Enhancing air power: the role of contractors

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Darius Sostre-Miroir
  • Air Force Test Center

In the intricate web of Air Force operations, contracting professionals serve as the unsung heroes, translating mission needs into tangible resources. Col. John Travieso, Air Force Test Center director of contracting, and Kevin Slone, AFTC deputy director of contracting, offer insights into their world, shedding light on the vital partnerships and innovative strategies driving Air Force capabilities.

“As contracting professionals, our engagement spans interactions with the small business professionals, industry partners, legal offices, financial management, and many support agencies such as the Defense Contract Audit Agency, Defense Contract Administration Agency, Air Force Office of Special Investigation, and agencies within the Secretary of the Air Force staff, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Staff,” said Slone.

Elevating the AFTC's reputation, the award-winning office of AFTC Contracting demonstrates its significance through exceptional contributions. The recognition of Eglin’s office as the Outstanding Operational Contracting Unit for AFMC in FY2023 highlights their operational excellence and efficiency. Additionally, the acknowledgment of an Edwards contracting member as the Outstanding Contracting Civilian in training for AFMC in FY2023 showcases the commitment to excellence and the development of future contracting professionals within AFTC.

“The AFTC motto is Ad Inexplorata – Toward the Unexplored.  The PK motto is 'in order to test…we procure the best'. To me those mottos mean that our test operations cannot succeed in their mission unless contracting professionals work hand-in-hand to get the best technologies and services into those organizations,” said Slone.

“In this day in age, the Department of Defense is more reliant on industry/commercial support than ever before. Our contracting workforce collaborates with all the organizations across many installations to support their missions by procuring that commercial support,” said Travieso.

Internally, contracting professionals collaborate closely with various departments and agencies within the Air Force, including the Air Force Air Warfare Center and Air Force Operational Test & Evaluation Center, to ensure seamless communication and coordination. Externally, they work hand-in-hand with industry partners and small businesses, leveraging their expertise and resources to fulfill mission requirements efficiently.

Slone led multi-functional teams to enhance AFTC collaboration and communication among different centers to accelerate war-winning capabilities. Meanwhile, Travieso successfully pulled high-cost contracts back in-house, optimizing funds for critical requirements.

Slone said the AFTC contracting office publishes an annual strategic plan that endeavors to align our goals to the AFTC, Air Force Materiel Command, and Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Contracting goals and initiatives. He affirms that many AFTC contracting leaders are embedded in AFTC, AFMC, and SAF key result teams, further ensuring connectivity to strategic goals.

Slone said the way he collaborates externally is by having interactions through a myriad of training conferences such as annual contracting worldwide training seminars, the Program Executive Officer for Combat and Mission Support  acquisition seminar, board of directors, civilian development and a unique University of North Carolina sponsored understanding of the defense industry; all of which equips our contracting officers with understanding industry challenges and internal motivators related to contract negotiations.

Travieso said the Air Force Contracting are experts in turning funding into mission success. That contracting doesn’t determine “what” to buy but looks to find out what our mission partner requires, and then find the best way to acquire that capability. Contracting’s strength is its business acumen.

Travieso shares an example when he was a Squadron Commander at Goodfellow Air Force Base from 2015-2018. His Squadron implemented a program to eliminate high-cost contracts to high priced contractors. The units were sending funding off-base for other organizations GSA to purchase services. Those outside organization charged fees to execute those contracts, usually up to 10%. “We pulled these requirements back into the base contracting office and saved significant funding. This money was then utilized to purchase other critical requirements.”

Travieso learned key strategies in his contracting journey. A critical lesson was, “Understand your organizational mission. The better you understand your mission partner’s mission, the better you can support. Utilize your knowledge of industry and the commercial market to make smart decisions on behalf of your organization,” said Travieso 

Both Travieso and Slone employ innovative strategies to overcome challenges and expedite capability development within the Air Force. Slone emphasizes the use of grants, cooperative agreements, and other innovative tools to align contracts with strategic goals and maximize the impact of every Air Force dollar.

Travieso highlights the importance of benchmarking and knowledge sharing within the contracting enterprise, ensuring that good ideas and efficient practices are shared across the Air Force Contracting Enterprise. By leveraging these innovative approaches, Slone and Travieso demonstrate their commitment to delivering mission success efficiently.

Resource constraints and building long-lasting mission partner trust are obstacles to overcome, yet both Slone and Travieso navigate these hurdles with strategic communication and a deep understanding of organizational missions. Their advice to aspiring contracting professionals underscores the importance of business acumen, industry knowledge, and mission understanding in making a significant impact within the Air Force.

“It is paramount that contracting professionals understand a spectrum of business aspects, and to expose themselves to a numerous of mission sets to develop a deeper understanding of the complex world challenges,” said Slone

In Air Force operations, contracting professionals like Slone and Travieso are the orchestrators, ensuring the seamless flow of resources to support the nation's defense. Their dedication, expertise, and collaborative spirit epitomize the ethos of excellence driving Air Force contracting. Through their unwavering commitment, they procure not just goods and services but part of the very backbone of Air Force readiness.