Karolyn Gardner is director of contracts and procurement for PAE, a government contracting firm that supports the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and State; and allied governments and international aid agencies.
A quick glance at a list of her recently procured items shows the variety of the company’s procurement activity; ranging from the purchase of biscuits and the supply of clean water for relief efforts, to the materials needed to upgrade defense vehicles for U.S. military programs and everything in between.
She joined PAE after spending 14 years at CH2M Hill, where she played a part in the company's support of FEMA disaster relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina and construction efforts for the DoD in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gardner recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about her well-stamped passport, her strategy for effective contract delivery and PAE's growth following its acquisition of Defense Support Services LLC.
ExecutiveBiz: What do your duties consist of as director of contracts at PAE and how do you aim to maintain growth and efficiencies in this area for the company?
Karolyn Gardner: I have responsibility and oversight for all the contracts and procurement efforts at PAE. On the contracts side, I manage our customers and the prime contracts we maintain with them. On the procurement side, I oversee all the purchases we make ““ those from our suppliers or subcontractors, as well as all of our overhead or indirect spending.
There are several areas where we have focused our C&P efforts throughout PAE. First and foremost is maintaining compliance with the changing requirements of the U.S. government, which is our major customer. The Federal Transparency Act and other regulations have resulted in changes that directly affect our company and our suppliers. There are a lot of considerations for a government contractor to keep up with, in order to be compliant as well as effective in what we deliver to our customer. That is our primary goal as a business and definitely the focus of the contracts and procurement organization.
To your question on growth and efficiencies, our main effort in this area has been the purchase of DS2 this past year. Among other things, DS2's capabilities include the operations, maintenance and repair of aircraft and ground vehicles, which are nice complements to PAE's facility management work. We're combining the capabilities of both companies and implementing the right tools to gain efficiencies on both ends, and we are evaluating our tools and our policies in order to have the most efficient company structure going forward.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve held similar positions at several different companies. How have those experiences aided in developing the way you approach contract proposals and service delivery?
Karolyn Gardner: Before working with PAE, I was at CH2M Hill for about 14 years, and I worked in various contracts and procurement jobs at other companies before that. Throughout my career, I've learned a certain methodology that is essential to the planning process. Taking the time and the effort to do the right things from the start is key.
Whether it's developing a procurement plan with your program team during the RFP stage of a solicitation or working through the change order process with the subcontractor during project execution, that upfront planning can pay off tremendously with a more efficient and effective delivery from our subcontractors and suppliers.
I also bring this approach and attitude to the contracting side, when working with our program managers on developing the negotiation strategy to finalize terms, or pricing, or working through change order issues with our customers. Whenever you're developing a plan, the more work you can do for your contracting officer ““ such as writing things out and providing them with detailed documentation ““ the more likely that there will be a timely acceptance, which is beneficial to all parties.
ExecutiveBiz: What areas of the government does PAE serve and where does PAE expect to see growth in the coming years?
Karolyn Gardner: Nearly all of our work is in direct support of the U.S. government's smart power approach, which leverages elements of diplomacy, development and defense. For these missions, we do everything from buying camels, goats and biscuits; to maintaining military bases and Embassies; to overseeing expeditionary construction projects; to delivering armored vehicles; to finding a way to supply clean water to remote locations.
Over the 50 plus years of the company, PAE has serviced the U.S. federal government, but mostly in overseas locations. Starting with Vietnam in the '60s to now, our clients and our major areas of emphasis have been in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa and South East Asia. We have generally been located in the parts of the world where the environments are more extreme. In the past, PAE has won major indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts that we will continue to work on and build more task orders over time. However, with the purchase of DS2, we've vastly expanded our market in the United States. We perform a wide gamut of work every day, which is what keeps it interesting, and at the end of the day, we've helped our customer do some good things in some tough places.
ExecutiveBiz: Does your position require you to travel overseas a good bit?
Karolyn Gardner: In the past two and a half years, I've been to several locations in Afghanistan; Dubai; Naples, Italy and Bogota, Columbia; Liberia; and Sierra Leone. That's actually pretty typical for PAE leadership. We think it's important for those of us that work in the DC offices to really know what the programs are like: what the fieldwork entails, what they're doing every day, how electricity comes in and on, the weather and what traveling is like.
I have people that work for me everywhere from Uganda and Sierra Leone to Afghanistan and Iraq. In some of those places, you don't have to worry about connectivity, but when you're out in more remote locations, it's a different story. It is a great experience to understand how your folks live and work. When you're talking on the phone or via e-mail, you don't necessarily see the conditions they're living in, what their housing situation entails. But if you are able to travel and understand their day-to-day living and working situations, you can help establish policy and procedures that take their working environment into account and develop creative solutions that enable the business.
ExecutiveBiz: Does contract service delivery differ greatly from one industry to another, for example, supplying work for infrastructure versus defense systems?
Karolyn Gardner: In my experience, if you're a U.S. defense contractor, you tend to do your work in the U.S. You have some people that may deliver a product out to a client location, but they're typically doing most of their work back in the States from their offices.
Our work as a service contractor requires us to directly live and work on base locations with our customers. Our company has major contracts for facilities management at several Embassies around the world, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Moscow, among others. We also have a lot of military base work in Djibouti, and through DS2 we support several major bases around the United States. On these contracts, our employees are living, breathing and working with our customer, addressing their day-to-day needs and helping to keep their facilities and equipment running.
On other contracts, we're out in more remote locations to set up field sites for our customer or their stakeholders. On these sorts of programs, we generally handle all the logistics for our people to be on location with the client. We build the entire network that makes up their life when they're living out in these remote locations ““ their lodging, their food service, their ablution facilities, their power and water supply, etc. We have to think through the entire daily cycle, not and not just getting the job done during the eight or ten hour day.
ExecutiveBiz: What are the essential elements a company must consider in order to deliver contract services on time and cost-efficiently?
Karolyn Gardner: The early integration of plans with the contracts and procurement department, the program team and business development team is essential. Integrating these groups upfront allows us to plan the entire delivery of the program and manage cost effectively. If this is done correctly from the beginning, it makes for a much more efficient process once a contract is awarded. We can hit the ground running, quickly award subcontracts to our suppliers, and basically support the program team much more efficiently during the stand-up phase.