Posted on September 18, 2023
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District is working to obligate appropriated funds as fiscal year 2023 ends. The Contracting Division is obligating its usual “team” approach to award contracts for operations, maintenance, and construction projects by the end of September.
Contracting specialists like Bridget Engleman, Diana Namara, and Cierra Vega are part of a 20-plus person team driven to complete all required contracting actions to close out the fourth quarter. The trio recently shared their perspectives about the sheer volume of work, the challenges they face, and how close-knit teammates always have each other’s backs to finalize all required contracting actions.
Diana Namara, contract specialist in her first year closing out contracting actions with the Nashville District, said it’s her responsibility to administer contracts through acquisition and procurement cycles by planning, reviewing specifications, performing market research, interacting with contractors, working with project delivery teams, and then culminating contract awards, managing contracts, and closing them out.
“It’s a cradle to grave process,” Namara said. “It involves a lot of steps.”
Namara joined the Nashville District Contracting Division about five months ago from the Los Angeles District Operations Division where she served nearly five years as a contracting officer’s representative providing quality assurance for projects. This is her first chance to go through close-out actions for a fiscal year in her new position with the Nashville District.
“So this is all new for me. It’s my first end of year in Contracting. In my new position I’m engaged from beginning to end. It’s been quite a learning process, a high learning curve,” Namara said. “So there are quite a few challenges, I would say, just getting everything awarded in time and meeting milestones.”
Namara said no matter the obstacle, the challenge, or issue, her coworkers and supervisors are quick to offer advice and assistance to ensure the team reaches the finish line together with all contracting actions completed.
Due to the timing of funds received and last-minute issues that may occur at project sites, there is always a flurry of activity in the fourth quarter and especially during the month of September to make sure contracts are awarded and managed and federal funds are appropriated as required for civil works and operations projects.
Bridget Engleman, contracting officer, said she writes contracts supporting the operation and maintenance of facilities at lake projects, waterways, locks, and dams. Because she is relatively new to the Nashville District, she is handling smaller construction contracts that are less than $5 million, and is working with more experienced personnel to prepare herself for managing larger contracts.
“They have a lot of experience, and I’m just watching and learning,” Engleman said.
She retired from the U.S. Air Force active duty with 26 years of service where she worked with training aircrews, and then served as a civilian in contracting with the Air Force for three years prior to joining the Nashville District a year and half ago.
With the Air Force, her contracting responsibilities were limited to the military base, and contracts like runway repairs. With the Corps of Engineers, she said there is never a lull because there are much larger contracts and there are a lot of them.
This is her second go around with closing out for the fiscal year, and she describes it as “a beast” because of the large number of actions that the team works on until the last day of September to close out.
“I like it because it keeps me busy. Our contracting specialists, like 10 of them, are getting projects to me very fast,” Engleman said. “We’re getting them done on time. We’re actually getting them done early. We’re awarding contracts that we thought we would be awarding in late September – we’re getting them done in early September. End of year for us is running very smoothly.”
Engleman said she loves working on operations projects because it feels good to be supporting work at public facilities like recreation areas, hiking trails, campgrounds, and boat ramps. It also feels great to work on contracts for civil works projects because they provide hydroelectric power to communities, support flood risk management and provide navigation benefits, she noted.
There are larger contracts that may take until the end of the month to finalize, but the team is bearing down to get those done on time.
Cierra Vega, contracting specialist with five years of experience overseeing contracts, describes the end-of-year close out as the “fourth quarter scramble.” She said this year has been the hardest one she’s gone through because of additional contracts being managed due to additional projects the team is managing from this fiscal year’s bipartisan infrastructure legislation.
Five years ago she said her responsibilities were fewer because leadership wanted her to succeed and not be overwhelmed. Her confidence has been built up over the years, and with it, greater responsibility. This year she is particularly proud of working on a multiple award task order contract she is working on that can be used regionally to repair and rehabilitate cranes at the locks and dams.
“There’s a lot of moving parts and potentially a lot of money, so we’re kind of under the pressure cooker right now to make sure we get the best price for the government, the best contractor for the job,” Vega said.
Vega joined the U.S. Army right out of high school and served as an unmanned aerial vehicle mechanic at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After her discharge, she then raised her children for a few years before enrolling at Austin Peay State University Business School. This opened a door to the Corps of Engineers with a direct hire opportunity in early 2019. While her job in the Army had basically nothing to do with contracting, it is an experience she said laid the groundwork that continues to serve her well as a contracting specialist.
“So this is definitely way out of my realm of what I did in the military,” Vega said. “But the mindset, the structure, the attention to detail, I think helped me prepare for the transition from military to civilian service.”
Namara, Engleman, and Vega serve as business advisors on assigned project delivery teams and manage contracting actions for supplies, services, construction, and architect engineer services that are over government purchase card thresholds.
Heather Turner, Contracting Division chief, said while Engleman, Namara, and Vega are at various stages of experience, all have a great work ethic and drive to carry out their responsibilities and to support the missions they are responsible for completing. When they run into issues, have questions, or need help, there is a sense of all hands-on deck as the team works to complete end of year contracting awards, she explained.
“The entire contracting team goes above and beyond to find solutions, including requirements that have obstacles and, whenever possible, find a way with project delivery team involvement to execute contract awards,” Turner said. “I’m very proud of their drive to get this important work done on behalf of the American people.”
Turner added that communication is a huge part of what makes the Contracting Division meet deadlines, and as business advisors to PDTs, being able to bring the PDT together for crosstalk makes it possible to cross the finish line to make an award.
The entire Contracting Division team supports year-end closeout actions scheduled for award by the end of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Since the Nashville District is a civil works district, most of these funds are not tied to the year itself. Nonetheless, the contracting team still works to limit the amount of unplanned carryover from one fiscal year to another.
Through the end of August the Nashville District Contracting Division completed 410 actions, meaning new contract awards and post award modifications issued by the procuring contract officer, with a total obligated amount of more than $186 million. The team is currently working roughly 36 actions for the end of year with a total obligated amount of approximately $72 million.
Some notable awards the team made this year include the rehabilitation of Old Hickory Dam’s turbine generators; Cordell Hull Lake’s bluff stabilization; and Wolf Creek Dam’s fabrication and delivery of liquid oxygen facility. They also awarded a multiple award task order contract, which is intended to have a task order awarded on it in this fiscal year, along with various law enforcement and park attendant contracts for several recreational areas within Nashville District’s area of responsibility.
“We have a highly dedicated Contracting team that is driven year in and year out to achieve successful end of years for the Nashville District,” said Turner.
The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest Nashville District employment and contracting opportunities at https://www.linkedin.com/company/u-s-army-corps-of-engineers-nashville-district.