Teamwork doesn’t seem like work: finance, contracting partner for great success

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- The oxpecker, a bird native to Africa, has a unique relationship with zebras and rhinoceroses. These small birds eat parasites that live on the skin of these large animals. While the birds are fed, the host animal is rid of parasites. The birds even fly up and sound the alarm when predators approach.

Biologists call this mutualism; both parties work together and benefit from their cooperative relationship.

In the Air Force, contracting and comptroller squadrons have a very similar partnership. When they work together, great things can happen, but if they try to go it on their own, trouble ensues.

Team Dover’s fiscal year 2017 ended differently than previous years. At midnight on Sept. 30, Team Dover had completed more than 900 contract actions, the sixth greatest value in Air Mobility Command.

According to 2nd Lt. Alexander Siangpipop, 436th Contracting Squadron base operations flight officer in charge, this success can be attributed to the partnership forged throughout the fiscal year between Team Dover’s 436th CONS and 436th Comptroller Squadron.

“Finance is the beginning of the acquisition process,” Siangpipop said. “Without money you can’t go and buy anything. When we’re ready to press the button and the money isn’t ready or it’s coming through but is stopped because of a technical difficulty, it stops up the whole process. At the end of last fiscal year we had a series of meetings, and we definitely figured it out.”

The 436th CONS is responsible for awarding business contracts to fulfill approved and funded needs for the installation. Whether a unit needs to replace worn tools, base facilities need restoration or the base needs routine upkeep, it’s up to the 436th CONS to find the right business and secure the contracts.

Requests come from a unit resource advisor, who is responsible for identifying unfunded needs. They do an individual estimate of the cost necessary to meet said needs. When the request is submitted, both the 436th CONS and CPTS begin working the request separately.

While the 436th Airlift Wing legal office begins determining the legality of each funding request, the comptroller squadron determines where the funds should come from and act as advocates for the wing commander and higher headquarters to earn the funding.

Meanwhile, the contracting squadron determines which contractors would like to bid for the contract. When a list is compiled, the applications are submitted to the resource advisor to determine which contractors are technically proficient enough to fulfill the contract. Members of the contracting squadron then determine which contractor is providing a technically proficient service at the lowest cost.

The lowest bid is then compared to the RA’s original estimate, and members of the contracting and comptroller squadrons work to rectify the difference.

“It’s almost like a four-by-four relay race,” said Laura Miller, 436th CPTS financial analysis officer. “The RA starts the race, passes the baton to us at finance. We pass it off to contracting, and then they pass it off to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service or the local finance office. If we do everything right and the pass-off is complete every time, we’ll complete the race and the contract will be awarded.”

At the close of FY 16, communication and technology gaps caused a few baton drops.

But, that all changed at the end of FY 16, when both squadrons decided to sit down and find a way to improve the process. Over a series of five meetings, the two squadrons began to build rapport and better understand how actions made by one squadron would affect the other, and in turn how that would affect the entire process.

Both squadrons created master lists of every request that needed funding and sat down to compare the master lists line by line to ensure they were on the same page for FY 18 before FY 17 even ended.

Then, members of the 436th CPTS stayed late on their busiest day of the year, Sept. 30. In fact, they worked well into the morning on Oct. 1, printing out funding forms at the first opportunity, authorizing them by hand and in the computer system, so when members of the 436th CONS arrived at work later that day, they could begin their preparations for the new fiscal year immediately instead of waiting for their software to register the certified funds.

“Having those hard copies was pivotal, because there are a lot of services out there that cannot have a break in service, for example: all of your medical contracts,” Siangpipop said. “If personnel funds aren’t released, and they need to work on Saturday or Sunday, they can’t work without those funds. That could potentially put someone’s health in danger. Let’s talk Aircraft. Corrosion control is a big part of this base’s mission. Every plane that comes through needs to be cleaned and washed. Panels need to be removed and controlled for corrosion. If they had a couple planes that came in on Sunday, but the contract hadn’t gone through, that whole mission would have been halted until we figured it out. It seems like a very small part, but it’s a very pivotal part, you could say even a cornerstone. Even a few hours can make a huge difference.”

Thanks to this cooperation and planning, Team Dover avoided these mission-halting situations and were able to facilitate many facility upgrades in the process.

Team Dover received funding for every unfunded requirement, including required supplies and equipment for base defense, bench stock replenishment and equipment upgrades. FY 17 was also an outstanding year for quality of life improvements: a new patio will be built at the Patterson Dining Facility; the bowling center will receive new lanes and ball returns; a new training locker is going to be added to the fitness center pad; the baseball fields and running trail will be enhanced; the basketball and tennis courts will be resurfaced; and a new pavilion with lighting and enhanced landscaping will be built between the dorms and the DFAC.

“From my perspective, beyond all the great end-of- year purchases and improvements for the base, I would say this was undoubtedly the smoothest transition from one fiscal year into the next that I have seen in the 14 years I have been in the field of financial management,” said Maj. Kurt Schmidbauer, 436th CPTS commander.

Additionally, out of about $40 million in contracts awarded last year, more than $8 million went to local Delaware businesses, Siangpipop said.

According to Siangpipop, it wasn’t just the process that improved; the morale has been increasing steadily throughout the process.

“Last year was very hectic,” he said. “This year, I wouldn’t say was flawless, but pretty close to it. Our folks are driven and all-in. Our partnership is extremely transparent, and it’s obvious that our squadrons’ leadership and even the wing leadership are all on the same page. Our morale is at an all-time high and still rising.

“The end of year is our Super Bowl season. In 2017, we were the Patriots. It looked rough in the beginning, but in the third and fourth quarters, we knocked it out of the park. It was a stellar performance.”