A contracting officer with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville received the 2016 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Excellence in Contracting Awards Program Procurement Contracting Officer of the Year Award.

Alan Fearns, contracting officer with the Center's Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC) team, took the award that recognized his assistance with the revision of the ESPC procurement process.

Fearns, from Crystal City, Florida, has been a contracting officer at the Center for five years.

The $300 million ESPC program helps the nation meet its energy savings requirements by partnering military installations with energy service contractors (ESCOs) who provide the capital and expertise to make comprehensive energy and water efficiency improvements on facilities or implement new renewable energy capabilities and maintain them in exchange for a portion of the generated savings.

Fearns' award is based on his close collaboration with multi-functional teams and facilitating information sharing that bridged gaps between operational technology and information technology, both used in energy systems.

Fearns discovered how to create competition in a market of proprietary cybersecurity products. Because of Fearns' work, Huntsville Center awarded its first ESPC task order meeting all Department of Defense cybersecurity milestones while establishing a benchmark for how to reduce risk and increase savings for up to 25 years.
Adam Sunstrom, Energy Division Contracting Support Branch chief and Fearns' supervisor, said Fearns' acquisition knowledge and leadership epitomized the role of the contracting officer as a business adviser.

"Alan's inspiring, energetic leadership within the EPSC project development team drove several improvements of lasting impact," Sunstrom said. "The most innovative and notable improvement was the award of USACE's first ESPC task order that fully implements Department of Defense's Risk Management Framework (RMF)."

In 2014, the DOD released an instruction regarding risk management for information technology. In 2015, Fearns began meeting with Huntsville Center's program managers and subject matter experts (SMEs) to see how to meet the DOD Instruction mandating industrial control systems (ICS) meet the cybersecurity risk management framework.

"A steep challenge for us were concerns that RMF's costs would prevent ESPC projects from being paid through energy savings or 'cash-flowing'; and yet compliance still had to be met," Fearns said.

Shortly after joining ESPC in November 2015, Fearns met with Tonnie Drummond, Engineering Directorate information technology (IT) network engineer. Drummond's job focuses on integrating legacy IT systems with new IT systems while reviewing system functionality and promoting defense-in-depth, an information assurance (IA) concept in which multiple layers of security controls (defense) are placed throughout an IT system.

"Tonnie made me more aware of security threats and introduced me to subject matter experts in several fields supporting the Energy Division," Fearns said. "Our team began researching the situation and soon found controls systems to increase energy savings via equipment micro-adjustments and diagnostics; however, these systems still did not pay for themselves and more value was needed."

Fearns said a breakthrough came when SMEs speaking directly with industry learned of two manufacturers that were in the process of completing open-protocol ICS, which could enable competitive sourcing.

The final major breakthrough occurred when Fearns conveyed the vision of Huntsville Center's Energy Division to the ESCOs with a keen interest in seeing the ESCOs' performing well in future competitions.

"ESCOs are becoming much more willing to demonstrate how their non-proprietary, lower-cost ICSs will meet RMF compliance standards. By working through program leadership, and then guiding ESCOs to understand the procurement process used to implement the Energy Program's goals, manufacturers began responding with standardized cybersecurity solutions," Fearns said.

"This fantastic combination improves energy grid security, reduces procurement costs through full and open competition, and improves energy use diagnostics to extract all possible energy savings."
Fearns said he is very grateful to receive the recognition the USACE award brings, but is quick to recognize it took a team to find solutions including leadership and support from his branch chief (Sunstrom).

"I feel that Huntsville Center's Energy Program is being recognized for its benefit to our nation -- and that's exciting," Fearns said.

"Thanks to my branch chief (Sunstrom) and Tonnie Drummond, as well as ESPC's program manager Jason Bray, ESPC project manager Priya Stiller, Office of Counsel's Kay Sommerkamp and Engineering Directorate's Bruce Forsberg and Bob Zendler, Huntsville Center can procure better energy solutions for its customers."