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Matthew Fleharty

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  1. I do not have the article you requested, but other essential reading on this topic is Vern's Briefing Paper "A Primer on Source Selection Planning: Evaluation Factors and Rating Methods." Fortunately, he has provided it to WIFCON at the following link: https://wifcon.com/articles/BP17-8_wbox.pdf Since you don't cite the Nash & Cibinic Report article you were reading, if it wasn't "Retreating from Reform: We have Met the Enemy, and He is Us!" I would recommend it as well for an example of what not to do, also available on WIFCON here: https://www.wifcon.com/articles/The Nash & Cibinic Report (June 2022).pdf Frankly, anything Vern writes and generously provides freely to WIFCON is worth the time to read and consider. Browse through the articles at the following link to find more: https://wifcon.com/analysis.htm
  2. Such a system depends on getting the requisite data to feed into the AI for the recommendation/decision. Do you think government contractors - particularly the traditional defense contractors (e.g. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, NG, etc.) - would be willing to provide the requisite data for such a system to work (accurately)? Or do you think the government already has the requisite data and we're just not using it because we don't have the right AI technology to feed it through?
  3. To me, the examples you provide are not routine, but require professional judgment appropriate to the specific acquisition situation. For example, whether something is or is not a FAR compliance issue is often not binary or clear - it requires reading and thinking through the issue(s). For an example of how difficult what you propose to accomplish with computers/algorithms/magic wands, see the woefully inadequate and inaccurate DoD Clause Logic System.
  4. I wrote a similar note in the margins of my copy as I was going through it - page 3 is also inconsistent with their incorporation of HTRO when it limits the best value continuum to LPTA and states "the tradeoff source selection process spans the entire remainder of the continuum." Paragraph 1.2.2 on page 2 is also puzzling - why go through the trouble of establishing an IDIQ only to be encouraged to subject them to these cumbersome source selection procedures for orders greater than $10M? Paragraph 2.3.2.5 doesn't do our DoD acquisition community any favors by biasing source selection teams to choose factors like "technical approach...management approach, [and] personnel qualifications." Vern has written extensively on the problems with these non-promissory "essay writing" factors here: https://wifcon.com/articles/BP17-8_wbox.pdf https://www.wifcon.com/articles/The Nash & Cibinic Report-May 2022-Contracting Process Inertia.pdf https://www.wifcon.com/articles/The Nash & Cibinic Report (June 2022).pdf Overall, my main issue is that these DoD mandatory source selection procedures have been around for the past decade, yet they have not improved DoD's source selections and acquisition outcomes. So why publish a mere update rather than a substantive rewrite (or elimination) of procedures that do not appear to have markedly improved acquisition outcomes? [rhetorical question]
  5. How does your office use RFQs as an offer? Does your office lay out all the terms and conditions, price included, and the first contractor to accept gets to do the work?
  6. It's far more helpful than you give me credit for...how does the old adage go? "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink..." Despite your rude remark ("If you don't know then don't answer") I'll do the opposite and lay some more breadcrumbs for you - did you look up the definitions for those two words in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), specifically Part 2?
  7. @Boogie_DownHave you tried to look up the definitions for the terms you're unsure of (e.g. "offer" & "solicitation")? A piece of advice I provide to all beginners is rather than merely asking questions, try to answer the questions for yourself first and then provide the questions and the possible answer(s) along with the information informing that position for feedback. I think it is imperative to build good habits early and if the habit you form is to ask others for the answer each time you encounter a question, you'll have a hard time developing the research and thinking skills contracting professionals desperately need to succeed.
