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KeithB18

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  1. Touche'. They'll try to automate the entire contracting function eventually...smart contracts, etc.
  2. These three bullets really resonated with me. For the first bullet, I've been consistently surprised how reading something about an unrelated-to-contracting topic can influence my thinking about my contracting job. It happens all the time--something I read in the New Yorker or some such publication ends up having direct relevance to a project I'm working. Just today, in regards to the second bullet, I was writing an email to a colleague that was mildly critical of a plan that I came across. I rewrote a key paragraph several times to make sure I captured the idea correctly. It landed perfectly--she immediately understood my position. The process of writing that helped me understand my own position. The last bullet is where I see a lot of challenges. I work with a decent amount of young-ish 1102s and there are a few of them that want the respect that being a professional accrues, without putting the work into becoming a professional. Becoming a professional is hard and it isn't a task that is ever fully complete. Vern commented that he's 75 and "still hopelessly ignorant." I'm 41 and much behind Vern on the ignorance scale (or am I ahead of Vern? Point is, Vern has forgotten more about contracting than I know), but a little less so every day.
  3. I don't think you can characterize something that is a necessary part of one's job as a "delay." Negotiating fee is part of a contracting officer's job. If that is a delay, then everything a contracting officer does is a "delay." I would want be careful in making generalizations based only on my experience, but negotiating fee for R&D is often pretty easy. You do a weighted guidelines (and as Vern points out, you can make those say whatever you want), propose that as a counter offer and then meet somewhere in the middle. Maybe you get a little more than you wanted or vice versa. Again, my experience only, but a lot of people involved in R&D are involved much more for the R&D than they are for the profit. The really big payoffs for R&D projects isn't the profit on one particular contract, it's the possibility of commercialization and/or future sales to the government. You gonna walk away from a deal for 0.5% on profit? Unlikely for either party. As a result, you can typically negotiate fee fairly quickly. Maybe it takes a week because you're working on a bunch of other stuff too, but I wouldn't call that a "delay" either.
  4. My agency has been using Q&As for a few years now. An example is here: https://sam.gov/opp/fb3fe7ea18b942d7b05bc060a9588f1a/view. I will say I made some mistakes in that solicitation and learned some lessons. You'll probably be able to spot some flaws. The Q&A is on page 21. I think I got the idea from the Source Selection Bootcamp. You may or may not be surprised how many contractors could not reasonably answer the questions, even with weeks of time to prepare an answer. In that regard it worked.
  5. Totally agree and one thing that I think has been lost over the years is how a supervisor actually used to teach a junior employee how to do the job. We've outsourced all of that and think that because a person has been to 4 or 5 Management Concepts classes they are "qualified." It takes a lot of time to train an employee--we've basically given up that mission, to the benefit of the training companies and the detriment to the average citizen. I would note that I don't spend enough time training and coaching my folks, so I live in a glass house here.
  6. @Vern Edwards "Utopia of Rules" Are you referring to this book by David Graeber? https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MKZ0QZ2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 It's certainly not for everyone--Graeber identified as an anarchist and was involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement (he died a couple of years ago)--but I found myself nodding along with it routinely. (Admittedly, I was sympathetic to his argument at the outset.) I wouldn't say this is his best book, but it certainly is relevant for us working inside the bureaucracy.
  7. A bit of a different angle on this: A few years ago I found myself in a situation where I had 24 direct reports. Some with warrants, some without. It was too much, obviously. During that time I did a little internet research on how many people a supervisor could realistically supervise. It won't be surprising that the consensus is that it depends on what is being supervised, but if you consider contracting to be intellectual and complex work like I do, then the 6-8 direct reports is a rule of thumb. Beyond that is too many. The articles on this subject that you'll find online aren't contracting specific, but I do think 6-8 "feels" right to me, based on my experiences. Your mileage may vary...supervising an unwarranted contract specialist is a different challenge than supervising a fully trained, confident, and competent GS-13 or 14.
  8. I didn't think this warranted a new thread, but I have taken on Vern's challenge to read widely about relational contracting. I came across an article titled, "The Many Futures of Contracts: Moving Beyond Structure and Safeguarding to Coordination and Adaption" the other day. The article is full of jargon and I think of limited use, but it does have some insightful nuggets. I thought this one was important, "With increasing transactional complexity (e.g., interdependence between parties), we should not observe more complex contracts; instead we should see more clauses in contracts that give broad decision rights to one party or specify procedures for centralized or consensual decision making." It struck me as something that was worth thinking about.
  9. Another roadblock I keep coming to, mentally anyway, is that most of our large and traditional business partners are as ill-suited for relational contracting as the Government is. They are as stuck in existing model just as deeply as we are. Even if you could find a partner willing to engage in the forming a relational contract, I can just imagine the corporate lawyer saying, "Where is clause X, Y, or Z?" I might be overstating that, but I routinely have big contractors ask me for pointless modifications.
