Scorecard data is dynamic and updated daily. For example, if the monthly surveillance report is not uploaded on or before the 15th of the month, the reporting history is recorded as "Red." If the report is subsequently uploaded on or after the 16th of the month, the scorecard will update the reporting history to "Amber," accordingly. A late report cannot achieve a "Green" rating.
The engineering, mechanics and functionality behind the COR performance scorecard is due to the effort and expertise of Burns. Presented with the scorecard concept, Burns was instrumental in making it reality and has shepherded this grass roots initiative to a point where the COR performance scorecards are automatically generated and distributed daily with real-time data. Beginning with the Excel-workbook based MICC MSR, which draws data from VCE-COR and Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, Burns modified the report to contain several additional data fields including a COR's parent organization, COR supervisors and COR and supervisor email addresses, product or service code, and, most importantly, the dates monthly surveillance reports were uploaded into VCE-COR. Based on the COR's parent organization, as reported in VCE-COR, individual workbooks are established for each requiring activity with its respective population of service and minor construction contracts. Conditional formatting is applied to date fields to generate the color coded status of on-time, late or not reported. Each requiring activity has a spreadsheet that is linked through SharePoint to a PowerPoint template that updates with the latest data available when executed. Scorecards are automatically distributed by email to the contracting office when updated and are also accessible via SharePoint.
The scorecard has achieved the desired intent and more, but the process is not perfect. Customer leadership and supervisors are using the scorecard, and feedback is very positive. In fact, as the COR performance scorecard concept gains more attention, other organizations across ACC are adopting the same or similar strategies.
There are also a few unanticipated positive benefits that surfaced with use of the scorecard. First, CORs are motivated to complete older reports that were never uploaded in VCE-COR. Seeing "Red" next to their names on the scorecard is providing incentive to upload outstanding reports. Second, accuracy of data in VCE-COR has improved. Much of the data behind and reflected on the scorecard is derived from the COR profile portion of VCE-COR. The scorecard highlights data inconsistencies, such as incorrect supervisors or organization alignment, and facilitates immediate corrective actions. Third, groundwork is set for a COR recognition program.
Despite initial success, there is always room for improvement. When reporting individual performance there is tremendous pressure to ensure the data reported is administratively accurate, and with all systems based on human source data input, there will be challenges with data integrity. Several inconsistencies have been encountered since deploying the scorecard in January, but there's goodness here as well. Each instance where data inconsistency or an error is uncovered and corrected improves the overall data integrity of procurement information systems. The COR performance scorecard's future is bright. As the Army prepares to transition from the VCE-COR to the Department of Defense Contracting Officer Representative Tracking Tool, all indications are that the scorecard's functionality will be unaffected.
COR graphic training aid
Communicating with CORs and their supervisors while tracking and reporting compliance and performance are necessary activities. Helping requiring activities understand the importance of contract administration and quality assurance is critical in sustaining a long-term, effective surveillance program. To help MICC-Fort Belvoir's customer base understand and retain key concepts and information, the CSE developed the COR smartcard - a graphic training aid targeted for use by CORs and their supervisors. The purpose of the COR smartcard is to provide CORs and their supervisors with a quick reference tool highlighting COR and quality-assurance-related processes, guidance, responsibilities and information. Information provided on the COR smartcard includes a graphic representation of the COR's duties and responsibilities throughout the contract lifecycle, supervisors' tips for success, stakeholder responsibilities, training requirements, key references, an acronyms list and points of contact. The 5-inch-by-8-inch COR smartcard is printed on card stock and laminated for durability -- the perfect size for a desktop or notebook reference.
The COR smartcard only has recently been debuted in local quality assurance training classes, but it is receiving positive and encouraging feedback as an effective training and reference tool. Biela presented and distributed the COR smartcard at a recent quality assurance training session for MDW Headquarters primary staff and directors, and both Biela and Manokey are distributing the smartcard at monthly MICC-enhanced COR training classes. Finding the tool useful in a contingency environment, the MICC-Fort Belvoir contingency contracting team supporting the National Training Center Rotation 15-09 in July 2015 modified the information to include their team points of contact and distributed the smartcard to its supported brigade.
Doing more with less requires creative thinking and innovation … and teamwork. Implementing effective new tools and processes requires collaboration across organizational boundaries and partnering in the continuous improvement process to provide and sustain the best possible contracting support. The three initiatives introduced by the CSE -- the COR communications plan, performance scorecard and smartcard -- do far more than improve a metric score. These creative processes help provide stronger contractor surveillance, improved contract oversight, and ultimately, better stewardship of American taxpayer dollars.
Editor's note: Jack Cunnane is the contracting support element lead for the 419th Contracting Support Brigade at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.