  8. No "innovation" necessary - just get off the fiscal year cycle. Shorten the initial PoP to end on 31 May and start each subsequent 12 month option period on 1 June. This is just another example of an "idea" labeled as an "innovation" is anything but...have you thought through your proposed COA, for example: - gaps in service and how they might impact your mission partners - whether or not a company would even accept such an arrangement (or the premium you might have to pay for it) - are you even solving the problem? Would 60 days even be enough time? From my experience, these types of funding issues are usually driven by continuing resolutions (CRs) and many CRs are lasting longer than 60 days... (see https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL32614.html) One final note: as you re-compete this effort, please do not ask for an essay writing contest on offerors' "technical approaches" and "management plans" - see the following must reads: https://wifcon.com/articles/BP17-8_wbox.pdf https://www.wifcon.com/articles/The Nash & Cibinic Report-May 2022-Contracting Process Inertia.pdf
  9. I put together the following reading list at the request of some young contracting professionals and figured it'd be worth sharing here for anyone who might be looking for a book (or ten) to read. The list is broken into categories with a brief explanation before the book(s) followed by a few excerpts to hopefully whet the prospective reader's appetite. I hope others find these reads as useful and enjoyable as I did. Some Reading Recommendations for Contracting Professionals Contracting Essentials – Ask yourself, when was the last time you read the FAR or a GAO/COFC decision just to learn (i.e. not to look up a rule or reference for a particular issue)? For most, the answer is probably longer than it should be. Reading the FAR and case law just to learn is essential to becoming a contracting professional. My personal tip – start with FAR Part 1 (the part I’ve heard from too many people that they were told to skip…). 1+. The FAR & Cibinic & Nash Series FAR 1.102(d) “The role of each member of the Acquisition Team is to exercise personal initiative and sound business judgment in providing the best value product or service to meet the customer’s needs. In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition team may assume that if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority.” Core Skills (Reading & Writing) – Contracting professionals are words people – we must use words to create contracts. To do that effectively we must read and write well. Reading and writing are skills and, like any other skill, we get better at them with practice. These two books will help you develop those skills. 2. How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler “learning is meant understanding more, not remembering more information that has the same degree of intelligibility as other information you already possess.” “just as there is a difference in the art of teaching in different fields, so there is a reciprocal difference in the art of being taught. The activity of the student must somehow be responsive to the activity of the instructor. The relation between books and their readers is the same as that between teachers and their students. Hence, as books differ in the kinds of knowledge they have to communicate, they proceed to instruct us differently; and, if we are to follow them, we must learn to read each kind in an appropriate manner.” 3. Do I Make Myself Clear by Harold Evans “We know that the right worlds are oxygen, that dead English pollutes our minds every day.” “Writers generally set out with good intentions, but something happens along the way. We don’t really know what we want to say until we try to write it, and in the gap between the thought and its expression we realize the bold idea has to be qualified or elaborated. We write more sentences. Then more. We are soon in the territory defined by the French mathematician Blasé Pascal but associated with others, too: I would have written something shorter, but I didn’t have time.” Acquisition History – History consistently fascinates me and I think we ignore it at our own peril. We are not the first people to write contracts or manage acquisition programs so we should learn from the successes and struggles of those who came before us. In an era where there are too many half-baked ideas masquerading as acquisition innovations, history can serve as a guide to figure out what might be helpful and what might be hurtful. 4. The Weapons Acquisition Process by Peck & Scherer “In brief, these comparisons demonstrate that weapons development is like few other activities in the American economy. Rather, it is characterized by unique elements of uncertainty resulting from the combination of, first, the extent to which weapons press the limits of existing engineering art and scientific knowledge and, second, the character of the demand for weapons in a cold war environment. The better performance of commercial developments in staying within budgets, meeting schedules, and achieving performance objectives is explained largely by the fact that most commercial project developments are not initiated until major state of the art and marketing uncertainties have been resolved. Under extraordinary competitive pressures, a commercial development occasionally does push the state of the art in a weapons-like way. On such occasions, weapons-like problems tend to occur; cost targets are exceeded, schedules are slipped, and the product fails to meet its performance promises. This would suggest that comparison of weapons and typical commercial developments is hardly a fair index of relative efficiency, and that the direct transfer of business practice to weapons efforts is not, in and of itself, a meaningful solution for improving the acquisition of technically advanced weapons.” “the uncertainties connected with weapons acquisition preclude the development of a market system in anything approaching the usual meaning of that term.” 5. The General and The Genius by James Kunetka “The conception and development of a theoretically complex and technologically advanced weapon, made from materials heretofore unimagined, in two and a half years is an extraordinary tale in its own right.” 