This is one in a series of profiles on the 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal finalists. The awards, presented by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, recognize outstanding federal employees whose important, behind-the-scenes work is advancing the health, safety and well-being of Americans and are among the most prestigious honors given to civil servants. This profile features a finalist for the Management Excellence medal Elliott B. Branch, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for acquisition and procurement.

The Navy and the Marine Corps each year award about $90 billion dollars in contracts for everything from submarines and battleships to fighter jets, helicopters, complex weapons systems, trucks, uniforms and body armor.

Standing watch over this huge and complex undertaking is Elliott Branch, who closely scrutinizes and helps shape every major acquisition, negotiates with the major defense contractors, and makes sure the Navy and Marines are getting what they need in a timely fashion and at the best possible price.

“Everything the Navy buys goes through his shop. He ensures goals are met across-the-board and within budget,” said Sean Stackley, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “He’s always looking to drive down the cost of doing business and to get a better deal for the department.”

Over the years, Branch, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for acquisition and procurement, has been credited with a number of highly successful negotiations and important management innovations.

In 2009, Branch led negotiations to consolidate production of a class of guided missile destroyers to a single shipyard. According to Stackley, the consolidation resulted in $1.5 billion in savings across that program, while ensuring stability in the industry as other shipyards were able to transition to new contracts.

Allie Coetzee, executive director for Navy acquisition and procurement, said while completing a major contract for Littoral Combat Ships, a family of Navy surface ships, Branch “found enough savings across the platforms to build an additional ship-a $450 million value-at no additional cost.”

Last year, Branch oversaw the contracting for a record 34 ships that included submarines and destroyers, said Shay Assad, the principal advisor to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. “All are in multi-year relationships with steadily declining prices over the contract terms,” he said.

Branch is also credited with playing a critical role last year in protecting the Navy’s interests when Northrop Grumman divested its shipbuilding unit to stockholders through creation of a new company. Colleagues said Branch was instrumental in making sure the new shipbuilding company would remain a viable entity capable of delivering important nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers to the Navy.

Branch is currently a key member of the team in charge of buying the next generation information technology network, and figuring out strategies to ensure the best value for the Navy. He also is working on the next aircraft carrier to be delivered in 2020.

Jim Thomsen, the Navy’s principal deputy assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition, said that Branch is frequently consulted by the Office of the Secretary of Defense on major procurement matters because he is “the senior most knowledgeable guy in this business.”

“There’s a lot at stake with the large shipbuilding contracts for the department, for the companies, and on Capitol Hill in terms of local economies and jobs,’ said Thomsen. “Elliott takes everything into account.”

In addition to his many duties, Branch led the creation of the Navy’s preferred supplier program which gives preference to contractors that have demonstrated superior performance in controlling costs, meeting schedules, providing quality services and products. The program now is being replicated within the Department of Defense acquisition community.

Branch served in various civilian acquisition capacities with the Navy from 1978 to 1999, and then spent time in the private sector and as the chief procurement officer for the District of Columbia before returning to the federal government in 2006.

During the late 1990s, Branch’s colleagues said he was responsible for the formulation and execution of a multi-year initiative that transformed the Navy’s acquisition system from a paper-based to an electronic system. He also reduced Navy procurement regulations by 50 percent, and made other reforms that are in place today.

Branch, whose father was a postal worker, started in the Navy as an intern and said he never dreamed that he would become a senior leader in charge multi-billion dollar acquisition programs. He said he wanted to “make a living and make a difference,” and feels grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution to his country.

“I’ve had a very long and rich career,” said Branch. “I think, ‘Not bad for a kid who grew up on the Southside of Chicago.”