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Employee’s hustle during navigation lock outage leads to agency-level win

Published June 29, 2020
A woman in a hard hat holds a baby in a bonnet near Bonneville Dam.

PORTLAND, Ore -- Martha Brandl stands with her child near Bonneville Dam. Brandl recently won the "Administrative Contracting Specialist of the Year" award. (Courtesy photo/Martha Brandl)

PORTLAND, Ore. – The task: manage your first emergency contract to repair some broken concrete that has brought a stand-still to $24 billion worth of annual commerce moving on the Columbia River while battling morning sickness.

“It was hard – we were working long hours” Martha Brandl said, “I was newly pregnant, and I’d quietly throw up in the office and keep working -- because it needed to be done.”

In 2019, Brandl, Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers administrative contracting officer, was the best in evaluating subcontracting plans, documenting contractor’s performance and compliance, and much, much more.

The award, Administrative Contracting Officer of the Year, is part of the USACE Excellence in Contracting Awards Program which highlights the “very best” contracting professionals.

Brandl said the pivotal contract event of 2019 was the Bonneville Navigation Lock outage, or closure. The navigation lock closed to vessels on the busy Columbia River for nearly a month after a critical piece of concrete broke in the floor of the lock.

“I got through it because I had a lot of support from my co-workers,” said Brandl.

Her teammates praised the job she did making sure the contract moved smoothly, which was a challenge with all the various interests.

"This compressed job had numerous changes and difficult challenges that Martha handled proactively and professionally," said Matt Hanson, Portland District’s supervisory structural engineer.

Brandl was involved nearly 24/7 on the work because of how quickly the contractor and the Corps needed to progress. As she administered the details of the contract on-site at the lock, Brandl was there to make modifications on the emergency contract –including changes due to weather.

At home with her two newborn twins, Brandl reflected on the event that secured her win.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity,” she said.

“I'm also glad emergency contracts don't come around too often.”