By Daniel P. Elkins, Mission and Installation Contracting Command Public Affairs OfficeSeptember 23, 2019
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Sept. 23, 2019) -- A growing reliance on contracted good and services combined with the government's need to meet urgent mission requirements during contingency or joint operations often present challenges in the sometimes drawn-out acquisition process.
Helping ease that administrative burden are members of the 902nd Contracting Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, who provide continuous field ordering officer support for U.S. forces operating outside the United States. The field ordering officer program allows individuals designated by a commander to possess a contracting officer's delegated authority in accordance with federal regulations to obligate funds on behalf of the government for micro-purchases.
Sgt. 1st Class Justino Surla, the 625th Contracting Team NCO in charge, manages the program for the battalion in support of tenant special operations forces in Bangladesh, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.
"The main difference between a field ordering officer and contingency contracting officer is their buying power being capped at the single purchase limit, depending on where their mission is and if operating in a named contingency," Surla said, adding that the highest single purchase limit is $30,000 in contingency operations outside the continental United States.
More than 100 contract actions have been executed through the field ordering officer program valued at approximately $38,000 this fiscal year. And although the number of actions and dollars may appear insignificant, the resulting outcomes allow the Army's special forces to perform key missions effectively and efficiently.
"The field ordering officer program is typically extended to military forces that are operating in unknown commercial environments where responsiveness is essential to mission accomplishment," Surla said. "Their mission durations and locations place them outside of the typical Army resupply chains. In order for these units to acquire the supplies and services they need, field ordering officers provide their commands the ability to quickly make local purchases for mission-essential requirements."
The 902nd CBN is the only Mission and Installation Contracting Command battalion providing continuous support due to the fact that many of its mission partners have a persistent and reoccurring operational presence in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of operations, according to Maj. Tom Cayia, the rear detachment commander. Thirteen field ordering officers are presently supporting missions by the 1st Special Forces Group and U.S. Army 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
"This is just one way that the 902nd CBN supports strategic power projection efforts originating from Joint Base Lewis-McChord," Surla added.
The types of commodities and services acquired vary based on conditions and the areas in which the field ordering officers operate but most often include construction materials such as lumber, gravel and steel; small arms range targetry; fencing; furniture and gym equipment; fuel; office and cleaning supplies; and mobile communications devices. Additional services include certification training and base life support services.
Prior to making such purchases on behalf of the government, field ordering officers must accomplish general awareness training as well as specific instruction to include an overview of acquisition ethics through the Defense Acquisition University and combating trafficking in persons because of environments in which they may be operating. They also receive a block of instruction from the 902nd CBN that outlines the duties for executing and documenting purchases.
These quick-turn contracts are captured on a Standard Form 44, Purchase Order-Invoice-Voucher, designed to serve multiple purposes for on-the-spot purchases of supplies and services. Intended to be more streamlined, procedures for issuing an SF-44 are outlined in general instructions on the form that is absent of clauses. Field ordering officers work as a team with paying agents, necessitating increased security depending on the environment. Paying agents are responsible for disbursing specific payments to vendors.
As program manager, Surla is granted the authority to approve purchases based on the policies established by the organization's governing Field Ordering Officer Standard Operating Procedure. He added that a restricted purchase list is developed to ensure items that require a higher level of control have stricter levels of approval in order to procure.
"This glide path for approval typically requires only the commander's and program manager's agreement that the items are mission essential and do not violate any regulations," Surla said.
Adding to the complexities of such purchases are the execution of transactions in foreign currencies, managing a declining balance with fluctuating exchange rates, and turnover of personnel necessitating frequent training by MICC contracting officers.
"In order to mitigate these challenges, our office strives to establish consistent communication between ourselves and the unit," Surla said. "We develop these close relationships with the supporting organization, provide periodic refresher training and execute ongoing program administration to ensure all files are up-to-date and information is current."
The efforts by the 902nd CBN in support of special operations missions reinforce the Army's commitment to maximize the value of every dollar, operate transparently and wisely use the resources to which it is entrusted.
About the MICC:
Headquartered at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, the Mission and Installation Contracting Command consists of about 1,500 military and civilian members who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of Soldiers as well as readying trained contracting units for the operating force and contingency environment when called upon. MICC contracts are vital in feeding more than 200,000 Soldiers every day, providing many daily base operations support services at installations, facilitate training in the preparation of more than 100,000 conventional force members annually, training more than 500,000 students each year, and maintaining more than 14.4 million acres of land and 170,000 structures.