by Major Mel M. Metts and Major Nicholas L. Castrinos
Before the Army Acquisition Corps (AAC) was established, contracting officers had to pursue divided careers. They served in their primary branch until they were branch-qualified at the O-3 level, then served a tour in the functional area of contracting. While serving in the functional area, officers were required to remain competitive for promotion within their primary branch. Serving a tour in the contracting functional area decreased an officer's opportunity to obtain branch-qualifying jobs at the O-4 level and remain competitive for promotion. Contracting officers had to rotate between their contracting functional area and their primary branch, although they were developing skills better suited to their functional area. As a result, officers were not highly proficient in either their primary branch or contracting.
To varying degrees, a contracting noncommissioned officer (NCO) faces a problem similar to the problem officers faced before the creation of separate officer career pathsthe tour in the contracting field is only a temporary assignment. The question then arises: Is the Army headed for trouble with NCO contracting personnel similar to that it experienced with officers? We think the answer is yes!
Contracting Personnel in Other Services
In the Marine Corps, enlisted marines are accessioned into the contracting field at the E_5 level and can remain in a contracting MOS throughout their careers. The primary candidates for accession into the contracting field come from supply administration. Before he is accessioned into the contracting field, an NCO is required to complete 6 months of mandatory on-the-job training successfully. This provides the basic skills and technical expertise needed to become a contracting NCO.
The Air Force has a well-defined and long-established career MOS for enlisted contracting personnel. Enlisted personnel can be accessioned into the contracting field at the E-1 level, so they begin their contracting careers when they enter the Service. This is not to say the Air Force does not accession enlisted personnel of other grades into contracting. The Air Force accessions NCO's from all other MOS's in grades E-4 to E-7. However, the Air Force considers accession at the earliest opportunity in the career development process vital to developing the future acquisition work force.
Using two sources of accessions provides the Air Force with a mixture of E_1's promoted within the system and personnel with prior field MOS experience in contracting.
Establishing a contracting MOS for Army NCO's would correct a number of existing problems.
Perceptions. The majority of Army NCO's entering the contracting field are at the senior level. This creates the perception that senior NCO's entering the contracting field are less competitive for promotion in their primary branches and therefore are attempting to acquire a marketable job skill to be used after retiring. Allowing senior NCO's to enter the contracting field after their 15th year of service also could mean that the Army is not getting a full return on its investment.
Training levels. The majority of NCO's are Level-I certified, and those NCO's that are Level-II certified are primarily senior NCO's (E-7's). (Level certification refers to the task proficiency or ability normally required for successful performance at the grade with which the skill level is associated.) Typically, a senior NCO enters the contracting field as an E-5 or E-6, serves a tour as a procurement NCO, shifts to his primary MOS for an assignment, and then returns to the contracting field. This sequence of events suggests that an NCO has only a slight possibility of obtaining Level II certification during his first job rotation, so repetitive tours are necessary to attain higher certification levels
Highly perishable skills. Because of the continuously changing contracting environment, an individual risks losing his expertise if contracting skills are not updated constantly. Contracting officers and NCO's must keep abreast of the latest changes in administrative and procurement regulations and policies.
Part-time NCO's. Currently, NCO's with additional skill identifier (ASI) G1 (contracting agent) are being trained for their current tour only, not for long-term usability in the contracting field. Contracting is technical and requires more than formal classes. Hands-on training is necessary to achieve proficiency. Although these skills are not lost when the NCO's return to their primary branches, they are forgotten temporarily.
Contracting command concerns. Contracting commands lose valuable assets, continuity, and stability under the current NCO structure. When a new NCO arrives, or an experienced NCO begins a second tour, the training process starts again. Achieving the qualifications of ASI G1 (senior logistics services supervisors) takes a minimum of 2 years, including mandatory classes (CON 101, Basics of Contracting; CON 104, Fundamentals of Contract Pricing; and CON 234, Contingency Contracting) and on-the-job training. This time does not include any mandatory deployments, which are frequent.
Cost-benefit ratio. The current cost of training to obtain ASI G1 is approximately $30,000. The cost-benefit ratio the Army receives after training is only 33 percent if the NCO is qualified in 2 years and then is employed for only 1 year. Remember, an NCO leaves after a 3-year tour, and there is no guarantee he will return to an NCO contracting position. Therefore, the Army receives minimal benefits from the cost of his training.
