McNamara Headquarters Complex acquisition and contracting employees learned about the laws and regulations of green procurement Feb. 11-12 during a “Buying Green” workshop.
With the passage of Executive Orders 13514 and 13423 in recent years, government agencies have to be extra vigilant in their efforts to ensure their purchases meet “green” requirements, said Gerry Nelson, an environmental protection instructor from DLA Training in DLA Human Resources Services. According to Executive Order 13514, 95 percent of all new federal contracts and purchases have to be sustainable or environmentally friendly where applicable, he said.
“When you’re talking about goals, it’s pretty stringent, he said. “As [Department of Defense] employees, both of these executive orders have explicitly told us that when we’re buying products, we must consider buying the more environmentally friendly version if there is one. And both of these have set goals that we must increase our purchase of the good things and try to decrease our purchase of the more hazardous things by a certain percentage and a certain date.”
The Department of Defense’s Green Procurement Strategy, finalized in 2008, sets roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in the buying process, something that typically was not followed in the past, Nelson said.
“Most [participants] aren’t aware of any of this stuff,” he said. “These things have been around for a long time but haven’t been emphasized as much as they should be. The customer requesting a product is responsible for ensuring that the green requirements are identified prior to submission to the contracting office. It’s their responsibility to say, ‘I need paper and it’s got to be recycled paper.’ But since that’s usually not the case, contracting officials then become responsible for providing guidance to the requesting originators with respect to green products and services.”
During the workshop, more than 20 participants received guidance on both contracting and environmental requirements, helping to ensure contracting officials are aware of their roles as well, said Mikki Brooks, chief of the acquisition contracting branch in DLA Training.
“Our class is unique because we combine both environmental and contracting. You get an environment [subject matter expert] giving the background of all the environmental laws and regulations, then I show the contracting requirements we have to follow and where it’s at in the Federal Acquisition Regulation so you see how they meet. We capture it all.”
Ensuring DLA’s federal contracts and purchases are fair and reasonable isn’t the only step DLA Acquisition is taking to meet federal requirements, Brooks said.
“[As contracting officers], we have the ultimate authority that is granted to us through the contracting officer’s warrant,” she said. “So when we legally obligate the government, we’re saying that everything is correct, fair and reasonable according to the regulations, executive orders and policies. [Contracting officers] should make sure things are done right before we sign our name on that dotted line. And probably the eye opener for most participants is realizing that [DLA Acquisition] is looking and reviewing everything to make sure we’re incorporating green language, as well as the provisions and clauses, [into documents].”
When faced with purchasing decisions of lower prices or environmentally friendliness, contracting officers need to keep a few things in mind, Brooks said.
“You have to make sure you’re equally weighing them and evaluating them,” she said. “We’re mandated to apply life-cycle cost analysis, or cradle-to-grave ownership. [That means] we should be looking at things such as the initial price, the price to operate it, to maintain it and to dispose of it. So what may appear to be a best value to us, by just looking at the initial price, may not be when we consider the total ownership. And we can’t always make the assumption that if it’s green it costs more.”
Contracting officers must be able to look at things within reason, Nelson said.
“Budget money is tight and we’re all under pressure not to be squandering tax dollars,” he said. “But at the same token, we’re under pressure to buy greener products. The basic thing is you must buy the recycled version unless it’s not reasonable. Most of the participants here are contracting people and credit card holders, the folks that actually make purchases. So their job now is to look at the things that they buy and try to make their purchases in accordance with the rules that we will buy products with recycled content, with bio-based content, energy efficient products, and so on and determine what’s reasonable.”
Another part of the workshop is educating employees on a customer’s true needs, Nelson said.
“Very frequently, what we hear is we buy what the customer asks for,” he said. “And that’s fine. Let’s say they want lubricating oil. Years ago, they always used petroleum-based. But if we substitute a bio-based oil and it works, does the customer care where it comes from? No, they just want slippery stuff that works. So it’s up to the purchasing people to know and try to explain to the customer why, if we could, we’d like to substitute a greener version. We know a lot of this is brand new to them, but folks need to know how to implement the requirements of the laws and executive orders.”
Michael Meadows, a quality technician from DLA Aviation, said the workshop is one of his last classes before he graduates from DLA’s Pathways to Career Excellence internship program March 4.
“I didn’t know anything about this before,” he said. “As part of the acquisition team, I take a lot of acquisition classes, so a lot of it is very important to me. It’s my introductory [class], but it gave me insight to where I fit into the acquisition [system]. Now I’ll look for avenues and areas to see where we can buy green.”