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Conceiving Contracts

By Marlowe Churchill | Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division | Aug. 29, 2016

Norco, Calif. —

Despite its technical excellence, it’s hard to imagine that NSWC Corona not long ago was considered a “backwater,” a remote place that needed help from other agencies just to get the job done.

Need new computers? Send requests to Fleet Logistics Center, San Diego or Port Hueneme Division. Need more help? Get in line.

Back then, Corona didn’t have a full-fledged Contracts Department.

Fast forward to today. Dr. William Luebke, former Corona Technical Director and now NSWC Port Hueneme TD, thinks the department should be nominated for the prestigious David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award, given to the top Department of Defense agency with the most innovative acquisition practices.

A recent Naval Sea Systems Command inspection gave Corona high marks for contract acquisition practices, Luebke said.

Still Acting TD at Corona until a new TD is hired, Luebke remembers his first impressions in 2009 when he became Corona’s TD. He wondered, how can you have this sought-after technical capability, with growing demand, yet have no contracting office to keep pace?

“When I first got here, we were nearly fully dependent on other organizations to do our contracting. Port Hueneme Division was a major player. Our shop was two or three people. My concern was how in the world are we going to get to world-class status, and, if and when we do that, get us to surge?”

Before there was a contracts department, Corona depended primarily on Port Hueneme to oversee a single massive contract – an omnibus contract competitively won for years by a large prime contractor. The process was cumbersome, inefficient and left some Corona departments questioning if they could fulfill work before funding was exhausted and contractors possibly had to stop working. Some departments sought help from Fleet Logistics Center, San Diego, to solve critical issues. Corona found itself so reliant on others to issue contracts that it often found itself waiting in line for help.

Corona also relied on others to make essential purchases – from toilet paper to expensive computer equipment. Some actions took up to three or more months to complete.

“It was very apparent to me that we had to take charge of our future,” Luebke said. So he met with Sean Foley, Sam Rainwater and Dan Deconzo, Contract’s original team members, to map out a strategy of convincing NAVSEA leadership to award small warrants at first, then show Corona could be trusted with bigger contracts.

“We earned some of those small warranting numbers. We hit it out of the park,” Luebke recalled.

The staff began growing.

Soon, the new department began hiring business specialists and obtained talented college interns to help with the expanding workload as more and more small contracts were awarded in place of the giant single contract.

The impact was huge with “new blood” – many with graduate degrees and prior military service – coming aboard. “We had tons of success with interns,” Rainwater said.

Splitting the omnibus contract into 16 smaller contracts opened the door for competition, efficiency and cost savings. In the first three years, federal small business policies enabled Deconzo to fast-track contracts to small firms, accelerating the award timeline and driving down costs to the command in excess of $20 million.

In so doing, Corona puts its signature stamp of excellence, renowned in the technical world, on a vital part of an acquisition command.

“Corona’s story is one that truly, through perseverance, through really hard work, bringing in the talent, taking care of that talent, has gone from a backwater, single-shop center to a multifunctional organization. Corona now is known far and wide for work being done here. I would say, as an organization, Corona is doing what it does best, it’s the real deal as its own entity,” Luebke said.

From backwater shop that relied on Port Hueneme Division, Corona now has assumed responsibilities for Port Hueneme.

Luebke paid Foley, Rainwater and Deconzo his ultimate compliment for their groundbreaking work.

“Their pictures are on my piano!” he said.

Rainwater said the long haul to transform Corona’s contracting issues is hard to comprehend, because it began with so much to do with so little resources – and without a roadmap to follow. “We had to be on a level playing field with everybody else.” Today, 42 contracting personnel have taken over an entire building and expect their numbers to increase to about 50 before too long, he said. Rainwater, contracts division chief who started out as a contractor in 1978, commends Foley for his leadership.

“If it weren’t for Sean Foley,” Rainwater said, “this would not have happened. If we failed, the whole experiment would be tossed out the window. We had zero. But little by little, we started to take in more work.” Currently, they oversee, produce and administer 939 contracting actions – from nuts and bolts to vital air training range operation support – obligating $164 million during the last fiscal year. The department also has Contracting Officer Representatives working for the command to ensure all government rules are followed and that there are no irregularities in contracts.

The CORs maintain a scorecard that rates the contractors on compliance to DoD, NAVSEA and Corona regulations, making it transparent that no irregularities will be overlooked, Rainwater said. The Procurement Surveillance Program that keeps watch on contracts and expenditures is one of NAVSEA’s best, added Luebke, and the Contracts Department was recently commended in an inspection.

In fact, Gisela Aguilar, an acquisitions liaison and COR Certifying Manager, has been just named an Employee of the Quarter for her leadership in enhancing Contract’s internal website and spearheading the development of the COR scorecard system.

Foley recommended Aguilar for the award, stating she “champions teamwork and cooperation throughout the enterprise ensuring that all phases of the acquisition process produces work at an exceptional quality level.”

The acquisitions warrant has created new horizons for Corona to reach out to local businesses and issue contracts for work on base and within the command. Deconzo, who oversees the outreach to small businesses, describes the past seven years as the “Corona miracle.”

Deconzo said he now has a partnership with Riverside Community College as it networks with area chambers of commerce and the business community. That partnership serves as a conduit to steer small businesses to Corona. He now has hundreds of small businesses to consult as contracts arise.

Looking back, Deconzo said Corona is considered by NAVSEA and sister warfare centers as “the golden child. We’re the little train that could. We are the Corona miracle.”