ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois - In 2023, a niche group of contracting professionals at Army Contracting Command-Rock Island will enter year five of providing a unique method of supporting the country’s Organic Industrial Base (OIB).
Established in February 2018, the Cornerstone Other Transaction Agreement (OTA), is the only Department of Defense (DoD) Government-Run Consortium for OTAs. The originating intent was the use of non-Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) mechanisms to monitor and assess the industrial base, address critical issues in the industrial base related to urgent operational needs, support efforts to expand the industrial base, and address supply chain vulnerabilities.
Cornerstone falls under the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program, is managed by U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (DEVCOM CBC), and the majority of the work is filtered through the Rock Island Arsenal (RIA) DEVCOM CBC office.
ACC-RI is the contracting/agreements office for the RIA DEVCOM CBC, therefore ACC-RI is the only contracting office that executes Cornerstone OTAs, according to Katelyn Coon, agreements officer and recently promoted branch chief.
“They partnered with us in 2018, where the original agreements officer who was selected for Cornerstone, Kathy Ward, worked with DEVCOM CBC and the IBAS program to develop Cornerstone,” said Coon.
Since then, ACC-RI has executed 103 OTAs for prototypes and three OTAs for follow-on production estimated at $2 billion.
ACC-RI’s role in Cornerstone
The requirements that come into Cornerstone always begin as a prototype need. Under the program, requirements are divided into 18 sector areas – from aircraft and shipbuilding to electronics and machine tools.
Additionally, Coon said there are two necessary elements for a requirement to be sent through Cornerstone: it meets the definition of a prototype and it falls under the industrial base fund.
“If it doesn’t meet the prototype statute for transactions and it doesn’t meet the industrial base requirements, we won’t execute it,” said Coon. “That’s a very easy way for us to make sure that every agreement we take on is tied to the industrial base somehow and is going to benefit it and that’s why we have those 18 sector areas as well, because they help the customer identify and streamline what industrial base sector their requirement fits under.”
Once a requirement has been accepted, RIA DEVCOM CBC manages the funding, performs technical and other reviews, and works hand-in-hand with ACC-RI’s agreements specialists and officers to coordinate the acquisition approach.
Working in a non-FAR based acquisition situation provides agreements specialists and officers with maximum flexibility that encourages swiftness and innovation.
“Since we do not have restrictive regulations, we often default to what is a good business decision and what is in the best interest of the government. As long as it fits within the statute and the ASA(ALT) policy for other transactions,” said Coon.
Flexibilities include the ability to create different types of periods of performance; change agreement formats and structures in the middle of the program; revise statements of work and technical requirements; and negotiate data rights and intellectual property.
“If the requirement has changed, or we realize maybe the way we set it up didn’t make the most sense for the longevity of the project, we use our good business sense and lessons learned to make changes that will enhance the prototype,” said Coon.
Finally, the flexibilities allowed in the process have encouraged collaboration with a lot more non-traditional and small business contractors who have been wary of the regulations and restrictions involved with FAR-based contracting.
Tangible OIB benefits
Cornerstone’s mission of developing prototypes that will someday aid in the OIB’s strengthening is significant. Coon said a major prototype project awarded by Cornerstone is the Heavy Rare Earth Element (HREE) Supply Chain Resiliency project, which are critical elements within the DoD broader rare earths (heavy and light) supply chain risk mitigation plan. It seeks to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign source and its associated vulnerabilities.
Another project awarded by Cornerstone is for the Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) Rotating Band and Obturator Development for 155mm Cannon Artillery, which directly supports the Army Future’s Command/Cross Functional Team’s number one priority of Long Range Precision Fires/Cross Functional Team (LRPF-CFT) under the ERCA System of Systems Program.
A third Cornerstone project award was for Radiation Hardened Electronics, which provide the U.S. Government an alternative, stable supply of strategic radiation hardened electronics with significantly higher radiation tolerance and enhanced device performance, density, reliability, and temperature operation than previously available.
One area that Coon said not a lot of people take into account is improving the OIB’s workforce development, saying they are working on a huge initiative to develop the workforce in skills starting at elementary school levels all the way past collegiate level to get people trained in the technical workforce sectors that haven’t been as appealing, but are vital.
“Most people are going to IT these days and that is great because it will help the DoD, but we need people who have manual labor experience, we need mechanics, welders, machine operators, etc.,” said Coon. “This initiative is focused on training people in all different aspects of life, getting them certified, getting them the licenses they need, and then helping them find work specifically supporting the defense industrial base.”
Growth of Cornerstone
When Cornerstone was established in 2018, it came with great hopes for the future. Today, that has translated into a significant workload.
“I think one of the biggest challenges for us is that it has gained in popularity and we’ve been awarding more and more agreements,” said Christy Pacha, branch chief. “It creates a very large administrative burden on the team for maintaining that many open actions at one time.”
Joining Coon and Pacha in supporting Cornerstone’s 87 open actions are agreements specialists Claire Dowd, Andy Eldredge-McMillan, Hunter Fettkether, Mackenzie Jacobs, and Kelli Senger.
Going from one part-time agreements officer in 2018 to a team of contracting professionals supporting Cornerstone is proof that the program is successfully supporting the DoD’s goals for the OIB. In the coming months, the team is looking to add another agreements officer to help tackle the workload.
With a high operational tempo, Coon is enjoying the work because she never gets bored, every agreement is different, and she gets to work with a wide variety of customers and contractors.
“A lot of it is using our problem-solving skills and working closely with the customer and subject matter experts on really trying to figure out what we can do to set up this agreement that will allow the government to have a product at the end that no one ever thought we could have,” said Coon. “It’s exciting because we are constantly pushing ourselves to find a better way to execute, instead of just falling back on a clause or structure that we’ve been using in the FAR-world for decades."
More information on the Cornerstone OTA program can be found at: https://cornerstone.army.mil/