FORT LEE, Va. –
Defense Contract Management Agency’s Office of Internal Audit and Inspector General, OIG for short, comprises several teams. The Inspections and Evaluation Team, or IET, is perhaps the most feared and misunderstood.
The IET performs independent assessments of the agency’s mission and business support processes to ensure compliance with Department of Defense and DCMA policies, per Federal Acquisitions Regulation Part 42. Plainly put, they help the agency prepare for and carry out its assigned contract administration services, which directly supports DCMA’s mission of delivering quality products on time and at costs to warfighters.
Contrary to rumor, inspection and evaluation site visits were never meant to be “GOTCHA!” missions. According to Maggie Keller, the IET supervisory contract administrator, the fear factor stems back to the days of OIG Mission Review Teams.
“Those were often considered very negative,” she said. “It seemed like the whole agency had a spotlight on you and your work, and there was no allowance for an ‘oops’ or rational discussion on why something occurred. The prep that went into an MRT lasted months and included deep-cleaning of office spaces in anticipation of a white-glove inspection. Thankfully, we’ve turned away from that approach.”
The IET’s new approach is to assess, assist and enhance the agency’s ability to prepare for and perform its assigned contract administration services. The IET’s members are strategically dispersed throughout the contiguous United States and are assigned to either the contracts or technical team. Their functional areas include contracts, engineering, software, manufacturing, NASA and quality assurance. Every member of this multi-functional team plays a role in carrying out DCMA’s mission and ensuring the contract administration functions are aligned with the agency’s strategic plan.
Alex Peoples, the IET’s quality assurance lead, said the assess phase begins long before the team performs an on-site review and starts with the review of DCMA policy and manuals.
“Our job is not to develop policy, but we do systematically review each policy or potential revisions to ensure the requirements are understood,” he said. “We work closely with the policy owners under the Capability Framework for interpretation and then develop our own assessment workbooks based on the policy requirements in order to perform our IET reviews.”
While team members are busy reviewing policy and manuals, others are developing site visit schedules for the year. The contract management offices being assessed receive a six- to eight-week notice. A week prior to a visit, the team starts reviewing and analyzing the CMO’s product data to determine if it complies with agency requirements.
Cory Rosenberger, DCMA’s chief of staff, said a successful review starts with CMO leadership and their goals and attitude toward their upcoming IET visit.
“Supervisors and managers should embrace these reviews,” he said. “A positive attitude trickles down to their people and teams, and that’s an important part in helping the agency continually improve its processes and procedures.”
During the one-week site visit, the team members conduct reviews and presentations of several focus areas, such as financial improvement and audit readiness; risk management and internal control; and corrective action plan development. Simultaneously, other team members perform their individual program, contract and team interviews with CMO personnel.
Using DCMA Instruction 933 and DCMA Manual 933-01 as roadmaps, the team focuses on reviewing standards, detailing issues, determining impacts and identifying root cause categories. The goal is to provide solutions to address the problems an IET member identified during their assessment.
“Our recommendations to findings are common-sense based, practical and actionable,” said Kim Sherrill-Evans, an IET contracts examiner. “The issues are nearly always eliminated if our recommendations are implemented.”
Peoples said although findings are routinely a result of an IET, his team spends time providing each CMO with constructive feedback and training to help point them in the right direction.
These actions fall under the assist and enhance pieces of the IET mission, which Peoples said often go hand-in-hand and have received a lot of positive feedback over the last couple of years.
“This is the part most of us enjoy the most,” he said. “At the end of each interview, we do our best to provide a synopsis of what we observed and any potential findings. If time allows, we provide on-the-spot training for those deficiencies and a more in-depth training session at the end of the week in areas that may be classified as systemic in nature.”
Another example of enhancement is sharing lessons learned, and providing tools, constructive training and network connections.
“We love to put CMOs in touch with each other to share knowledge, ideas or products that worked for one office and could resolve a deficiency for another,” Peoples said. “Not only does that fix a problem, it also enhances teamwork and cohesiveness within the agency.”
Like most of her teammates, Sherrie McDonald, one of the contracts lead examiners, has been on both sides of the IET fence. Now that she’s on the inspections side, she’s learned and appreciates that IET members are peers with a strong desire to help others and support the agency’s mission.
“We’re always here to help if someone wants to request training or just to have a conversation about previous findings,” McDonald said.
McDonald said she’s also learned certain things are applicable when being evaluated as well as when doing the evaluating, such as not being afraid to ask questions and to “always do the right thing, even when you think no one else is looking. And of course, always document, document, document!”
Elizabeth Kelly, one of the IET’s contracts examiners, said she’s also learned a lot of valuable information and lessons being on both sides of an evaluation. One piece of advice she’d give to her DCMA peers who are about to undergo a review is to relax and keep an open mind.
“I think as examiners, we’re very empathetic about the anxiety reviews can cause,” she said. “When I went through an MRT years ago, the anticipation of what they were going to find was almost unbearable. When it was over, the findings that required correction didn’t even come close to what I had built up in my mind before the review. I don’t think we can ever completely remove the fear factor from an IET visit, but hopefully our peers will understand and believe our only goal is for them to succeed.”
The IET has an arsenal of tools to aid them with “the enhance and assist” pieces of their mission. Perhaps the most comprehensive is their DCMA 365 website (login required), which is a great resource for a CMO with a pending review.
“They can download the IET assessment workbooks, review results from prior site visits and check out the historical library of training we’ve provided to the commands,” said Kelly. “These resources will help the teams focus their attention on high-risk items and reach out for help if they need it.”
The website also features the recently developed IET Dashboard that combines the Agency Results Tracking Tool SharePoint list with an interactive data visualization software platform.
“The result is a powerful three-section reporting tool that imports ARTT data to generate useful charts and visuals,” said Douglas Conner, the IET’s lead software engineer. “The dashboard features a ‘Welcome’ section that provides an overview on how to navigate through the various reports. The ARTT section provides insight at all levels of the agency regarding IET reviews results, such as counts of findings, policy gaps, notables and commendables. The Agency Corrective Action Process section can be used to track progress and document root cause analyses, corrective action plans and validation of corrective actions. This tool truly gives the agency a comprehensive view of how well we’re accomplishing our mission.”
Recognizing that inspection and evaluation visits often induce apprehension, OIG established the IET Augmentee Program in 2018 to help change the negative perception while emphasizing the importance of the team’s work. The selected augmentees are professionals with experience in at least one IET function, including contract administration, property, program integration, engineering and analysis, manufacturing and production, software acquisition management, and quality assurance.
“This rotational tour is a great opportunity for DCMA functional experts outside of OIG to get a taste of being on the other side of an inspection,” said Bob Conforto, the agency’s inspector general. “I hope once our workforce in the field understands and believes the IET is not out to punish anyone or find fault with their work, they’ll embrace ‘the assess, enhance and assist’ concept.”
For more information about the IET and its process or programs, visit the IET and Audit homepage on DCMA 365 (login required.)