Contracting to the commander's intent

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Richard E. Dawson
  • 1st Special Operations Contracting Squadron Commander
A commander’s intent is given on a topic to help guide the planning and subsequent actions to achieve a desired result. The planning process and actions themselves are important and take hours of preparation. Ultimately however, it is the result of the planning process and subsequent actions that really matters. For example, the action may be to destroy a target on a battlefield or for a construction team to build a new hangar, but it is the result of the actions, a degraded enemy or a functional hangar, that matters.

As a contracting commander, I oversee hundreds of contract actions completed by my great team: new contract awards, needed modifications to existing contracts, vendor payment approvals, contract closeouts, etc. Further, I know that my squadron is in part measured and graded by metrics that tell us how fast or slow we accomplish our contract actions. Our ultimate grade, however, is not whether we get a contract awarded, but how the contractor performs and if we achieve the desired effect. The base is enjoying the result of the grounds maintenance contract (trimmed grass & hedges) and the completion of the new Temporary Lodging Facility, not the actual written contract. Hence, while we strive to always award contracts in a timely manner, there are times it may be prudent to delay a contract award, if through negotiations with vendors, we can better achieve the long term goal.

As we work to complete our contract actions, we often work with our customers to make tough trade-off decisions between cost, quality of product, and speed of delivery or acquisition. Working with our customers, we rely on the commander’s intent to help guide the trade-off decisions. Simply put, if the government desires an extremely high quality product quickly, it is probably going to cost more, or if we can settle for an alternative product, we may pay less. In our world of shrinking budgets, making tough trade-off decisions is commonplace.

Trade-offs are always hard, but when all parties are synchronized and understand the commander’s intent, tough trade-off decisions are somewhat easier to make. In acquisitions, however, I find that competing programs can often blur intent at the tactical level. For example, in an overseas contingency environment, a combatant commander’s intent is often to improve relationships with a local population. That commander may be willing to pay higher prices for less quality products if they are awarded to host nation vendors- a program that was prevalent in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. This result of a contract action could be two-fold, procure a product or service and improve host nation relationships. While it is standard practice and common sense to not pay more for something than we should, sometimes in the bigger picture it may be better to do so for a short time period.

Here at Hurlburt Field, we strive to meet the wing commander’s four stated priorities. We have crafted evaluation criteria in solicitations that allow us the ability to award contracts to vendors with better past performance over other potential vendors when necessary. This has been especially helpful in meeting priority four, Modernization and Sustainment. In all trade-offs, commander’s intent is essential to ensure we are making the correct decision.