A Perspective of Initial Exposure to the NACO Program through the eyes of a Junior Officer
My brief time as a Navy Acquisition Contracting Officer (NACO) intern has been an eye-opening experience regarding the importance of contracting in the government at large.
During my first eight months in the program, I have come to find out that, simplistically, it is the backbone of not only the Supply Corps, but also logistics as a whole. It involves transportation, budgeting, general counsel, inventory control, and supply chain management.
Even at my current duty station – Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Weapon Systems Support (WSS) Philadelphia – the contracting process involves Defense Logistics Agency, Fleet Logistics Centers, ships and air stations, contractors and program managers, Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), and other military branches and foreign militaries.
It has been rich in personal gain as well. Experiencing end-to-end contract award processes and performing post-award management activities has been invaluable, and it has really allowed me to see the bigger picture. The skill sets learned, such as negotiation and the art of persuasion, performing robust financial pricing analysis, reading and adhering to acquisition regulations, as well as breaking down vendor proposals and all associated considerations, are useful in almost all facets of life, and unrivaled by comparison to other intern programs and other shore duty stations.
The mentoring opportunities at a command such as NAVSUP WSS are plentiful. There is a plethora of directorates and divisions comprised of an extremely professional group of civilians and military personnel offering decades of experience in the supply mix. There is also a tight-knit Wardroom comprised of the finest Supply Corps officers in the cradle of the Supply Corps – Philadelphia – who come from all walks of life, varied career paths, and have broad perspectives. The Wardroom boasts a robust mentoring program that develops junior officers like no other duty station can in the Supply Corps by assigning formal mentors, along with great opportunities to forge informal mentoring relationships along the way.
Since entering the NACO program, it has become clear to me how contracting plays such a vital role with federal budgeting, public affairs, readiness, and security. Tremendous amounts of money go into training, oversight and layering, and audit to make it as rectified a process and enterprise as possible in order to protect the best interests of the United States and taxpayers. In short, you don’t want to be the one responsible for buying the next $300 hammer as aired on “60 Minutes”.
A key career milestone of the NACO pipeline is to become Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) Levels I and II Contracting-certified through Defense Acquisition University. These certifications are earned in a compilation of two years contracting experience, passing 16 intensive resident and computer-based classes taken, and a business bachelor’s degree, while demonstrating a certain aptitude in contracting. It is not for the faint of heart, though. One of the first classes, CON 090 Fundamentals of Acquisition Regulation, is also known as “contracting boot camp,” and it is a buzz saw of a class.
A month long, this class teaches non-stop federal, military, and agency regulations to its students. Many have said is the hardest class they have ever taken. In fact, I even witnessed one person who was fully Level II-certified fail the class. CON 090 truly stresses the importance of contracting and serves as a gut check for what lies ahead in this critical career field.
Though challenging so far, the remaining year will surely result in exponential knowledge gain as the contracts I am exposed to get more complex, larger in scope, and increase in visibility.
By Lt. j.g. Daron Weber, SC, USN
NAVSUP WSS Philadelphia