About 400 people at Robins Air Force Base toil away daily in cubicles to make sure the details are right on the contracts that buy what the Air Force needs.
They are contracting officers, the people who are responsible for buying everything from jets to wrenches. Pretty much everything you see at Robins got there by going through a contracting office.
It can seem like thankless work, said Barbara Kuklinski, director of contracting in Air Force Reserve Command, said during a panel discussion at the Museum of Aviation on Wednesday. But she recalled something a Coast Guard captain commanding a shipping yard once told her when she was working as a contracting officer there.
“He said contracting is the oxygen,” she recalled. “He said without you guys, we can’t work. Nothing would happen here. We won’t be able to do drug interdiction. We can’t rescue anybody from drowning.”
She said she likes to relay that story to her staff today to help them understand their importance.
The panel discussion, which drew about 50 civilian and military contracting personnel from the base, was arranged by the National Contracting Management Association. Also on the panel were Lt. Col. Michelle Crawford, acquisition attorney at Air Force Reserve Command, and Fred Massey, deputy director of Air Force Reserve Command Information Technology/Communication.
Massey was there as a customer of contracting, relying on their expertise to acquire the computers and other technology that his unit distributes across the Air Force Reserve.
When things go wrong in the contracting process, he said, it can lead to delays that have an impact on the Air Force mission. Also, with budget uncertainties in recent years, delays in awarding a contract can mean the money won’t be there when it comes time to buy, he said.
“To me the most valuable thing is to keep me on schedule,” he said. “If the contracting officer can help me award a contract at a time when the money is available to meet my mission, that is just it.”