WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — For the past four years, he has led an organization charged with guiding contracting policy, and ensuring workforce development for more than 2,100 contracting professionals across the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. He’s responsible for more than 550 Air Force, joint and allied warfighting programs valued at more than $200 billion and his teams are involved in every contract award decision made throughout the center.
A 34 year career veteran, both as an active-duty member and civilian, Thomas Robinson, Director of Contracting for AFLCMC, reflected on his time leading the Contracting Directorate, during a recent interview.
Q: How involved was your office in the UH-1N Replacement contract award that recently went out?
Any contract that’s awarded, we normally play a pretty big role, but really it’s the source selection team that does all of the work. Contracting is just one part of the team.
Q: What does your job entail?
I break it down into three major areas. Because we have 2,100 folks across AFLCMC in eight different locations, the biggest job I have is to organize, train and equip. I have to recruit, hire, train and develop contracting officers. It’s really my number one focus on that side. Second, when you talk source selection, we do a lot of execution. Contracts that get awarded get awarded by contracting officers and there’s clearances, there’s reviews that are involved in that, so we do a lot of execution across all the PEOs. So execution is where I spend 80 percent of my time. I get involved when teams need help with the clearance process and if there are really large dollar amounts.
The third area is industry. I work directly with industry — all the major contractors especially the Lockheed’s, the Boeings, across all of the PEO portfolios. I am in close contact with them to ensure that when we negotiate, we are doing it at a good level and we are getting good deals from them.
Q: What has been some of the Contracting Directorate’s significant accomplishments?
We are really proud of the reputation we have not only in the Air Force, but the DOD. The reason that’s important is because if we are trusted we can move a lot quicker. One of the complaints a lot of folks have is that there is too much oversight, it takes too long. But because we have garnered the trust at the OSD level, we can move through that process a lot quicker.
The other significant accomplishment is in workforce development. We are on our 30th class of ‘Jump Start,’ that’s where we put new recruits through a ten week training course that is unmatched. It brings folks together and it gives them early training so they are far more effective. So far we’ve put more than 1,000 people through the program.
Lastly, we’ve put together a Contract Innovation Group, where my senior staff get together with senior representatives of the large contractors on a semi-annual basis, and work through issues to help execute the mission across AFLCMC. It’s direct, and it’s improving relationships
Q: What should folks in AFLCMC know about the Contracting Directorate?
The biggest thing they should know is that we are enablers. Our job is to support the programs and to support the PEOs. Our folks are very flexible and are part of the team.
Q: What the Contracting Directorate bring to the fight?
I think that what you are getting is probably the best trained contracting professionals in the federal government. We recruit and we train the best. That’s one thing we’ve always had a great heritage of. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort investing in our folks. We invest in on the job training, we rotate our folks to give them different experiences. Overall, our folks bring knowledge, and passion to the fight.
Q: What are the challenges contracting professionals face?
My biggest challenge is keeping them [contracting experts]. It’s really hard to tell our young folks when they come in ‘we want you for 30 years,’ that’s a really hard sell. I’ve put together a junior workforce team call RATPKers. They give me advice on how to retain our folks.
We try to have more work life balance. We push teleworking to make it easier for our folks to be flexible on the job. Anything we can do. We are doing better, but it’s still a battle.
The other big issues that we face is just the environment. If you think about the contracting career field there’s about five to seven thousand pages worth of regulations, most of them in law. How do you balance meeting the law, getting a great price, but meeting the warfighters needs? It’s just a tough balancing act for our folks. Then the environment is constantly shifting. We have to adjust.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
I’ve been in this business for 34 years and working here has been the highlight of my career, just because of the people I work with, not only in contracting but in other program offices as well. Working the mission of AFLCMC, it’s just incredible. It’s daunting, especially when you spend an average of $38-40 billion, with a portfolio of approximately $225 billion and growing. In fiscal year 2018 we executed $43.4B, making up nearly 62% of the total Air Force obligations. It’s an awesome mission and awesome responsibility.