Leaning forward in the foxhole, members of the Expeditionary Contracting Command nullified potential problems during their contingency deployment in support of Operation Unified Response, the Haiti humanitarian assistance disaster relief mission.
The deployment provided opportunities to use lessons learned from previous military deployment operations as well as capture new ones. The first ECC Soldier arrived in Haiti within the first 48 hours after the devastating 7.0 earthquake rocked the country.
During operation Unified Response, ECC contracted for supplies, services and equipment to support military and federal responders as well as Haitians affected by the earthquake. At one point, the commandAca,!a,,cs efforts assisted in supplying more than 15million meals being delivered in a 10-day period to the Haitian population as well as the establishment of distribution points for families to receive 25 and 30 pound bags of rice, beans and cooking oils. Contracting efforts also helped turn dangerous and rudimentary shelters into areas with safer tents with water and meals being delivers on a routine basis. By the end of the mission, ECC created more than 380 contracting actions valued at almost $12 million.
"We took advantage of a lot of lessons learned from previous deployments. We didn't do these types of things early on in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. However, we learned those lessons and brought these capabilities to Haiti early on," said Brig. Gen. Joe Bass, commander, Expeditionary Contracting Command. "We were very proactive from the beginning, deploying the right personnel mix needed to provide quality assurance, legal, policy and other areas where we could address issues on the front end rather than after they've been done.
Bass said things such as establishing contracting reach-back support stateside, bringing in logistics civil augmentation program planners in the beginning stages and working with units to establish coalition and joint acquisition review boards were lessons learned from previous military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
This concept of reaching back to contracting centers away from the area of operations was first used to support operations in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Rock Island Contracting Center (RICC) provided support on an on-call basis rather than as an active participant.
This allowed contingency contracting officers to concentrate on immediate on-site requirements and leaving complex actions for the RICC.
"Learning from the past helped us deploy quicker and smarter," Bass said. "Just as we gathered lessoned learned from previous deployments, we have gathered some from the Haiti deployment that should help us the next time we have to deploy.
During the Haiti deployment, contracting officers identified areas where challenges still exist.
As CCOs arrived in Haiti, they relied heavily on support from outside units and agencies for basic life support services. To ease the initial burden, ECC developed pre-positioned deployable equipment packages for its contracting teams as part of an early entry equipment capability.
Building upon past lessons learned, it was identified that a contract review threshold needs to be established early on to allow CCOs to adjust to the administrative requirements of conducting contracting operations in a deployed environment. Additionally, this will allow oversight, management control and quality control of high dollar contract actions. Also, the decision to issue a contracting warrant should be based upon the experience level of the CCO. The fact that the simplified acquisition threshold increases from $100 thousand to $1 million during a declared contingency operation does not mean that all CCOs should be issued a $1 million warrant. Warrants need to be issued based upon a CCOs experience in contracting and the dollar size of actions needed to meet the mission. The bottom line is it takes time to train contracting officers and for them to gain experience.
Bass would also like to take a good idea and make it better
"One thing we learned is that we would like to expand our reach back capabilities by creating standardized reach-back support for contingency operations. We're looking into the possibility of establishing a reach-back center of excellence for global contingencies that would include creating points of contacts aligned regionally with the combatant command and the contracting support brigades," Bass said. "There's a lot more to it include: integrating the reach-back POCs into our training events and exercises; create a logistics planning team for contracting; and provide assistance for immediate and/or complex requirements."
"Moving forward mean reviewing what we've done and how we have done it in the past, then reviewing it again and constantly using those lesson to better ourselves with each new challenge," Bass said.