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A win-win: new food service contract good for all involved

A food service worker serves wing members during lunch Aug. 5.  The new contract, awarded in late July, brings a new crew of civilian workers who will assist Services personnel with the preparation and serving of more than 1,000 meals each drill weekend.

A food service worker serves wing members during lunch Aug. 5. The new contract, awarded in late July, brings a new crew of civilian workers who will assist Services personnel with the preparation and serving of more than 1,000 meals each drill weekend.

August 13, 2012 -- April, May and June were dark days at the dining facility. The five-year lunch service contract on drill weekends had run out. Initially set to expire in October 2011, the contract was extended six months to get the wing through the hustle and bustle of the Operational Readiness Inspection without having to worry about training a new contractor on such an important service contract.
Out of extensions and options, services personnel were forced to shut the hot lunch line down until a new contract was awarded. Boxed lunches were served instead.
"We missed the challenge on drill weekend of preparing a hot meal for the wing. Not being able to provide the quality of service we are used to was really difficult," said base services manager Master Sgt. Amethyst Keaten.
As services personnel stood by, the contract award board -- an anonymous panel of wing members -- asked the three vendors who submitted bids to clarify their qualifications, which delayed the award process. The contract award was delayed for all the right reasons, said Senior Master Sgt. Tracy Stephens, base contracting officer from the mission support group.
"The board wanted to make sure they chose the most qualified contractor, no matter how long it took, because whomever was brought in would be responsible for the safety and welfare of our Airmen," Sergeant Stephens said. "Nothing is more important than that."
To the contrary of the once widely-held belief that government-awarded contracts always go to the lowest bidder, this service contract was specifically written with language that clearly stated that technical proficiency (the ability to do the job) and past performance (a record of doing it) would be the leading considerations, not money.
"Service contracts are very complex because they are performance-based," said Sergeant Stephens. "We tell them the expectation and contractors must demonstrate how they intend to meet that expectation."
The contract was awarded to an unexpected -- but highly qualified -- contractor: the Idaho Commission for the Blind or Visually Impaired. The ICBVI represents more than 11,000 blind or visually-impaired Idahoans and is led by administrator Angela Jones, who came to Gowen Field over August drill to make sure the subcontractor she selected was performing to her standards.
Enter Kevin Servatius, who has owned and operated The Galley, a basement restaurant in the Len B. Jordan building downtown, for more than a decade. Legally blind himself, Servatius has a passion for providing outstanding service. That he will be able to do that for military personnel makes it that much better, he said.
"We're pumped to be here and we look forward to working hard for you guys as payback for all you do for us," Servatius said, who also employs blind or visually impaired men and women at his restaurant. He said he took on the contract as a way to help his employees earn additional income on a part-time basis.
His team of 14 people who comprise the contract kitchen staff will join forces with 12 services personnel to serve more than 1,000 meals each drill weekend, according to Sergeant Keaten.
Each drill represents new challenges, Sergeant Keaten said, but the early results from August drill (the first drill with the new contract in place) were very encouraging.
"Kevin and his staff were awesome to work with and I am sure that will only get better as we continue to work together," said Sergeant Keaten.
Civilians and military kitchen teams have separate chains of command, said Sergeant Keaten, but she and Servatius will meet together to discuss issues and resolve problems whenever they arise. The one-year contract period can be extended up to four times, which Sergeant Stephens said would be a win-win for both the Idaho Air National Guard and the ICBVI.
"They are the right contractor for the job and that they are a local organization that provides opportunities and assistance to blind or visually impaired Idahoans is really great," she said.