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Using Lessons Learned for Contracting in Haiti

Members of the Expeditionary Contracting Command (ECC) nullified potential problems during their contingency deployment in support of Operation Unified Response, the Haiti humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission. They did so by using lessons learned from previous deployments as well as by capturing new ones.

The first ECC Soldier arrived in Haiti within 48 hours of the devastating 7.0 earthquake on 12 January. During Operation Unified Response, ECC contracted for supplies, services, and equipment to support military and Federal responders as well as Haitians affected by the earthquake. The command helped to deliver more than 15 million meals to the Haitian people in a 10-day period and established distribution points for local families to receive 25- and 30-pound bags of rice, beans, and cooking oils. Contracting efforts also helped turn dangerous rudimentary shelters into
safer areas with tents and routine delivery of water and meals.

“We took advantage of a lot of lessons learned from previous deployments,” said Brigadier General Joseph L. Bass, commanding general of the ECC. “We didn’t do these types of things early on in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. However, we learned those lessons and brought these capabilities to Haiti early on. We were very proactive from the beginning, deploying the right personnel mix needed to provide quality assurance, legal, policy, and other areas where we could address issues on the front end rather than after they’ve been done.”

General Bass added that establishing contracting reach-back support stateside, bringing in Logistics Civil Augmentation Program planners in the beginning stages, and working with units to establish coalition and joint acquisition review boards were lessons learned from previous military deployments to support operations in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The Rock Island Contracting Center in Illinois provided support on an on-call basis, which allowed contingency contracting officers to concentrate on immediate onsite requirements and leave complex actions for the contracting center stateside. By the end of the mission, the ECC had created more than 380 contracting actions valued at almost $12 million.

In addition to employing lessons learned, contracting officers also identified areas where challenges still exist. When contingency contracting officers (CCOs) arrived in Haiti, they relied heavily on support from outside units and agencies for basic life-support services. To ease the initial burden, the ECC has developed pre-positioned deployable equipment packages for its contracting teams as part of an early-entry equipment capability.

The ECC also identified, based on past lessons learned, that a contract review threshold needs to be established early to allow CCOs to adjust to the administrative requirements of contracting operations in a deployed environment. This allows oversight, management control, and quality control of high-dollar contract actions.

The fact that the simplified acquisition threshold increases from $100,000 to $1 million during a declared contingency operation does not mean that all CCOs should be issued a $1 million warrant. Warrants need to be issued based on CCO experience and the dollar amount of actions needed to complete the mission.

“Just as we gathered lessons learned from previous deployments, we have gathered some from the Haiti deployment that should help us the next time we deploy,” said General Bass.

One of those lessons is that the training and experience needed to create knowledgeable CCOs take time. In order to improve this process, General Bass and his staff want to create standardized reach-back support for contingency operations and are looking to establish a reach-back center of excellence for global contingencies that would align contracting contacts regionally with the combatant commands and the contracting support brigades. The center of excellence would integrate the reach-back points of contact into training events and exercises, create a logistics planning team for contracting, and provide assistance for immediate or complex requirements.

Larry D. McCaskill is a public affairs specialist with the Army Contracting Command. He is a graduate of Queensborough Community College and has more than 25 years of experience as an Army public affairs professional.

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