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12 minutes ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

I like that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gives warrants to their engineers. I wonder what lead to that decision.

It’s a decades old practice. 

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On 3/5/2021 at 12:48 AM, Jamaal Valentine said:

Do you know what led to the decision? Do you have any guesses?

The Army Corps’ Resident Engineers (0800 series) were Resident Contracting Officers (now are ACO’s).  RCO’s had limited $$ authority to sign mods for changes as far back as the 1970’s,  when I was in the Air Force.  Definitely so in 1980, when I joined the Corp’s as a civilian employee.

The District Engineers (DE’s) and their Deputies , all Military Officers, were the Contracting Officers (KO’s**) for A/E and Civil Works and Military Construction contracting (today’s designation as PCO’s).

The 1102’s were in “Procurement and Supply”. They were KO’s for services and supplies. They conducted the IFB’s for construction.

The DE’s (now  called “District Commanders” or “Commanding Officers”) and their Deputies signed the contracts and decided Claims, Terminations, signed all mods outside the RCOs’ authority. Today’s designation is PCO. 

It was in the late 1980’s when 1102 Chiefs of Contracting and their senior level 1102’s began taking over the KO (PCO) duties.  Military DE’s were no longer assigned as the KO’s, to conform to the FAR. When I returned from overseas in 1989, the Military Deputy District Engineers were still the KO’s for civil works and military construction contracts in Mobile District -  until a couple of years later. 

The civilian District Chiefs of Construction and their engineer staffs within Construction Division  and the field offices have traditionally administered the contracts with area and resident engineers having warranted RCO now ACO authority. District Contract Admin Branch provides oversight, policy and handles the non-routine CAB matters. ACO’s have always been the COR’s for non-modification contract admin duties.

In some of the Districts I was in,  Construction Division negotiated all sole source construction contracts.

In Mobile District, we also managed and conducted all construction source selections and some service contract source selections directly for the  Chief of Contracting. 

The Office of Counsel works closely with Contracting, Project Management (PM), Construction and Engineering Divisions in awarding and administering the construction contracting program.

A/E contracts and selections are negotiated and administered within Engineering Division.

USACE had a very robust Training program for negotiating contracts and mods and for Contract Administration procedures including the clauses, contract interpretation, etc. and for technical, construction safety, QA, supervision and leadership, ethics, etc.

To be a supervisory, warranted resident or area engineer a person has to be a registered professional engineer or architect. They must have supervisory and leadership training. They must have yearly technical and ethics continuing education training to maintain their professional licenses. In addition to the Corp’s contracting and negotiating training, they also have to meet the DAWIA qualification and course training requirements for contracting. They have annual mandatory appropriations and procurement integrity refresher training. Many are members of the Army Acquisition Corps.

You ask why engineers? Engineers and architects have long been involved in the full life cycle of construction contracting both within and outside of government.

A/E firms work the life cycle of construction programs and projects. They plan and design projects, write solicitations complete with standard clauses, contract forms, etc. They negotiate contracts, participate in public bidding and often handle private client bidding procedures. They administer contracts, etc. Most standard contract formats are written where the Architect of Record or Engineer of Record make decisions during the execution phase.

Every state has laws, building codes and administrative code which place legal authority and responsibility upon the licensed Designers of Record for public and private construction projects. 

I think the the USACE was fairly unique in having RCO/ACO authority with DoD.

In 1980, I was told by some NAVFAC engineers that every construction contract mod went up to their HQ at the Washington Navy Yard(?) in DC for signature. Seemed like a horribly inefficient way to administer contracts. I don’t know if Resident Officers in Charge of Construction (ROICC’s) have any monetary ACO authority these days. 

Air Force Contracting Offices handle all KO duties for their contracts. Air Force Contracting Offices and the Base Civil Engineers are both located on Air Bases. So, their Contracting Officees handle contract award and contract admin duties. The Base Civil Engineer offices are the technical and QA reps and project managers. They may handle routine contract change negotiations, progress payments, submittal reviews, etc.

The Corps of Engineers are the design and construction agents  for the MILCON program and contracts for most Air Force and Army installations and for some Naval facilities overseas.

