Aviation Leader Commentary: There is a cost for everything

By Ernest B. Von Reichenbach, Programs Division branch chief, Procurement Process Support Directorate DLA Aviation

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We have all heard the phrase, “There is a cost for everything.” As I have gone through life, I have found it to be exceedingly true. Would you prefer sitting back while the grass cuts itself? Well, a riding mower is going to cost more than your run-of-the-mill, walk-behind mower.

Not that long ago, Defense Logistics Agency Aviation was asked to change the way we conducted our quality compliance program (the Procurement Management Review Program) by DLA Headquarters. We decided this would be the perfect time to reinvent ourselves. (Kind of like a midlife crisis, but without the sports car and hairpiece.)

The mission really didn’t change; contracting compliance was still the goal, but we wanted to add a new flavor. Collaboration became the watchword. Like everyone else in the activity, we were understaffed. So we figured this was a perfect time for realignment.

We merged two standalone teams, the Contract Quality Review Team (formerly the Procurement Management Review Team) and the Fraud, Waste and Abuse Team. This formed what is now known as the … wait for it … wait… you guessed it: the COST, or Contracting Operational Support Team. It makes that whole cost for everything really sink in, doesn’t it?  This team focuses on collaborative support, where the customer — that would be most of you — tells us what they want. We then deliver — like pizza drivers, but without the carbs.  

Innovation and transformation were the goal. (Mission accomplished, by the way.) Once the team was in place, it took off like a jet. The customer-first approach spread across DLA Aviation. The team focused not on the findings, but on the individual. This attention was customer (operations) focused as well as internally focused (how we interact with each other).

The team also expanded its role to perform reviews tailored to each customer’s needs. These reviews, which can focus on contracting officers, clause application, compliance with vendor-traceability rules and other areas, validate the great work done by the DLA Aviation team, and in many cases, reduce administrative time. The results of these reviews are useful not only to senior leadership, but also to our individual teams and contracting officers.

So what does the menu look like? The new team (kind of like New Coke — only still awesome) provides support across all phases of the acquisition process. This includes proactive fraud, waste and abuse attention, as well as many other types of support. Previously, we had one primary fraud monitor; now we have several. Cross-training ensures numerous team members have the knowledge and skills to assist. This not only ensures a timely response but also allows the team members to learn from each other. This had an immediate positive impact through the reduction of vendors on the Special Attention List, and thus a decrease in administrative time. 

The team also provides focused reviews on specific areas of importance to our senior leadership. These reviews, which can analyze all the way down to the contracting officer level, have included policy-compliance verification, as well as reviews supporting the Contracting Officer Warrant Certification Program. 

One of the greatest shifts was the collaborative approach taken with our forward DLA Aviation sites. Previously, the team, during its visit, would evaluate the sites; that served a purpose at the time (much like rubbing two sticks together used to be a good way to start a fire), but now the team partners with the sites. They tell us what they need, which the team can then focus on.

DLA Aviation’s COST has been held up as a shining example by DLA Headquarters senior leaders for all of DLA. The quality and quantity of the reviews are unchanged, but customer satisfaction is markedly greater.  How is this possible? Any great team starts with people. The COST is made up of acquisition professionals with the full spectrum of experience: staff, audit, buyer and contracting officer.  Individually they’re great, but together they’re awesome! 

I’ve challenged them to exceed the customers’ needs at every opportunity. Now I challenge our operational customers to challenge us: Tell us your needs. Tell us where you want the focus. Then prepare to be amazed. 

There is always going to be a cost for quality; DLA Aviation is fortunate enough to have that cost covered.