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Integrity is everything: Facilities and operation support for the military

Kent Jacocks

From emptying classified trash in the Pentagon to providing state-of-the-art security monitoring for America’s most important military installations, private sector contractors are instrumental to securing the nation’s most precious resources -- our sons and daughters.

In a highly diversified and complex age of security, the unique challenges and mission support requirements of federal, state, and local government departments and agencies demand comprehensive, reliable, and cost-effective strategies. More than ever, the U.S. government has relied on a select group of private sector contractors to develop these strategies by operating and securing its facilities -- and protecting the well-being of both military and civilian personnel.

As a matter of national security, facilities and operation support is a proposition that requires an enormous amount of training, expertise, and a highly developed sense of threat awareness. It takes organizations whose leaders have military experience and an eye trained upon the future of emerging security technologies and strategies.

ABM Government Services (ABMGS) has nearly five decades of experience in facilities operation and support. Its clients include multiple departments and divisions within the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of the Treasury, Department of State, Department of Veterans Affairs, GSA, and many more agencies. ABM has active contracts on five continents, including combat zone locations and other “austere” environments.

ABM has found that hiring ex-military personnel is integral to its success. In fact, most of ABM’s leadership team is comprised of veterans with long and extensive track records in the armed services. When you’ve had a career in the military, base operations and security posture become second nature. You have a certain level of threat awareness that the general public simply doesn’t.

Yet the commercial and military worlds are becoming ever more enmeshed every day. Increasingly, the former is beginning to recognize the opportunity to leverage the experience of companies such as ABM. Security and efficient facility operations are tantamount for the private sector as well and they’re applying techniques, strategies and technologies developed at military installations by contractors such as ours.

Day-to-day military base operations support

While the public’s perception of our deployed military is dominated by the image of combat troops, most of the military’s human resources reside predominantly within compounds and military bases. Whether domestic or abroad, these facilities operate very much like small towns. They need operating headquarters, dining facilities, reliable electricity, housing, recreational facilities, plumbing and water supply, properly working vehicles, heating and cooling equipment, and medical facilities and devices -- to name a few. This requires military bases to have significant facilities support including maintenance, repair, operations, construction, engineering, energy services and much more to ensure our men and women in uniform can operate at peak efficiency.

For any military installation, it is imperative that base operations support and mission support services be provided in a world-class manner, allowing our soldiers, Department of Defense (DoD) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) civilians as well as other military staff to focus on the tasks at hand rather than worrying about their facilities infrastructure.

Quite often, the military relies on specialists from the commercial sector to provide these critical facility and operations support functions. These service providers also play an important role assisting in properly securing military bases, making providers experts in the security protocols necessary for any military installation. Additionally, the military relies on its facilities services providers to handle many logistical necessities including:

  • Designing, developing, acquiring and maintaining services, supplies and other materials;
  • Personnel transportation;
  • Construction and renovation;
  • Medical and healthcare support services;
  • Administrative support services;
  • Equipment maintenance and operation;
  • Utilities operation and maintenance; and
  • Selective training.

Securing U.S. military bases

Providing these facility services is a critical job, but not just any provider is eligible to step onto a military base and begin working. The U.S. military requires civilian workers to meet rigorous background checks, while service providers must apply for, be granted and maintain required security clearance levels in the form of a facility security clearance (FCL) in order to work on DoD contracts or with other government agencies.

There are four basic security clearance levels for service companies and their personnel: unclassified, confidential, secret and top secret. Maintaining the highest level of security clearance with the DoD, top-secret facility clearance requires review on a periodic basis. Employees must also be familiar with federal regulations for the protection of classified information, and service providers must employ a security program to comply with the DoD’s extensive requirements.

For example, civilians must pass not only DoD or other government agency background checks, but they must also pass an in-depth background check by the service provider, such as ABMGS. In fact, some of the background checks employed within ABM have been widely used by the rest of the company for checks on many of its other 100,000-plus employees during the on-boarding process. In order to obtain badge credentials to work on a military base as a civilian, ABM workers undergo a five-part background check, including a/an:

  • DoD or other government agency database background check, and verification of individual clearance level;
  • 10-year criminal background check on the individual;
  • Credit check;
  • Drug screening through urinalysis; and
  • Employment history through human resources, and verification of education, training and certificates.

