Congratulations go to NPS alumnus CAPT Jerry A. King, who was recognized as the Acquisition Professional of the Year by the Department of the Navy. King was awarded this title at his previous post as Chief of Contracts at Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Sigonella (NAVSUP FLCSI), with his office located in Naples, Italy. It is one of NAVSUP's eight globally positioned logistics centers that provides for the full range of the fleet's military operations. He is currently Commander of the Defense Contract Management Agency (Raytheon Tucson), where he ensures quality production of 27 Raytheon missile programs supporting the Navy, Air Force, Army, and Missile Defense Agency.
King graduated from the Naval Postgraduate School in December 2006, earning a Master of Business Administration degree. He attributes a critical part of his success in the acquisition field to his time at NPS, which provided what he calls an “incredible base of education” followed by key experience he built on over several tours, culminating in his time as chief of contracts in Naples. King said the most useful courses he took at NPS were Contract Cost & Price Analysis and Federal Contract Negotiations, and he encourages future students to enroll in these critical courses. He also suggests having a copy of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) on hand during courses and physically finding the relevant sections while learning, which helps retain the education.
King has clearly taken what he learned about negotiation and turned it into a super skill to find cost savings for the Navy and the Department of Defense. His recognition as the top acquisition professional is due in large part to his organization’s insistence on increasing competition when soliciting and awarding contracts. Under his leadership, NAVSUP FLC awarded the first-ever global husbanding multi-award contract, increasing competition for task orders with awards to 35 contractors. The competitive process also yielded incredible results with a $950M ship repair contract awarded in 2020, saving 10-47% in real dollars on task orders, and producing exceptional on-time performance. As King says, “from my experience, the best way to achieve cost savings and improve oversight is to promote competition. Competition drives contractors to sharpen their pencil, make the best competitive offers, and provide checks and balances on each other.”
A tugboat from Naval Support Activity Souda Bay Port Operations assists the Ohio-class cruise missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN 728) as it arrives in Souda Bay, Greece, for a scheduled port visit, Sept. 7, 2019. The tugboat was supported through a husbanding contract. DVIDS photo.
In addition to these and other contracts, King led NAVSUP FLCSI contracting to solve logistics challenges other agencies deferred work to FLCSI. As one example, they delivered $9.5 million in protective personal equipment to the government of Italy when that country was a hotbed for COVID-19. He notes that his high-performing team managed to execute these procurements and still maintain high morale, crediting the role of good communication to keep everyone working together. “Bring issues to the right level consistently so they can get addressed. And help each other out. Lean on each other to execute the mission.”
King attributes his success to having an incredible group of host nation personnel, government civilians and military professionals on his team throughout four countries and two continents, as well as great FLCSI leadership supporting his team constantly during a very challenging time. The award for Acquisition Professional of the Year truly reflects the superior team effort and dedication to the mission and success of FLCSI contracting.
Did King learn what to do in these high-pressure situations by studying what not to do in a crisis response? Possibly so. His thesis, co-authored with Joshua McKay, investigated the federal government’s acquisition response to Hurricane Katrina, which was marked by inconsistency and a lack of competition. Their thesis makes recommendations for improved acquisition processes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can use in future disaster response scenarios.
Given King’s recent award, it’s worth taking a look at his thesis research with an eye toward what the federal government has learned in the past 15 years and what challenges still remain. Students of the federal government’s latest crisis response to the COVID-19 pandemic may find interesting parallels and deviations. Of course, the pandemic has unfolded over a longer period of time, but the need to quickly mobilize suppliers and use appropriate acquisition authorities remains a challenge in many crisis scenarios.
King and McKay write in their introduction:
Acquisition and contracting is a fairly straightforward discipline, but it is heavy with rules and regulations that hinder fast and effective execution even in normal operations. Even with the allowed exceptions to the rules, the scale of Katrina multiplied that difficulty exponentially, since so many of the resources and even the suppliers themselves were devastated and hindered by destroyed transportation and communications infrastructure.
Their thesis explores the role of various organizations involved in the disaster response effort. The Department of Defense was brought on board for logistics and acquisition support. Based on “constantly unknown and changing requirements,” FEMA “requested that DoD assume all logistics operations in Louisiana and Mississippi with a $1 billion obligation authority for procurement, transportation and distribution of commodities for the Katrina response.” The U.S. Navy was one of four DoD organizations to play a major role in the response, dispatching, among other resources, an aircraft carrier, several amphibious ships, and the second largest stateside, peacetime deployment of SEABEEs, with 2,800 members of the Navy’s Construction Battalion working on the ground to rebuild schools and other facilities devastated by the storm.
U.S. Navy Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, tear and remove plywood from the sub-floor, as they take part in restoring Hope Haven, a child abuse shelter in Waveland, Miss., in support of Hurricane Katrina Relief efforts on Sept. 12, 2005. DoD photo.
FEMA’s turbulent acquisition response was due in part to a lack of funding and acquisition personnel. “FEMA’s acquisition and contracting workforce totals only 36 personnel, 65% of the authorized 55 full-time employees and only 28% to 30% of what many recommend as a minimum of 100 to 125 FTEs just to manage workload in any given year, with many more required for incident response.”
Pressed with the need to award contracts quickly, “80% of the $1.5 billion of contracts were awarded on a sole-source basis or limited competition due to pressing humanitarian needs. The most worrisome are early contracts that were being executed without being written.” Their research also found that existing streamlined acquisition procedures “were either misused or remained untapped.” They recommend better training on these procedures and their applicability to disaster response contracting. Other recommendations include using a rapid ordering system and an online reverse auction.
You can read the thesis on the NPS archive for more details on King and McKay’s findings and recommendations for future areas of research, including the challenge of clearly communicating requirements:
Disaster Response Contracting In A Post-Katrina World: Analyzing Current Disaster Response Strategies And Exploring Alternatives To Improve Acquisition Processes For Rapid Reaction To Large Scale Disasters Within The United States