My Base at my first Active Duty AF assignment directly contracted for a 250 unit Military Family housing Design-Build project in 1970-1972.  BCE and Procurement handled the whole project.

General Leslie Groves of the Army Corps of Engineers was the Chief of the Manhattan Project. I don’t know if he had any KO authority. But the original Corps’ issued contract for the Los Alamos National Laboratory was at one time the oldest single contract in US government history, I think. The University of California Berkeley was the prime contractor from 1942-2005. UCB is still a member of the current contractor team. Vern Edwards mentioned it on WIFCON once.

**USACE uses the term “KO” for contracting officers to distinguish from “Commanding Officer” (“CO”), since the USACE is an Army Command. The District Engineers wear two hats [District Engineer (“DE”) = District Commander = Commanding Officer “CO”].

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I do not know of any agency that has set a rigorous, objective, and documented standard of knowledge and ability for the appointment of contracting officers, now or at any time in the past. Nor do I believe that there ever will be such an agency in the United States. 

Particular offices within agencies have been demanding from time to time, but none have been so consistently, and the need for enough COs to keep work moving has likely been a factor in many appointments. It is also likely that many COs have been appointed because their superiors considered them to be ambitious, earnest, smart, and promising; because they had done a good job on some project; because it was feared they might leave if not appointed; and because they were well-liked, rather than because they were especially knowledgeable. Such persons tend to have "sponsors."

CO "boards" and "exams" have never been especially demanding, though they were asserted to be so, and it is common practice to "prep" candidates for "boards."  A serious CO exam would test for knowledge of a lot more than just the FAR, and would test skill at analysis, reasoning, and written and oral argument. 

The proof of what I've stated can be found at beta.SAM.gov. Read the RFPs.

If COs were on average more knowledgeable in the past, it is likely because (1) the public education and college systems were generally better in the 1950s and 60s than they have been in more recent decades and (2) CO positions tended to be supervisory; GS-1102s didn't get promoted as quickly as they do now, so they spent more time as working level contract specialists before they were appointed.

If agencies were to start appointing COs on the basis of rigorous, strictly applied standards of knowledge and ability, there would many fewer COs than there are now, and not enough to get the work done.

There are some smart, knowledgeable COs out there, but not enough.

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If COs were on average more knowledgeable in the past, it is likely because (1) the public education system was generally better in the 1950s and 60s than it is today and (2) CO positions tended to be supervisory, GS-1102s didn't get promoted as quickly as they do now, and so they spent more time as working level contract specialists before they were appointed.

I agree.  Grade creep and grade inflation occurred throughout government and it is especially prevalent with 1102s.  I started as an Army/AMC intern at a major buying organization.  The agency was responsible for the consolidation acquisition of ammunition across DoD during the Viet Nam era.  A GS-12 CO usually had 12-15 years experience and heavy responsibilities.  A GS-13 with an unlimited warrant had at least that much experience and had to demonstrate good judgement and initiative to get that warrant.

Today a GS-13 has around 5 years experience and good ones leave jobs for a GS-14 at another agency rather than spend another year at the same grade.  When I worked for the government in my last job, we created non-supervisory GS-14 positions just to keep good performers.  

I’m not saying someone can’t learn the field well in an accelerated manner.  But it takes a long time with lots of exposure to a wide variety of situations to become seasoned and knowledgable.  I’ve seen lots of high grade COs fall apart in challenging situations such as conducting complex negotiations and conducting debriefings, handling claims, or being a witness at a ASBCA hearing and examined by opposing attorneys.  

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  • 5 months later...

I'm still lost as the alternate courses that will be offered for those we are needing one or two courses for level 1 whether it's CON170,or CON/091 and CON 280and or 290 for level11. There is still no clear direction and I believe that there should be precise instruction to those of us we are waiting and eager to know what's our faith in reference to getting either levels certified before 1 Oct 2021 . I went on to look at the courses that were just released and I have not seen CON 280 or 290 which is what most if not all persons who0are pursing level 11 . I trust there are some answers that can shed some clarification on these courses.

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