To achieve a higher return on its investment, the Army should follow the leads of the Air Force and the Marine Corps, where NCO's have a separate contracting MOS and begin their contracting training and experience early in their military careers. The Air Force and Marine Corps consider NCO's long-term assets. Accession into contracting early in their professional careers guarantees the highest cost-benefit ratio. The Army must develop the same professional career model.
Promotion opportunities. NCO's who responded to a survey on promotion opportunities felt they were not as competitive in a contracting MOS as those who remained in their primary MOS's. Currently, NCO's working in career management field (CMF) 92, supply and services, are required to pursue staff-related positions during their tenure as E_6's or E_7's. These positions include recruiter, drill sergeant, instructor, and contracting NCO. Promotion boards view "harder" staff jobs (recruiter, drill sergeant, and instructor) more favorably than "softer" staff jobs (contracting NCO). Therefore, NCO's who volunteer for the harder staff jobs have a greater chance for promotion than NCO's in contracting. Furthermore, positions in the contracting field are not considered leadership positions, whereas harder staff jobs are. This creates a lose-lose situation for both NCO's and contracting commands. Until promotion boards are educated on the importance of contracting NCO's as combat multipliers for their commanders, the current problems will remain.
Maintaining Critical-Task Skills
NCO's are required to maintain not only their contracting skills, but also their primary branch critical-task skills. This means that 92A automated logistical supply specialists must keep up with as many as 85 critical tasks, including proficiency on 2 separate computer systems; 92Y unit supply specialists must maintain proficiency on 22 critical tasks. These numbers only refer to critical tasks and not to the related subtasks within each critical task.
The depth of knowledge required for contracting NCO's to be proficient in both their primary branch critical tasks and their contracting tasks is enormous. Surveyed 92A's stated that they could not keep up with the critical tasks in their primary MOS as well as their contracting tasks. Therefore, during the time that NCO's serve in the contracting field, their primary MOS knowledge diminishes. Upon returning to their primary MOS, they must relearn the entire spectrum of designated critical tasks. How can the Army possibly benefit from these conditions?
Is it necessary for contingency contracting NCO's to have a logistics background? Based on recent changes and a new direction for the contingency contracting NCO, a logistics background is not necessary. Contracting has something to do with logistics, but logistics has very little to do with contracting. Contingency contracting officers acquire everything for deployed forces from tractor-trailers to refrigeration trucks. Therefore, a soldier in MOS 88M (transportation NCO) might have an advantage over a 92Y when leasing or purchasing transportation equipment in a contingency operation. The background of contracting NCO's could range from maintenance or food service to communications. Finally, drawing contracting NCO's from noncritical MOS's would alleviate some of the problems created by drawing NCO's from CMF 92, which is a critical-shortage CMF Army-wide.
The majority of survey respondents indicated that personnel from other MOS's could handle contracting NCO requirements, but a logistics background would assist in the transition. They also indicated that the Army should open ASI G1 to all MOS's that are not critically short.
Benefits of Contracting NCO's
What are the benefits of establishing an MOS for contracting NCO's with ASI G1?
A new MOS would provide stability, continuity, and greater institutional knowledge in contingency contracting commands. Like NCO's in other branches of the Army, NCO's are the backbone of a contracting organization. Contingency contracting officers (CCO's) are required to have a broad range of skills in contingency and administrative contracting as well as in contract and program management. Additionally, CCO's are required to rotate through various positions to remain competitive for promotion. The continual exodus of NCO's and CCO's is making it difficult for contingency contracting organizations to maintain qualified personnel for contingency operations. Thus, if NCO's could remain in contracting organizations and provide continuity and stability, their contracting skills and knowledges would continue to grow and benefit their commanders and their contracting organizations. More importantly, this retained knowledge base would be beneficial to deployed troops in the field.
A new MOS would improve the professional development of NCO's, allow them to single-track their careers, and create greater promotion opportunities (mirroring those of officers in the acquisition field). NCO's would compete against other NCO's with similar jobs, eliminating any bias toward other MOS's by promotion boards. NCO's would continue to gain experience and take the necessary Defense Acquisition University courses to become highly competent, warranted contracting officers and, when deployed, combat multipliers.
A new MOS would generate a larger pool of qualified contracting specialists who would be available for mobilization and reduce the current deployment workload of the CCO. The current operational tempo requires two 6-month deployments every 2 years for CCO's. Deployable NCO's would reduce the number of back-to-back deployments for many CCO's. If both a contracting NCO and a CCO were deployed on a contingency mission, the contracting NCO could handle routine acquisition tasks, leaving the CCO free to work on more complex issues. NCO's and CCO's could be interchangeable in some cases, depending on their proficiency levels. This would allow the officer to become more involved in planning and leadership.
