By DCMA Cost and Pricing Command
More than 50 years ago, Paul Karkainen asked his mother what he should do with his life. She said “you should go into contracts because you get to deal with contractors.”
This simple-yet-sage advice proved prophetic five decades later, as Karkainen, a Defense Contract Management Agency price and cost analyst, retired after 51 years of contract-related civil service Jan. 2.
Karkainen, of the Defense Contract Management Agency’s Cost and Pricing Regional Command, said his mother’s words set him on a path to more than half a century of service.
“I have known Paul for almost 20 years, and he is the hardest working, most dedicated person I have ever met,” said Mark Jones, director of DCMA’s CPRC Pricing Group. “Since joining the pricing group, he has been instrumental in helping to develop a number of DCMA's policies and manuals that will continue to benefit DCMA well past his retirement.”
Jones, who last supervised Karkainen in 2019 as the director of the West Pricing Team, said he witnessed how Karkainen often mentored everyone on the team, particularly with vital pricing team work. “Paul's knowledge and leadership on Overhead Should Cost Reviews and major proposal Surge Support efforts have resulted in enormous cost avoidance for the Department of Defense,” said Jones.
Karkainen attributes his longevity and skill to his love for the work and the support he’s had from leadership and his colleagues past and present.
Such examples of his successful mentorships are scattered throughout his decades-long service.
“An English major like me would have no story to tell without my teammates’ analytical brilliance and willingness to support me and the customer,” said Karkainen, whose pursuit of educational opportunity has yielded benefits to himself and the agency.
In addition to his bachelor’s degree in English, Karkainen holds two master’s degrees; one in English Literature from the University of Oregon and another from the University of Washington’s Graduate School of Public Affairs, today known as the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance.
Kicking off a 50-year career
Karkainen got his start in contracting after feeling burned out by his pursuit of a doctorate in English Literature. After the advice from his mother, herself a 30-year career civil servant, he decided to enter the workforce.
He applied for a civil service internship in contracting with Army Materiel Command in Huntsville, Alabama in 1970 and then moved to a contracting position with the Army in St. Louis. Unfortunately, by 1972 he was subject to a reduction in force initiative. The RIF resulted in a transfer to a Dallas contracting office belonging to a DCMA predecessor organization, the Defense Contract Administrative Service in the Dallas Region.
He relocated to Washington State in 1973, when he applied for and received a position with the Air Force Plant Representative Office, Boeing in Seattle. It was a homecoming of sorts.
He came to know the North Western U.S. as a young child because his family spent some years there. His father regularly relocated the family as a part of his career in the defense industry. “I was what I call an ‘aerospace brat,’ but the part of the country I always wanted to come back to was the Seattle area,” he said.
To prepare himself for a long-term success and to boost his contracting skills he requested and received permission to go on a one-year sabbatical. During this time, he completed his second master’s degree in public affairs, now known as public administration.
At AFPRO Boeing, he quickly rose in the professional ranks to administrative contracting officer in 1975 and then chief of contracts branch for all Airborne Early Warning and Control System Programs in 1978.
He continued to progress and in 1987 moved into a supervisory ACO role and spent seven years as the overall AFPRO contracts branch chief.
During this period, he also served as the Defense Contract Management Command divisional ACO for Boeing Seattle. DCMC was DCMA’s precursor under the Defense Logistics Agency.
At around the same time that DCMC transitioned to DCMA, in March 2000, Karkainen was chosen by the DCMA Boeing Seattle commander to serve as acting deputy and deputy commander, until a new military deputy was appointed in April 2001.
In September 2002, Karkainen made a big move to the DCMA Seattle geographic office after nearly 30 years in the Boeing plant office. For the next four years, he served as a team chief within the mission support group and then multifunctional operations group chief. In 2003, he coordinated the consolidation of DCMA Seattle with DCMA Boeing Seattle under Air Force Col. Patricia Boggs, merging the cultures of two unique offices into one.
From June 2006 through March 2010, Karkainen served as multi-functional operations group chief followed by contracts director for DCMA Twin Cities from the Bellevue, Washington office.
As director, Karkainen was responsible for 43 contracting people on three teams in two states (Washington and Minnesota) and indirectly responsible for 24 other employees.
“The numerous positions within DCMA that Karkainen previously held made him the perfect fit within the Pricing Group,” said Jones. “He is attuned to customer needs and requirements, contracting and pricing policies and regulations, proposal pricing, indirect rates, negotiations and numerous aspects of DCMA operations.”
Even as he pursued his contracting career, Karkainen still found time to pursue his first passion, writing.
In 1979, he published a book titled, “Narnia Explored,” that examined all seven of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, including the classic, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Karkainen later republished the book in 2007 under the title, “Narnia: Unlocking the Wardrobe.”
A second act for the ages.
In 2009, Karkainen thought he might retire after he learned that his position as the contracting director for DCMA Twin Cities was being relocated from its previous location in Seattle to Bloomington, Minnesota.
By this time, he had already spent more than 37 years in the Seattle area and raised a family so the prospect of moving did not appeal to him.
“My wife and I were married 45 years ago and we're still living in the same house,” he said. His adult children still live nearby.
As luck would have it, around the time when he was considering leaving the agency, he stumbled upon the opportunity with the Cost and Pricing Center. Karkainen would be getting in on the ground floor for vital work where he could apply his decades of knowledge and experience.
Now known as the Cost and Pricing Regional Command, its mission is to serve as the principal interface to the corporate level of major defense contractors. The command is responsible for, among other things, negotiating corporate level rates and factors; determining corporate system adequacy; developing and sustaining agency expertise in forward pricing and proposal analysis; supporting recruitment and training the next generation of cost monitors and price analysts; conducting overhead cost reviews for the Department of Defense and serving as the DoDs subject matter experts on commercial acquisitions.
As an analyst, Karkainen said what he enjoyed the most during his CPRC tenure was surge pricing support to buying office customers with large proposals.
“The most successful team I was involved with during this time reviewed the prime and major subcontractor proposals for the aircraft launch and recovery equipment on the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier,” he said. He even served as CPRC team leader on a series of such reviews.
The result, he said, was delighted customers and more affordable weapon systems and products.
These OHSCR and surge pricing reviews also garnered some agency recognition. Karkainen and his colleagues earned DCMA Herb Homer Team Awards in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Karkainen was also selected as one of the DCMA Outstanding Personnel of the Year in 2016.
“Throughout my 10 plus years in the CPC and CPRC, my teammates have rallied around me every time I needed help in completing a major proposal review,” said Karkainen. “They created the analytical insights that I used in putting together the integrated pricing reports and supported those insights capably in negotiations with the prime contractor.”
If it were up to Karkainen, he could see himself giving a few more years to the profession he’s loved for so long. However, with an increasingly challenging commute, and the pandemic still a threat to communities all over the country, retirement is the only decision he’s completely comfortable with.
While retirement will steal away his focus on contracting, he said that he already has his next assignment lined up. “My wife is an outstanding first grade teacher and she's been doing that for over 30 years,” he said. “So my number one job in January is going to be a teacher's aide.”
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