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News | Aug. 29, 2017

Mid-life moxie: administrator earns golden opportunity as Keystone

By Thomas Perry DCMA Public Affairs

OKLAHOMA CITY, Aug. 29, 2017 — Nearly 50 years into life, Mara Chambers joined Defense Contract Management Agency as a GS-5 procurement technician. With her she brought some public sector experience, little expectation of promotion and a partially completed Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology.

“Having previously worked at other government offices (within the clerical and administrative fields), I had a low expectation of promotion beyond the GS-6 or GS-7 levels,” said Chambers, who in March 2012 at 49-years-old joined the soon-to-be-established Aircraft Integrated Maintenance Operations Oklahoma City.

Her prior government experience included stints with Oklahoma City-based locations of the Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Geological Survey, Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center and the Army Recruiting Command.

While her DCMA position kept Chambers in the same city and mirrored much of her previous responsibilities, the following years dramatically altered her professional aspirations and proved successful career shifts are not restricted by age. Such success is often aided by a little help, however.

Frata Little was Chambers’ trainer when she joined the agency. Little had more than 25 years of experience as a procurement technician with DCMA, Defense Contract Management Command and Defense Logistics Agency.

“She thoroughly explained the duties of the position and told me what exactly was expected from my performance as a PT,” said Chambers. “I quickly became a trusted agent and direct modification input specialist. She was teaching me invaluable knowledge about (Defense Finance and Accounting Services), (Mechanization of Contract Administration Services) and payment of contracts.”

As she honed her craft under the guidance of Little, Chambers was encouraged by a co-worker to complete her degree. He also encouraged her to complete the 24 hours of business-related training courses required to apply for the agency’s Keystone Program. Chambers applied for AIMO Oklahoma City’s Keystone contract administrator position and was accepted.

“I was a little apprehensive because my degree is in Psychology and did not know how I would do in the contracting courses,” said Chambers.

Soon her apprehensions faded away, as her work ethic and ability to analyze new information impressed both co-workers and leadership. Air Force Lt. Col. Lance Hannan, DCMA AIMO Oklahoma City commander, said he is inspired by Chambers’ story, calling her performance “outstanding.”

“Mara has excellent research skills and analytical abilities,” said Hannan. “More importantly, she has the people skills to build the necessary relationships for us to truly deliver insight that matters.”

Those skills proved vital within the Keystone environment, as did the continued efforts of the Oklahoma City team.

“The leadership at my contract management office have been supportive and worked with me to complete my Level II Certification in contracting,” said Chambers. "The other Keystones and contract administrators in the office have provided assistance and advice whenever I needed it. We have a great working environment.”

Despite the overwhelming support, Chambers faced many challenges during the evolution of her Keystone Program, but as the three-year experience progressed she grew comfortable with the position.

“Be open to learning a lot of information quickly,” said Chambers, offering advice to future program participants. “The courses may not seem to be relevant to what you are working on at first but it does click once you have a regular workload. Never be afraid to ask for help from others in the office, as they are eager to help you succeed.”

Hannan and his leadership team encourage such collaboration because they believe in talent development, and have seen firsthand, as in the case of Chambers, the key role successful Keystones play within organizational sustainment.

“Given how many acquisition professionals are retirement eligible or close to reaching that milestone, the Keystone Program is extremely vital to DCMA and our vision of acquisition insight that matters,” said Hannan. “Classroom training is useful but learning from a seasoned acquisition professional is invaluable in developing the next generation of the workforce.”

A journey that began as a quest to recapture the “stability and benefits” associated with government service ended June 29 when Chambers graduated from the Keystone Program. She is now Level II certified in contracting and serves AIMO Oklahoma City as a GS-11 contract administrator.

“From the beginning to almost the end, it has taken me less than five years to achieve these goals,” said Chambers. “At other federal agencies where I worked previous to DCMA, achieving this magnitude of career development so quickly was unheard of, unless you were willing to relocate to another state or switch to a different agency that did not require a degree.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have experienced the advancement opportunities – both professionally and personally — from DCMA. I have received so much guidance and training along the way. I greatly look forward to working within DCMA for many more years of my career."