6. Stealth by Peter Westwick “The initiative for Stealth did not come from presidents or generals operating from a grand strategic vision. Nor did it come from the bottom up, from the soldiers—or, in this case, pilots—who would be the ones to wield the new technology. It came rather from the middle, from engineers and program managers who translated technology into strategy and policy, and vice versa…much of the history was not romantic or heroic. It consisted of countless mundane meetings, memos, and briefings, interspersed with trips to the remote, ramshackle outposts of RATSCAT and Area 51. No Eureka moment made Stealth aircraft possible…the concept’s strategic importance and technological challenge inspired a large number of smart people to work exceptionally hard for a long time to realize it. That was the true secret of Stealth.” Thinking & Decision Making – Contracting professionals must know how to think and make sound decisions. These books are essentials for understanding different ways for how we may think and act better. Economic thought, in particular, is but one way of thinking – but what we cannot afford to do is ignore the costs and tradeoffs inherent in many of our decisions. 7. Thinking: Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman “A deeper understanding of judgments and choices also requires a richer vocabulary than is available in everyday language.” “many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.” “Maintaining one’s vigilance against biases is a chore—but the chance to avoid a costly mistake is sometimes worth the effort.” 8. Radical Uncertainty by Kay & King “The world is inherently uncertain and to pretend otherwise is to create risk, not to minimize it.” “There is an alternative story to that told by behavioral economics. It is that many of the characteristics of human reasoning which behavioral economics describes as biases are in fact adaptive—beneficial to success—in the large real worlds in which people live, even if they are sometimes misleading in the small worlds created for the purposes of economic modelling and experimental psychology. It is an account which substitutes evolutionary rationality for axiomatic rationality.” “The false assumption that good process leads to good outcomes is pervasive in public sector organizations, where good often means lengthy, involves many people with little responsibility for the result, and is imbued with ill-defined concepts of fairness centered around issues of representativeness and statistical discrimination. Process has become the policy, with deleterious effects on outcomes.” 9. Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell “Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses…life does not ask us what we want. It presents us with options. Economics is one of the ways of trying to make the most of those options.” “Competition among people for scarce resources is inherent. It is not a question whether we like or dislike competition. Scarcity means that we do not have the option to choose whether or not to have an economy in which people compete. That is the only kind of economy that is possible—and our only choice is among the particular methods that can be used for that competition.” Bonus Books – Contracting professionals are both leaders and honest brokers, so the following two selections are on those topics. “The Strategist” is a particularly interesting read about an Air Force Lt Gen who set the standard for what an “honest broker” can and should be. 10. On Leadership by John Gardner “Confusion between leadership and official authority has a deadly effect on large organizations. Corporations and government agencies everywhere have executives who imagine that their place on the organization chart has given them a body of followers. And of course it has not. They have been given subordinates. Whether the subordinates become followers depends on whether the executives act like leaders.” “we must not think rigidly or mechanically about the attributes of leaders. The attributes required of a leader depend on the kind of leadership being exercised, the context, the nature of followers, and so on.” “Leaders discover that the great systems over which they preside require continuous renewal…It is not a question of excellence. A society that has reached heights of excellence may already be caught in the rigidities that will bring it down. An institution may hold itself to the highest standards and yet already be doomed by the complacency that foreshadows decline.” “Mentors are ‘growers,’ good farmers rather than inventors or mechanics. Growers have to accept that the main ingredients and processes with which they work are not under their own control. They are in a patient partnership with nature, with an eye to the weather and a feeling for cultivation. A recognition that seeds sometimes fall on barren ground, a willingness to keep trying, a concern for the growing thing, patience—such are the virtues of the grower. And the mentor.” 11. The Strategist by Bartholomew Sparrow “Scowcroft’s sense of organizational politics, his willingness to act as the president’s agent, the control he exercised on the quality of the NSC process, and his respect for the views of others in government had, in combination, that much more effect because his actions were infused by his ability as a strategist: his ability to discern the people and organizations in play, to understand their backgrounds and origins, and to see how they interacted and what the likely consequences would be in relation to the desired objectives of US policy.” “his own approach to almost every question is to view it with informed skepticism…” “It is utterly amazing how one person…can make all the difference in the world.”
