Handling contracts that can value up in the millions while under immense pressure and tight deadlines can be a nerve-racking experience for most. But for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District's Contracting team, their financial expertise equips them to surpass challenges like these. They emerged victorious as they ramped up operations to ensure the successful and timely execution of budgetary requirements throughout a historic fiscal year closeout, where they oversaw $1.1 billion in obligations.
Not only did the Contracting team race against the clock amid an enduring global pandemic, but they also relied on their innovative contracting approaches to power through regional hurricane impacts from Ida and a high-profile mission to support the in-processing of Afghan evacuees.
Providing comprehensive acquisition services to ensure timely execution of requirements while upholding best value, quality, ethics, and compliance under such circumstances wasn't easy, but the team relished in their accomplishments.
"It's always a good feeling to complete an awarded contract, but it's even more rewarding when you complete the task while racing against time and facing the risk of losing funds," said Maj. Punatoto Taamu, USACE Baltimore District contracting officer.
When it comes to appropriated funding, the U.S. government operates on an annual cycle designed by Congress, which fiscally runs from Oct. 1 – Sept. 30.
The Contracting office is responsible for providing business opportunities to individuals and firms, through the HubZone program, Veteran Owned, Small Disadvantaged Business and Small Women-Owned businesses, in the civilian community through engineering and construction management work. Work includes the construction of new buildings and renovations, alterations, and repairs of existing projects in partnership with architect and engineer groups from the private sector. Furthermore, they awarded contracts in support of environmental remediation efforts across the region and nation.
The team worked round-the-clock operations in the weeks leading up to fiscal 2021 closeout to ensure funds were used on mission-essential goods and services before they expired.
"My favorite moments this year have been successfully building the one-on-one relationships with my counterparts in a challenging telework environment and ultimately enabling the USACE mission by providing contracting support," said Taamu.
As a result of the pandemic and teleworking posture, communicating timely mission requirements with stakeholders and project managers became even more challenging and crucial. The Contracting office experienced manageable end-of-year procedures thanks to late-night video conferencing to complete documentation and reviews.
"Organization was key, and lots of communication ranging from the specialists and contracting officers, all the way up to leadership within Contracting and into the other divisions was required for a successful team effort," said Tamara Bonomolo, USACE Baltimore District Large Contracts section chief. “Many meetings occurred to ensure the Project Delivery Teams worked together like a well-oiled machine."
For Bonomolo, this was where the coordination came into play, ensuring Project Management, Engineering, and Construction divisions obtained required documents and worked together to ensure specifications and drawings were provided with the appropriate amount of solicitation time.
"Many of the larger dollar actions in our Construction Branch require advanced planning as the process to award those sized projects may take 6 to 9 months," said Bonomolo. "For smaller projects, it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to 2 to 3 months. Each USACE project requires a contracting officer and contract specialist, so by the end of the fiscal year, any person in Contracting could be executing 10 to 20 projects at the same time, sometimes more, and with different degrees of complexity."
The Contracting office also played a key role in Operation Allies Welcome, helping to secure contracts for the mission to provide temporary transient facilities for Afghan evacuees and their families to be screened and in-processed by the Department of State upon their arrival at the Dulles International Airport.
“Our Contracting team worked around the clock to award necessary contracts to industry partners for the build out of these facilities to ensure the on-the-ground needs were met, as determined through our federal partners and further through our team’s technical engineering and construction assessments,” said Col. Estee Pinchasin, Baltimore District commander.
Though the last quarter had its difficulties, Bonomolo was happy with the end results.
"It has been gratifying to positively close out such a challenging yet historic year, specifically for my team," said Bonomolo. "We had some very high-visibility, high-priority projects that were executed even though there were definite challenges and concerns."
"The team rallied and became each other's ‘battle buddies’ to ensure milestone achievements without delays. We also encouraged employees who weren't feeling well to focus on recovery and getting better rather than their workload. Those little glimpses of humanity, teamwork, general thoughtfulness and compassion for one another helped my team and me get through the craziness that was the fiscal year 2021."