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Logistics Contracts: Tips for Maximizing an Awesome Capability

A commander must know what to expect from the contractors supporting his organization to make the best use of what they have to offer.

A good commander can command anything. But how well does he use his contractors? Commanders in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are finding the answer to this question because an ever-increasing amount of logistics capabilities and the preponderance of base operations functions lie with contractors.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, almost the only contractors found within the corps area of operations ran a few rear dining facilities, some buses, and the ever-reliable “gypsy” trucks. Even when Operation Iraqi Freedom I began in March 2003, the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) support contract was only requested to support approximately 50,000 troops for 180 days. Today, with LOGCAP supporting and sustaining a force of more than 200,000 personnel, almost every base in Iraq benefits from the LOGCAP contract. From housing Soldiers, maintaining unit vehicles, and transporting fuel, to manifesting Soldiers for R&R (rest and relaxation), almost every logistics function is performed or augmented by a contractor. Given the extensive presence of contractors on the battlefield, it is imperative that logisticians learn how best to manage the awesome capabilities that contractors bring to the fight.

Identifying the Major Players

To obtain the maximum benefit from LOGCAP or any support contractor, logisticians need to understand the roles, responsibilities, and duties of the parties involved: the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), the Army Materiel Command (AMC), the military unit (the user), and the contractor.

DCMA provides contract administration and oversight. This oversight normally is accomplished on site by an administrative contracting officer (ACO). To assist the ACO in providing oversight, DCMA also will assign a quality assurance representative (QAR) to evaluate the contractor’s performance and interact with both the contractor and the end user. The ACO is the only individual authorized to direct the contractor to perform specific work.

AMC is the primary client for the LOGCAP contractor. AMC’s main responsibility is to be the honest broker and ensure that the taxpayers’ money is spent wisely. All LOGCAP support requirements are vetted and adjudicated by the onsite AMC personnel who are known as the LOGCAP support officers (LSOs). The LSO is the face of LOGCAP and the person whom the commander will deal with most often.

The end user, or customer, is a military unit that is augmented by contractor capability. It is the end user’s responsibility to provide day-to-day management of the contractor in a specific area or function.

The last major player on the LOGCAP team is the contractor. Each contractor’s job is to perform the funded functions outlined in the performance work statement (PWS) to the standards specified.

Understanding the PWS

Over several Operation Iraqi Freedom rotations, a pattern of friction and frustration has evolved between the contractor and service members, keeping units from experiencing the maximum benefits of the contract. Some of the frustration is due to the service member’s failure to understand the PWS and how funding affects it. The PWS outlines the tasks that a contractor is to perform; it is comparable to a unit’s modification table of organization and equipment (MTOE) capability. However, just as units often cannot perform some missions because of MTOE shortages, the contractor may not be able to perform a function because the Government never “turned on,” or paid for, that part of the contract. So, just as a commander has to understand the real-world capabilities of his units, he also must understand the contractor’s PWS and what is funded so that he knows exactly what services to expect the contractor to provide.

A commander’s natural tendency to lead people also can cause frustration and friction. Realizing that you, the end user, cannot “direct” contractors as you would another service member reduces tension. Contracts are often “performance based.” This means that the Army cannot tell a contractor how to perform the task but merely what the end state of the task needs to be and, more importantly, to what standard. That is how the contractor will be evaluated and held accountable.

If you identify a new task that you would like the contractor to do, unlike a Soldier, you cannot just tell them to do it. If the task is not a part of the PWS, you have to identify exactly what you want the contractor to perform and the standards by which the contractor will be measured. These changes then are sent up the chain of command and LSO channels for additional vetting and funding allocation. Once the PWS is finalized and agreed on by both the Government and the contractor and the funding is approved, the contractor can begin the new work. This is not a quick process, and funding is often very hard to justify.

You also cannot direct the contractor to do something that is not a funded part of the PWS. Funding has to be allocated, and a notice to proceed must be issued by the ACO in order to “turn on” portions of the contract. You can best influence funding by justifying to your chain of command why the Government is getting the best bang for the buck by funding that part of the contract. In the case of either new work or unfunded work, remember that, once approved, the contractor will need time to ramp up capability just as units need time to generate combat power.

