By Susan FollettJune 13, 2017
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Mission and Installation Contracting Command -- Fort Lee, Virginia
TITLE: Quality assurance specialist
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 10
YEARS OF SERVICE IN MILITARY: 19 (6 on active duty and 13 in the Army Reserve)
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level I in quality assurance
EDUCATION: B.A. in contract management and acquisitions, Strayer University
AWARDS: Afghanistan Campaign Medal (one campaign star); NATO Afghanistan Service Medal; Army Commendation Medal; Army Achievement Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; Army Certificate of Achievement; National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon; Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M Device
Pay attention: Shannon Western has some important information to pass along. "Those who have been doing this work for a long time let me in on a little secret: The key to longevity in this field is gratitude and patience. A lot of people have been easily shaken by the changes in budget, internal personnel structures, additional responsibilities and tougher policies. And during the course of my short career, I have personally experienced all of those challenges. But I've taken the advice I received, and I've become more knowledgeable, more trustworthy and a stronger team player."
Western, now a quality assurance specialist with the Mission and Installation Contracting Command at Fort Lee, Virginia, started her acquisition career 10 years ago. After two years on active duty, she joined the Army Reserve in 2007, changing her military occupation specialty from communication specialist to military pay noncommissioned officer (NCO). She deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, and during the course of that two-year assignment, she uncovered $3 million in incorrect billing.
"In the first five months of my deployment, I worked from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, paying invoices from blanket purchase agreement contracts that were backlogged for more than three years," she explained. "These unpaid invoices had severely impaired small businesses and caused unrest and strife with local nationals."
Western was deployed before the General Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS) was in place, she said, "and the office I worked in had seen a lot of contract specialists and other personnel who didn't understand the checks and balances system that was in place for contracting." Part of her work involved matching an obligated line of accounting to a contract, invoice and receiving report. For some of the invoices, "it appeared as if it was an accidental duplicate contract, but it was suspicious because another receiving report was generated with the duplicate contract on the same date," Western said. "In this case, invoices were erroneously generated by other service members, one in contracting and one in supply. Because we were downrange and it was before GFEBS was in place, generating an invoice was too easy: It could be written on a piece of paper, and as long as it was legible, it counted."
Western turned over her discoveries to the Criminal Investigation Division but was transferred to another location shortly afterward, and she isn't sure what came of the investigation. "I have seen supply [personnel] generate a second receiving report because the first one was supposedly lost, instead of figuring out what happened to the first report and making sure it didn't happen again," she said. "Regardless of the reasons behind it, it's careless to generate documentation out of laziness, especially with so many millions of dollars at stake. GFEBS is a more secure program, and it's unlikely there'll be many more fraudulent attempts. The program catches mistakes for us--it's similar to the difference between an online checkbook and one maintained by hand."
Stateside since 2011, Western now coordinates and monitors the Quality Assurance (QA) Program and surveillance systems for MICC-Fort Lee, providing QA support to the contracting office, contracting officer representatives (CORs) and other surveillance personnel. She also supports the organization's acquisition strategy planning, documentation review, quality management reviews, QA support and annual contract management reviews.
"We have an amazing team and great support at MICC-Fort Lee," Western said. "Our leadership at headquarters genuinely cares for our well-being; they've worked with us to help us meet our mission and demonstrate that even though we're a tiny office in Virginia, we are an asset and are treated as such."
Among the leadership at MICC is Terry Hyatt-Amabile, who Western credits as having a significant impact on her career. Now the chief of contracting operations for the MICC Field Directorate Office at Fort Eustis, Virginia, Hyatt-Amabile was formerly the director of MICC-Fort Lee. "When I was her assistant at Fort Lee, she showed me the acquisitions field from a management perspective," Western said. "Terry has been the most effective leader I've worked with, not just during my time in the acquisition work field but through 20 years of working in various positions. I continue to pass on her knowledge to others, including incoming directors and new procurement techs. It is a good feeling to be able to help beyond my career field, and it feels good to be a part of a team."
Western's favorite task "is training, mentoring and evaluating more than 120 CORs in monitoring, reviewing and executing surveillance of services provided by contractors to ensure that the goods and services they provide comply with the terms and conditions of the contracts."
She noted that the biggest challenge facing QA specialists is shifting the mindset of contracting officers (KOs), contract specialists and CORs so that they're focused on the importance of contract surveillance. "Generating a contract can be an exhausting process, but the next step--ensuring that the vendor is performing to the agreed-upon standards--is also important," she said. "Being a COR on Fort Lee is usually an additional duty. Often, personnel don't find out they have to perform in that role until after they've been nominated for it. Additionally, they often aren't given clear instruction as to what qualifications they need or what the position entails."
For Western, the COR Tracking (CORT) Tool system has been effective in overcoming that challenge. The CORT Tool provides contracting personnel and requiring activities the means to track and manage COR assignment across multiple contracts throughout DOD. Western has set up monthly workshops with an open forum setting to help familiarize users with the new software. "In addition to getting users up to speed on the system, the meetings have become a great way for me to communicate with the COR, the KO and the contract specialist," she said. "We're now all on the same sheet of music. Additionally, CORs are now helping their co-workers navigate through the software and informing them of the training requirements as a COR, so it feels like each class is multiplying my efforts."
With the advice she's received, and some things she's learned about herself along the way, Western envisions a long career in acquisition. "Over the years, I have discovered that my three strongest characteristics are integrity, loyalty and persistence, all of which create a solid acquisition specialist. I can't imagine not working as an acquisition specialist in support of our warfighters and their mission."
"Faces of the Force" is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-664-5635.