Once these requirements are met, civilians obtain badges that are reviewed at checkpoints across military bases to gain entry into and out of military installations.

Companies must be vigilant in employing trustworthy and honorable individuals at these installations. The military cannot have individuals working at bases, hospitals and various other jobs -- often very close to the front lines and with access to classified information -- who have not been properly vetted. The risks are simply too great.

One solution is hiring ex-military personnel. On-boarding a veteran facilitates the process because they already possess a granular sense of threat awareness and the clearance to pass the DoD’s stringent evaluation. The ability to employ individuals with proper clearance who meet sophisticated background checks is key to not only securing military bases, but to operating a successful contractor such as ABMGS.

Vulnerability assessments and the importance of credibility

In accordance with the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM) and the DoD Security Agreement, a vulnerability assessment is required for facilities operation and support. Established by executive order in 1993, the NISP Operating Manual provides organizations with guidelines and necessary safeguards to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

For example, a recent DoD assessment conducted at ABMGS’ Hopkinsville, KY headquarters received a “superior” rating. The evaluation noted six security program enhancements described as “above and beyond the NISPOM requirements.” The assessment also revealed zero vulnerabilities at ABMGS’s facility.

Credibility is essential to government contracting and the only way to acquire that credibility is through sustained performance. To successfully bid on a government contract, a public sector company must possess 100 percent integrity from top to bottom. It must be willing to allow the DoD to thoroughly inspect and validate every aspect of the business -- from the C-suite to the mailroom. It is impossible to overstate the importance of being completely security worthy. Ultimately, a third-party validator as stringent as the DoD provides peace of mind to our clients.

This, of course, includes maintaining a workforce with the necessary training, experience and the highest moral character. It is vital that every member of our organization is above reproach. For example, ABM has janitors right now in the Pentagon who pick up the trash in some of the most classified departments in the nation. In an age where information is more vital to national security than ever and cyber-terrorism is a constant threat, the protection of “discarded” data is as important as maintaining a secure facility perimeter.

In addition to DoD validation, an ABM facility also is subjected to a thorough and exhaustive internal evaluation every six months to ensure that it’s up to muster. If you lose your stamp of approval, you can’t do this kind of work -- simple as that. ABM dots every ‘i’ and crosses every ‘t’ -- not just for personal reasons, but for national defense reasons.

Linguists play an important role in security

In recent years, there has been an increased need for military-trained linguists to support our troops in a number of mission-critical capacities, whether in humanitarian, peacekeeping, contingency or combat zones.

There are two primary types of linguist services offered by contractors: interpreters and translators. Interpreters are responsible for the spoken word; translators with the written word. Translation, interpretation and other related language services are necessary for our troops to function in non-English speaking regions, particularly in Eastern Europe, and the Middle East where U.S. troops are actively engaged.

To meet the growing demand for linguists, in 2011, the Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) unveiled the $9.7 billion Defense Language Interpreting and Translation Enterprise (DLITE) contract that was awarded to six providers with ABMGS being among the recipients. ABMGS has been tasked with a number of interpretation and translation orders since.

Today, ABMGS linguists provide services to U.S. service personnel in locations such as Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Oman, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Supported languages include Amharic, Arabic (both the Gulf and Levantine dialects), Hindi, Nepalese, various forms of Pashtu, and Russian.

As it relates to security, linguists often play a vital role in maintaining strong relations between U.S. troops and those native to wherever they are deployed, be it local government officials, tribal chiefs or even enemy forces during a negotiation. Unskilled translators can cause confusion and consternation, which endangers the lives of our military staff. Even worse, there are hostile translators who seek to actively sabotage a communication or negotiation.

Emerging technologies and strategies

Providing operations and security for military facilities is an ever-evolving challenge. As a result, it’s imperative to remain at the forefront of new technologies and strategies. In addition, the commercial world is beginning to adopt many of the technologies and strategies developed by the military and the contractors who provide facilities and operations support.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

One of these advances is the increased use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems for monitoring. While the military has increasingly deployed these measures to enhance the security posture of their facilities, it’s also an idea that has been vetted in the private sector by residential communities and commercial entities -- perhaps, most famously, by Jeff Bezos and Amazon.