  10. Next best thing is to learn from him - I just finished reading “How Ike Lead” which was written by his granddaughter. Not the best biographical book, but it is written in a way that highlights what she felt were Ike’s principles & leadership strengths.
  11. Kudos to you Bob for sharing and the frank admission - too many people pretend and just regurgitate the headline summaries they've heard ("See! Didn't Ike warn us about the military industrial complex!"), without reading or listening to the original speech for the complete context (this one and many others). My favorite excerpt of his farewell speech is this: There are no easy answers to important challenges (or crises) - no "innovation" will suddenly rescue us. We need a sober understanding of the tradeoffs, good judgment to make the right decision, and hard work to execute the decision competently.
  12. Hammer meets nail - I'm shocked that after reading this the government is paying even more money for further "research"
  13. I think Vern accurately identifies the "why" which he labels "practitioner recidivism" - we have too much training and not nearly enough education. Re-read the last two paragraphs of the article, they're spot on (emphasis added):
  14. I don't think that the summary information in the report is conducive to driving a good discussion - but I need to say the following regarding page 8: I think these sensational quotes are cherry picked to drive your report's narrative/agenda - for example, I know enough current/former Government Contracting Officers who would take considerable exception to some of the "Why Government negotiates" quotes you provided. How many Government Contracting Officers did you talk to and what quotes from those others (if there were any) did you leave out?
  15. Thanks @Vern Edwardsfor sharing your excellent writing with the contracting community free of charge. I think one of the challenges the workforce faces (among many) is that they simply lack access to many of these best in class resources like The Cibinic & Nash Report and Briefing Papers. When they're not taught how to write solicitations properly as part of their "acquisition training" and they don't have access to outside materials to learn anything different, they just listen to their coworkers and default to what they do: copy and paste... I'll add this to the set of writings that I share with my contracting and acquisition colleagues.
  16. Which eligibility standards are you referring to?
  17. I think an organization only has too many warrants if there are people at the organization with a warrant who cannot/do not perform the work of a contracting officer well. You likely know your people and your organization better than any auditor does and based on your comments, it sounds like they did not justify their assessment (they likely just want to introduce more "levels" and bureaucracy into your organization because that's what they saw in other places). I would not be shy about questioning the auditors findings and conclusions - I have seen too many cases where an auditor or a reviewer, feeling compelled to write something, invents or creates a problem where there was none. Also, put yourself in your people's shoes (and ask your leadership to do the same): if you were one of those people who was doing their job well, but losing their warrant simply because an auditor thought that more reviews and bureaucracy was a good thing (and leadership agreed with them), would you want to continue to work there if given the choice? What might that do to your morale to lose authority and responsibility despite not performing poorly? Finally, if more reviews are necessary (which is certainly debatable) why can't a contracting officer review another contracting officer's work? Bottom line: if the contracting officers in your organization are doing their jobs well, you don't have too many warrants. If they aren't, it shouldn't take an outside audit to fix it.
