Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Purchase Card Request Branch Head Lauren Balderson and her colleagues emerged from a one day Rapid Improvement Event (RIE) confident that their streamlined purchase card process would improve efficiencies and cut costs throughout the command.

It was February 2020 and their intense collaboration throughout the RIE resulted in a series of staggering improvements resulting in the reduction of 14 days from the routine 28 days it took for an NSWCDD employee to submit a procurement request from a department through the purchase card process.

The savings in time and costs as a result of the improvements – taking effect in phases that ended on Oct. 5 – would make a rapid and long lasting impact on the command’s ability to efficiently develop future technologies for the Surface Navy and the warfighter.

However, when Balderson and her RIE colleagues finally stepped out of the war room where their intensive collaboration took place with sticky notes plastered on the walls and complex flow charts inscribed on a white board, they did not dream how much of an impact their purchase card process improvement would have on the command and its technical programs.

At the time, it was only a few weeks away from a workforce in a state of maximum telework throughout Naval Sea Systems Command and its Warfare Centers with few exceptions – a status that continues until further notice.

In retrospect, Balderson sees how the purchase card improvements are “really keeping the programs from falling behind” although NSWCDD program managers and their teams are mostly working from home as many vendors are adversely affected by the pandemic.

"This timeline has enabled us to meet our deadlines while meeting the customers and sponsors needs,” said Balderson. “The whole pick up of the pace and the cost savings has been great because of the amount of time going from 28 to 14 days – that is what you call a rapid improvement.”

This is the kind of improvement that NSWCDD Technical Director John Fiore referred to in his introduction to the 2021-2025 NSWCDD Strategic Plan released to the workforce this month. “We will enhance our governance processes through automation,” he wrote, “allowing us to use that information to reduce costs, remove inefficiencies, enhance decision-making, and hold each other accountable.”

Balderson emphasized that the new process is making a substantial impact on the command’s technical programs but “it’s still new and we need more time to get the data on cost savings.”

In the meantime, her team of 25 government acquisition support experts in the branch are supporting requests across NSWCDD while teleworking. “We have effectively embraced maximum telework during this pandemic and have hit the ground running. We were 100% fully functioning from day one and really knocking it out of the park since we’ve been home.”

Moreover, the branch has been keeping up on orders with no lag time. “The only issues we’ve had since we’ve been home is vendors,” said Balderson. “There are a lot of manufacturers shut down due to the pandemic, causing extended lead times on some of the procurement items which is out of our control. Most end users are aware of it once they have their items quoted.”

The NSWCDD purchase card process improvements are summarized as follows:

1. Forward deployment of acquisition teams to specific departments – dedicated support to better meet customer needs.

2. Rightsizing of the purchase card request and restructuring of the purchase card teams to increase efficiency and customer service.

3. Digitization of purchase card packages and reduction of internal signature requirements allow additional time for customer support vice administrative burden.

4. Division and branch implemented remote support capability prior to COVID-19 and was able to support command readiness 100% since day one.

5. Purchase Card Request Branch implemented a simplified procedure for procurement of COVID-19 items to quickly satisfy customer requirements for Safety.

6. Integrated Budget Planning and Execution System enhancements to help streamline and provide data to pull metrics.

a.) Military Standard Requisitioning and Issue Procedure waiver automation (Started Oct. 5, 2020)

7. Increased communication with the Requirements and Procurement Input Development Team leads and technical department acquisition advocates on policy changes.

The Purchase Card Program is intended to streamline small purchase methods, minimize paperwork, eliminate imprest fund (petty cash), streamline payment processes, and simplify the administrative effort associated with traditional and emergent purchase of supplies and services.

The purchase card is used to purchase supplies and services for official government business valued at or below the micro-purchase threshold of $10,000. The purchase card may be used as a method of payment in conjunction with other contracting methods above the micro-purchase threshold depending on the type of contracting vehicle utilized with the appropriate delegation of authority from the head of the contracting activity.

The purchase card reduces administrative paperwork through streamlining of the procurement process. It streamlines the certification and payment process, enables Defense Finance and Accounting Service vendor payment by electronic funds transfer through a commercial bank. The purchase card eliminates or minimizes prompt payment interest through the use of the online certification and payment system. It also provides rebates to NSWCDD based on the dollar volume of use and timeliness of payment.

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