ERBIL, Iraq (Jan. 3, 2020) -- As the face of the U.S. government for companies in the contingency environment, contracting professionals place an emphasis on building host nation relationships with vendors. Establishing and maintaining vendor relationships is crucial to customer service, cost efficiency, quality and market development.

Members of the Regional Contracting Office in Erbil, Iraq, conduct vendor engagements to support Operation Inherent Resolve in northern Iraq and Syria. Prior to 648th Contracting Team's deployment to Iraq, the vendor pool from which the U.S. government solicited contract support was small and limited in services and supplies. Upon arrival, Soldiers from the 648th CT expanded the vendor list and increased the quality of the vendor base by learning the unique rules for the area of operation and educating the local vendors on the requirements to conduct business with the American government.

Challenge
During the first month in theater, the 648th CT experienced breaks in services and delayed deliveries due to security requirements throughout the area of operation. To determine the reason for the delays, RCO-Erbil conducted a detailed analysis on the root cause of local contractors' inability to meet the terms of contracts. The conclusion was two-fold: the vendor pool was restricted by local authorities, and local contractors lacked the appropriate knowledge to effectively use the Joint Contingency Contracting System, or JCCS.

Soldiers from the contracting team began to educate themselves on the relationship and culture of the operational environment as well as JCCS and its required use in theater. The team learned that airport security, called Asayish, controlled all access control points for the Erbil International Airport. Unlike other locations in theater, the Asayish managed the vendor list for logistical support areas in its footprint, limiting the number of contractors from which RCO-Erbil could solicit. The 648th CT also learned that the U.S. Central Command policy that governs vendor usage in contingency operations required vendors to recertify their status in JCCS biennially. The policy mandated that contracting officers use JCCS-approved vendors for all requirements more than $50,000.

The combination of the Asayish controlling vendor access to bases and restrictions of the CENTCOM vendor policy led to significant challenges for RCO-Erbil. For instance, though the Erbil International Airport-approved list consisted of 89 vendors approved by the Asayish, only 10 contractors met the requirements stipulated in the CENTCOM policy. Thirty-four vendors had expired in JCCS, 31 accounts were cancelled due to the lack of progress, and 24 were never enrolled.

Solution
To clean up and build the vendor list, RCO-Erbil members developed better relations with the Asayish leadership. The team conducted reoccurring meetings to better understand the security forces' vendor selection process and maintain open communication on changes to the approved list. Additionally, 648th CT Soldiers revamped the existing vendor engagement process and developed a program that focused on the importance of JCCS enrollment as it relates to new and cancelled vendors, system familiarity, and step-by-step vendor registration. By October 2019, more than 60 vendors had participated in the JCCS-tailored vendor engagement program at Erbil Air Base. The vendor list contained 31 approved vendors with an additional eight vendors in the vetting process. The JCCS-tailored vendor engagements allowed RCO-Erbil to increase competition and enabled the regional contracting office to rotate vendors according to the complexity of requirements.

Sustainment
To improve upon RCO-Erbil's vendor engagement program, contracting teams could implement a similar process in Syria. In September 2019, the Syrian Defense Forces began to further restrict vendor access to bases located in Syria in an effort to increase security. SDF considered Iraq contractors to be a security risk for their community and delayed contracted vendors for days to conduct their own internal vetting. In addition, SDF had concerns about Iraqi contractors monopolizing the business in Syria, preventing local businesses from thriving. Upon redeployment, 648th CT passed along a tentative plan to combat further vendor delays. The contracting team recommended that RCO-Erbil conduct battle field circulations and video telecommunications to train the trainers on JCCS enrollment in austere locations. The 648th CT also created a train-the-trainer education package to enable logistic elements on the ground to educate local contractors on conducting business with the U.S. government. The education of local units and contractors will build the Syrian vendor pool and help stimulate the local Syrian economy. The increased vendor pool will ideally reduce delayed supply deliveries and eliminate breaks in service.