|The 1st Sustainment Brigade’s
Contract Coordination Cell
|by Major John R. Caudill
Contracting for support has become a fact of life on the battlefield. But many Soldiers and leaders do not have their first experience with contracting until they arrive in theater. The 1st Sustainment Brigade found that changes in organization and training are needed to meet the challenges of contracting.
Iraq has matured into a complex theater for support operations. Most operations involve some level of contracted support, whether for maintenance services, line-haul of critical classes of supply, force protection services, bottled water production, or warehouse management. The operational environment changes rapidly, and combat operations are planned and executed in more flexible and rapid processes than in the past. The planning and execution of support operations, including contracted support, must also be flexible and responsive.
Contract processes are complex, not uniform, and the personnel involved are constantly rotating in and out of theater. In the contemporary operational environment, many contracting mechanisms, multiple contracting officers, varying degrees of contract oversight, and numerous commercial companies are involved in supporting our forces.
The experience of the 1st Sustainment Brigade in Iraq demonstrates that the complexity of contracting in the contemporary operational environment and under the modular force structure requires modifications to the sustainment brigade’s organization and to Army institutional leader development. I believe the contract coordination cell established by the 1st Sustainment Brigade to mitigate the risks associated with the complex contracting environment in Iraq should be considered for Army-wide adoption.
The Contracting Environment in Iraq
Army logisticians must have synthesized contract planning, administration, change, and implementation mechanisms and processes. Their contracts can range from Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contracts to Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan contracts (whether theater-wide indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts or local contracts administered by regional contracting centers) to continental United States (CONUS) program manager support contracts. Each of these contract vehicles can have multiple contracting officers (KOs) or, in the case of LOGCAP, administrative contracting officers (ACOs). Each contracting mechanism has different levels of involvement by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) in contract oversight and auditing.
In the case of LOGCAP, an Army Materiel Command (AMC) LOGCAP support unit (an Army Reserve unit) assigns regional specialists to assist in crafting and processing changes to contracts. The companies involved in support operations range from international giants to regional companies to local vendors. Each of these companies has its own list of managers, deputies, analysts, and supervisors, who rotate just like their military counterparts and make it difficult to keep contactor rosters current.
Each contracted effort involved in support operations must have a contracting officer’s representative (COR) from the military unit responsible for the contracted function. The COR evaluates the contractor’s performance, ensures that the contractor is in compliance with the requirements of the contract, and serves as a technical representative and liaison among the customer unit, the contractor, and the KO to communicate changes or the need for changes in the contract. In Iraq today, it is not uncommon for a sustainment brigade to have as many as 40 to 50 CORs.
Adapting to the Challenges of Contracting
Contracted support must be planned, just like military support, to ensure timely and effective support to operations. Guidance must be given to, and feedback received from, contractors, just as Army commanders give guidance to and expect feedback (in the form of reports) from units. The major challenge of contract support planning and execution is the training (or lack of training) of military planners at all levels and their experience (or lack of experience) with the planning and execution processes and the channels for implementing contractual changes.
Many Soldiers and leaders encounter contract planning and administration for the first time in Iraq, and they must adapt their organizations to deal with contracts. Military planners are familiar with military terms, such as staff principals, course of action, concept of operations, and fragmentary order (FRAGO). But they struggle with contracting terms such as COR, performance work statement (PWS), project planning requests (PPRs), letter of technical direction (LOTD), change order, notice to proceed, and spend plan. Military planners have realistic, experience-based expectations about the timelines associated with the military decision making process and orders processes. However, most do not understand the timelines associated with the contractual equivalents required to go from concept to execution.
One Unit’s Experience
The 1st Sustainment Brigade entered the Iraq theater in September 2007, and by November two problems had become obvious: Organizationally, we did not have a single “belly button” to manage all contracting matters; individually, our Soldiers did not have the knowledge of contracting processes they needed to ensure that contractors provided timely and effective support to ongoing operations. The result was that the brigade operated through a series of “crisis reaction drills” because we lacked the organizational capability to plan and contract for changes. Both the brigade and the contractors realized that some action was needed to make changes in our contracting efforts, but no understanding of exactly how to accomplish that existed. The lack of understanding of the contracting process, compounded by the slow response times in contract change processes, led to shortfalls in support operations that had a direct impact on the mission.
