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Solicitation Requirements - Another Protest Decision to Get Mad About
By formerfed on Monday, May 14, 2001 - 11:20 am:

Bob just posted a new decision, B-287032.3 and B-287032.4 with Systems Management and Qualimetrics. These were sustained. It's apparent that: (a) The Air Force said one thing in stating their requirement and meant something else, or (b) were sloppy and didn't realize their error until too late, and didn't want to retract. In any event, this kind of mistake shouldn't happen on a $60 million procurement. No wonder we hear some of the best companies don't want to do business with the government. Here's an instance where the Air Force did something wrong (either a or b above), and wouldn't correct the obvious problem. Instead they made two competitors go through the time and expense of protesting. This is a flat out waste of everyone's time and money.

By Anonymous on Monday, May 14, 2001 - 11:33 am:

The protest decisions is at


By Eric Ottinger on Monday, May 14, 2001 - 06:47 pm:


Years ago we had a situation where an egregious dereliction turned up in the documentation during an adversary proceeding. I went to one of our lawyers and suggested that it might be best to fess up and clean up. The lawyer responded that the most important thing was to win. Actually we did win.

Lawyers like to win and lawyers like to make arguments. The worst thing about the agency’s argument is that it would be a very bad precedent. A certification is a certification. It isn’t demonstrated ability to obtain certifications based on previous experience doing other things.


By Anonymous on Tuesday, May 15, 2001 - 02:23 am:


Read the decision. The certification requirement was a go/no technical evaluation factor!

By FF on Tuesday, May 15, 2001 - 11:07 am:


I agree that lots of lawyers like the challenge of taking cases. Hopefully their enthusiam gets tempered along the way by objective supervisors as well as open minded CO's and other clients.

The problem here is the agency's position is so flat out wrong. If they made a mistake, they should accept that and rectify things. Instead they took a firm position and didn't budge. Lot's of Air Force people are wrong - CO, CO's management, lawyer, SSO, and program manager. They wasted a lot of money and time. The least they should have done was corrected the situation at the time the protest was filed.

I also noticed GAO did a nice job handling this decision in such a timely manner. I didn't catch the protest date, but it must have been around mid-January. The decision is dated April 16. I see a hearing was also held. So, the entire process took only 90 days or so - pretty impressive.

By Hastur on Tuesday, May 15, 2001 - 11:36 am:


Q1 - Does it unreasonably prejudice other parties?

(in this case the answer could only be yes)

Q2 - Is it within your power to rectify?

(again, yes)

What a boneheaded thing to do.

By ex-fed on Wednesday, May 16, 2001 - 02:37 pm:

I'll risk of offending Air Force people as I apparently recently did Army people. "Boneheaded," limited to a failure to admit the problem and allowing this to become a sustained protest, doesn't go far enough.

Defective requirements have long been identified as the major cause of government contracting problems. This is a possible example. It is probably also a case of how pressure to go along together in an agency discourages hard looks at weak points. An early question should have been "Do we mean what we are putting into solicitation words?" and a tough reality scrub.

We can't read minds from the past so, again, from the decision alone there are some reasonable conclusions. Someone probably wanted assurance the thing could meet AF and FAA requirements and threw in the fatal words. I can see this requirement originating as "Make sure it is FAA certified" in an attempt to insure compliance with standards. Then, in a team effort, it goes in without a hard review of exactly what is really required. A hard requirements scrub would raise the reasonable question of whether FAA has a list of "FAA certified" systems and do we intend to limit ourselves to those alone. Another is "Do we really mean "certified" when we intend "certifiable," "validated," "tested" or some other term?"

The attractive proposal received turned out to be one not exactly "FAA certified." The selection officials then apparently found that really wasn't what they meant to say and relaxed that absolute requirement. At considerable cost they got slapped down.

