By Daniel P. Elkins, Mission and Installation Contracting Command Public Affairs OfficeMay 31, 2012
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Officials from the Mission and Installation Contracting Command here continue to implement phases of its Quality Assurance Program aimed at improving contract administration and oversight to help ensure Army organizations are getting what they pay for.
The program builds upon steps already being taken by the Army to address deficiencies identified in various reports from the 2007 Gansler Commission, Government Accountability Office and Army Audit Agency.
Focused primarily on expeditionary contracting operations, leaders with the MICC took lessons learned from commission's findings to strengthen the compliance of contracts let in the continental United States with federally established quality control standards and requirements.
"The reports identified the Army had a material weakness in contract administration and oversight and documentation of that oversight," said Joe Merry, a senior quality assurance specialist with the MICC here. "In many cases, we didn't have a lot of documentation to support what we've paid contractors."
While previously assigned to the Defense Contract Management Agency, Merry often found that when a contract was written, the government "didn't do a very good job of defining requirements, which made it difficult to hold a contractor accountable for performance or defined outcomes."
To address that, the Quality Assurance Program calls for the placement of quality assurance specialists at MICC subordinate units to team with contracting officers and specialists to assist in pre- and post-award contract management and oversight as well as a more robust training calendar for contracting officer representatives who, in many cases, are the face of contracting to contractors.
MICC quality assurance specialists are acquisition professionals who serve as functional experts in contract quality assurance and oversight and provide valuable insight into the development of measurable contract requirements to hold contractors accountable for performance and responsible for quality control, said Pat Hogston, the director of contracting operations for the MICC.
In 2011, positions were created to add quality assurance specialists to MICC subordinate units. Forty-nine individuals were hired to fill QA positions throughout the command before a hiring freeze went into effect. That number includes 10 interns, which also entails a training element. Quality assurance specialists are in place at a little more than 60 percent of the organizations 40-plus sites as officials here await an ease in hiring restrictions.
Merry said the program's effectiveness relies on a teaming approach between MICC acquisition members and a bit of a culture change.
"The MICC is a contracting officer-centric organization. They are ultimately responsible for everything in the Federal Acquisitions Regulation, which allows for the use of other specialists," he said. "Turning over the oversight piece of contracting to quality assurance specialists is a hard thing to do."
David Garrett, a quality assurance specialist at the MICC headquarters, said the teaming of acquisitions professionals in contracting and quality assurance ultimately leads to the customers' needs being met in a more effective manner.
"Before, we had to be reactive because the contract had already been let," Garrett said. "Now we're working with mission customers to identify requirements in such a way that contractors are accountable."
That accountability is often accomplished through the efforts of contracting officer representatives who can be responsible for the surveillance of several contractors as an additional duty to their primary job. As part of the Quality Assurance Program, Garrett said quality assurance specialists are responsible for training, mentoring and performing oversight of CORs. The MICC's 12 certified instructors have ramped up the number of training classes for CORs from 23 in 2011 to more than 75 thus far in 2012 and have trained more than 650 individuals this year alone.
"We focus the classroom training on tasks we're asking the contracting officer representatives to perform for us such as surveillance as well as other areas of instruction they may not get from online training," Garrett said. "What gets watched gets done."
Merry added that the concentrated effort in face-to-face training with CORs and resulting payback in improved contractor performance ensures that needs of Soldiers and their families are being met.
"By working with our customers to develop requirements with measurable outcomes up front before a contract is awarded, it's easier to hold a contractor accountable later," he said. "Quality assurance specialists don't own the entire process, but they certainly add value and will influence a better outcome."