HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Feb. 4, 2019) – A Huntsville Center contracting specialist graduated as the top student from the Defense Acquisition University’s most recent CON 090 course, which has a reputation as one of the most rigorous in the acquisition field.
Audrey Maack, who works on acquisitions for access control points, characterizes the four-week course as a tough rite of passage for professionals in her field.
“You hear horror stories about CON 090,” said Maack, who graduated in December. “It has a very high attrition rate.”
The course covers the fundamentals of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, or FAR, and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement, or DFARS, for junior members of the acquisition field.
“The FAR is an ever-changing document,” Maack said. “It’s just a living-breathing document that’s constantly changing. So, a lot of the class is really just learning how to navigate it.”
Maack, having joined Huntsville Center in late July after working in private-sector contracting, is not completely new to the acquisition field. Nevertheless, she said the course demands an anxiety-provoking level of attention to detail even from students who aren’t brand new to the acquisition world.
“The whole idea behind it is, particularly in the contracting field, attention to detail is incredibly important,” Maack said. “They structure the class, the tests and the quizzes where you have to pay very close attention to detail to the question and even in your answer. When you provide citations, you have to provide the exact citation, and that can go all the way down to multiple subparagraphs to an answer.
“Even the professors don’t dance around the fact that it’s rough,” Maack added. “They don’t hide the fact that it’s meant to weed out those who they don’t think are going to make it in the acquisition world.”
Maack expressed gratitude that she and several of her peers were able to take part in a short, informal primer administered by Joel Williams, who serves as a senior contract specialist for base operations, or BASEOPS. She said this relieved a lot of her anxiety.
“I did not like the course, and after having completed it successfully, I told Lisa Hendrix, our section chief, that I’d be willing to do a preparation course to help provide context because it’s an extremely rigorous course,” Williams said.
Williams said there is good reason for the high level of rigor.
“You’re obligating taxpayer dollars,” he said. “With that, there has to be a level of accountability.”
Williams attributes that complexity to the competing avenues of consideration in ensuring an economically equitable playing field.
“You’re addressing small businesses, minority-owned businesses, historically underutilized business-owned businesses, companies that would not traditionally have an opportunity to access these contracting dollars,” Williams said. “How do you do that and still meet the need or requirement of the government, of the agency, and of the mission? That’s where it begins to get more complex. CON 090 actually dives into that. If you’re new to it – a new hire with no background or experience – it’s a whole different world.”
Maack is now gearing up for CON 170, a course focused on pricing, but for those about to embark on CON 090, Maack has some tips: “Do not plan anything for four weeks. If you have a family, make sure they know you are going to be busy. And really, just allow yourself to put in the effort for the class. I don’t recommend taking it lightly. It’s not a course you can just brush off and be OK in. Put in the effort.
“On to the next adventure,” Maack said. “I’m just glad that one is behind me.”