A team from the Army Contracting Command-Rock Island’s Power Projection and Base Readiness Directorate has been successful in providing a nationwide COVID-19 testing solution through the Operation Expanded Testing (OpET) program. The goal of this effort was to provide testing for K-8 students; Early Care and Education (ECE) programs; youth camps; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); under-resourced communities; and congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, domestic violence and abuse shelters, non-federal correctional facilities, and other qualified sites, so that they could be opened and operated safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Screening testing; tests asymptomatic persons without recent known or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2 for early identification, isolation, and disease prevention. To conduct screening testing, OpET contractors use multiple testing methods. This includes pooled testing in some regions to reduce the amount of time required to test large numbers of specimens, allowing for rapid identification of SARS-CoV-2 spread in the community. Pools testing positive will be automatically retested using Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests on individual specimens to determine individual positives.
Ann Bonis, current OpET agreements officer, believes the nation has benefitted from the process that was developed, in which four regional coordination hubs – West, Midwest, Northeast and the South – provide laboratory based Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests (NAAT), such as RT-PCR, with specimen collection supplies, shipping materials, laboratory testing, and results reporting. The participating sites provide the staff to administer the program at the site, handling the specimen collection, shipping the specimen to the lab(s), and reporting results to participants. CDCs OpET will be performing tests through Dec. 31.
Bonis said that the OpET Hub Coordination Center partnered with the state’s Department of Public Health to provide a routine testing option within the state. The state’s Department of Public Health subcontracted with a separate organization to implement and manage OpET at the site.
“There were a lot of federal funds sent out for various COVID-19 resources in the testing world, and states also handled resources for COVID-19 testing on their own,” said Bonis. “One of our hubs was able to work with the organization that received a state level testing program and combine the different functions from that state level program.”
OpET offered on a multi-state level to efficiently use two different COVID-19 funding resources, which allowed them to provide COVID-19 testing for the population that was covered in the Operation Expanded testing program, which include hubs to provide no-cost screening testing and other qualified sites. The partnership also addressed a constraint which is the OpET agreements don’t cover the specimen collection, therefore other resources have to be provided by the site.
“One of our contractors was able to marry these two programs up,” said Bonis. “One program covered the collection part while OpET covered supplies and the COVID-19 testing results.”
Jeff Decker, branch chief, said that the team had a hard time in the beginning trying to figure out how to procure the requirement.
“At the onset, it was a very open-ended option that we had to consider,” said Decker. “Ultimately, after reviewing everything, we decided to pursue the requirement through an Other Transaction Authority (OTA).”
Contrary to the more traditional Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) based procurements, OTAs are an alternative acquisition method authorized by 10 USC 4022 for the procurement of prototypes. An OTA gives DoD the flexibility necessary to adopt and incorporate business practices that reflect commercial industry standards and best practices into its award instruments.
The team was also tasked with getting this requirement done as soon as possible, which posed another challenge.
“It was a little over 100 days, from when we first received the requirement - which was developed and directed out of the White House to when it was awarded and the contractors started on the agreements,” said Decker.
Christopher Fields, contract specialist, said that the overall goal for this program is to test as many students as possible in congregate settings, and the demand for testing has been pretty tough.
“We have had competition with Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity (ELC), which is state funded testing,” said Fields. “In the beginning, it was hard to match because ELC was quite a bit ahead of us and so it was hard to get participants in the program.”
Bonis said that in terms of performance, it has been a challenge to adapt the agreements as necessary to address the constantly changing COVID-19 environment.
“There were some significant changes in variants from the pre-award phase, so when we got to the post-award timeframe, we’ve had to adapt for the situation that we’re in,” said Bonis. “As the variants affected positivity rates, the agreements need to be modified in order to operate in the current COVID-19 environment that we are experiencing.”
Trisha Mariman, the previous agreements officer which made the initial awards for OpET, said that a big success was when COVID-19 happened, the U.S. wasn’t prepared and didn’t have testing. This prototype project better prepares not only the contracting community, but the nation at large.
“It has been stood up, so if another pandemic does happen, it is a model that can be taken and we know that testing can be done nationwide,” said Mariman.
Fields said that eight million students have been tested so far, which he said is pretty good.
“The original goal was 49.2 million, but that was just way overboard as far as an estimate,” said Fields. “I think testing eight million people has been a huge success.”
The intent of the program – providing a free COVID-19 testing resource to students, congregate settings, and underserved populations has been a success on its own.
“The biggest success is meeting the mission, so the capability is there for those wanting to utilize it,” said Decker. “We have built a very strong relationship with the customer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO CBRND), which has provided us the overall oversight of this project.”
Decker said that the team has done an excellent job in working very closely with all the organizations in order to get the testing efforts underway.
“This has been a good example of a high performing team because everyone had their roles and knew what they needed to do to get things done,” said Decker. “The team as a whole received the Secretary of the Army for Excellence in Acquisition award in December 2021, which was a huge accomplishment and showed how well we worked together.”
For additional information on the Operation Expanded Testing program, please visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/operation-expanded-testing.html