FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- The unwelcome news of the passing of a president or former president sets in motion a team of Mission and Installation Contracting Command (MICC) acquisition experts at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, who dedicate the subsequent 48 hours to the highest category of military funeral honors.

Traditionally reserved for a head of state, state funerals are conducted on behalf of those who hold or have held the office of the president or president-elect. The national tribute lasts multiple days and includes ceremonies involving armed forces honor guards and other elite units in both Washington, D.C., and the state in which the individual will be interred. Tributes may vary based on requests from the family of the deceased.

Upon notification of a death to the White House, the president officially announces the news by proclamation and then directs the DOD to conduct a state funeral for its former commander in chief.

The Secretary of Defense designates the commander of the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in charge of conducting the funeral. In turn, NORTHCOM activates the Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTFNCR) to coordinate and conduct all ceremonies related to the various observances. Among elements supporting the JTF-NCR is the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, which issues a call order for contracting support from MICC-Fort Belvoir.

Executing multiple tasks at a frenzied pace quietly behind the scenes, but upon whom the success of such a significant event hinges, is a team of about a dozen acquisition professionals led by Akefeh Lambert, chief of the contracting division at Fort Belvoir. The anticipated needs to support as many as 4,000 military and federal civilians conducting a presidential funeral are precisely defined in a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) awaiting that call order.

Arriving at the office three years ago, Lambert said she promptly familiarized herself with the contract support her office provided to the Military District of Washington. However, the subject of state funeral support took on a more immediate concern after the cancer diagnosis announced by former President Jimmy Carter last year. It was then that Lambert discovered documents critical to support a state funeral were nowhere to be found.

"We have 48 hours -- even if we're notified in the middle of the night -- to come in and do whatever we have to do," she said. "I got nervous because our presidents are getting older, and I wanted to be prepared."

The 25-year acquisition professional learned that the hard-copy documents from the last funeral were likely misplaced during the migration of records from Fort Myer, Virginia, to the Fort Belvoir contracting office about four years ago. She and a contract specialist assigned to support a state funeral immediately began putting in place a BPA and conducting market research to identify contractors capable of supporting such national honors.

The BPA in place with defined requirements is a firm-fixed-price instrument against which solesource contracts may be awarded for five years. Among the requirements under the BPA are funeral and cathedral services, motorcade vehicles, medical tents and towing services.

Market research seeking further competition is conducted annually through federal acquisition websites with any updates captured virtually in the paperless contract file.

"A BPA is put in place as a placeholder just in case it is needed. It's important because this is a final contribution to honor our head of state," Lambert said. "A contractor that is awarded this agreement must be able to meet this challenge."

The market research conducted to identify contractors capable of performing the required services on such an accelerated timeline consisted of sources provided by its supported customer, the Military District of Washington, as well as those found through additional research by a contract specialist with the issue of a sources-sought notice to small businesses.

"Even though I am elated to contribute my efforts to this event," said Denese Henson, contract specialist who supported the research, "my commitment to my customer is ensuring I provide professional support and our contracts meet their needs."

If MICC-Fort Belvoir receives two or more responses to the sources-sought notice, then the requirement is set aside for small business, said Henson. If only one response is received, a solicitation to large companies is sought.

She also said that an educational element is sometimes necessary as some potential vendors may not be familiar with federal contracting. The MICC-Fort Belvoir also provides contracting support to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, assigned to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. Old Guard elements supporting presidential funerals include marching units, the presidential salute battery and caisson. Additional regiment elements, including the commander in chief's guard and continental color guard, also support state funerals upon request.

As members of MICC-Fort Belvoir finalize the few remaining requirements under the BPA, they do so in thoughtful retrospect that when a call notice to support a presidential funeral is made, their role, although small, will endure beyond an acquisition effort and remain preserved in the nation's history.

"Presidential funerals are of national significance and are steeped in tradition and rich in history," said Lt. Col. Jonathan Patrick, commander of the MICC-Fort Belvoir contracting office. "MICC-Fort Belvoir supports the Military District of Washington with several contract actions to ensure these meticulously planned honors are executed flawlessly."

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Headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command is made up of more than 1,500 military and civilian members comprising three contracting support brigades and one field directorate responsible for contracting for Soldiers assigned stateside and in Puerto Rico. In Fiscal Year 2015, the command executed more than 36,000 contract actions valued at more than $5.2 billion across the Army, including $2.25 billion to American small businesses. The MICC is a subordinate organization of the U.S. Army Materiel Command's Army Contracting Command.