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Contracting Support Brigade Responds to Haiti Mission

As critical components of crisis response, contingency contracting officers are often called in to help with disaster relief operations, which was the case immediately after an earthquake hit the nation of Haiti in January. The 410th Contracting Support Brigade’s (CSB’s) initial response to the disaster was to notify and provide commander’s guidance to Major Ralph Barnes, the team leader of the 678th Contingency Contracting Team based in Miami, Florida. He deployed within 24 hours to support Operation Unified Response and was the first contingency contracting officer on the ground in Haiti.

This fast response represents a paradigm shift in not only the readiness of the acquisition corps but also the visibility of the capabilities of contingency contracting. The request for a contracting officer came directly from the commanding general of Joint Task Force-Haiti (JTF-Haiti), who was already on the ground. What followed was the first deployment of Expeditionary Contracting Command assets since the command achieved full operational capability in October 2009.

The 410th CSB’s ability to deploy a contingency contracting officer within 24 hours indicates its focus. The team that deployed to Haiti served as a direct contracting asset to the JTF-Haiti commander and as the 410th CSB’s assessment team to determine follow-on capabilities. In conjunction with discussions with the U.S. Southern Command, and while working through the military decisionmaking process, the 410th CSB decided to adopt a phased deployment approach with the end state being a fairly robust organizational structure.

The result was the creation of the CSB forward element and the Regional Contracting Center-Haiti (RCC-Haiti). The intent was to project a forward command and control capability that would have on-the-ground visibility and avoid a number of contracting risks that have plagued past expeditionary operations. The CSB forward element included an Army colonel, a judge advocate specializing in contract law, and policy and quality assurance personnel. Because of this structure, the 410th CSB was designated the lead for contracting and given responsibility for coordinating the joint contracting mission and personnel.

As with any contingency, actions taken were based more on a crisis management model than on established procedures. However, the results of operations without established procedures were incomplete requirements, inefficiencies, and redundancies. Fortunately, the contracting officers, who had experience from Iraq and Afghanistan, quickly assessed the need to establish operating procedures. In coordination with U.S. Army South (the executive agent for logistics and finance), RCC-Haiti assisted JTF-Haiti in establishing processes for creating a joint acquisition review board and guidance for field ordering officers and paying agents. This was done within the first 3 weeks of the deployment—an extraordinary accomplishment.

After the 410th CSB structure and processes guided the initial contracting environment, the 410th quickly turned its attention to risk management. Most of the attention turned to establishing programs for contracting officer’s representative (COR) management and quality assurance.

To support RCC-Haiti, the quality assurance team on the ground, which consisted of the Expeditionary Contracting Command quality assurance manager and the 410th CSB quality assurance specialist, established a comprehensive COR management program. The program focused on training and technical assistance support for the CORs in Haiti. The team provided technical surveillance on numerous contracts until the unit’s CORs were trained and in place. Three formal classes were presented, and 67 CORs successfully completed the course. The COR management program enabled properly trained CORs to provide on-the-ground technical monitoring of the contracts, ensuring that Soldiers received contracted supplies and services to meet their mission requirements.

The 410th CSB continues to support operations in Haiti, and although the brigade is making improvements based on many other observations, these represent some lessons learned in contracting operations in a contingency environment. As the Expeditionary Contracting Command focuses on its future capabilities, the areas of deployment, integration, and risk mitigation learned from Operation Unified Response will only serve to make future operational contract support more effective.

Lieutenant Colonel Americus M. Gill III is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps, serves as the S–3 for the 412th Contracting Support Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and was assigned to the 410th Contracting Support Brigade when he wrote this article. He holds an M.B.A. from the University of Texas at Arlington and is level-3 certified in contracting.

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