With the start of summer just around the corner, fruits and vegetables are appearing en masse – at the farmer’s market, in your garden, at the grocery store. It may not be your first thought, but the way Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) operates can look just like a piece of fruit.
Think of an orange: take off the peel and you will see different segments, some seeds and pith – the stringy mess between the peel and fruit. Each of the technical departments at NSWC Dahlgren is like the segments, with the core technologies as the seeds. The pith, though, represents the personnel and offices often obscured. The Office of Counsel is one of those offices, playing a key role in NSWCDD operations.
“We touch a lot of areas, providing legal advice and counsel to command leadership and employees,” NSWCDD Office of Counsel Head Matt Hawkins explained. “We advise on federal acquisition law; civilian personnel management and labor relations; intellectual property, including helping inventors protect their innovation through patents; as well as ethics or standards of conduct.”
Like the pith of that orange, the Office of Counsel doesn’t fit into one specific department, instead maintaining a direct line of communication with the Command office.
“Being a direct report to the Commanding Officer allows the Office of Counsel to maintain independence in order to provide objective legal advice, and it ensures our impartiality of advice,” NSWCDD Assistant Counsel Attorney Candice ‘Candi’ Thomas said. “Having that direct line is important as it directly informs us of leadership’s focus and priorities, allowing us to offer not just legally permissible solutions, but also the best solutions tailored to NSWCDD’s needs.”
The Office of Counsel is small, but mighty, with just ten attorneys and support staff rounding out the team. Hawkins took the job as Counsel for the Command in 2019, moving from NSWC Indian Head Division. He describes the relationship between his office and the technical departments as a partnership.
“It is important for our office to know the organization and what technical departments are doing,” said Hawkins. “For example, intellectual property attorneys in the office sit in on technical briefs and can advise on potential patent areas.”
Likewise, acquisition attorneys may sit in to review departmental contract portfolios and advise on the legality of documents and decisions.
“We want to be embedded into the technical execution of work as the departments work towards their mission accomplishments and strategic thrusts,” said Hawkins. “We are here to provide legal advice and counsel as issues arise – and not just in a reactive sense. We encourage a proactive philosophy.”
That proactive philosophy is a catalyst for Hawkins’ personal vision for the Office of Counsel.
“In the next year as NSWCDD’s onsite presence starts ramping up, I look forward to getting back in personal contact with people and expanding the knowledge about our office, especially in terms of approachability and the problem-solving we can bring to command needs.”