This decision has been mentioned In another thread about responsibility issues. All other arguments aside, the interesting question to me is about how well the requirements were scrubbed before and during the preparation to advertise. In particular, why was a crucial, essentially "go/no go", requirement not given a rigorous scrub. A requirement elevated to pass/fail must be clearly understood by everyone in the process along with exactly what makes "pass" and what makes "fail." This must be done before venturing off to seek a contractor.

If the answer to that requirements challenge had been something like "Yes, we do mean 'certified,' FAA Circular 6000.15C is to be incorporated for reference for this vital requirement and the foreign certifications we can accept are..." it would be unusually obtuse panel members and contractors not getting the point. A panel choosing a non-certified system would truly be a runaway panel most likely checked quickly.

If the answer had been "No, not precisely "certified," we can accept (precise definition).." then the playing field might have included the proposal selected.

Every requirements document can benefit by a hard scrub. Each should undergo tough Red team review. There should be solid defense and clarification of exact wording wherever real questions arise. Only then should the thing go out.

A record of the review will then stand as a source for answering contractor questions, guidance to the selection panels and substantial footing for evaluating agency position if protest defense becomes necessary. It may be a minor failing to let some "requirement" of minor nature slip through. It is another entirely to let one be elevated to pass/fail prominence without clear, defensible understanding of precisely what it means and how it is to be applied. If there is one consistent lesson in sustained protests it seems to be that an agency that has not decided which horse to ride through the entire process is at risk. Here, riding the "FAA certified" horse only part way had predictable results.

By Anonymous on Thursday, May 17, 2001 - 04:08 am:

Good observation, ex fed. But scrubbing the spec won't be enough if the CO doesn't understand the rules. He or she must recognize that failure to conform to the requirement makes the proposal unacceptable and ineligible for award. In the case in question the technical evaluators scored the proposal blue/exceptional on the very factor on which the GAO found it to be unacceptable. That's why the CO must review each proposal and make what another contributor called a "determination of acceptability" before making an award, no matter how the technical or management panel score the proposal. You can't expect non-procurement types to understand the GAO's rules.

By ex-fed on Thursday, May 17, 2001 - 09:31 am:

I agree the CO probably should have caught this at the gate. I disagree on one of your comments though. A non-procurement panel may not be expected to know and understand GAO's rules but they'd better understand the requirements they are responsible for evaluating. If one is "certification" they must know what composes certification.

The interesting issue to me here is whether certification was ever a valid requirement. If the evaluators and I presume a selection authority familiar with the need and requirement ignored it at this late stage I have to wonder. Then the Air Force took this to defending a protest essentially on a "we didn't really mean it" defense.

Apparently "FAA certification" had weak support in the end. That indicates to me that an ill developed "want" became a pass fail requirement. What an excellent way to get wound round all sorts of axles!

By Anonymous on Thursday, May 17, 2001 - 09:42 am:

I agree with you about the tech panel knowing what they mean by their own use of the term "certification."

By ex-fed on Thursday, May 17, 2001 - 06:24 pm:

The fact they were not and the CO let it pass is a reason I believe it was a poorly chosen requirement description in the first place. The CO pass could be incompetence, bad slip, or (more likely in my view) had reason to believe actual certification wasn't the real requirement despite the words. That in itself is a slip, but one an otherwise expert CO might make.

I don't know the details of the process or systems. I did notice comments in the decision related to certification of systems as deployed indicating a system in the warehouse might never be certified.

I suspect the real requirement was along the lines of "complying to standards leading to deployed certification" rather than the bald "certified" used. That is a subtle, but very different proposition. The idea a system already certified as deployed is a lower risk is not bad. One might even want to lower risk and consider only those systems actively operating as certified. Don't pile "innovative" into the formula, but it lowers risk perhaps. I have a pretty good feeling the requirements people didn't quite think this thing out, state their real requirement clearly and got tangled badly as a result.

By Anonymous on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 03:20 am:


Here's what I think happened. USAF wanted a system that had been proven to work. They didn't want to buy an unproven prototype. The problem was: How to write a specification that would be airtight in that regard, so that an offeror with an unproven system couldn't win a protest if USAF didn't select its proposal for award.

