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Contingency Contracting and Emergency Acquisition


Alternate Definition

Contingency contracting is the process of obtaining goods, services, and construction from commercial sources in support of contingency operations. Emergency acquisition flexibilities may apply to (i) military contingency operation; (ii) facilitating the defense against or recovery from nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological attack against the U.S.; (iii) situations where the President issues an emergency declaration or major disaster declaration; and for DoD (iv) Humanitarian or peacekeeping operations.

General Information

There has been much attention on contingency contracting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, contingency contracting encompasses much more than the support for these military efforts. Contingency contracting includes all contracting done in, and in support of, a contingency environment (declared and not declared). This includes major theater war, stability operations, natural disasters, and other calamitous events. Recent examples of DoD contingency operations include OPERATION UNITED ASSISTANCE (West Africa 2014, Ebola response) and multiple Covid-19 Responce Task Force and Operation Warp Speed .

Due largely to the long standing contingency operations of ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM, DoD has worked diligently to establish guidance and implement policies to address issues and concerns identified with contingency contracting. DoD relies on contractor support of the U.S. armed forces more than ever before. Contractors provide a wide range of both front line support as well as support across the service and supply chains for contingency operations. They provide the military with a wide range of combat support services from food, laundry, recreation, and IT related services to maintenance of the military’s most sophisticated weapons systems. DoD has even used contractor support for cradle-to-grave acquisition and contracting related services. More and more, sophisticated contracted advisory and assistance services (A&AS) are required in the battle-space.

DoD uses contractors during deployments because (i) there are limits to the number of U.S. military personnel available; (ii) required skills may not be available in sufficient supply; and (iii) the Geographic Combatant Commands (COCOMs) and Service Components may need to reserve scarce skills to ensure they are available for other contingencies. Keeping pace with these challenges has made the field of contingency contracting an important and dynamic one.

Emergency acquisition includes responses to disasters in the U.S., such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, or even the Boston Marathon bombing, terrorist attack. If a major disaster were to strike the United States, the federal government (including DoD) may implement emergency acquisition procedures. Contracting officers who deploy to perform contingency contracting using emergency acquisition procedures can be either military personnel or DoD civilian volunteers.

Acquisition Flexibilities

Because contingency contracting and emergency acquisition is frequently performed on short notice and without benefit of an established office structure, certain acquisition and emergency flexibilities are prescribed in FAR/DFARS Part 18/218. During a "declared" contingency the dollar thresholds for procurements increase as follows 1:

  • The micropurchase threshold increases from $10,000 to (i) $20,000 for any contract or purchase made inside the U.S.; and (ii) $35,000 for any made outside the U.S.
  • The simplified acquisition threshold increases from $250,000 to (1) $800,000 for any contract or purchase made inside the U.S., and $1.5 million for outside the U.S.
  • The simplified acquisition procedures authorized by the test program for commercial items increases from $7.5 million to $15 million
  • When a humanitarian or peacekeeping operation is declared, the simplified acquisition threshold is raised to $500,000 for DoD purchases that are awarded and performed, or purchases that are made, outside the United States in support of that operation.

(Note: Consult FAR Part 2.101 and/or DFARS 202.101 for updates.)

In addition to the increase in the thresholds, simplified forms and procedures are authorized due to the urgency of the mission. FAR Part 18 (Emergency Acquisitions) describes the acquisition flexibilities permitted.

Special Considerations

Because of the less controlled environment of contingency contracting and emergency acquisitions, and the varying cultural, political, and economic conditions overseas, there is more potential for violations of procurement integrity and of U.S. and foreign laws. Recent high-profile cases of DoD contingency contracting officers (CCOs) seeking personal gain because of their positions have been exposed and prosecuted. There has also been emphasis on the prevention of trafficking in persons in the contingency environment. In addition, CCOs are more likely to interact with customers and other partners that are not members of the DoD community, such as the U.S. State Department or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is important to learn about the roles of these agencies in the contingency environment, and how they may impact the CCO’s ability to accomplish the DoD mission.

Operational Contract Support (OCS)

Operational Contract Support (OCS) doctrine was developed to improve the planning, use of, oversight and performance evaluation of contract support during contingency operations; especially OCONUS contingency operations. Contingency contracting is just a subset of OCS. OCS is not just a contracting officer, COR or Log planner’s responsibility. It is a requirement for all functional areas to plan on their use of contract support before employing forces or systems to a contingency operation. 

A major tenet of OCS is to pre-coordinate the deployment of contractor personnel with combatant commanders in the area of operations (AO). Theater business clearance (TBC) and the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) have been developed to drastically improve the capability of combatant and subordinate commands to identify, account for and monitor contractor personnel in theater. Each geographic combatant command has unique guidance for contractor personnel entering and deploying to their theater of operations. TBC and other contracting rules and requirements can be very dynamic! CCOs and Acquisition Professionals should stay aware of the latest guidance at the DPC Contingency web site.