Everybody Wants to be a Contracting Officer

By Mark D. Bennington, NAVSUP Headquarters,
Assistant Commander for Contracting

Everybody wants to be a contracting officer,” has long been my mantra. I am a contracting officer, by trade and training, and I believe it to be the most rewarding career field within DoD acquisition.

Contracting officers are the only ones with the authority to enter into, administer, and terminate government contracts. They are tasked with ensuring that all contracts meet the requirements of law, executive orders, regulations, and all other applicable procedures, including clearances and approvals.

As the Assistant Commander (ACOM) for Contracting at Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, I’m the strategic leader for the NAVSUP contracting community tasked with providing a framework for the delivery of contracting services across the Navy field contracting system. I also serve as the NAVSUP Head of the Contracting Activity (HCA).

As the Deputy Commander for Acquisition, I’m the senior civilian responsible for completing 42 percent (approximately 120,000) of the Navy’s contracting actions, representing nine percent ($7.5 billion) of the Navy’s contracting dollars. In direct support of the Navy’s acquisition goals and objectives, I exercise contract authority and execute contractual and administrative matters in the procurement of supplies and services to naval forces around the world, both afloat and ashore.

The NAVSUP and Supply Corps team oversees a diverse portfolio of programs, including supply chain management for material support to Navy, Marine Corps, Joint and coalition partners, supply operations, conventional ordnance, contracting, resale, fuel, transportation, security assistance, and quality-of-life issues for our naval forces, such as food service, postal services, Navy Exchanges, and movement of household goods.

In addition to its headquarters activity, the NAVSUP Enterprise is comprised of 11 commands located worldwide that include NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Centers in Jacksonville, Florida; Norfolk, Virginia; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Puget Sound, Washington; San Diego, California; Sigonella, Italy; Yokosuka, Japan; and Manama, Bahrain. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to recruit new college graduates and other qualified candidates into the “1102” career field. Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to enlist new talent into the Naval contracting workforce.

On April 1, 2018, NAVSUP disestablished NAVSUP Global Logistics Support (NAVSUP GLS). As a result, many of the NAVSUP GLS employees located in San Diego, California, would be required to move to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. During this time of change, I spearheaded an innovative initiative that allowed any NAVSUP GLS employee to transition into a 1102 contracting job series at their current GS grade and step.

The first step in this process, which was given special permission by NAVSUP Human Resources, was to advise the NAVSUP GLS workforce of the opportunity. I spent some time in San Diego addressing the workforce about the unique opportunity to work in contracting. There was general excitement among the workforce, as I conveyed my enthusiasm for the contracting career field. I emphasized the need for contracting in every aspect of Department of Defense and federal functions. I shared my career background, as well as the many “cool” programs I had been a part of, and highlighted opportunities to work in locations across the world like Japan, Italy, and Bahrain.

After my talk, there were a number of employees who showed interest in this career field. Next in the process was to ensure that each of the candidates was academically qualified for the 1102 job series. Contracting personnel in the 1102 series must have at least a bachelor’s degree, with an additional 24 semester hours of business credit (i.e., accounting, economics, management, etc.). After passing the first hurdle, there were still a number of interested and qualified candidates.

The next step in this process was to assess the candidates’ aptitude for contracting. I arranged a week-long Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) introductory course for the interested candidates. This is normally a graded course, however, for this particular offering, no grades were given. The candidates could attend the FAR introductory course without committing to the 1102 job series. If, after completing the course, they were still interested in contracting, NAVSUP would begin the process of transitioning them into the 1102 job series. If they were no longer interested, then they could remain in their current job series.

After the FAR introductory course, each of the interested candidates was required to take the four-week CON090 course titled, “FAR Fundamentals.” This course is designed for those new to federal contracting. Students were immersed in the FAR, Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), and procedures, guidance and information (PGI) throughout the course, and immersed in knowledge of the government contracting process.

The rules for the CON090 course were different than the FAR introductory course. Attendance at the FAR introductory course was just that–attendance. For CON090, the course would be graded, and candidates would have to pass to continue in the 1102 job series transition process.

Normally, within the federal government, one must already be in the 1102 job series in order to take CON090. For this special group of students, I worked with the Department of the Navy Director, Acquisition Career Management (DACM), Mark Deskins, to waive the 1102 job series requirement prior to signing up for this course.

The good news is that everyone in the course passed. Deskins and Elliott Branch, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy–Acquisition and Procurement, both spoke via video teleconference at the graduation exercises. The students were that much closer to becoming contracting officers.

As the disestablishment date for NAVSUP GLS approached, the next step in the 1102 transition process was to place each of the candidates into the NAVSUP contracting organization where they could continue their acclimation and education process.

Now that the students had passed CON090 and were continuing at their current General Schedule (GS) level, I needed to give them the tools and education to be DAWIA-certified at Level II. I committed to getting them Level II certification in contracting within two years. In order to give them the proper experience, they could potentially be required to physically relocate outside of San Diego. Each employee was given a Management Directed Reassignment (MDR) letter, which gave employees the opportunity to move to NAVSUP Headquarters within their current GS job series. Each of the 1102 transition
candidates were given a second MDR, which offered them the opportunity to move to a different geographic location in order to continue their contracting education. Those locations were Norfolk, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Jacksonville, Florida; Puget Sound, Washington; Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; and San Diego, California. In the end, six employees decided to transition to the contracting career field.

As I reflect upon this extraordinary transition opportunity, I have some observations. First, change is hard, but there are times when you need to take a chance. This was obviously one of those times. Second, you often hear the term, “think outside the box.” As these future Contracting Officers have proven, thinking differently about problems and solution sets can bring about awesome opportunities. Finally, for me, the ultimate objective is take care of our people. Providing our people with tools and opportunities is a “must do,” and I’m proud of those who took this amazing opportunity!

Summer 2018