The spec writers seized upon the "FAA certification" requirement, probably without fully understanding the meaning of the term or being familiar with FAA's certification policies and procedures. This is a common, "lazy-man's" approach to spec writing. It is similar to writing spec phrases like "consistent with industry practice" when, in fact, the spec writer doesn't have any specific practice in mind.

When the evaluators saw the winner's system they liked it and became convinced that it met their needs. They hadn't thought of FAA certification in the formal terms that the GAO described, and so they felt comfortable enough to make the award. That's when the protests were filed and the spec writer's words came back to bite.

As you said, the CO should have scrubbed the spec before the release of the RFP and demanded to know more about the FAA certification. He or she should have been aware of the GAO's rule that the winning proposal must conform to all material terms of the RFP, sought to understand all of the terms of the spec., and checked each proposal upon receipt for compliance before sending it to the evaluators. It could have easily been done with a prepared checklist and needn't have taken much time. The CO could have sought the assistance of the spec writer for that purpose.

A word to the wise...

By formerfed on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 08:20 am:

Anon 5/18,

You probably are right with your scenario. If so, that is a poor way to conduct a $60 million acquisition. My larger problem is why didn't the Air Force properly fix things once all this issues became evident? I'm sure the protestors articulated their concerns to the Air Force before protesting. If not, the Air Force certainly knew shortly afterwards. But they continued all the way through to sustaining by GAO. It doesn't take much experience in this field to know you can't win a protest where the solicitation says one thing in a definite manner, and you award for something else. So it looks like "lazy-mans" spec writing, evaluators who don't bother to read in detail, lack of any process to scrub specs before issuing, and a CO and evaluation team who aren't knowledgeable in contract law and GAO protest rules.

I also wonder what the acquisition management at the Air Force is doing. If you ran an AF contracting office and a protest resulted, wouldn't you want to know what the protest was about? After hearing the basis, wouldn't you come to the same conclusion as GAO and want to fix things right away to minimize the damage?

By Anonymous on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 11:35 am:

You want to really get mad about a protest? Read Special Operations Group, Inc., B-287013; B-287013.2, March 30, 2001.

By ex-fed on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 11:51 am:

Anon 5/19 and formerfed: Amen, and "ain't it the truth." Multiple failures all along the line in fairly simple, straightforward matters. Snap, pop, crackle. Aircraft's wings fall off. Promotions all around?

Oh yes, while a fair amount of blame may lie with the CO for not catching and enforcing, my best guess is the real fault lies up the management chain. The CO, indeed almost no one, can do these nasty, questioning things without the fatal tag of "not a team player" being applied. Better to join the flock of sheep gamboling to CG's "slaughter" than that!

Perhaps we've all forgotten quality has a price that is often hurt toes all over.

By ex-fed on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 12:01 pm:

See B-287013 if you want to risk getting irritated.

By formerfed on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 01:20 pm:

Ex-fed and Anon,

Wow, that does get the emotions going. I also thought of several questions.

1) What kind of 1102 training program does State have?
2) What are the criteria for obtaining a CO warrant there?
3) What were the performance ratings for the Contract Specialist and CO for that period? Knowing the ways things work, they probably got some kind of monetary award and promotions during that time.

Maybe because it's Friday afternoon and I had a tough week, but this decision almost makes me sick to think that the federal procurement workforce consists of people like this. If that isn't enough, where are the reviews and control in State? I certainly hope they don't allow staff that exhibits this level of poor judgement to act independently. Finally, as I asked about the other decision, why did State's management and legal advisors permit the protest to get that far?

By formerfed on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 01:43 pm:

I got so mad, I left out some of the really dumb things - the technical evaluator telling GAO at the hearing that experience was of "minimal" importance despite this is the most important factor, assessing one aspect of a company's response as unsatisfactory for lack of a resume in spite of the RFP's amendment deleting the requirement for a resume, and establishing staggering cutoff dates for submission of individual offer revisions.

