By James L. Kennedy Jr. and Maj. Raven A. CorneliusJanuary 31, 2019
Congratulations, contracting officer's representative (COR)! You have arguably one of the most underappreciated but fiscally important jobs in the Army. You have limited training, little authority, no staff, and a lot of responsibility.
The odds are that your supervisors have little training or expertise in COR responsibilities. So, what should you expect from your supervisors? Honestly, supervisors should treat duties of a COR no differently than they would treat the duties of a range officer, training officer, deployment officer, or other duties of a noncommissioned officer (NCO). All of these positions are critical for enabling units to perform their operational roles and responsibilities.
Many organizations require proof that a designated COR has completed the necessary training as part of the requirements package. Your supervisor should ensure that you are trained for the job by sending you to the resident COR training or at least by having you complete the required online portion of COR training.
Training for COR duties is as important as any other training and should not be lower priority. Many bases have COR training locally or can arrange training through their local contracting support brigade or Mission Installation Contracting Command entity. This training will teach you the basics of how to do the job.
The contracting officer (KO) is not responsible for ensuring that you receive this training. Additionally, the KO will not appoint you as a COR without it. Without the training you cannot do your job.
Because your unit wants the contract to conduct the mission, your unit is responsible for ensuring you do your job as a COR. Your supervisor should also understand that training does not equal experience. You will learn a lot on the job and from others.
Supervisors should not expect perfection from their subordinates and should underwrite honest mistakes. Managing contracts and COR responsibilities are unfamiliar areas for many supervisors, and not everything is covered in training.
Always ask if you are following the correct process and coordinating with the right people. If you are asking these questions but still make a mistake, it is good learning. Just don't make the same mistake twice. When in doubt, ask your KO. He or she will happily answer questions and guide you to avoid mistakes.
Your supervisor should provide you with the following to conduct COR responsibilities: the required time to perform the duty, technical experts for assistance, and an officer or NCO with COR experience to serve as a mentor. Your supervisor should also give you the authority to conduct the job and make it your priority. All of these are important to your success.
Depending on the situation, you may need a dedicated vehicle or office space to use while talking with or observing contractors, so let your boss know what you need and what challenges may hinder your success as a COR.
Your commander should understand that you have no staff to help you with your COR responsibilities. A new platoon leader serving as range officer-in-charge will receive assistance from the platoon sergeant and a dozen NCOs in the platoon. CORs generally perform their duties alone, and most of their colleagues and subordinates lack the experience to provide assistance.
EQUAL TIME FOR COR DUTIES
Commanders should review the status of contracts and contractors during updates and staff calls just like they review other critical information affecting the unit's mission. The executive officer or deputy commander can assist by including contract-related issues as a routine agenda item.
As a COR, you have two bosses: the commander and the KO. Both have requirements and often these requirements will conflict. You may get caught between a rock and a hard place if your unit's operational requirements conflict with the Federal Acquisition Regulation.
To avoid potential problems, communicate early and often with all parties concerned, including your KO, chain of command, and the contractors performing the work. While you might be able to resolve some issues, others may require coordination between the chain of command and your supporting contracting office. Resolve what you can, but issues often will have to be raised to decision-makers, so have all the information needed for the discussion to occur between the unit and the KO.
WHAT SHOULD THE KO PROVIDE?
While the above primarily outlines what to expect from your unit commander, there are expectations you should have of the KO. The KO should provide you with a quality assurance surveillance plan that you will use to monitor contractor performance. The plan lists what the contractor is to perform on what schedule.
The KO should also identify the limits of your authority regarding the contract within your letter of appointment, provide assistance, and advice as needed. Finally, the KO should provide a written statement of your performance as the COR to your commander for your evaluation.
COR duty provides young leaders with an opportunity to grow their management skills. Treat the COR appointment as any other important duty because your boss is watching. Maybe the commander appointed you because he or she believes in your ability and wants to prepare you for greater levels of responsibility.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted pictures, or Beethoven composed music…."
So if you are given the opportunity to be a COR, take it, embrace it, learn from those who have done it, and learn from the KO and other CORs in the unit or at the installation. Build relationships with the local contracting personnel, and ask questions about your contract.
As a COR, understanding your contract is important to your unit's success. If you are not receiving the above support, ask your executive officer or deputy for help. Do not go it alone.
James L. Kennedy Jr. is a retired logistics colonel. He is currently an assistant professor teaching force management and sustainment at the Fort Belvoir, Virginia, campus of the Command and General Staff College. He holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Presbyterian College, a master's degree in logistics management from Florida Institute of Technology, a master's degree in military history from the Command and General Staff College, and a master's degree in education from George Mason University.
Maj. Raven A. Cornelius is an Army acquisition officer. She is currently a KO at the Army Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir. She holds a bachelor's degree in general studies from Fort Hays State University, an MBA in finance from Columbia Southern University, and a doctorate in business administration from Walden University.
This article is an Army Sustainment product.