A long-time member of the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, is the recipient of the Department of Defense’s Individual Achievement Award in Facilities Engineering.
Valerie Clinkenbeard, the acquisition liaison manager for Huntsville Center, received the award personally from the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics in December at the Pentagon.
Clinkenbeard, who has been in her role for 10 years, was nominated by her supervisors in the Engineering Directorate for her work managing contract source-selection evaluation activities, which includes oversight of about 20 separate contract acquisitions worth more than $6 billion at any one time. She also coordinates in developing the technical criteria for evaluating contractors, and she selects and trains the people on the contractor evaluation boards.
“She works on dozens of acquisitions that the Center is trying to put in place,” said Wade Doss, chief of the Center’s Civil Structures Division, Clinkenbeard’s supervisor and one of two people who nominated her for the award. “She’s responsible for staffing on many of the evaluation boards; making sure the right resources are on those boards – technical and otherwise. She works with contracting to get them through the process, which can last months if not years. So, she’s really directly impacting the process of putting these contracting vehicles in place, which positively affects the Center for years to come.”
About a dozen awards sit atop a cabinet in her office, which Clinkenbeard said she’s grateful to have received, but she said nothing compares to this one.
“There’s no better award out there that I could ever get,” she said. “This is the highest award I could receive in my entire career. There’s nothing else I could do. … I almost feel like it’s a recognition of a lot of the different things that I have done over my career,” she added.
When Clinkenbeard arrived at Huntsville Center in 1995, she had 10 years of experience working as an engineer in the private sector and was making the jump to civil service for the first time.
She said, at the time, she was worried she would be bored.
“An 80-hour workweek was not atypical,” she said of her old private-sector job. “It really wasn’t. I was so burnt out, but you never had time to be bored, and I was doing construction. There’s nothing more fun in the world than to work on a construction site. It is the epitome of engineering.
“I was really worried that I was coming to a government facility where I would be in an office and would be bound to a desk, and most of what I would be doing was just reviewing things that other people had done,” she said.
After in-processing the morning of her first day at Huntsville Center, she returned from lunch and dove into her work headfirst. Her first assignment was to write a scope of work for a geotechnical investigation of the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility. Clinkenbeard said she’s kept busy ever since.
“I’ve never had an opportunity to ‘be bored,’” she said. “I’ve always had an opportunity to do unique, different things.”
For a while, she said, she was content with doing those unique, different things as a nonsupervisory engineer. While examining her five-year career goals as part of her Individual Development Plan during her first job assignment, she told her supervisor she had no aspirations to be a supervisor herself.
“I was a typical engineer: I didn’t think anybody could do it as well as I could,” she said. “I knew I’d rather do it myself than rely on somebody else.”
That might surprise people who now work with Clinkenbeard, who has since accumulated a wealth of experience developing new programs, leading teams and mentoring junior employees.
Clinkenbeard took on her first supervisory position in the now-defunct Technical Management and Design Integration Branch in the Engineering Directorate. That branch provided technical management for other programs throughout the Center. During her time there she helped stand up the Facilities Reduction Program, put the first contract in place, and hired technical managers for the program.
She also served as project manager for the design of chemical demilitarization incineration facilities and then took on the role of chief of the Electronic Technology Division, which included a then much-smaller Utility Monitoring and Control Systems operation.
“At the time UMCS was a little, bitty-tiny program,” she said. “They kept forgetting to put them on the [Program Review Board], they were so small. My first year there, I came on in June, and they were expecting to do about $10 million worth of work. Around August, one of the project managers came up to me and said, ‘Valerie, it looks like we’re going to $94 million worth of work.”
Clinkenbeard said the program continued to grow when she empowered the members of her team to go out and secure new work even if it meant expanding their responsibilities. UMCS now has the largest contract on her acquisition list at a value of $2.5 billion.
“You have to have that little bit of fearlessness in you to do that,” she said. “Some people want to stay the same size. They’re afraid of growth and they’re afraid of change.”
Clinkenbeard embraced that fearlessness when a need arose for someone to serve as a link between the Pre-Award Branch of the Contracting Directorate and the Center’s project managers. The goal in establishing this link would be to improve the continuity between new Multiple Award Task Order Contracts that the Pre-Award Branch put into place and the follow-on task orders that project managers were responsible for.
The subject came up during a Program Review Board, during which Boyce Ross, who leads the Engineering Directorate, stressed the need for someone to fulfill the role.
“I was sitting there and I thought, ‘I could do that,’” she said.
Clinkenbeard has been at it now for a decade, with breaks now and then that included serving as the acting manager of the Furnishings Branch.
“Wonderful” is the word she uses to describe her career. In reflecting on her time at Huntsville Center, she is careful to give credit to her supervisors for empowering her to do new and interesting things, and the opportunity to give her time and expertise to coaching junior employees along the way.
“I’ve gotten to where I love the challenge of doing something no one else has done before, and I love solving problems, and I love mentoring people,” she said. “Those are truly the things I love the most about my job. And my management, they let me do all of them.”