Really, these people should not keep their jobs. The costs to reimburse protestors for their attorney fees should come out of the government lawyers pay for allowing this to even go to GAO.

By Anonymous on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 04:32 pm:

I knew you'd like it.

By ex-fed on Friday, May 18, 2001 - 06:10 pm:

I am shocked. Amazed! It is astounding. The protested contractor did have the guts to back away from the proposed PM for a security escort service when he failed to show for the kick-off meeting. What insight: "he got lost and didn't think to call. Given the nature of the contract and the responsibilities of the project manager, [Triumph] found his response unacceptable and not proactive considering what was at stake." Thank goodness for that. Maybe more secrets won't be tossed about loading docks, highways, airports and such as a result. Even if it made the proposal "technically unacceptable" any other course would make me believe the contractor failed on a basic responsibility criterion (see the other discussion with Eric).

In light of that, I'm not sure I would agree with the decision on this point if the letter of intent for this individual had been presented and then the offer withdrawn by the company after award. There is just cause, similar to "he got killed on the way to the meeting." Anyway, it appears Triumph didn't even have its act together enough to include a letter with the proposal.

The government act was worse. Any comment I made would be considered rude. I will observe though that we seem to live in a period where self esteem is a high priority for all, whether they have done anything to earn it or do anything to maintain it. We must all be kind and gentle regardless of provocation. Posting as acquisition staff to the embassy in Outer Slobovia seems a good idea.

By Anonymous on Saturday, May 19, 2001 - 02:40 am:

Yes, Special Operations Group, B-287013, is an appalling tale of incompetence.

There are nearly 20,000 GS-1102s in the government's employ and many thousands of them are contracting officers. Among these there are many well-educated, well-trained, competent, and devoted people; unfortunately, there are many poorly educated and trained, incompetent, lazy persons, as well.

Until we have uniform, demanding standards of GS-1102 education and training and of CO appointment, including a written and an oral examination before independent boards of CO appointment, there will be more stories like Special Operations Group, many, many of them.

By ex-fed on Saturday, May 19, 2001 - 01:05 pm:

Here we go again. See Universal Yacht Services, Inc. (B-287071; B-287071.2; April 4, 2001) for another case of "failed to conform to a material solicitation requirement" and a sustained protest.

This one is not as clearly a major blunder as far as I am concerned. It is a case of someone getting too detailed and mixing precise and imprecise in a requirement. The whole thing collapsed on a very technical "9 knots in moderate weather @ 80% rated horsepower" where the "80% rated horsepower" is the issue. In fact, as far as I saw there is no mention of the incumbent winner's vessel actually failing to accomplish 9 knots at 80% rated horsepower. They apparently just failed to so state and the resulting contract failed to incorporate that particular qualification.

Someone reasonably wanted a reserve, emergency capacity when this vessel was making 9 knots in "moderate weather," defined as "winds of 11 to 16 knots and seas of 3 to 5 feet." Now, consider this. Eighty percent of rated horsepower can be determined in a test. For practical purposes it is a hard number. That firm benchmark is mixed in the RFP with the very soft numbers of "winds of 11 to 16 knots and seas of 3 to 5 feet."

Will the vessel make 9 knots at 80% with a headwind of 11 knots? Maybe. In a headwind of 16 knots? Maybe not. I'll bet it could really do really well with a stern wind of either! What about a headwind and seas from dead ahead? Following wind and seas? You bet. The possibilities are practically endless. Any combination of wind and seas swinging independently around all 360 degrees with 5 knots wind and 2 foot sea variability! So, how do we actually confirm compliance?

I think the agency had a reasonable position on the requirement. It failed to state the requirement in a manner that allowed it to do reasonable trade offs. It mixed hard, testable numbers with extreme variables. It had an incumbent vessel that was apparently satisfactory and whose performance was not seen as substandard. I would not be surprised if it didn't state this requirement with some idea of getting at least that vessel, despite allegations in the protest that the vessel couldn't meet the speed/power mix.