Providing Feedback

A lack of knowledge on how and when to provide feedback also produces friction between contractors and users. Soldiers understand how the Army’s evaluation system is supposed to work with Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Reports (NCOERs) and Officer Evaluation Reports (OERs). The NCOER and OER processes include counseling statements to identify and improve behavior that is not to standard or to recognize and reinforce good performance. The same capability exists within the contracting world, and, just as with Soldiers, timeliness of feedback is critical.

The key contributor to the feedback process is the contracting officer’s representative (COR) or contracting officer’s technical representative (COTR). CORs and COTRs are the Soldiers who work daily with the contractors; they are the eyes and ears of the Government who ensure that the work is being performed to the standards outlined in the PWS. The CORs and COTRs provide the ACO with monthly feedback, which is used at the monthly performance evaluation board (PEB) meeting. Accuracy and level of detail are important for good feedback. This will identify strengths that should be maintained or give insight into weaknesses that should be improved.

Just as you should not wait until OER or NCOER time to tell Soldiers that they are not performing to speed, you should not wait until the PEB to identify substandard performance. Contractors have a structure similar to the chain of command; use it. Bring the concern to the attention of the contractor’s management and LSO before the issue becomes any larger. Do your homework ahead of time. Make sure that what you expected was a funded part of the PWS. Then be able to articulate how the contractor failed to meet the established standard in the contract. Much of the contractor’s profit results from recognition of good performance, so the contractor has a vital interest in performing to standard.

It is also important to identify good performance. Just as Soldiers like to receive recognition for actions “above and beyond the call of duty,” it is important to recognize contractors for their performance. Only by identifying real strengths and weaknesses can you fairly assess the service and provide the contractor with the means to improve that service. The key point is to participate in the review process with quality, timely, and factual feedback that will result not only in improved dialog among all participants but, more importantly, in higher quality of service for
the warfighter.

Train As You Fight

“Train as you fight.” How many times have you heard that? Then why don’t we do it? The Army conducts joint and coalition exercises to hone skills needed for working with different partners, but we do not have the same training for interfacing with contractors. The simulation trainups before deployment have coalition and sister service representation, but where are the contractors and why don’t the trainups include a contractor response cell?

Contractors need to be part of simulation training. Having contractor icons in the simulation would more accurately prepare logistics commanders for the environment they will face. The scenario or master scenario events list injects should include contractor-related issues to exercise Soldiers’ knowledge and expand their experience of interfacing with contractors.

In the 3d Corps Support Command (COSCOM), we have found that including representation of the contractor’s capability in our task organization has helped us to visualize the capabilities that the contractor brings to the fight by location and subordinate command. Since the LOGCAP contract is performance based, we care about the capability, not the exact number of contractors. For example, at Logistics Support Area Anaconda, the contractor augments the ammunition supply point with the equivalent of a platoon. This is shown on the task organization chart as a medium lift platoon, but it is colored differently to show that it is a contractor capability. But, you cannot just integrate the contractors on paper; you have to incorporate them into your operations and planning. The 3d COSCOM established a position within the COSCOM headquarters for a LOGCAP contract senior logistics planner. Another contractor representative provides the Prime Vendor program and has a seat next to the class I section of the corps distribution center.

At the subordinate levels, dedicated liaison officers help bridge the interface between contractors and using units. This helps to integrate the contractors from the planning through the execution levels and has led to an increase in the 3d COSCOM’s ability to leverage the contractors’ capabilities.

Using contractors on the battlefield is not new. It is just that the extent to which they are integrated is unprecedented. So, if you are heading down range or just want to increase your abilities as a logistician, learning how to take full advantage of contractor capabilities will help you bring more to the fight.

Lieutenant Colonel Rebecca Freeze is the Chief of Plans for the 3d Corps Support Command (COSCOM), currently in Balad, Iraq. Having been the COSCOM’s Support Operations Planner in Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 and now as the Chief of Plans, she has gained a keen appreciation for what contractors bring to the fight.

Sari Berman is the LOGCAP contractor senior logistics planner embedded with the 3d COSCOM staff. She retired from the Army in 2003 after over 25 years of service. Having been in Iraq since her retirement, she has seen the development and growth of the LOGCAP contract and its interface with the COSCOMs over the years.