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Experts call for better training of warzone contracting officers

Mar. 23, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By SARAH CHACKO   |   Comments
Jacques Gansler, former undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, says military exercises do not incorporate contracting operations and needs, and general officers are not trained on how to work with their contracting officers.
Jacques Gansler, former undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, says military exercises do not incorporate contracting operations and needs, and general officers are not trained on how to work with their contracting officers. (M. Scott Mahaskey / Staff file photo)

AUSTIN, Texas The Defense Department needs to better train warzone contracting officers as well as the military staffs that work with them, two former DoD procurement officials said Friday.

Military exercises do not incorporate contracting operations and needs, and general officers are not trained on how to work with their contracting officers, Jacques Gansler, former undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said at the National Contact Management Association's aerospace and defense conference here.

Contracting officers also should be better managed in the warzone, said Darryl Scott, who served from 2006 to 2008 as commander of Joint Contracting Command for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some of the services rotated their contracting officers every four months, which is barely enough time to get up to speed before a new group would come in, he said.

Scott said he was able to put together a group of contracting officers who learned to set up and supply a forward operating base in 48 hours. But within one year, he could not replicate those results because the trained contracting officers had left, he said.

"We hadn't put what we knew how to do in doctrine, in training that takes place in the States," said Scott, a retired Air Force major general who is now vice president for contracts and pricing at Boeing.

Another problem is that each military agency and each department involved in contingency operations, including the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, train their contracting officers differently, Scott and Gansler said.

"You can't decide after you get there what the rules are," Scott said.

Some of the planning and coordination problems faced in Iraq and Afghanistan are now being worked out through the Defense Logistics Agency's Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office, said Matthew Beebe, the office's former executive director. Planners at all the geographic contracting commands are working to understand what contracting support is needed in certain situations and what contract vehicles best support those needs, he said.

A bill to improve wartime contracting operations doesn't do enough to improve training and deployment of experienced contracting officers, Scott and Gansler said.

The bill does not focus on how contingency contracting can be more effective and efficient but on how to count heads and when to compete contracts, Gansler said.

The Senate bill, S 2139, was introduced in February by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. It is based on recommendations from the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which investigated contract waste and fraud for three years, and concluded in August that the government had wasted as much as $60 billion in contracts for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill would require:

Automatic suspension and debarment of contractors who are charged with criminal or civil contracting fraud.

A database on the prices contractors charge the government for goods and services.

Annual reports on the number and value of contracts, the extent to which they were competed, and the number of contractors used.

A three-year limit on overseas contingency contracts if they are competitively bid, and a one-year limit if they are sole-source award or bids that only received one offer.

"I don't believe there was a need for more legislation, guidance or oversight to prevent waste, fraud and abuse," Scott said. "I believe what there was a need for was more experienced, better prepared contracting officers."

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