The precise requirement was already corrupted. There was no attempt to translate it into engineering terms suitable for a paper analysis and independent of all those natural world variables. It mixed them. Then it got hung out on one of the overly precise items when the vessel that had been performing was chosen. It would have probably been better off to require a nominal design speed of 15 knots (or some other calculated margin) at 80% without the nautical world factor.

I suspect the requirement's originator had some experience at sea and had a "feel" for what was needed. The contracting officer probably trusted the mariner, but should have asked about mixing the very hard numbers "9" and ".80" with natural variables. Oversight. The mariner's reasonable requirement stated in not unreasonable nautical terms was taken to a different, legalistic world and became an albatross around that mariner's neck.

As something of an aside, I'm not entirely sure a reasonable contractor would warrant a vessel to meet 9 knots at 80% rated power in every possible combination of the natural conditions stated, unless the vessel had a very large margin in both power and hull configuration as both play a part in a vessel's ability to maintain speed in all seas. They should however be perfectly willing to state the nominal design speed/power limits of their vessels.

Lesson for all. Consider any "material solicitation requirement" very carefully to narrowly define only what is absolutely critical in carefully chosen and clear language. Ask yourself if it is necessary and clear. Make sure you understand its ramifications. Then ask someone else what they think you mean. Red team it. If it is worth your and your potential contractor's time and expense to consider, it is worth not letting poorly reasoned or poorly stated requirements risk all.

In this case I don't think MSC was blundering about as badly as some we've just seen, they just let a reasonable need and probably a user's casual and natural language lay a trap.

By Anonymous on Saturday, May 19, 2001 - 03:11 pm:


Let's make it easy for you.


By Anonymous on Saturday, May 19, 2001 - 11:11 pm:

In the matter of the SOGI/state department case, I must come to the defense of the contract specialist (GS-13) that worked that contract. He had over 40 years of contracting experience with the Air Force, Navy, VA and with defense contractors in the private sector. He has a MBA and is one the most knowledgeable contracting personnel I have met. Unfortunately, he was in industry during the FARA, FASA and FAR 15 rewrite era and did not always realize how times had changed at the GAO.

One problem at State is that the program offices run the railroad. Everytime the specialist raised a red flag about the solicitation and selection, the program office (COR) protested to management and the specialist was overruled by the CO ( GS-14 branch chief)or the GS-15 division chief.

This has happened on more than just on this procurement. We have lost several protests in the last 6 months, mostly because of poorly constructed SOW and Acquistion plans. Most were settled by ADR and were never published in a GAO report.

Why is it this way? Well start with the Head of the Contracting Agency being a "acting" position for over 3 years. Try having no management and procedures unit and thus no internal audits for at least 5 years. Try having no new government employees for 8 years. Try having half the specialists be contract hires from companies that I consider temp agencies. They don't even know how to write a delivery order but get paid as GS11/12s. Try having branch chiefs with less experience than many of the specialists working for them and with very minimal supervisory experience.

The contract in question was a disaster from the start, with uncooperative program managers, the contract specialist overloaded with other projects, the branch chief (KO)with other bigger and more important contracts (and protests), and the division chief insisting on trade off wording being placed in a solictation that the specialist intended to be low price/technically acceptable. The award was treated as an insignificant contract that just needed awarding. You have seen the result.

What now? The contract specialist got a GS-14 at another agency (He worked for us for one year and said he had to get out before State ruined his career). The requirement is being resolicited by a specialist as her first action in formal contracting (good move there). The program manager has a new patsy to lead down the protest path. And finally, to stem the tide of protests, the division chief issued a policy that discussions must be in writing only and debriefings must be face to face only. (does this make sense?)

I am trying to get promoted to a level (below GS-14 don't count at State)where I can make a difference. Otherwise, it's off to USA jobs. Fortunately for me, the education requirements have eliminated much of my competition for promotion.