When a military operation requires a surge in capability, the natural response is to cut a FRAGO to direct military resources to fill the capability gap. In a contracted effort, where the contractor has operational control of the activity, it is a violation of the PWS to insert military capability without going through the change order process. This is critical for military logisticians to understand when they plan support operations or consider contracting operational control of critical support operations (such as a supply support activity).
A gap existed between evaluations of the contractors’ performance and the chain of command’s perception of the contractors’ performance. Commanders at all levels were not receiving the contracted support they needed in a timely manner, but the contractors were receiving excellent ratings on the work they were contracted to perform. This occurred because the military did not fully understanding the contracts and because evaluations were nonexistent or poorly reported.
The brigade commander and staff recognized that a disconnect existed between the contractors and those being supported and took immediate action to define and analyze the problem, implement corrective actions for the immediate deficiencies, and establish recurring controls so that the problem would not continue. The brigade established a small team of two officers to work specifically on the issue.
What Are We Contracting?
The team’s first task was to define all of the brigade’s contracted efforts. We began by scouring the brigade staff to find out where the service contracts were used in the brigade. This produced the obvious list of LOGCAP contractors. Then we queried the subordinate battalions to find out what contractors they had in their areas. This produced a significant list of contracts that were in place by units that had submitted purchase request and commitment actions through the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan; these contracts ranged from Iraqi truck drivers to warehouse employees augmenting the military.
Finally, we physically visited all of the brigade areas and identified contractors that were working in our area but did not have a direct relationship with any of our Soldiers. This produced a list of contracts that we categorized as “contracts found on installation.” These were low-density contracts that ranged from foreign-language interpreters to technical support for Standard Army Management Information Systems contracted by CONUS program managers. Each contract performed critical, integral services in support of the military mission but was not fully integrated into the planning and execution functions of the brigade.
What Are the Contractors Supposed to Be Doing?
Unlike military units, where the phrase “and all other duties as assigned” is understood, contractors are paid to deliver the services defined in their PWS. Once the list of contracts was defined, the team started acquiring copies of all contractual documents. These documents included copies of contracts, task orders against contracts, change orders and administrative change letters to task orders and contracts, and LOTDs from the KO to the contractor.
To relate these documents to military terminology, contracts and task orders can be roughly equated to operation orders. They are the base documents that establish services, schedules, manning levels or levels of effort, and reporting relationships. The change orders, administrative change letters, and LOTDs are roughly equivalent to FRAGOs; they communicate to the contractor changes to the original contract and provide direction to clarify or change details in previous contract documents.
Who Is Involved With Contracts?
One critical outcome of these initial steps was a better understanding of all the key players involved in each contract. Each contracted effort has several critical points of contact (POCs) involved in ensuring successful planning and execution. They include the contractor POC, the military contracting and support operations POCs, the military subject-matter expert at the point of delivery for the service (who will end up being the COR), the KO or ACO who directs the contractor, and the DCMA quality assurance representative (QAR) who is responsible for auditing the contractor’s performance and compliance and supporting the CORs with training and advice.
The CORs are the day-to-day auditors and Government representatives at the point of service, who are responsible for evaluating the performance of the contractor and facilitating the flow of information between the contractor and the Government. Government support agencies and personnel are available to help logisticians plan and execute contracted support operations, but the bulk of the effort falls back on the customer logistician who desires the support.
What Are Unit Responsibilities?
The military customer is responsible for planning and preparing the documentation associated with a contracted effort; justifying and obtaining funding for the proposed contract; and monitoring quality assurance and evaluating performance evaluation of contract support.
The mission analysis for an upcoming operation must be conducted with each contract in mind. As impacts or new requirements are identified, the brigade must create or modify PWSs and letters of justification, review planning project estimates and schedules, negotiate with contractors and KOs, and move contracting document packages through the funding review and approval levels, from the brigade headquarters to the corps or division headquarters. Friction is inherent in operating under the constraints of the Army’s existing contract procedures, which were written with assumptions that are now dated in the reality of today’s operational environment.
What Is Required to Change a Contract?
The procedures, timelines, and documents that must be used to change or establish contracts can be overwhelming, especially in Iraq. The normal military planning process for operations is well understood by military logisticians; the planning process to conduct contract support to operations is not. The battle drill for processing a change order or LOTD to a contractor in order to facilitate timely and effective support must be a core competence for all Army logisticians in the contemporary operational environment.
