JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Ensuring newly hired interns have the tools necessary to navigate the beginning of their federal contracting careers is the goal of a new training and acculturation course at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Contracting operations directorate officials from the Mission and Installation Contracting Command recently launched the course and have trained more than 70 interns as part of the two-week course.
Terry Lazenby, deputy director for the MICC Contracting Operations Directorate at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, said the need for the course followed the command’s Operation Hire Now initiative in the spring to rebuild the contracting workforce by more than doubling the previous number of developmental acquisition professionals in the 1102 contracting career series in less than one year. The increase in new hires requiring training combined with personnel shortages throughout the MICC’s 28 contracting offices across the nation would have left little time to dedicate to focused training at the field level.
“It quickly became apparent to senior leadership that the influx of new 1102s would put a huge strain on MICC offices to provide the initial hands-on training and acculturation required in the first few months of a new employee’s career,” Lazenby said. “The basic Defense Acquisition University courses are valuable for teaching fundamental procurement concepts, but do not address the much-needed understanding of Army and MICC contracting processes, application of the contract writing systems or knowledge of the MICC structure.”
Lucy Lopez, chief of the field support division for contracting operations, along with Cynthia Borlinghaus and Maria Ng fully developed the course with module content assistance from MICC technical experts at contracting offices throughout the command. The course includes acculturation training applicable to any federal employee while also providing key introductory and hands-on training specific to the 1102 contracting career series.
“Agenda topics were developed with certain considerations in mind,” Lopez said. “What would a new employee to the federal government need to know immediately? Keeping in mind that most of these interns are completely new to the 1102 series of contracting, we know that they will most likely be starting with simplified acquisitions and not actions that are overly complex.”
Lopez said training on contracting-related topics including policy and regulations begins on the second day of training and serves as a foundation. This includes what regulations are followed and why as well as the order of precedence and where to find them.
“Once they have learned this, they are ready to slowly start at the beginning of the simplified acquisition contracting process, and we teach it from cradle to grave,” Lopez said. “We teach this course in the order that the intern would follow in ‘real life’ so that they fully understand each step of the process and how it is accomplished. We then have them apply that knowledge by going into a testing database and applying what they have learned. All interns are provided a training guide that includes step-by-step instructions and screenshots of each process to help them retain the information when they are back at their home stations.”
Crystal Johnson, a contract specialist who joined the MICC in May at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, agrees.
“Not only (did) I get an introduction to the processes of the organization, I was able to see the big picture of our responsibilities,” Johnson said. “The opportunity to meet my counterparts from other offices from all over the U.S. provided me with lifelong connections that I would not otherwise make.”
Letty Walsh, a human resource specialist at the MICC headquarters, said the command onboarded more than 150 new hires in fiscal 2022 as a result of a few initiatives including Operation Hire Now and a fellows program. The third MITA course wrapped up Oct. 27 with the next scheduled to begin Nov. 29. Additional courses are being scheduled for January, February and March to provide the necessary training for those new hires.
“It is our hope that when they leave this class, they will understand the full scope of the job they have stepped into, the importance of their role in supporting our Soldiers, and that they leave having accomplished a simplified contract action in the class,” Lopez said. “This will instill a level of confidence to know that they can meet the challenge when they get assigned their first requirement back at their home station.”
Dusty Akom, who joined the MICC as a contract specialist at Fort Benning, Georgia, in July, found the course to be a great introduction to the organization and is already applying his newly gained skills.
“I returned to Fort Benning with the practical skills to take on assignments and contribute right away,” Akom said. “Back to Basics is the next step, and between that and mentorship from colleagues, I am looking forward to more complex projects and responsibilities.”
Lopez said it is that application of MITA and hands-on training along with a detailed guide that allows new hires to be assigned a workload of requirements while at the same time relieving an already strained workforce.
“We have contracting officers and specialists who are heavily burdened with requirements today and can’t get to all of them at the same time,” Lopez said. “This training program will put interns in our contracting offices across the enterprise, and those extra people will ensure that our mission partners, and ultimately our Soldiers, are supported timely, effectively and efficiently.”