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NEWS | Nov. 12, 2015

Engineering Communication

By Stephen Hickok DCMA Public Affairs

By definition an engineer is a person with scientific training who designs and builds complicated products, machines or structures. But another definition is someone who produces or creates something in a clever or skillful way. Anthony Labath does both.

Engineers comprise more than 10 percent of Defense Contract Management Agency’s workforce. Labath’s role is developing technical pricing support policy and training for the Engineering and Analysis Directorate. With over 30 years’ experience, he is a subject matter expert on technical pricing, a technical assessment instructor and mentor to other engineers.

Most of Labath’s job depends on precise communication skills, and this is where the other definition for engineer comes in. Labath, who is deaf, has overcome communication barriers in a way that has given a new perspective to the E&A team.

These different engineering traits are why he was recognized by the Department of Defense as an outstanding civilian employee at a Pentagon ceremony Nov. 3. Labath was one of 19 recipients of the 2015 Secretary of Defense Awards to Outstanding Civilian and Service Members with Disabilities. The award goes to those who epitomize the qualities and core values of the DoD, are committed to excellence, and contribute significantly to the ability to keep the nation safe and secure.

“It’s awesome,” said Labath, through a translator. “It’s an honor to be recognized because it validates me as a deaf person to let the world know that there are people with a disability who can do their jobs.”

To Labath, overcoming barriers has been an important achievement throughout his career.

“As a deaf person, the biggest challenge for me, of course, is communication,” Labath said. “I have to be creative with my ability to communicate with people.”

At his desk and in one-on-one interactions — sign language, pen and paper, lip-reading, email or instant messaging will get the job done. But for larger groups, like when he teaches classes, it has been challenging to communicate effectively.

For teleconferences, Labath uses a videophone. An interpreter on the other side of the screen uses sign language to communicate everything the group says. Sometimes Labath’s conference calls have dozens of people on the line. The interpreter has to spell out who’s talking before every comment. It’s not an easy job.

“It’s really difficult for the interpreter to interpret that way,” Labath said. “They normally rotate every 20 minutes, so the first interpreter will know the names of the people speaking, but the second interpreter may not.”

At the beginning of the call, speakers will identify themselves before a comment, but as the call goes on they’ll forget. To compensate, Labath said the interpreters improvise. “They will turn to one side to show one person is speaking, then turn to the other side to show another person is speaking or they’ll tell me it’s a man’s voice or a woman’s voice.”

Even communicating with the translators is challenging at times. “Just as hearing people have different dialects, people sign differently,” Labath said. “It’s an enormous challenge.”

Overcoming these challenges contributed to Labath becoming a significant part of the E&A team.

“Tony brings a unique perspective to the workforce,” said Labath’s supervisor, Nathan Scoggin, E&A Engineering Systems and Process Compliance director. “He’s constantly sought after by his peers and me for his perspective on technical pricing initiatives.”

His experience, according to Scoggin, is highly valued at headquarters. “It’s because he processes information differently, he has a unique perspective, and has significant background in technical pricing and in the field work he’s done.”

“The mission impact that Tony had on the pricing initiatives we have underway is significant,” Scoggin continued. “That has a lot of visibility at the Office of the Secretary of Defense level with Mr. (Frank) Kendall, (Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics), and the Better Buying Power Initiatives that are underway. Tony’s a key player in DCMA’s efforts to support the BBP initiatives.”

A unique perspective has affected more than just Labath’s ability to communicate. “Understanding that Tony processes information differently really causes me to pay more attention to how I communicate,” Scoggin said. “It causes me to provide additional detail that may be nuanced in conversation but may not convey as well as I would hope it would. In terms of verbal conversation, working with Tony has really driven me to be more precise in what I communicate to others as well as with him.”

Labath has engineered a more precise level of communication with his entire team.

Karron Small, director of E&A, calls Labath a total team player and a go-to engineer. “He’s very sharp and knows what he’s talking about,” she said. “He’s so helpful, and even in regards to his disability he’s come to us about different ideas on how we can better acclimate hearing impaired personnel in the workplace. He’s one of the team.”

Being recognized by the DoD is a huge honor for Labath, but he hopes it goes further than himself.

“You should see the individual as a person instead of shoehorning them into specific groups,” he said. “I think I was nominated for the award to show DCMA and the world that people don’t need to look at something that’s wrong with a specific person. Whether that person is a man or a woman, different color, or a person with a disability, you want to see the best and encourage it. I’m really happy to be part of that.”

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Defense Contract Management Agency
Attn:  DCMA - DCC Office of Strategic Communication
3901 A Avenue Building 10500 Fort Lee, VA 23801 

Media Relations:  804-873-8011
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