We all have different stories about how we entered the field of government contracting. Here's mine. I started working at the General Accounting Office (GAO) in July 1971. At the request of a new Comptroller General, Congress changed the name to the to the Government Accountability Office because GAO didn't do accounting work. For a political appointee, that's considered innovation. GAO always had problems with titles. I started as a GAO Auditor, then a GAO Analyst, then a GAO Evaluator and I was waiting to become a GAO Accountabilist. It never happened so I kept telling people I was a GAO auditor.
Getting back to my story. I never intended to be in government contracting. I never intended to be in government. I just wanted a job. Having interviewed with GAO months earlier, I was offered a GAO position from out of the blue in a Friday afternon phone call. At the beginning of my career, GAO had three primary operating divisions; Civil Division, Defense Division, and the International Division. Civil involved audit work of civilian agency programs, Defense included work at DoD agencies and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, International was audit work around the world while you were stationed in Germany. There were never any openings in the International Division. If you can't imagine why, I can't help you.
In 1971, GAO hired "trainees" directly into its Civil Division and the managers of the Civil Division, for the most part, ran GAO. Trainees in the Civil Division were assigned to GAO audit sites located within the office space paid for by the government agencies it audited. Imagine a bunch of freeloaders watching what you did and squealing to your boss when you did something wrong. That was GAO's Civil Division when I was hired. A trainee in his/her first year would have 3 assignments: 1, 2-month assignment and 2, 4-month assignments before he/she moved on to a 1-year assignment. To find out where you would go on your 1 year assignment, you had to visit GAO's personnel office and pick one of the openings that were available in GAO. Those changes in assignments were referred to as the "rotation" process. If you rotated at the beginning of a month for your 1-year assignment, you had a nice choice of places to go in the Civil Division. By the end of the month, all the good slots were gone and you were left with the dregs of the agency. My first two trainee assignments in the Civil Division were at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service which were in Southwest D.C. My third trainee assignment was at the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville Maryland. Nearly everyone in the Civil Division was young or relatively young. It was growing and vibrant and the people were alive.
Then there was the Defense Division. It was a separate entity of its own. Closed off from the rest of GAO, I never met any trainee that was hired into the Defense Division in 1971. The Defense Division was located in GAO's dingy main building on its dingy 4th floor in Northwest DC. The space was old and ugly and it was rumored to be staffed with old weirdos. It seemed as if no one went into that "space" and no one came out. Think of Dr. Brakish Okun from the 1996 movie, Independence Day greeting you at the door.
Needless to say, new trainees learned one thing through the trainee grapevine. Stay out of the Defense division! Shortly after I was hired, GAO decided to shake things up in the Defense Division by reorganizing it into three new divisions; the Procurement and Systems Acquisition Division (PSAD) (pronounced P-sad), the Personnel, Logistics and Readiness Division (PLRD) (pronounced Plurd or P-lard) and the Federal Personnel and Compensation Division (FPCD). The new GAO trainees didn't know that part of the shake-up in the Defense diivisions would involve human sacrifices too. GAO couldn't fool its new trainees, though. Instead of stay out of Defense, the new trainee warning became stay out of PSAD, PLRD, and FPCD. As my Mother told me while I was growing up; you can't polish a turd.
My rotation date for my 1-year assignment was scheduled for early Spring 1972 and, of course, it was at the end of the month. I walked into the personnel office and was congratulated for completing my training assignmnets. That was the last positive thing I heard that day. I was given my choices to pick from and there were three available; one in PSAD, one in PLRD, and one in FPCD. Like any 21 year old who suddenly believed his career had ended, I hemmed and hawhed as long as I could. Then I was told, You know, we don't have to give you a choice. After I had gone limp, I put my head down and picked PSAD. No one in the Civil Division said anything good about my pick. They just walked away from me. I was now a member of P-sad. Things went downhill after that.
There were three of us rotating into PSAD that Monday morning. All graduating trainees from the Civil Division and we were never told we were part of GAO's human sacrifice experiment to reduce the overall age of the new defense divisions. Once in PSAD, a PSAD representative explained that PSAD consisted of three sub-divisions titled Major Systems (MAG), Science and Techology (S&T), and General Procurement (GP). The first two of us were going to MAG and S&T and when the work was explained to them it sounded interesting. Next, it was my turn and I was feeling a little better. Then the PSAD representive tried to explain what GP did. He tried to keep a straight face but he could only laugh. The trainee who who went to S&T that day is still my friend today. We often laughed about that meeting in PSAD and we still laugh about it today. I tell him that I rotated into Geek Place and not General Procurement that day. And so it was. In the months ahead, I met Crazy Jack, Shaky Charlie, and the Slurper. Then there was the Chomper. I was told to avoid eye contact with the Chomper. And I did.
And that is how I was introduced into federal contracting.