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Contract Oversight on the Battlefield

Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians who oversee contractors on the battlefield must fully understand the magnitude and importance of their responsibilities. Army Materiel Command (AMC) contracting officer representatives (CORs) or contracting officer technical representatives (COTRs), such as those assigned to the Army Sustainment Command or Army field support brigades and their respective battalions, are responsible for ensuring that contractors strictly abide by their contracted performance work statements (PWSs), fulfill Army mission requirements, and uphold Government interests.

To define, safeguard, and execute their contract oversight roles and responsibilities, these Soldiers and civilians must attend the COR course offered by the Army Logistics University or Defense Acquisition University. Likewise, they must become well-versed in the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation, which define the Government’s rules for contracted business.

Team Effort and Loyalties

Because the Army does not have the total personnel strength or materiel capacity to satisfy all of its current mission requirements, contractors deliver the requisite manpower, equipment, and expertise to satisfy Army demands and provide practical applications to accomplish military support and sustainment missions. Melding contractors into the Army’s missions generates a combat multiplier that enables military personnel to meet other operational requirements.

Through the COR course, Government employees gain an understanding of how to manage relationships with contractors in the workplace and during deployments and humanitarian assistance missions. The Government employee and contractor relationship forms the team effort required for mission success. Both entities must work closely together and develop good business and partnership practices.

However, despite their mutual mission-focused approach to satisfying Army requirements, contractors and Government employees each have different loyalties, and these loyalties are the driving force behind their overall purpose and motivation. Contractors seek to satisfy shareholders’ expectations while maintaining good working and customer relationships with the Government and posturing themselves to bid on and win the next contract. Soldiers and Army civilians defend and uphold the Constitution (Government interests), execute military orders, and support the commander’s intent. Although contractors and Government employees have different loyalties, they are both charged and bound to execute the Army’s mission at hand.

Relationship and Process Development

So, how does the Government monitor and provide vigilant contract oversight while influencing the contractor to maintain a team-effort attitude? First, Government employees use the contract agreement and PWS (which outlines what the contractor must accomplish under the contract) to ensure that the contractor supports and sustains the Army’s mission. The contracting officer (KO) administers the contract, and the CORs and COTRs become the KO’s eyes and ears in the field to ensure contractor compliance. A cost-reimbursable contract is a popular Government contract and is used especially when the end result or time needed to meet military mission requirements is uncertain or hard to define.

Second, so that the Government can avoid operational risk in meeting uncertain military requirements, the contractor may be contracted to fulfill a “security blanket” role. However, to oversee and employ this security blanket and reduce financial risk, the Government must make sure that the contractor actually and diligently fulfills the terms outlined in the PWS.

Since a cost-reimbursable contract provides no financial incentive for the contractor to achieve spending or performance efficiencies, Soldiers and Army civilians with specific technical expertise become the honest brokers for Government interests, execute contract oversight, and ensure that the contractor is performing in accordance with the PWS. Without this keen oversight, Government dollars, time, and resources are subject to waste.

The sheriff at the forefront of the PWS and contract oversight mission is the unit’s quality assurance representative (QAR). The QAR, along with the unit CORs and COTRs, develops the quality assurance surveillance plan (QASP), which includes the contract and the PWS checklist identifying the tasks, policies, and procedures that the contractor must perform and execute for the Government.

The QASP enables and guides the unit’s CORs and COTRs to observe and validate specific contractor performance actions. As such, CORs issue warnings or corrective action requests (CARs) that document contractor deficiencies while performing or, in some cases, not performing tasks identified in the PWS. These CARs are reportable to the KO and are regularly reviewed to determine overall contractor performance. The CARs can affect the Government’s decision to sustain or relieve the contractor from that particular contract.

The Pitfalls: Fraternization and Complacency

Two likely situations could arise from the Government employee and contractor team-effort relationship: fraternization and complacency. These two pitfalls can undermine mission success or cause a failure if CORs or COTRs do not provide the contract oversight needed to safeguard Government interests.

Fraternization occurs when a Government employee and a contractor who are involved in the same contract congenially socialize in any manner. Despite the close relationships that can develop among Government employees and contractors supporting the team effort, Government employees must understand that befriending or helping a contractor, including even giving him a ride in a personal or Government vehicle, could be misconstrued as preferential treatment and could cause a breakdown in the contract oversight process.

Moreover, an outwardly awkward relationship could develop from congenially socializing and cause the Government employee to lose the ability to objectively oversee the contractor’s performance. This relationship could result in undue contractor influence or the Government employee’s apprehension to execute proper contract oversight. Staying purely objective throughout the contract oversight mission enables CORs and COTRs to execute their individual roles and responsibilities and keep their minds on the Government’s business.

Complacency by either the contractor or the Government employee, or both, can occur for various reasons and ultimately can chip away at the bedrock of established PWS requirements. The Government employee’s failure to remain vigilant and follow the QASP can result from simply trusting the contractor to perform and execute contracted work instead of applying diligent, longstanding oversight for that contract, as required.

In a recent Government contract situation, for more than a year, a contractor had been complacent and had not been properly fulfilling its contractual obligations outlined in the PWS. So the contracted company’s leaders surveyed the situation and, in conjunction with the Government, relieved, suspended, or reassigned more than 30 contracted personnel, including first-line managers and a vice president. This action was executed immediately to clean up a contract situation gone awry and to fulfill the contractor’s obligation to the Government’s mission.

The complete success of a cost-reimbursable contract relies heavily on Government personnel being school-trained as CORs and COTRs and having a firm understanding of how proper contract oversight leads to Government money being well spent rather than wasted. Without this engrained knowledge of contract oversight, the Government could be a victim of fraud, waste, and abuse.

A contractor depends on the Government for business and wants to perform the job well to retain the contract and meet shareholder expectations. Commanders are responsible for making sure that their contracts are properly executed. Army commanders are responsible for making sure that their contractors properly execute the contract according to the PWS and that their KOs sustain efficient contract oversight. When Government employees are COR-course trained and have a solid understanding of how to execute their contract oversight roles and responsibilities, Government success prevails and the team wins.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter W. Butts commands the 1st Battalion, 401st Army Field Support Brigade, which oversees Army Pre-positioned Stocks 5 at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. He holds a degree in communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a master’s degree in business administration from Baker University.

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