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News | Sept. 7, 2023

My DCMA: Sara Barnes, contracts examiner, legacy team member

By Misha King DCMA Public Affairs

My DCMA showcases the Defense Contract Management Agency’s experienced and diverse workforce and highlights what being a part of the national defense team means to them. Today, Sara Barnes shares her DCMA legacy story.

My name is Sara Barnes, and this is “My DCMA.” I’m an Inspections and Evaluation Team contracts examiner based in Denver with DCMA’s Office of Internal Audit and Inspector General. I’ve been with the agency 11 years, although it feels like I was born into it because of my family’s long history of service with DCMA. My mother was an administrative contracting officer for 31 years; my grandfather was a property administrator for 27 years; my great-great uncle was a contracts supervisor for 33 years; my husband is a lead engineer with DCMA Denver and has also been with the agency for 11 years; and my husband’s sister graduated from the Keystone Program in April 2022 and is now a contract administrator with DCMA Dayton.

My mom has been training me to be a civil servant ever since I was little. She would say, “Government job, government job, we need young people.” Mom took me to work with her on Take Your Son or Daughter to Work Day several times over the years. She’d tell me what she needed to do that day and why it was important. Lucky for me, a quality assurance specialist in her office also had daughters, so we’d get the grand tour of the contractor facility she sat in. I still remember those tours to this day and feeling like I was a part of something bigger, even if just for a day. The office had comradery and an overall atmosphere of teamwork, and I knew that’s what I wanted in my own career one day. 

What influenced me the most about growing up around DCMA was the flexibility my mom had to take time off to take me to games, practices and other activities. She understood her salary might not be as much as the private industry, but she said she’d trade that for the ability to have a family life and a great work-life balance. Mom said she also joined the federal government because she could retire at a younger age than she might have in the civilian sector.

Things fell into place for me within a month of graduating college when a position opened in the Keystone Program at DCMA. I chose this path instead of traditional hiring methods because I felt it was the best way for me to get a position with the federal government as a recent graduate with minimal business experience. At the time I applied for the program, the Air Force and Army were also hiring, but I ultimately chose to apply to DCMA because of its mission and values. Being the eyes and ears for all the services really spoke to me.

My mom questioned me at first about applying for the position because my goal was to get my master’s degree and then start looking for a job. But she didn’t try to sway me; she wanted it to be my decision. So, I went for it. My interview happened a week before my graduation, and I found out I’d been selected for a cost and pricing analyst job in the agency’s Keystone Program right after graduation. After talking to my mom in-depth about his options, my husband, whom I’ve known since middle school, also applied to the Keystone Program two weeks after his graduation and started with DCMA in December 2012. He had just started the hiring process and paperwork when we got married in June that year.

Eleven years later, I still believe starting out as a Keystone was a great decision for me. It’s an excellent program, especially for new graduates, because it offers opportunities and insight you won’t get entering DCMA as a journeyman or from another agency. For example, we had additional training requirements than other new employees that provided us with a better cross-functional understanding and knowledge of the contract administration process. That’s invaluable in painting a complete picture of how DCMA operates and why our work is so important.

Sure, being a trainee for three years may seem cumbersome, but this additional guidance gave me the confidence to take on new roles and tackle complex issues. It’s the best way to learn and build a solid foundation that will take you further in your career. In my four years on the Inspections and Evaluation Team, I’ve met quite a few people who’ve been with DCMA over 10 years and started out as Keystones. Most of them are now administrative contracting officers or in other lead or supervisory positions. In fact, several of our agency’s top leaders started out in the program.

I enjoy working at DCMA because I can see the direct impact we all have on the overall health of the organization. Whether it’s working in-plant, at an office or virtually, we work alongside our teammates in uniform with the common goal of delivering quality products on time and at cost to support our warfighters. What we do is greater than ourselves and it’s immensely rewarding.

As a contracts examiner on the Inspections and Evaluation Team, my mission is to assess, assist and enhance the agency’s ability to prepare for and perform its assigned contract administration services. I ensure regulations are followed and gaps in training or tools are identified and addressed through onsite and virtual reviews, on-the-spot training, and teach-and-train sessions. We have a wealth of knowledge and decades of experience within our agency, and I’m afforded the opportunity to talk to those individuals and pass the knowledge on to others. 

The best part about my current position is I get to bring together two jobs I always thought I’d do while I was growing up: supporting our country and teaching. My future career goals are to find a way to keep expanding and incorporating the teaching aspect. We’re in an ever-changing and ever-growing field, and knowledge will be our key to continued success.

My husband and I have two young kids and they keep us busy. We have Legos, cars, balls and art supplies galore around our house. We also like to go on nature walks and talk about the plants and animals. As parents we’re only cool for a limited time, so they’ve become my hobby…until I embarrass them. Then, embarrassing them will probably go on my list of hobbies for a bit!

Our oldest child is reaching an age where he wants to know what we do and has already started saying, “I want to work with mom and dad!” The patriotism and pride for our country and professions must truly run deep if a nearly 5-year-old child can comprehend how important (and cool) our jobs are.

Editor’s note: For learn more about the Inspections and Evaluation Team, read OIG inspections focus on assisting, enhancing capabilities.