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Army Contracting Command

By July 2009, ACC had filled about 85 percent of its DAC posts and were well on the way to achieving a goal of fully operational capability by Oct. 1, 2009, the start of FY 10 and the command’s first full anniversary, and full command end strength of more than 5,500 – military and civilian – by Oct. 1, 2011. The last of those slots to be staffed are expected to be on the military side. At the same time ACC needs to replace retiring members of its aging workforce with fully trained personnel just to keep even with attrition. It takes up to seven years to develop that training and skill set at the journeyman level.

“Actually, where we are still struggling is with the availability of bringing additional officers and NCOs into the workforce,” he said. “The good news this year for ACC is we have seen good support and funding in terms of hiring new employees and interns. In fact, we will be bringing on close to 400 interns this year, which is part of our future in building our bench so when our more senior people retire, we will have people in place to fill those gaps.

“We’ve also had a number of new activations of our contracting support brigades, a couple of battalions, and a number of contingency contracting teams. That will all be done by the end of FY 09, increasing our capability to provide deployed contingency contracting support, which was one of the major shortfalls identified by the Gansler Commission. We simply didn’t have enough military with the requisite backgrounds and contracting skills to provide operational contracting support. With these modular teams, we will be able to deploy wherever we may need support for a contingency operation or a full-blown operation.”

A major concern is continued growth in requirements and contracts that will mandate an even larger ACC workforce. As the mission of the Army changes and contracted efforts provide expertise that does not exist in the military or civilian Army population, the volume and complexity of work performed by ACC is expected to increase-driving the need for a larger workforce to handle volume and a more specialized workforce to deal with the complexity.

“We will see some additional growth in terms of civilians. The challenge in the next 3 to 5 years will be to hire and train those people and build the capability,” Parsons said. “There will be no degradation in our focus on pre-award and award activities, but an increased emphasis on post-award contract management, which has been identified as a material weakness. We have to tackle that problem and, if we get all the new people we’ve requested, I think we will make great progress in that area in the next five years.

“To what extent we continue to see growth in the number and dollars of contracts is another concern. We’ve had significant growth in both in each of the previous fiscal years and, if we continue to see that, then we will have to pursue additional personnel over and above what we’ve already asked for. Everyone is predicting the growth in contract dollars will begin slowing down, but I’ve heard that for the past five years.”

In some cases, ACC is taking a major piece of the U.S.-based contracting requirements from theater operations that are not part of their direct mission. This work is not necessarily performed in theater. Often a CONUS location performs the acquisition, limited oversight, and closeout. Any oversight of contract performance is done where the work is being performed.

“We have an entire division at Rock Island [Arsenal, Ill.] that not only provides reach-back support for Kuwait but also for the JCC [Joint Contracting Command] in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Parsons explained. “That is an additional workload for us, but it relieves the pressure in theater to have more deployed contracting assets.

“I see that continuing and growing in the future, outside Southwest Asia. Certainly a lot of things still need to be bought within those countries, but there are a large number of big-dollar contracts we can support here for them. For example, we are doing one right now for the Combined Training and Security Command-Afghanistan, in which we are executing a contract in the U.S. to provide contractors to train the Afghan Army and police. We believe that will become a template for future operations, so if we deploy on a new enduring, major mission elsewhere, we will be able to use this approach.”

Parsons warned that it is important not to follow the historic pattern of letting go of a structure that has proven its worth when operational demands diminish, leaving the next generation of Army leaders to essentially reinvent the wheel. Since contractors are a vital part of the Army’s warfighting support, there needs to be a plan of how you will build and maintain enough contracting capacity to support that. It is a critical element of the national defense infrastructure.

“If operations start to wind down and we don’t have as many forces deployed, there is a real tendency to reap the ‘peace dividend’ and cut back on the number of people we have. Historically, that means we stop hiring new people and let attrition take place. But that eliminates the bench of people you need if there is a future requirement. And you can’t just go out and grow a contracting person – that takes up to six years.

“We need to do a better job in identifying the skill sets we should have in reserve to do this work; we need to understand the critical skill-sets needed to execute operations. And there is no doubt we will always need to have contractors support us – we can no longer do it with just active duty military and Reserve. That has not been the case before, but the extent and use of contractor personnel in Southwest Asia today marks the new reality,” he concluded.

This article was first published in U.S. Army Materiel Command: The Army’s Premier Provider of Materiel Readiness, 2009/2010. Edition

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J.R. Wilson has been a full-time freelance writer, focusing primarily on aerospace, defense and high...