Currently, personnel needed to build an MOS within the contracting field are limited, bescause there are only 35 positions available Army-wide for ASI G1. The grades of these positions range from E-5 to E-8.
There are several problems associated with having a small number of personnel in a given MOS. One is not having enough people to allow opportunities for promotion within the MOS. Career progression in a small MOS is slow, which means longer periods of time at lower ranks. Therefore, to establish an MOS, there must be enough personnel to ensure that soldiers are allowed the opportunity for continued career progression. This scenario is similar to that of contracting officers in the AAC: there are numerous positions available at the lieutenant colonel level, but command positions are limited. Without command opportunity, chances for promotion to colonel dwindle exponentially.
Increased demand for contracting NCO's. Recent revisions in the organizational structure of the theater support commands (TSC's) and Force XXI requirements have increased the need for additional ASI G1 personnel. The TSC revision calls for an additional 16 positions in CMF 92 with ASI G1. This requirement includes four E-9 positions for ASI G1's within each TSC. The TSC revision also allows for complete vertical movement of NCO's to the E-9 level if a decision is made to establish a contracting MOS.
The new Force XXI division, the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, requires four additional E-7 positions (92Y40 with ASI G1) to fulfill the requirements documentation system. Three positions are located in the forward support battalion, and one position is located in the division aviation support battalion. In the long term, every heavy division in the Army will be organized in this configuration, adding a total of 24 positions for NCO's with ASI G1.
Professional development. Another problem with instituting a contracting MOS is establishing an appropriate training path for the NCO's. Professional development must be in accordance with Army Regulation 600-3, The Army Personnel Proponent System (APPS). Personnel proponents are responsible for the eight life-cycle management functions of their respective career fields. They take the lead in defining developmental needs, refining requirements in the field, and providing assistance to improve all aspects of the Army's personnel management system. The personnel proponent recommends or determines appropriate accession criteria for enlisted personnel, identifies training criteria by career field, and ensures that training for career development is in concert with all aspects of professional development. There is no schoolhouse or branch that currently offers basic or advanced NCO contracting courses, so where would contracting NCO's go to receive training, and who would support it?
The final problem with establishing a contracting MOS is how to develop institutional training and career progression within operational assignments. Currently, the AAC is a proponent with no enlisted soldiers, and personnel proponency for ASI G1 functions is a responsibility of the Quartermaster General. Because the Quartermaster General is not a branch proponent for the AAC, there also is a problem of who owns NCO's.
Clearly, the current enlisted force structure of contingency contracting is not as effective as it could be. The career development model for NCO's in the contracting field needs a major restructuring.
Establishing a new MOS would benefit combat commanders, contracting NCO's, and contingency contracting commands. The contracting skills and knowledges gained by NCO's would continue to multiply and benefit warfighters and the entire contracting community. With the establishment of a contracting MOS, NCO's would be allowed to single-track their careers, thus creating greater promotion opportunities.
NCO's in all MOS's Army-wide that are not critically short should be considered for accession into the contracting field. A yearly accession board for NCO's should be established that coincides with the officer board. The majority of accessions should come from CMF 92 because of the similarities in job descriptions. NCO's should be accessioned into the contracting field at the grades of E-5 through E-7, but each E-7 should be screened carefully to ensure that the Army receives a full return on its investment in him.
The AAC should become the functional proponent for the contracting MOS, and the Quartermaster Corps should handle the normal MOS personnel proponency functions. The AAC is a proponent with no schoolhouse or branch that supports its professional developmental requirements, so it can develop training requirements but must rely on a branch to conduct courses. Adopting this recommendation would be logical, because the Quartermaster Corps already has the schoolhouse and the developmental courses necessary for CMF 92 MOS's.
Contracting NCO's are combat multipliers who can help ensure mission success in any tactical environment. The Army must develop a separate functional area MOS for them that includes designated career progression and a training path that is comparable to basic branch MOS schools. ALOG
Major Mel M. Metts is a contingency contracting officer at Fort Hood, Texas. He currently is deployed to Taszar, Hungary, where he is serving as Chief of the Joint Contracting Center-Hungary. He is a graduate of South Carolina State University and holds a master's degree in procurement and acquisition management from Florida Institute of Technology.
Major Nicholas L. Castrinos is assigned to the Defense Logistics Agency's Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia. He has participated in numerous contingency contracting operations throughout the Middle East and the Balkans. He holds a bachelor's degree from Evergreen State College in Washington and a master's degree in international relations from Troy State University.