Empowered for results
Jonathan Irizarry’s job isn’t the norm when it comes to acquisition. “Simply put, we are a small team of Army civilians led by an Air Force O-6 colonel, who is responsible for the procurement and production of Air Force and Navy bombs, fins and other support items,” said Irizarry, a program analyst for the Project Director for Joint Bombs (PD JB) within the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition (JPEO A&A).
Irizarry is responsible for the financial management of the Penetrator Bomb, Tritonal Bomb, Small Practice Bombs, Bomb Fins, Proximity Sensor and Energetic Ammunition programs for the Air Force and Navy as well as the Cartridge Actuated Devices and Propellant Actuated Devices programs for the Army. He manages the budgeting and execution of all funds and tracks the industrial base capacity of bomb components, inventory objectives, and the shelf and install life expirations of existing inventory. He also monitors the acquisition milestones for all contract actions.
For Irizarry, the most challenging part of his work is getting to a steady state in terms of budget and contract capacities. “We make contracts three years out, so when the Air Force budget spiked last year, we had to adjust contracts on the fly to accommodate increased inventory requests,” he explained. He and his team are facing the opposite issue with a declining Air Force budget this year. “We amped up our contractors and capacities, but now we have to go back down to a steady state without hurting jobs and capacity. Through communication and teamwork, we are working with the Air Force to find the middle ground where we can still surge if we need to, but maintain a more realistic budget,” he said.
What Irizarry is most proud of is his work on an integrated product team (IPT) that handles foreign military sales (FMS). “The purpose of the IPT is to grant insight into the FMS expectations of other service requirements and replacement-in-kind orders,” said Irizarry, who stood up the team and serves as its lead.
The team includes representatives from the three services across 10 different commands, and before it was formed, PD JB had little visibility into FMS orders and when to expect them. “The IPT opened up communication across the services’ FMS case managers, and they began to inform us when they got a request from foreign allies. This allowed us to better prepare for unexpected requirements and prioritize service orders,” he explained.
For example, a foreign ally recently notified the Air Force of its urgent need for the CXU-3 Smoke Signal Cartridge. There were no current domestic requirements for the ammunition, so there was not a contract plan in place to accommodate the request. “Rather than turn the business away, we laid out the process for an FMS sole-source exception via an international agreement,” said Irizarry, who learned about this option in security training at the Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management.
His project office had never executed this type of contract before. With the help of the IPT, Irizarry gathered the right stakeholders from JPEO A&A, the Joint Munitions Command, Army Contracting Command – Rock Island, Illinois, and the appropriate Air Force program office. He also coordinated with case managers at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, conducted market research, wrote the requirements, outlined the schedule and drafted approvals, all while documenting the process.
“We laid out a plan toward contract award in 12-14 months, which is one-third of the time a traditional contract takes,” he said, noting that the process is still ongoing. “This international agreement will satisfy the urgent need of one of our allies, put in place the business processes for a new contract type and stand up a qualified source for this cartridge for future requirements.” Irizarry was grateful for the opportunity the project gave him to be exposed to the bigger acquisition picture. “This is the first time I have led an effort like this, and I learned a lot by touching different business areas and balancing all perspectives.”
He credits his father, John Irizarry, for introducing him to government work. The elder Irizarry retired in 2016 after 31 years of service in the Project Manager for Combat Ammunition Systems within JPEO A&A. “He was extremely passionate about his work with our foreign allies and strongly believes in the work that JPEO A&A does. I try to carry that attitude forward in my work,” said Irizarry, who began his civilian career as an office automation clerk in the PD JB Summer Pathways Internship Program. There, he was involved with efficiency efforts and had the opportunity to brief general officers. “If it was not for the great experience I had as a Pathways intern, I don’t think I would be in government service at all,” he said.
His advice to junior acquisition personnel is not to be afraid of speaking up in a meeting. “It’s easy to feel intimidated by the audience in the room. Usually dubbed ‘the wall team,’ the people not sitting at the table may not feel inclined to contribute to a briefing, especially if it is to a high-ranked official. It is always worth speaking up if you have an idea, thought or even a point to clarify. Let people know that you have something to contribute,” Irizarry said.
“What I like about my job is that I feel empowered to talk to outside team members without having to go through a chain of command,” he added. “We are a small team and we work well with external teams. We’ve built something great on trust and support, and when everyone is empowered to get the work done, it gets done right.”
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