Huntsville contracting chief named 2015 manager of the year in Corps of Engineers

U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville
Published Jan. 15, 2016
Colleen O'Keefe, Huntsville Center's Contracting Directorate chief since July 2014, is the 2015 USACE Contracting Manager of the Year.

Colleen O'Keefe, Huntsville Center's Contracting Directorate chief since July 2014, is the 2015 USACE Contracting Manager of the Year.

While leading the largest contracting workforce in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Colleen O’Keefe successfully implemented several innovative initiatives this past year to develop, retain and empower employees at every level of their careers. Those efforts have earned her recognition as the 2015 Manager of the Year in the USACE Excellence in Contracting Awards Program.  

The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville Contracting Directorate chief since July 2014, O’Keefe oversees a team of more than 150 contracting professionals who annually execute some $2 billion in complex acquisitions worldwide.

“Ms. O'Keefe understands the importance of empowering the workforce and has always been a spirited advocate for contracting professionals,” said Stuart A. Hazlett, USACE Director of Contracting.  “While most managers accept that taking care of and developing people is important, she goes beyond and embodies that commitment in all her interactions with those she leads.” 
O'Keefe spearheaded initiatives to enhance the technical competencies of Huntsville Center’s acquisition workforce and promote contracting excellence, said Hazlett, who announced the 2015 winners in December.

Taking a very hands-on leadership approach – O’Keefe conducts team lunch and learns, monthly town halls, bimonthly managers meetings and monthly team lead meetings. She has begun succession planning to equip employees for the next level by providing leadership and professional development opportunities in the form of rotational assignments across the Center’s 42 programs, temporary promotions and senior leader shadowing.
To help ensure her contracting team has a solid regulatory foundation and the Center’s non-contracting project delivery team (PDT) members gain a better understanding of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), O’Keefe implemented weekly lunch-and-learn training on each FAR part. Her 52 Weeks of the FAR training has been implemented in several districts across USACE, and is also being used by the U.S. Army Contracting Command headquartered on Redstone Arsenal. 

“This is a great recognition,” said Col. Robert Ruch, Huntsville Center commander. “We have incredible pressures here that other Corps of Engineers offices don’t have. There’s a huge concentration of contracting personnel in Huntsville, which translates to a huge churn of people moving from one contracting organization to another. Not only does she have the largest workforce, but she is constantly having to hire, manage the people who are moving around and identifying ways to retain the incredible talent we have here in the Center. To be able to do that successfully and be named manager of the year is really something special.”

In an effort to retain employees, O’Keefe restructured the directorate in 2015 to create more advancement and leadership opportunities and recruited new talent using the Army intern and recent graduates programs, wounded warriors hiring initiatives and outreach with local colleges and the National Contract Management Association to create a better quality of life for directorate employees. 

Her vast experience and deployments with USACE – especially her overseas work supporting contingency operations as the first regional chief of contracting for the Transatlantic Division – have been invaluable to the Center, Ruch said. She was the Army’s Outstanding Contingency Contracting Officer in 2009 and in 2014 earned the Bronze DeFleury Medal for her efforts in support of Operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom. 

“Her successes here are also an indicator of the success of our Center-wide PDT process,” Ruch said, “because contracting staff don’t do anything without program managers and the technical specialists – it’s a team effort to ensure we are awarding the right contract for the mission. 

“She’s made an incredible impact across the entire team.”