By Ramon Jackson on Sunday, May 20, 2001 - 12:25 am:

Anonymous Defender,

Thanks for outlining so much of what is wrong with contracting at the moment. None are served well by such conflict of interest -- a term here I think appropriate here because self interested careerism is conflicting with professionalism and service to the taxpayers on a grand scale.

To a greater degree than in the past it appears contracting offices are competing to please those internal customers -- often at the expense of all and most especially the taxpayer.

We don't let prosecutors defend the accused, judges prosecute, police judge. We have balance of powers almost enshrined in this country's vital processes. We've destroyed what little separation of powers once lay in the contracting field in the name of streamlining, but mostly for "touchy, feely" reasons. That goes well beyond minor, routine "supply" type actions and into major actions requiring thought and care.

I still think my much maligned "separation of powers" for requirements, contracting and program management is needed for exactly the reasons you outline. A bit of adversity kills off the weak -- including weak requirements and contracting ideas. Sustained protests are fairly rare, but they are costly and hurt. Many more contracts limp along with repeated rethinking because the original thinking was flawed and rammed through by the power plays you describe.

Make no mistake. Reform was long overdue. There were plenty of useless organs to cut out. Maybe someone cut too far and carved out that contracting equivalent of the brain function that we call concience; that thing arguing against ill conceived wants.

By Anonymous on Sunday, May 20, 2001 - 02:30 am:

While lots of training and talk is given to contracting officers becoming line vs staff, I don't see it happening on a wide spread basis. I see PM making decisions and then contracting trying to make it legal. Most of our simplified Acqs already have the 3 quotes attached to them.

Now here is one of my views of acquisition as one who has only been in the field 3 years and can still see the forest for the trees.

I am an 1102 and don't want to belittle my career field but why do we want the Contracting Officer to be the "business manager"? The KO doesn't run the business. The program manger does. He is the one who needs an MBA. Why do I say this?

The program manager gets the budget and decides how to spend it.

They organize their program.

They decide to fight for government employees or contract it all out.

They hire specialists knowledgable in the product or service being procured. Contracting personnel have too broad range of purchases to specialize.

They have a budget for these specialists to do market research by going to trade shows and taking site visits to factories. Most contracting offices do not.

They decide if they will allow contracting to give them advice up front.

They decide which company they like the best and are most comfortable with in the technical eval.

They approve the final source selection after price factors are applied. As well they should since it is their failure risk and their budget.

They pay the protest costs when a protest is lost.

The contracting officer should be a highly trained specialist in the FAR, Contract law, GAO decisions and other federal laws/regulations. The PM would employ him (either full time or as a consultant) as his advisor in performing the acquisition. An exam would be nice too. In fact, what I've described is really the legal advisor. Maybe the KO should be a lawyer.

The PM would be responsible for a successful acquisition as part of his entire program. I don't see the KO as ever being more than part of the PM's staff.

If the contracting officer is going to be the business manager and a line manager vs a staff position, then he must control the budget.

By Ramon Jackson on Sunday, May 20, 2001 - 12:48 pm:


Good points. Who protects the public? Another of my fun ideas was that of "artificial wolves" serving this purpose. I think I'd be willing to give up the separation of powers and go with the PM with CO/KO as just part of the team with artificial wolves lurking to protect the public interest. It is all about that old question of "who watches the watchers?" that is actually quite important.

Artificial wolves were my solution during an argument long ago to the special governemnt problem. I sometimes wonder about the effectivity of "the bottom line" in business, but it does serve to cull those repeatedly making bad business decisions. A government manager or PM can in theory continue to do so with continued appropriations as long as Congress has some incentive to appropriate. That, as we know, can be completely divorced from realistic business reasons.

We have GAO and IGs, but in reality they have small teeth. Some agencies have really poor records on business decisions, individuals within them repeatedly violate spirit of rules and law as well as common sense. They sometimes just get promoted and awarded.

