Contracting finds remote solution to accomplish mission
By Daryl Mayer, AFLCMC Public Affairs
/ Published May 04, 2020
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio (AFLCMC) – Contracting experts here and at Hanscom AFB found two solutions to a long-standing limitation that allowed full mission execution despite distributed operations.
The final proof is contracting actions are on the same pace as last year without any slowing due to teleworking, according to Jay Olson, Chief of Contracting Plans and Operations for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
At the crux of the issue is ConWrite, a contract writing automation software suite developed here in 1997 and used by more than 3,000 worldwide users on weapon system and research contracting actions. It is a legacy client-server system that shares information between the workstation and server. Both systems need to be on the Air Force network to safely share data.
“It was not usable from home even over VPN because of problems with data being dropped,” Olson said.
The purpose of ConWrite is to create high-quality contracts that include all the terms and conditions required by federal law. ConWrite is a powerful weapon system itself, as Wright-Patterson’s databases alone house over $450B of contracts powering other weapon systems.
“If it weren’t for ConWrite, we would be writing contracts through Microsoft Word and manually transmitting them to our contractors, DFAS, DCMC, etc.,” Olson said. “Finding a way to use ConWrite remotely was vital for our operations.”
Cue the Contract Automation team at Hanscom led by Ken Layre. A technical expert there, Leo Rodriguez, had been exploring using MobiKey, a system of proprietary hardware and subscription-based software that allows remote access from a device to control a Government-issued computer connected to wired NIPRNet. Now that everyone was leaving the workcenter proved an opportune time to put his ideas into practice.
As the COVID-19 pandemic developed, the MobiKey solution that Rodriguez had tested and introduced at Hanscom encountered a major supply shortage that led to the MobiKey units being ordered subject to a 12+ week backorder. Realizing that this was not going to allow the PK community he supports to meet their mission requirements, he partnered with Route1 (the manufacturer of the MobiKey device) in order to develop and test a hardware agnostic version of the MobiKey that saved the PK community from the delay in deploying during the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring continuity of critical procurement operations in the midst of a global pandemic.
“I could not be more proud of my team during this difficult time, especially Leo Rodriguez,” said Ken Layre, Branch Chief of Hanscom Contracting Automation. “His actions in identifying the MobiKey and helping to develop the software version for Air Force use exemplifies the Air Force core value of Excellence in All We Do.”
Robert Newsome, working on Olson’s team here recognized the Air Force’s implementation of EURAM VPN opened the door to field another solution which utilized the capabilities already available locally.
“I had used Windows 10’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) over VPN while working in private industry. We had tried it within the office between computers on the Air Force network, so we knew it worked,” Newsome said. “The EURAM VPN rollout allowed us to do the same from off the network as well.”
The end result was two solutions, MobiKey and RDP. Both allowed users to fully utilize ConWrite remotely. These solutions avoided having a limited number of users funnel through a single laptop per office. All ConWrite users can use either MobiKey or RDP at home.
Although the contracting teams were already working from home, Olson’s team was able to deploy the tools, train the workforce and get everything for RDP up and running within 2-3 days. As stated, the month of data collected shows the organization is fully mission capable and functioning at the same rate as last year when everyone was in the office. AFLCMC Contracting is also taking advantage of these remote contract writing capabilities to contract for critical supplies and services needed to fight COVID-19.
“Our folks are pretty amazing coming up with workarounds to hard issues like this,” said Tom Robinson, AFLCMC Director of Contracting. “I’m honestly stunned by how well the team is executing despite being at 100 percent telework.”
Based on the results, Air Force Materiel Command championed the AFLCMC MobiKey software package to obtain Air Force-wide approval to use the MobiKey. AFMC Contracting then purchased more MobiKey units to allow the entire command to implement. The entire AFLCMC Contracting workforce can now work remotely, as Todd Barlow and Nick Baguio also led contract automation offices at Eglin and Gunter to expeditiously implement RDP, Olson said.
“We are all incredibly fortunate to have guys like Leo and Robert developing these solutions and I’m especially impressed with the entire team for implementing everything so quickly. This was truly an all-hands-on-deck team effort that had our ConWrite Helpdesk and PK Staff IT professionals working all hours of the night to implement for the field. Collaborating with our OL counterparts and AFMC/PK to bring such impactful solutions has been incredibly rewarding,” Olson said. “It is not easy to get an organization this large moving in the same direction, but everyone really stepped up to get the job done.”