The process varies for each contract vehicle. As a logistician, once you understand the existing contracts and POCs, your unit must define the process to change those contracts. The place to start is with the KO, who can provide you with the process for changing contracts for your organization. The military comptroller community can outline the process for obtaining funding approval for the contract. If you do not have the funds to obligate, you cannot get the contract support you desire. Once you know the process, timeline, and documents required to change a contract, you can adequately plan contracted support operations.
1st Sustainment Brigade’s Mitigation Approach
Recognizing that action needed to be taken immediately to address the challenges posed by large-scale contracting, the 1st Sustainment Brigade established a contract coordination cell (CCC) under the support operations officer (SPO). The CCC served as the single “belly-button” for all contract matters in the brigade. Instead of forcing all the players throughout the chain of command to develop the same understanding of contracting procedures and personnel and the same level of proficiency, we opted to create a core team of personnel to serve as a “contracting helpdesk.” The CCC owned contract-related issues and processes for the brigade.
The CCC comprised an officer-in-charge and three branches: quality assurance, purchasing, and plans and programs. The CCC’s personnel were a mix of military logisticians taken out of other shops in the SPO, representatives from national-level agencies and commands (DCMA and AMC), and a LOGCAP contractor representative that the contractor agreed to assign to our organization. (See chart above.)
The quality assurance (QA) branch was responsible for—
- Identifying CORs and tracking unit transitions that require COR nominations, appointments, and training. During unit transitions, the QA branch is responsible for ensuring that “right-seat, left-seat ride” training is adequate to meet the incoming COR’s requirements.
- Coordinating letters of appointment and initial and sustainment training for brigade CORs.
- Supporting COR requests for assistance, documentation, and training.
- Maintaining liaison with DCMA QARs for corrective action requests.
- Receiving, reviewing, and processing COR daily and weekly audit reports.
- Receiving, reviewing, and processing monthly performance evaluation reports.
The purchasing branch was responsible for—
- Reviewing, consolidating, processing, and tracking all purchase request and commitment (Department of the Army Form 3953) actions for the brigade.
- Assisting subordinate units with purchasing requirements.
The plans and programs branch was responsible for—
- Assisting all brigade subordinate and supported units with contracting questions (the helpdesk function).
- Maintaining liaison with higher, lower, and adjacent contracting POCs to resolve contract issues.
- Preparing, processing, and tracking the completion of all documents and processes related to ongoing contracted activities. These documents include but
are not limited to PWSs, letters of justification, PPRs, and LOTDs.
- Supporting operations mission analysis for contract impacts.
- Maintaining a central database of all brigade contractual documents.
The CCC was essential to the success of the brigade in effectively planning and administering the brigade’s contracted efforts.
I believe the experience of the 1st Sustainment Brigade in contracting for sustainment operations in Iraq leads to four major conclusions:
Contracted support will continue to be integral to the contemporary operational environment. Multiple deployments have strained all sectors of the Army’s sustainment formations. Contracting certain sustainment functions allows us to devote critical military resources to higher priority requirements. The strain on the military is not going to be reduced significantly in the foreseeable future, so all military logisticians should become comfortable with and proficient at planning for and executing contracted support.
Support operations activities should be retained under the command and control of the military chain of command and augmented by contractors. Contracting operational control of support operations does not allow for the flexibility required in the contemporary operational environment. Contract change processes and timelines do not lend themselves to flexibility and timely, effective support.
Sustainment brigade modification tables of organization and equipment (MTOEs) must be modified to add a contract coordination cell in the SPO section. The current sustainment brigade MTOE does not have an organic CCC. It is imperative that the sustainment brigade MTOE be modified immediately to ensure that it is organized and trained for the current mission.
Institutional training at all levels for tactical contracting is a must. Today’s Army leaders must possess a general knowledge of contracting as a core competence. All Soldiers on the battlefield will interface with contractors, either in their organization or in the course of their duties. Planning, administering, and executing contract support operations must be integrated into Army institutional leader development as a core competence so that our Soldiers possess the baseline knowledge required to function as logisticians in today’s environment.
The contemporary operational environment is volatile, chaotic, and uncertain, and the contracting aspect of this environment is no different. Our Soldiers and formations must be comfortable and prepared for success in this environment.
Major John R. Caudill is the S–4 of the 214th Fires Brigade at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He served as the branch chief of the contract coordination cell in the 1st Sustainment Brigade in Iraq. He holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Kansas State University.