Once regulatory obstacles are overcome, commercial UAVs will be used increasingly in the realm of public safety and infrastructure management. For example, they will be deployed initially as surveillance tools for law enforcement agencies and fire departments in dangerous areas or to monitor large, remote commercial facilities.

Commercial off-the-shelf camera technology

Another emerging trend is the use of Commercial Off-the-Shelf camera technology by the military and defense industries. Sophisticated vision systems have long been crucial to the safety of personnel as well as the effectiveness of weapons and overall military strategy. However, the defense industry creates unique market challenges to suppliers due to the highly detailed specifications and exacting standards that the military requires. In addition, the defense industry’s purchasing/supply chain systems can be Byzantine.

As a result, defense systems are often forced to rely on dated technology in order to get an acceptable solution. Meanwhile, defense contractors have increasingly turned to the use of Commercial Off-the-Shelf products in order to have a shorter time to market and use the latest technologies. However, this usually requires a “ruggedization” of the technology to ensure it meets robust military specs.

A tiered pricing system

The military has also developed a tiered pricing system for base operations. As threat levels fluctuate, so do the levels of security a facility wants to maintain. While a traditional fixed price structure can restrict an operations budget or leave a gap in security, a tiered pricing structure is customizable. It allows installations to “ramp up and ramp down” their security posture commensurate  with the threat level. Contractors help them think through the process of increasing security to the next tier in response to an increased threat level -- what needs be done and what are the required resources.

Decision-makers in the government and defense arenas face unique operating requirements and challenges. Providing these entities with services tailored to meet their needs, schedules and budgets is a top priority.

The future of facilities and operation support for the military

The DoD has long relied on contractors to support overseas military operations. Initially, post-Cold War defense budget reductions resulted in significant cuts to military logistics and other support capabilities, requiring DoD to hire contractors to “fill the gap.”

Over the last two decades, contractors have played an increasingly vital role in U.S. military operations and national security. In fact, they have made up more than half of the DoD’s total workforce in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. With the end of combat operations in Iraq and the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, the DoD is has begun preparing for future military operations. As reflected in recent defense strategic planning guidance, the United States must prepare for a diverse range of security challenges including a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific Theater and Europe.

Although future contingency operations may differ from those of the past decade, contractors will continue to play an integral role in military operations. According to government officials and analysts, the military is unable to effectively execute many operations, particularly those that are large-scale and long-term in nature, without extensive operational contract support. Even in short-term operations, contractors can play a variety of critical roles. For example, the first fragmentary order for Operation Tomodachi -- the DoD’s response to the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 -- involved contract support. Given the extensive role of contractors in military operations, many DoD officials and analysts consider contract management a mission-essential task.

However, just as the effective use of contractors can augment military capabilities, inexperienced or unscrupulous contractors can prevent troops from receiving what they need, when they need it, and can lead to the wasteful spending of billions of dollars -- dollars that could have been used to fund other operational requirements.

As a result, the integrity of contractors providing facilities and operation support for our military must remain above reproach. This year, the DoD’s “Panel on Contracting Integrity” will continue to develop initiatives that strengthen the quality, readiness and performance results of the contracting workforce. Their primary objectives for 2014 are: 1) Evaluating the basis of certification for each level of certification in the contracting career field; 2) Reviewing best practices for a mentoring and coaching development program; and 3) Continuing to develop contracting tools for future contingencies.

Companies like ABMGS are honored to contribute to national security in such an integral manner and welcome the opportunity to continue to develop an effective and meaningful partnership with both federal and local government. As contractors responsible for facilities and operation support, we can never lose sight that we are trusted partners to help protect our most precious resource -- our sons and daughters.

Kent Jacocks joined ABM Government Services in October 2009 as the vice president of business development. In this role, he leads the development of solutions for the military and other governmental agencies.

Kent has more than 27 years of experience in providing global operational support to aide our nation’s instruments of national power. Prior to joining ABM, Kent served in the US Army, rising to the rank of Army Colonel. While in the Army, he served in overseas contingency operations in Panama, Korea, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Kent commanded at every level from platoon to Brigade. 

Kent holds a bachelor’s degree from Temple University and a master’s degree of science in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, D.C.

 

 

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