Port Visits and the Ethics of Acquisition: Back to Basics

    Rear Adm. Jonathan Yuen, Commander, Naval Supply Systems Command and Chief of Supply Corps, when first on board NAVSUP, declared ethics a priority. He often speaks on what is good, right, and honorable, and that when all three of these combine, moral excellence is achieved. When one thinks of ethics and acquisition, normally one thinks of conflicts of interest; gratuities from contractors; the Procurement Integrity Act; job–hunting for a position with private industry while still employed with the federal government; restrictions on post-government employment of a former federal employee or officer; and ethical problems that can arise when both government and contractor personnel work in common spaces on common goals as a single ‘team’ — as these are the focus areas of our mandatory acquisition ethics training. There are other important ethical considerations to consider during the planning and execution of a port visit that have to do with what the Chief calls our “currency” — others’ trust in our ethical decision — making capability. The currency that makes us both trustworthy and morally excellent starts with the basics.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) is positioned by a tug to its port berth during a scheduled visit to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates.  (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Carlos Vazquez II)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) is positioned by a tug to its port berth during a scheduled visit to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Carlos Vazquez II)

    What do ethics have to do with port visits beyond the topics noted above? Ethics goes beyond not doing wrong and doing what is right. In the context of port visits this includes doing the proper prior planning for the port visit, only ordering via Logistics Requisition (LOGREQ) what the ship truly needs and conducting receipt, inspection, and acceptance of services and goods on Husbanding Service Provider (HSP) invoices in a comprehensive, documented manner.

    Why are we calling port visits and HSP orders “acquisition?” Because once the supply officer submits the LOGREQ, the process of acquisition begins. The supply officer is an important participant in how the acquisition is conducted in accordance with all rules and regulations — including the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and its supplements — NAVSUP instructions and directives, and the Joint Ethics Regulation.

    While it is very time-consuming to review every rule and regulation, the basic concepts behind the rules are plain common sense. For example, FAR 4.8 states “documentation in the files … shall be sufficient to constitute a complete history of the transaction” for the purpose of providing the basis for the decisions made in the acquisition process. In acquisition, the records must document the actions taken, be available for inspections and investigations, and furnish the essential facts that support our ethical decision making. This boils down to “keep good records.”

    Conducting and documenting a port visit is a team effort involving all departments on the ship, and there is assistance and guidance available off the ship from supporting NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center, Type Commanders and the numbered Fleets. It’s important to note that silence and acquiescence on the part of the government while receiving and inspecting could be interpreted by the HSP as government acceptance of substandard products or services. Sometimes, taking no action is as definitive as directing the contractor to do something improper.

    If you see something wrong and do nothing about it, you are devaluing our currency.

    Are you willing to have your decisions aired to the public? The actions supply officers take prior to, during, and after port visits are subject to oversight and scrutiny. While the environment during a port visit is fast-paced, pressure-filled, with high expectations to “get it done,” the documentation must “tell the story” of the port visit and the acquisition of goods and services that occur during that port visit. Documenting port visits must be done well. Each element matters to the overall picture. If one element is off, it could call in to question the integrity of the process. If it’s wrong on paper, intentions do not matter. Do what is good, what is right, and what is honorable. As supply officers, the bare minimum is not enough. We exceed standards on and off the ship in myriad of ways. Ethically conducting and documenting port visits must be one of the ways we excel.

By Capt. Chris Parker, SC, USN; Naval Supply Systems Command deputy assistant Commander for Contracting