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News | April 29, 2024

An ounce of prevention: early engagement leads to improved contracts

By Victoria Ryan and Narciso Lopez DCMA Portfolio Management & Business Integration

Have you ever administered a contract, only to encounter problems that should have been addressed before the solicitation was even issued? Avoiding this all-too-common situation is the focus of a new team at the Defense Contract Management Agency.  

An integrated process team, or IPT, composed of members from across the agency, is examining how DCMA can best contribute acquisition insights to its customers — typically Defense Department buying commands — early in the acquisition planning phase. By leveraging DCMA’s considerable experience, the Early Acquisition Engagement team aims to influence better solicitations and, ultimately, contracts that result in better contractor performance with fewer administration issues.   

The EAE IPT brings skills and knowledge from multiple levels, including contract management offices, regional commands, and agency headquarters. The team plans to incorporate cross-functional perspectives from contracting, pricing, quality assurance, engineering, customer engagement and senior leadership. 

“We have a wealth of data that we collect in our normal course of business that we could use to influence better awards,” said Bart Stewart, a senior acquisition analyst and IPT lead for dashboards and metrics.  

Ultimately, the EAE IPT is examining how DCMA can synthesize that data and turn it into actionable insight supporting customers’ acquisition activities and goals. The objective is to minimize the number of contract deficiency reports, modifications, missing terms and conditions, and erroneous technical data that result in inefficient post-award administration and inhibits successful contract performance.  Additionally, early engagement provides an opportunity for DCMA to advise customers of other agency services, and how to plan for delegation of administration.  

Sponsored by Walt Eady, executive director of Program Management & Business Integration, or PM&BI, the EAE IPT drafted a policy and created a tracker used during a pilot phase, which ended March 31. In the pilot, customer requests were matched to an EAE lead who coordinated the response. Results of the pilot will be incorporated in the updated EAE process. 

“It will be a learning curve, but by putting the effort into early communication, EAE will reduce the time and cost of doing post-award administration,” said Connie Joseph, director of PM&BI’s Navy and DLA Customer Engagement Division and the EAE IPT project manager. “With early communication of requirements for transportation, property management and other capabilities, we can instruct our customers on the proper clauses and requirements, making contract administration more efficient.” 

Early engagement isn’t new to the agency, especially for large programs, where DCMA has a long history of close relationships with program management offices. The EAE process is currently part of DCMA’s Negotiation Intelligence Procedures manual, DCMA-MAN 2401-01. The new effort will integrate and standardize the process and expand it to include competitive acquisitions and sustainment-type efforts.  

Steven Buetow, PM&BI executive deputy director and IPT champion, said broadening the use of EAE and engraining it within DCMA culture has many potential benefits for the agency and its customers. “There’s an added benefit for the agency — workload planning,” he said. “By communicating early with the customer, we’ll know what’s coming down the pike.”  

Joseph said the team will introduce training for all employees this summer, once feedback from the pilot has been captured and policy has been finalized. The updated EAE process is expected to launch agency-wide Oct. 1 with the new fiscal year.