Perhaps, in absence of "the bottom line" wolf that pulls down the weak in the private sector (we really don't want to liquidate DoD, FAA, and such), we can create artificial wolves. Maybe we actually need roving packs of auditor IGs with very sharp teeth. They descend on agencies, find these weakling organizations and individuals and do their work as wolves do. Alternately, where they find excellence, they reward. Perhaps a joint Executive, Judicial, and Legislative task force . . .

That could make for rapid reform and interesting times. It would certainly not "touchy, feely" or "kinder and gentler." It probably would increase efficiency and "make government more like business" as we hear is strongly desired.

By formerfed on Monday, May 21, 2001 - 08:09 am:

From Anon 5/19 of 11:11 (don't you sleep or have fun on Sat night?) on:

It's obvious State has serious problems. One of the most apparent is lack of training. A Contract Specialist with over 40 years experience but isn't up to speed on FASA, FARA and FAR 15 rewrite! But not too much blame can be directed to lack of training. Good people somehow learn outside the classroom on their own.

Anon 5/20 and Ramon - we want the Contracting Officer to be a "business manager" because that's our jobs - bring something to the acquisition process that everyone, including the program manager, sees as value. Our job also includes conducting acquisitions consistent with laws, regulations and policies that we must follow. I've yet to meet a PM that has breaking laws as an objective. Rather what they want are acquisitions that support accomplishing their mission. However, what they are sometimes faced with is COs who can't optimally do that for lack of knowledge, ability, or motivation.

If we are truly "business managers" and show PMs we know how to get the job done, they beat a path to our doors. On the the hand, if we demonstrate our incompetence, they find ways to work around us. And grades don't matter. I know one GS-13 Contract Specialist who is viewed as so much of an asset, Program Offices call on this person to attend meetings constantly. Even when the meetings don't involve procurement matters, they value the COs judgement and business insight. The Co regular attends senior staff meetings that have close to a dozen SES members.

So, yes, State sounds awful. The Department's Procurement Executive needs to do something in terms of changing the workplace culture. And they need to do some proper recruiting for the right kind of CO's - people that communicate well, know how to solve problems, can function in group/team settings, and can offer more than just quoting regulations.

By Anonymous on Monday, May 21, 2001 - 09:05 am:

Someone should forward this thread to State's Senior Proc Exec. Give us his/her email address and I'll do it. He/she ought to see what the world thinks about them.

By Anonymous on Monday, May 21, 2001 - 09:31 am:

Mr. Lloyd W. Pratsch
Procurement Executive
Room 603, SA-6
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
PHONE: (703) 516-1680
FAX: (703) 875-6155
E-MAIL: pratschlw@state.gov

By C MERCY on Monday, May 21, 2001 - 09:31 am:

There is at least one guy at State who reads this...I am sure he has seen the thread.

By anon8 on Monday, May 21, 2001 - 11:16 am:

It doesn't seem to me that training in "contracts" subjects is the issue. It seems to me that employing plain common sense and being able to understand common English is the problem in some of these examples (if you SAY you require the PM to be an employee, then you REQUIRE it). The other problem is a lack of communication with technical users (exactly WHAT do you mean by "FAA certified" and why do you want it?). I'll note that NEITHER a degree in English nor one in any of the technical fields is currently acceptable as a qualification to be an 1102. Yet the basic problem seems to be an utter lack of understanding what one has said -- a language problem if ever there were one. The issue of a higher "officer" overriding what the contract specialist wants to do is an old one -- sometimes it's the right thing to do and sometimes it's utterly boneheaded. But again, understanding requirements doesn't seem to be a high priority on many procurements.

By Anon2U on Monday, May 21, 2001 - 11:17 pm:


How do the coworkers feel about the GS-13 who is always at meetings? Who does the actual work? I don't go to meetings (other than directly related to my solicitations/contracts)and I work 10 to 15 hours of overtime every two weeks trying to keep up, with the emphesis on trying. If he is a supervisor. OK. Or maybe the workload is easier there. Ok.

