News: Keystones start 90-day international assignments
Story by Nick D'Amario
FORT LEE, Va. - Since 1997, the Defense Contract Management Agency has had a Keystone program in place to bolster the agency’s acquisition work force and develop future leadership. Since 2009, some third-year Keystones have performed their third-year rotational assignment at overseas contract management offices.
“This is an opportunity for them to operate in their current series, work with local nationals and experience contracting processes in an international environment,” said Gretchen Smith, DCMA Keystone Program manager. “The Keystone gets a fabulous experience, and we get a happier, well-trained and loyal employee.”
The Keystone program is also DCMA’s entry level developmental program for training and placing professionals into acquisition positions. Most Keystones are assigned to contracts (1102 series), quality assurance (1910 series), and engineering (800 series) career fields at CMOs.
Recently, the agency’s International Directorate selected 10 Keystones for 90-day overseas rotational assignments at CMOs in the Pacific, Europe and the Americas. Keystones were selected based on resumes, college transcripts, training courses attended, Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act certifications, and endorsement letters from directors and supervisors. Selectees will report to their temporary overseas duty station on or after June 14.
According to Jim Morris, DCMA International Quality Assurance director and a panel member for selecting the Keystones finalists, getting the original list of 40 applicants down to the final 10 went beyond gauging functional expertise.
“We focused on low maintenance indicators such as initiative and accountability to reduce the Keystone’s overseas learning curve,” he said.
While the Keystones selected will be overseas no more than 90 days, Morris believes they will contribute great value to their International CMOs.
“Keystones are a great source of new ideas and perspectives to draw from which helps our CMOs stay current and grow with emerging policies and concepts,” he said.
Catharina Ignacio, DCMA International Contracts Division director, also served as a selection panel member.
“Affording a Keystone an opportunity for an overseas rotation is a win-win for both DCMA International and the Keystones,” said Ignacio. “It’s also an opportunity for the Keystones to ‘try-before-you-buy’ should they be interested in later pursuing an assignment overseas.”
While the current intent is to place Keystones in overseas rotational assignments every year, budget cuts and sequestration precluded this from occurring in 2013.
“Overseas rotational assignments cost the agency some $60,000 per Keystone, which we derive from the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund,” said Smith. “The purpose of DAWDF is to ensure Department of Defense has the personnel and skills available to meet its acquisition mission.”
Two of the Keystones selected, Rhonda Sharbini, quality assurance specialist with DCMA Lockheed Martin Denver, and Nikki Eliopulos, a contract administrator with DCMA Huntsville, will perform their rotational assignments with DCMA Southern Europe in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Both Sharbini and her husband, Waleed, are Keystones and interested in applying for International assignments upon completion of their programs.
Sharbini, an Air Force veteran, said that networking within the agency is important in getting product to the warfighter. “This opportunity allows me to broaden my skill set as a Keystone and bring in a fresh new look at our international programs,” she said. “I would like to be an ambassador and bring back the learned tasks and share operations ideas at my CMO.”
Eliopulos said an overseas position has been a goal of hers since she first entered the Keystone program.
“I am looking forward to a different workload, different contract types and expanding my knowledge in the field of pricing during my rotation,” said Sharbini. “I am also looking forward to exploring places and small towns along the Rhine River and eating authentic German food.”
Damaris Rivera-López, a DCMA Lockheed Martin Fort Worth contract administrator, said she applied for an overseas rotation to enhance her understanding of international business practices, which will also aid in her current position. Her 90-day assignment will be with International’s Northern Europe CMO in the United Kingdom.
“I am eager to experience first-hand the rich history and culture of the United Kingdom by visiting landmarks, sports events and having tea with the queen,” said Rivera-López.
While tea with the queen of England is unlikely, her goals are clear.