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By Suzy Cantor-McKinney and Mark Albe, PMP, M.SAME

Partnership Success: Department of Defense and the Munitions Response Industry

Open dialog between Department of Defense agencies and the munitions response industry ensures best practices are implemented and lessons learned are shared.
By Suzy Cantor-McKinney and Mark Albe, PMP, M.SAME

For more than 15 years, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Association of Ordnance Contractors (NAOC) have worked in close partnership to develop and execute a successful Military Munitions Response (MMR) program. Open dialog between DOD agencies and the munitions response industry ensures best practices are implemented and lessons learned are shared.

This program involves responses or actions to address munitions and explosives of concern (MEC) at military installations and Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS), as well as supporting operational range clearance operations, construction and readiness support. NAOC is comprised of more than 75 member firms that perform MEC-related services—such as investigation and remediation, technology development, engineering services, feasibility studies, and community involvement/education and outreach. In addition, NAOC’s member companies provide other value-added support services such as Geographic Information Systems mapping, laboratory analysis, and specialty equipment sales. Under contract to various DOD agencies, including the Army Environmental Command (AEC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC), and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), NAOC member companies have worked seamlessly to ensure increased public safety and awareness in and around these current and former DOD munitions sites.

One of the key elements to the overall success of the MMR program is the emphasis of continuous engagement and open dialogue between DOD and the NAOC. Whether through joint conferences, technical symposiums, webinars, or working sessions, these interactions have resulted in a mutually beneficial understanding of the ongoing challenges facing both government and industry, as well as serving as a critical venue to ensure that best practices are developed, implemented, and lessons-learned are shared. In addition, the DOD and NAOC partnership has served as a platform for technology development and field demonstrations that has led to improved project outputs, enhanced quality, and most importantly, has increased program safety.

Partnership History

During the past 200 years, activities supporting military training and weapons testing have resulted in contamination associated with unexploded ordnance and discarded military munitions, collectively known as MEC, on more than 4,000 DOD-controlled and privately owned properties. The department is committed to protecting human health and the environment and improving public safety by investigating these properties and implementing site-specific response actions consistent with relevant regulatory requirements and public participation processes. Through the Defense Environmental Restoration Program and Base Realignment and Closure accounts, and Operations and Maintenance funding, DOD investigates and remediates the environment on active installations, FUDS and on property slated to be transferred outside of DOD control.

Shortly after its inception in the mid-1990s, NAOC determined that engaging in open and frequent dialogue with DOD would provide a mutually beneficial platform to communicate and gain a greater understanding of challenges, requirements and expectations for both DOD and industry. During these early years, information sharing was primarily between NAOC and USACE, in particular, with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, Ala., which was the Center of Expertise for the Army’s munitions response program. Subject areas discussed during early meetings included future contract opportunities, technology integration questions regarding acceptable geophysical sensor requirements, and field personnel qualifications and standards and continued sporadically for several years. However, as the MMR program expanded, USACE and NAOC realized that a broader partnering effort was required to ensure regular information sharing regarding program requirements to identify successes and challenges in program execution, and to develop approaches for more efficient and cost effective project implementation without compromising safety.

In 2010, DOD participation in these partnering sessions expanded to include the Office of the Secretary of Defense, multiple USACE districts, Army Headquarters, NAVFAC, AEC, and the Army National Guard. Attendance grew to more than 20 participants meeting one to two times per year and at regularly scheduled DOD/NAOC-sponsored events. Topics of discussion now bridge numerous subject areas relevant to multiple services, including performance-based contracting; equitable sharing of risk in program execution; performance expectations; regulatory interface; program trends; technology development; and demonstration results, project quality and overall program safety.

Program Accomplishments

DD and NAOC are proud of the progress made during the past few years on multiple fronts. These accomplishments have helped ensure the overall MMR program success. Several examples include the following program enhancements:

  • Improved industry awareness of the program direction, trends, funding capacity, and opportunities allowing companies to be positioned for maximum responsiveness to the government. This is especially important in our current economic climate.
  • Enhanced DOD and industry understanding of the global needs of the program to best support the warfighter, as well as address worldwide environment concerns and issues associated with MEC and munitions constituents.
  • DOD is more proactively seeking industry input as regulations and guidance documents are revised and updated.
  • Accelerated technology transition beyond the demonstration phase for more efficient project execution, improved overall quality, and a resulting cost savings to DOD.
  • Improved overall industry awareness of respective government agencies’ “expectations” for performance.
  • Clearer Request for Proposal language including contract language that provides potential bidders with opportunities to seek adjustments for unanticipated site conditions under Performance Based Acquisitions, reducing risk to the contractor community.
  • The allowance for unit rates included with firm-fixed price task orders to be responsive for adjustments based on the outcome of the technical project planning process.

The success of the partnership has also served as a model to expand discussions with international government entities to enhance responsiveness, technology development, transfer and application, and share lessons-learned applicable to global issues. Although a fairly new endeavor, in 2012, NAOC’s International Affairs Special Committee sponsored an International Partnership Session and participated in several information sharing meetings with such organizations as the United Nations Mine Action Service, the Department of State, the Inter-American Defense Board, and USACE’s Huntsville Center and Transatlantic Division. NAOC also has been looking to continue to foster this important dialogue by assisting in the organization and sponsorship of future conferences and Government-Industry Day meetings. These types of activities and opportunities for interaction are key to address not only the MMR program, but to also address the worldwide issues associated with explosives safety.

Looking Ahead

Continuation of partnership like this remains a “win-win” for the government and industry, especially in this era of tighter federal budgets. Most importantly they provide the opportunity to share lessons learned and increase transparency, and, in the case of DOD-NAOC’s partnership, ensure that best practices for safe, effective and efficient MMR program execution are shared.

Although much progress has been made, there are additional opportunities to address programmatic challenges that lie ahead, such as the advancement of new technologies, risk management, and funding. Lingering questions include whether new technology will work as expected and if stakeholders will support its application instead of insisting on sticking with more costly ‘tried and true’ methods. These initiatives are further complicated by uncertain fiscal environments both here in the United States and in the global community. However, jointly, we will continue to ensure that best practices are implemented and lessons-learned are shared, and that quality and safety are not impacted.

Suzy Cantor-McKinney is Vice President, Program Compliance, Zapata Incorporated, and Secretary of NAOC, and Mark Albe, PMP, M.SAME, is, Director, Munitions Response Programs, Sterling Global Operations Inc., a member of the NAOC Board of Directors and Chair, Special Committee for International Affairs. They can be reached at 704-358-8240, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; and 865-988-6063, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Documentation from past partnering sessions can be found on the NAOC website at www.naoc.org.