LaForgia forges Army/industry ties

She earned a reputation for bringing both sides together to improve Army contracting

Michelina “Micki” LaForgia studied elementary education in college but not by choice. At the time, women were limited to two courses of study at northern New Jersey’s Seton Hall University. So LaForgia used a scholarship to take extra courses in history and political science at night. She left Seton Hall with teaching skills and an unwillingness to accept the status quo.

LaForgia’s students today are Army computer users, contract officers, vendors, acquisition officials and military leaders. LaForgia directs the Army Small Computer Program, which manages servicewide consolidated information technology buys for the Army.

The program’s leaders must determine which IT products soldiers will need, establish standards for those products, negotiate prices, organize consolidated buys and continually try to improve the procurement process.

The Army is organizing its third consolidated buy for desktop and laptop computers, an effort that requires coordinating the activities of directors of information management (DOIMs), vendors and contracting officers. Its previous two consolidated PC buys saved the Army more than $20 million.

LaForgia’s greatest challenge is making sure that everyone in the Army uses the program and understands how it works.

People who know LaForgia say her combination of interpersonal skills, management acumen and legal talent have enabled her small team of acquisition experts to make consolidated IT buys a reality.

“She’s able to deal with the private sector, the public sector, and she’s able to find a way to meld and serve the best interests of both,” said Robert Guerra, a partner in the consulting firm of Guerra Kiviat. LaForgia views the Army’s relationship with industry as a two-way street, he said.

Guerra added that LaForgia is successful because she has intellect without ego. “Basically, she’s a Jersey girl,” and she uses that asset to her advantage by bringing together all the players in the acquisition community, he said.

When LaForgia joined the Army Small Computer Program in 2004, Army users were supposed to buy desktop and laptop computers through that program. The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 directed the Army to shift toward commercial IT whenever possible, but cultural change happens slowly, LaForgia said.

Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer, had instructed Army users to purchase through the program, but that policy wasn’t adopted as official regulation, LaForgia said.

One of her first acts as program director was to establish the authority of the Army Small Computer Program in the eyes of the Army community. LaForgia and her assistant, who are trained as lawyers, researched the authorities justifying Boutelle’s instructions and submitted them to the Army staff general counsel, who accepted them.

But to ensure that the program’s consolidated buying approach ultimately succeeds, LaForgia has had to expand her reach. “The DOIMs know us, but the DOIMs don’t write contracts,” she said.

So LaForgia went directly to the customer base, which is the entire Army. Her strategy was simple: “I engaged their bosses,” she said.

LaForgia used the professional network she developed as a contracting official to locate many of her former colleagues. In one instance, she called the Army Office of Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology and asked it to distribute the Army Small Computer Program guidelines to all principal assistants responsible for contracting.

She convinced vendors that lowering their prices was in their best interest. She established standards for products that would please the greatest number of Army users and encouraged vendors to sell those products at discounted prices.

LaForgia still faces challenges. The Army Small Computer Program had to cancel its conference earlier this year because of a budget shortfall. LaForgia had been counting on that conference to educate the community about plans to implement thin-client computing across the Army.

So she and her team have been taking their show on the road, traveling to installations nationwide. She also plans to make a video to send to commands she can’t visit.

Michelina ‘Micki’ LaForgiaCurrent position: Project director of the Army Small Computer Program.

Career highlights: LaForgia has seen every angle of contracting, having written contracts as a contracting specialist, defended contracts as a protest litigation counsel, enforced fair contracting as a competition advocate, overseen the system as a multiple awards ombudsman and managed the process as an acquisition center sector chief.

Education: LaForgia holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Richard Stockton College and a juris doctor degree from Rutgers University. She also holds a master’s degree from National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

Family: LaForgia is married and lives in New Jersey. She and her husband have three children and six grandchildren.

Hobbies: She takes sailing lessons and yearns to travel to Paris again soon.

Heroes: LaForgia said one of her role models is Victor Ferlise, deputy to the commanding general for operations and support at the Communications-Electronics Command. She said she admires his commitment to Army soldiers.“He used to say to us, ‘If you can’t make a line of sight connection between that legal opinion and the soldier in the field, then there’s something wrong.’”

She said she also admires two first ladies: Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy.

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