News | Aug. 24, 2020

JCASO winds down operational contract support mission with mobile training 

By Beth Reece

Operational contract support planners from the Defense Logistics Agency who’ve helped combatant commands and their service components consolidate purchases of commercial supplies and services needed during contingencies will provide a final OCS training session in September.

DLA’s Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office will go away Sept. 30 as the military services assume responsibility of operational contract support although planners will be available through Sept. 30, 2020, or until they move into a new position. The agency began offering mobile OCS training two years ago to equip service logisticians with a fundamental knowledge of OCS and the skills to conduct it. The Army’s 167th Theater Sustainment Command will be the last unit to receive the training, which covers topics like requirements development, market research and contract management.

JCASO was created in 2008 after Congress directed the Defense Department to improve contingency contracting and acquisition management in light of DOD’s increased reliance on commercial support in Iraq and Afghanistan. JCASO has helped operational contract integration cells at geographic combatant commands coordinate contracts for everything from construction equipment during the Ebola crisis to commercial lodging and laundry services for military medical teams that augmented U.S. hospital staffs early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

OCS is often challenging for service members because it’s an add-on task rather than a primary duty or occupational specialty, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sandranell Moerbe, a Navy engineer assigned to JCASO. 

“It’s usually given to a logistics or contracting officer and is just one of their many tasks. It’s also something they only do during contingencies or exercises, so 80% of their time is spent on other priorities like logistics planning and don’t involve commercial support for contingencies,” she said.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Andrea Davis, a logistics planner for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, took the training in June through online video conferencing and said JCASO’s coaching helped her build an OCS guidebook that will simplify OCS execution for her successors. 

“The training gave us a starter kit we can mold to fit our evolution here. It gave us some good formats we can use to track requirements and contracts,” she said. 

Though she had a textbook understanding of OCS, Davis said she struggled with her OCS duties, which she saw carried out in various ways while supporting hurricane relief efforts in her three years with USFF. JCASO training taught her that being organized can simplify OCS’s complex processes.

“I wished I’d set up the training when I first heard of JCASO because it would’ve made my life so much easier if I’d been aware of their best practices,” she said.

JCASO also tailored its training for the Naval Supply Systems Command in June and has used military training exercises as opportunities to teach service members the steps and value of OCS. During hurricane relief efforts following Hurricane Maria three years ago, expeditionary contracting officers from JCASO helped U.S. Army North’s OCS integration cell oversee contract support for Puerto Rico. JCASO reps made it a learning experience for ARNORTH officials as they tutored them to seek creative, logical solutions, such as the use of already existing contracts by local hospitals for medical waste disposal. 

Units have requested JCASO’s help developing documents that outline commanders’ priorities and how OCS functions during particular operations, as well.

“As we help them refine their plans and rewrite the documents, we also provide instruction on some of those tasks,” said Lew Sigmon, JCASO’s deputy director of operations. 

There are only two formal OCS training courses in DOD: the 2-week, in-person Joint OCS Planning and Execution Course and the Army Logistics University’s Operational Contract Support Course.

Although DOD’s reliance on commercial sources grew during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s military reliance on commercial support goes back to the Revolutionary War, when women followed behind troops to wash clothes. The renewed focus on integrating contracting support for deployed forces helps eliminate duplicate efforts and consolidate military purchases, said Maj. Lynnette MacKay, a Canadian Army logistician assigned to JCASO to learn about U.S. OCS processes. 

“OCS ensures one military organization isn’t using up all the resources for a single commodity that other parts of the military need, too,” she said, adding that it also reduces competition among buyers that could potentially increase prices.

The end of JCASO’s mission makes it more important than ever that military leaders prioritize OCS, Sigmon added.

“Part of the success of OCS is due to the fact that our contracting officers can literally pull a rabbit out of a hat at the last minute,” he said. “But the idea behind OCS is to get ahead in planning efforts so you can identify requirements and vendors early; then you’re not sacrificing efficiency and cost savings because you’ve waited until the last minute.”