MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
There are four regional contracting offices within the Marine Corps and Quantico is the largest, supporting some of the Corps’ most important commands aboard the base and throughout the National Capital Region. The office is run by four active duty Marines and approximately 55 civilians. Lt. Col. Matthew Howes is the director of the Regional Contracting Office-NCR. He said, on average, their office processes around 2,000 contracts annually, which equates to more than $400 million spent each year.
Some of their customers include Headquarters Marine Corps at the Pentagon, Marine Barracks 8th and I, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, Manpower Reserve Affairs as well as Training and Education Command. All services and supplies for these commands are contracted through this office.
Similar to ducks on a pond, to most people the RCO-NCR appear to be effortlessly floating along but under the surface, Howes said they’re paddling like a motor on overdrive, especially during September, which ends the fiscal year.
The team often works six days a weeks, going over, modifying and approving hundreds of contracts, Howes said. They also have to allocate money that has not been spent. There are six branches that make up the RCO-NCR office. The Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta branches are the buying teams where contracts are acquired; the Governmentwide Commercial Purchase Card Branch is dedicated to the overall maintenance and administration of the government credit cards and the Procurement, Policy, Quality & Metrics Branch is in charge of quality management and business opportunity.
Although RCO-NCR is a customer-oriented environment, Howes said, finding balance with both the military and regulatory requirements can be the most arduous piece. Basically, it’s because all contracts must abide by federal, Marine Corps and Navy regulations. Two stacks of regulation books, with more than 2,000 pages, were strewn across Howes’ desk.
"We have to reference all of the rules in the books for each contract," Howes said. "You have to be able to defend a lot of things — it’s not just what the customer wants but it boils down to what they need and what we’re allowed to do for them."
Hal Jones, chief of Charlie Branch, a buying team, said additionally the team has to be able to bridge between mission needs and what is often perceived as complicated contract jargon. As retired gunnery sergeant and combat veteran, he said his position gives him an unique opportunity to do just that.
"Serving 21 years in the Marine Corps and deploying several times, I can understand when Marines may not understand the contracting process, the acquisition cycle or how any of that stuff works," Jones said. "You have a lot of infantry guys coming to you and they need services. For example, they may need portable toilets but not know the toilet-to-Marine ratio that is needed, how often they’ll need to be cleaned or even how much toilet paper is needed. They just know portable toilets are needed. That’s where I come in and help them work out the process."
Although Jones used a rather simple example, he said the concept also applies to more complex services and support.
With financial constraints becoming the new norm, funds being retracted or reduced from a contract is a reality that has changed the behavior of military commands and the workload of contracting offices.
"In 10 years it’s gone from the sky is the limit and requirement owners had money and they we’re able to fully fund them with no risk of losing it — that’s all changed now," Howes said. "They are very careful when they apply these resources to a requirement because they might have to [rework a contract based on a change in funding] down the line and nobody wants to do that."
Budget cuts could alter contracts, which is why Howes said it’s imperative for commands to be meticulous about what supplies and services that are needed. That includes being proactive with
allocating money within their budget well before the Sept. 30 deadline and being meticulous with what is needed to achieve their missions.
To help with funding efficiency, the office is expanding their quality and
control management, which will reduce purchase redundancies and improve funding efficiency.
To help with this process, in light of the nation’s financial challenges, Howes urges commands to be proactive.
— Writer: firstname.lastname@example.org