Friday, March 25, 2011

Warriors in Transition: Matt Bader is Heading from the USAF to Portland, Oregon

Periodically in The White Rhino Report, we tell the story of a warrior who has served our nation in the military and is transitioning to a new career in the private sector. Today I am pleased to introduce the readers of the WRP to my good friend, USAF Captain Matt Bader. Matt is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, where he excelled as a member of the hockey team. He has recently returned from a deployment to Iraq. In the following paragraphs he shares some of experiences he had while serving with Tiger team in central Iraq.

Tiger Team in Iraq:

When I was deployed to Iraq I led a team of people responsible for providing contracting support to bases throughout central Iraq. There was seemingly more work to be done than could ever be accomplished, but you worked 14 hour days and did your best to prioritize the work to ensure the success of the mission. After I had been there a month or so I began to settle in and feel more comfortable in my role. Then I was assigned an additional duty as the lead of the DFAS Tiger Team. DFAS stands for Defense Finance and Accounting Service and they are the agency responsible for disbursing payments to all contractors doing business with DOD. I was charged with reducing the outstanding payments that the government owed contractors for goods, services, and construction that had been completed.

It was an additional duty that nobody wanted. The problems were multifaceted and complex in nature and each week the General in charge of all contracting for Iraq and Afghanistan got reports on the progress so it was very high stakes as well.

My team members were made up of DFAS liaisons, contracting personnel, and me. Most of them were less than thrilled to be given additional duties on top of the seemingly endless workload they already had. Our starting point was more than $2 million in outstanding invoices across Iraq many of which were accruing interest payments and costing the government thousands of dollars. We had conflicting interests amongst the key players and we were facing systemic wartime problems to include government bureaucracy, the fog of war, and the language/cultural barrier of our contractors. The DFAS Tiger Team on the prior rotation had made little to no progress in reducing the outstanding invoices and the lack of progress was becoming a sore spot for leadership. It was definitely an uphill battle.

I must admit that when I first took over I was feeling a little overwhelmed but I did the only thing you can really do in that environment which is put your head down, work hard, and give it your best shot. I knew that fostering a real team environment and creating buy in was the first thing I needed to do to get anywhere. I recognized that the DFAS liaisons were undermanned and often took the majority of the “blame” with regard to the outstanding invoices so I sought to earn their respect by immediately showing them that I cared about making a difference with the DFAS Tiger Team. I empathized with their situation and asked a ton of questions about the process. I think my humility and genuine desire to improve our current state won them over which was huge because they were the primary knowledge holders for the payment process and the inner workings of DFAS. I then sought to establish a common vision that was aligned with the overarching mission in Iraq. I described that it was building the Iraqi economy that was going to get us out of the war. Enhancing opportunities for the Iraqi people is the goal of counterinsurgency and there is no better way to do that then to put the Iraqi citizens to work. With that being said, huge damage can be done to our relations when the work has been performed and we do not hold up our end of the bargain with proper and prompt payment. I made sure that everyone on the team was aware that our team could have a direct impact on preventing extremism and that letting the current state continue could actually be fostering terrorism. It was clear that tying our additional duty to the mission of the war effort was a big turning point for the buy in and camaraderie of the team.

After I got my feet wet and had fostered a unified team environment I got my 8 member team together for a brainstorming session. I facilitated a mini continuous process improvement event for the team. We came up with the challenges we were facing and eventually came up with a set of action items we thought could improve the state of the payment process in Iraq. It was clear that we needed help from outside organizations such as DFAS Rome back in the states who processed all the payments, the Senior Contracting Official for Iraq Col Nolan, and Brigadier General Nichols of CENTCOM Contracting Command. I knew that simply telling higher ranking people and outside organizations we needed help was a recipe for disaster. So we presented our findings in a very strategic manner. We showcased how we brought different stakeholders together and came up with a consensus of the “big rocks” or issues with payment process in Iraq. We then presented what “we,” Regional Contracting Center Central, were already doing to improve the current state. This included new standard work, re-engineered business processes, and visuals to be used as payment processing templates for contractors and customers. It was after our efforts had been showcased that we had a section detailing the help we needed from outside organizations. We tried to portray our findings as “here is what we are doing to help ourselves, but we could really use your help in these areas to take our successes to the next level.”

I presented our findings to my leadership and they in turn passed them onto the SCO-I Col Nolan, and General Nichols. On a visit stateside General Nichols met with the head of DFAS Rome in New York and began forging a new memorandum of agreement between the Command and DFAS.

Within two months the changes our 8 person DFAS Tiger Team had implemented had reduced the outstanding payments by more than 50%. This was without the help of the outside agencies. As I prepared to depart Iraq, Col Nolan emailed me directly for feedback on the memorandum they were drafting to be implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was an incredibly rewarding experience to take over a program that nobody wanted to be a part of and to build a highly performing team that achieved amazing results. We went from the Regional Contracting Center with the largest outstanding payment issues to the model for entire theatre in less than six months.

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Matt will be leaving the Air force in the next few weeks. He and his wife are committed to returning to the Portland, Oregon area. If you know of an employer in that area who could use a leader with the kind of skills that Matt outlines above, his work ethic, leadership abilities and unimpeachable integrity, have them contact me to get in touch with Matt.


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