Acquisition reform generally happens at echelons above reality for most of the Defense Acquisition Workforce. Successful reform is evident only when it begins to take root at levels below the contracting support brigade or below wing-level contracting. One of the most effective of these initiatives is the use of contracting vehicles to support multiple service component contracting offices. This integration can provide quick wins in terms of manpower and cost reduction.
However, the process is not as straightforward or as simple as it might seem. There are challenges to overcome and solutions to work out in implementing the necessary systems and processes, as the Army's Regional Contracting Command -- Qatar (RCC-QA), a subordinate element of the 408th Contracting Support Brigade, and the Air Force's 379th Expeditionary Contracting Squadron (ECONS) experienced in working together to support construction efforts in Qatar.
COMPETING FOR VENDORS
Since the announcement that Qatar would host the 2022 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, construction efforts across the country have exploded. High-dollar construction projects associated with the tournament have drawn the larger firms away from minor construction on Camp As Sayliyah and Al Udeid Air Base, the two installations in Qatar for U.S. military operations. Because the military-specific projects must be below the military construction threshold of $1 million, fewer vendors are interested in them than in the multimillion-dollar projects to support the World Cup.
With the smaller number of vendors to meet continued mission requirements, the Air Force and Army contracting activities were looking to streamline the award process by establishing a multiple-award construction contract or multiple-award task order contract. These contract vehicles would allow the contracting offices to lock in a vendor base and ensure that they would be able to satisfy the requirements of their customers. Both agencies released requests for proposals and quickly realized that if they did not work together, the Army and Air Force would be competing for a relatively small subset of vendors that would be interested in these lower-dollar projects.
PINPOINTING THE PROBLEM
During the first week of May 2016, while the Army and Air Force organizations were developing their independent contract vehicles, a joint contracting support board (JCSB) was being established in Qatar. Joint Publication 4-10, Operational Contract Support, identifies the JCSB as "the primary JFC [joint force commander] mechanism to coordinate and deconflict contracting actions within a designated operational area."
It was during the initial JCSB that the U.S. Central Command operational contract support integration cell (OCSIC) discovered the duplication of effort. The OCSIC is the lead agency within the combatant command that is responsible for integrating and synchronizing operational contract support. The contracting activities discussed the best resolution and decided that the 408th Contracting Support Brigade would continue with the award of a contract vehicle that could support both organizations.
Both commanders recognized that this was an opportunity to work together and gain efficiencies. Under the system that existed prior to this collaboration, each office was responsible for its own construction contract vehicle. By using a joint contract vehicle supporting both organizations, the commanders had the flexibility to prioritize other, nonconstruction requirements from their customers and focus on new strategic contracts to support the command.
Initial discussions between the two staffs raised several concerns:
A lack of a common contract writing system between the services in Qatar. In theater, the Army used (and still uses) Procurement Defense Desktop (PD2) as the primary means of writing and awarding contracts. The Air Force, although trained on PD2 stateside, uses oContrax as its contract writing system in theater. Though the two systems have similar objectives, they lack a common system architecture that would allow them to communicate with each other.
A major difference between the organizations in accepting and invoicing procedures. The Army relies on the Wide Area Workflow (WAWF) suite of applications, while the Air Force uses a manual invoice process through Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. Because invoicing instructions are included in the contract clauses, identifying the procedures that vendors will use is vital to ensure timely processing of payments.
The need for a method whereby each organization can track the actions it has awarded. The contracting activities base their manning decisions in part on the number and complexity of actions that a contracting office has awarded. Thus, each organization must be able to account for the workload involved in awarding and administering contracts.
The seemingly simple solution--to grant the 379th ECONS access to the existing RCC-QA structures within Procurement Defense Desktop--proved to be more challenging than expected. Although they were already trained in the use of PD2, granting the Air Force personnel access to Army systems required sponsoring them in Army Knowledge Online and filling out multiple system access requests. The processing times for these requests varied, but the distances between system administrators in the continental U.S. and the end users in theater only made the waits longer. The significant time differences often meant lost days between submission of requests and actions taken.
The next hurdle was a longer-than-expected wait for the network communications team to verify the acceptability of the Citrix software used by the Army and install it on the Air Force users' computers. Because of the obvious need for information security, this process took approximately six weeks longer than expected.
Similarly, the two services lack a common procedure for acceptance and invoicing. The immediate solution was to include a local clause that Air Force-awarded task orders required submission of invoices manually through established Air Force procedures and that Army-awarded task orders would use WAWF. Issuing multiple sets of instructions for the same payment process, however, runs counter to the very efficiencies that the services have been trying to create.
The collaboration between an Army regional contracting command and an Air Force contracting squadron is a small step in realizing the goal of operational contract support: that different agencies work together to enable the combatant commander to fulfill the mission. While great strides can be made at the tactical level to increase communication and cooperation, the larger acquisition community must take concrete steps at the joint level to advance this goal.
The adoption of a common contract writing system and vendor payment method would allow for a single pool of system administrators and provide more effective theaterwide support.
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This article will be printed in the October -- December 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.