By Anonymous on Monday, May 21, 2001 - 11:48 pm:

Don't just pick on State. Things are bad at many other agencies too. I am aware of at least one other agency that sounds just as bad or worse. With things so bad in so many places, one must question the whole system to some degree.

I think we are pushed to do everything fast while new laws and regs added that complicate things and slow things down. Yes, there are also new procedures to speed things up too. But when inexperience personnel attempt these, sustained protests are the growing pains.

Speed causes many people to shortcut and they can get away with it 95% of the time. The other times GAO makes them sound bad.

Should I worry too much about the one time I have to reopen discussions if I get the other 30 actions awarded fast? It seems in todays workplace, fast procurement lead times and number of actions completed are more acceptable (and rewarded) than working more diligently and completing less actions and special projects.

Experienced personnel are not evenly distributed and many will not mentor new personnel. Therefore, many agencies have a real training gap. Its one thing to go to training and another to apply the learning correctly. I was told once that Contracting is more an art than a science. We now rely on the GAO to be the art critic.

By formerfed on Tuesday, May 22, 2001 - 07:17 am:


In the larger scheme, attending these meetings evens out. By becoming part of the planning process, the Contract Specialist I mentioned influences outcomes in a positive way. When actual procurement actions do materialize, everyone is in agreement on roles, responsibilities and time frames. Things happen quickly and there isn't much "explain this to me" or "you can't do it that way". Also that agency's management often asks why the procurement office isn't staffed better to provide more of that kind of support, and helped get more 1102 positions.

As I mentioned, when program offices and customers see the benefits we can provide, they beat a path to our doors. The tough part of getting ourselves into that kind of position where we become assets.

Unfortunately, not all 1102s are like the GS-13 I described. Yes, there is occasionally jealously among co-workers when that individual gets recognition or refers to top agency officials on a first name basis. The part most everyone eventually realizes is that individual made that position by doing something no one else was doing. By the way, that's the kind of support we all should be doing.

By ex-fed on Tuesday, May 22, 2001 - 10:17 am:

The individual attending those meetings is vital if they are serving the purpose of asking those crucial questions. It is much easier to question a course of action politely in the early stages, get people thinking on the issue and working solutions than it is to change direction of a fatal course late in the game. Often by then minds are made up, ego is committed and funding may be at risk.

"Is 'FAA certification' exactly what you require and, if so, do we have the FAA certification list in hand?" at first mention during an IPT type environment might have changed those fatal words without anyone getting upset. Bouncing it back months later starts the ego game playing.

That person attending meetings, if they are doing this type work, is doing more to streamline acquisition than several other people frantically pushing papers and questions about in late stages. Those people are trying to drain the field bailing with buckets. The other is maintaining the levee.

By C MERCY on Tuesday, May 22, 2001 - 03:46 pm:

Ex F
I appreciate what you are saying but its too simple an example. What if that same interrogation had continued....Why do you require OEMcerts? Why do you require OEM spares? Why is COBOL necessary? Why do they need to have worked on other State contracts? Why is the sky blue?
Limited to the FAA cert issue the protest ,and its subsequent handling by State, becomes insensate. And on this point I tend to agree with everyone else who has read this beauty. Another factor which I believe exacts a toll few may realize is the acquisition metrics;performance measurements. Even if the KO knew what to do ...perhaps issue an amendment to the RFP deleting the requirement,allow new submissions and re-evaluate...how much time against metrics would it have cost. I do not say this is right but it is a cost these days when alacrity is the measure.

By Anonymous on Tuesday, May 22, 2001 - 09:24 pm:

C Mercy,

It was the Air Force who had FAA cert problems. State incorrectly evaluated as LPTA when tradeoffs were called for and allowed an ineligible contractor to stay in the competition and awarded it to them. Just wanted to get the comedy of errors straight.

By C MERCY on Wednesday, May 23, 2001 - 08:47 am:

ANON 9-24
You are quite correct. Thanks.