  10. @Vern Edwards I just read the Simple Additive Weighting paper and I have to admit that some of the math was over my head. It was never a strong suit of mine. One thing that did resonate with me, even though the authors probably didn't intend for this to be a take away, was that they defined the criteria they were looking for in the person (Table III, page 513). This alone is more thinking than many or most people do when hiring Federal staff and certainly far beyond the thinking most people put into "Key Personnel." Insofar that we do think about key personnel, it usually comes down to credentials: experience and education typically. So if a CO is going to include key personnel as an evaluation factor, it makes sense to think about what are the characteristics of the key personnel that will assist to produce quality performance. I have to admit, where I've used key personnel, I've never thought about it, nor have I asked any of my program officials to think about it. And if the CO and program can't come up with characteristics of the key personnel they are looking for, maybe don't use key personnel. Lastly, the authors note in the conclusion, "Besides, some criteria could have a qualitative structure or have an uncertain structure which cannot be measured precisely." And I think this is evident in their own example, e.g. "team player" and "strategic thinker."
  11. Yes sorry. The bullet points relate to things that I consider FAR-compliant.
  12. I do. First, my agency, NSF, has a somewhat broader OTA authority than most. So where I can get organizational approval to engage in an "other arrangement" transaction, I can design a solicitation that fully embraces the it. This is/has been difficult and where the "But the policy!" objection comes in. Anyway, your mileage will vary on your ability there; mine certainly does. I'm about 2/3rds the way through Contracting in the New Economy with plans to finish this week. Here are some thoughts. (Please don't take these as some sort of gospel, these are just ideas I've had.) - When you engage in relational contracting, you have to identify a willing partner. That means a partner that understands the difference between a relational contract and a transactional contract. This can (and should) be incorporated into evaluation criteria. Vern calls for asking specific questions rather than asking for narratives (and we've done some to a some of this, it really works!), but there's nothing stopping us from asking questions about an interested party's willingness, knowledge, and ability to engage in relational contracting. I suspect most offerors won't "get it" and fail the test very quickly. - Where you have the ability to engage in a two-phase down select process, you could contemplate the first phase as assessing the offeror's basic capabilities in the designated field or subject and their ability/willingness/knowledge of entering into a relational contract. Phase II could be an oral presentation designed to assess an organization's compatibility with the agency in terms of values, norms, and strategic objectives. - CICA is going to make you consider price, but you could signal a willingness to make use (proper use?) of the relevant changes clause. "Within the general scope" gives you quite a bit of latitude and a smart CO and program official can write a scope for a medium term requirement where almost all subsequent changes will be "within the general scope." It might be worth making this a part of negotiations with the selected partner. You could come to some shared understanding of what the changes clause means and handle changes swiftly, efficiently, and fairly. - It should be obvious that you want to carefully select which service contracts require a relational contract. The book cited above has a chapter on it and I think it is pretty solid. It comes at it from a commercial perspective, but I think it fairly easily adapted for government purposes. - I say that because I can contemplate certain folks complaining that you are engaging in personal services or inherently governmental functions. To that I'd say that the personal services ship sailed long ago (almost every service contract has all six of the personal services indicators) and there are 20 items the FAR says are likely inherently governmental. We've had contractors working for us longer than many or most Feds. It is more accurate (and honest, imo) to say that they work for the government than it is to say that they work for the contractor. So lean into it and make the relationship work for you, the contractor, the agency, and the taxpayer. But pick your opportunities carefully. I may have some more thoughts as I finish the book.
  13. This resonated with me. I can recall doing a complicated cost analysis a couple years ago for a 10 year cost reimbursement service contract. I built a spreadsheet with 13K lines on it and I got to the point where I thought to myself, "This is absolute non-sense. Useless. How can I ensure that I never have to do this again?" And that's one reason I'm so interested in putting into practice relational contracting.
  14. There is an undercurrent of a debate going on at my agency that I thought was interesting enough to share. It usually goes something like this: Me: Here's this new thing I would like to do. I've researched the applicable policy, guidance, and laws and the new thing I'm trying to do appears consistent with those things. We don't have local policy on the matter because we've never tried or thought to try this new thing. Someone More Important Than Me: Why don't we have policy on this? You need to write the policy before you can do this new thing. Me: Do you have specific concerns with the thing I'm trying to do? If so, I can incorporate measures that will mitigate those concerns. Important Person: Yes I do. You need a policy. I'm sure almost everyone here has come across something similar; it's the bureaucrat's way to avoid risk and pursue comfort. But I started thinking about where innovation comes from. And in almost every instance I can think of, it comes from practitioners, not policy. I don't say that to irritate policy folks. In a perfect world, policy would expand the art of the possible in the contracting career field. In reality, policy types get stuck with Acquisition Career Management, hosting and tracking training events, auditing and responding to audits, ensuring FPDS data quality, and a million other things of varying importance. I also don't want to let practitioners off the hook. Most 1102s aren't interested in expanding the art of the possible either. Many have the same or similar excuses as policy--we all know what they are. So my answer the question is that practitioners create most of the innovation that happens inside our field, and the policy folks catch up later. (So when I have the conversation above with my "betters" I'm always left a little flummoxed as to how to effectively respond.) One of the bigger (biggest?) innovations in our field over the past several years was the Highest Technically Rated at a Fair and Reasonable Price evaluation schema championed by John Cavadias (and many others I'm sure) at GSA. As I understand it, he had the idea as a practitioner, researched it and convinced GSA to embrace it. So what is your feeling? Where does innovation come from?
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