  18. Thanks for the invitation Don - I'll share a few thoughts on where my head is at and we can see where we can go from there: Purpose: I don't think the goal should be to merely "improve productivity, increase efficiency, and reduce costs" - this idea that everything should be minimized/maximized is misplaced as I prefer optimizing. For instance, if the goal is to go as fast as possible with as few expenditures as possible and a team has to "write" a solicitation, odds are they're going to copy and paste so they can "go fast" vs. taking the extra time to start with a clean sheet, think things through, and actually write a solicitation (less efficient, but more effective both in the short term, a better solicitation, and in the long term, more learning). Tasks: For most things beyond mere purchasing, there is a level of complexity that makes it difficult to clearly define a standard for tasks (or, in some cases, to even adequately identify the tasks). The CMS takes this for granted - see description of job tasks on page 2 "contract managers systematically process the job tasks to achieve the expected results of the competences" (emphasis added). I think successful contracting professionals are able to use good judgment and adapt to varying situations versus operating "systematically" (i.e. according to a fixed plan). I will note it's not like they ignored the notion of adaptation completely - they mention it on page 5 ("must be adaptable to a changing business environment") - but that gets to another problem with the task focus and the drafting process they're utilizing is that it produces inconsistencies like this (losing the forest for the trees). Standards: It is not clear whether the CMS seeks to establish a baseline minimum or if the goal is to establish something aspirational - the difference between satisfactory and excellent. Regardless of what it is, I think it ought to be the latter - a profession deserves more than mere minimums and a professional organization should seek to show their members standards for professionalism so they can become more than just practitioners. What are your thoughts Don? I haven't had the chance to watch the video Jamaal posted so my apologies if I'm asking you to regurgitate what you've already said (just reply with a timestamp if they're in that video).
  19. I find it lacking and I am not sure it will add much value. For one, I don't see many "standards" in the document - instead it is full of attempts to provide concise definitions for a litany of tasks. Maybe my understanding of a standard is lacking though. Overall, my initial assessment is that, in some ways, it may actually be harmful to our profession as it is hard enough to get people to understand the basics/fundamentals without misleading them with minutia or inaccuracies. Take, for example, the definition of "contract" on page 1 which limits contracts to furnishing supplies or services - I find that inadequate as it leaves a lot out (e.g. intellectual property, NDAs, etc). For a profession in which words matter, I wonder how the "rigorous process involving materially affected and interested parties...based on due process, which was established through consensus, openness, lack of dominance, and a balance of interests" got, arguably, the most important definition wrong...never mind, I just re-read the sentence I quoted and answered my own question.
  20. I wonder if this established firm you speak of is aware of the change in definitions - "commercial item" was bifurcated to "commercial products" and "commercial services" in Dec 2021
  21. Glad you watched it! 😀 Though you must have taken a break at some key parts of the documentary because there is plenty of information in the documentary to show that there were fair process criticisms and not just results focused Monday morning quarterbacking. For instance, the FAA analysis after the first crash that estimated the 737 MAX would have 15 fatal crashes over it's life span or Boeing's own communications, both to the FAA which was outright deception ("jedi mind trick") and internally which showed that financials and absolutely no simulator training were the clear priorities over safety. There was enough information internally that leaders of Boeing were aware of that indicated a fair chance the aircraft might be responsible (single point of failure sensor, new software, no simulator training with only 10 seconds to respond...) All that aside, what confirms in my mind that Boeing had a process problem (and not just a results issue) is that at no point, even after the second crash, did Boeing willingly ground their own airplanes. Instead, it still took governments around the world to stop the 737 MAX from flying until it was fixed/recertified. I have to believe that someone in the senior leadership at Boeing attended a top business school which routinely use the famous Tylenol recall case study; however, whoever it was must have slept through that lesson...Companies cannot purchase credibility, it has to be earned - and when it is lost, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to earn it back. More broadly, situations like this one only further erode trust in our society, it's tragic. P.S. For anyone interested in another example see "Dopesick" (the series on Hulu - Michael Keaton puts on an excellent performance - and the book the show is based on) along with "Empire of Pain" which highlight a similar tragic tale about the opioid epidemic. In this case the regulators were both deceived and coopted (along with many doctors and patients). It helped me understand some of the vaccine hesitancy throughout the country, which is higher in communities that were/are impacted by the opioid epidemic.
  22. A documentary on the 737 MAX tragedy is now available on Netflix. It’s called “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing”
  23. On my morning commute I was reading a book from the CSAF's reading list - "The Last Warrior - Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Defense Strategy" by Krepinevich and Watts. I underlined the following text discussing an interagency working group in 1972 which seems relevant to The PRICE Act's Working Group:
  24. If you don't want to argue the issue why make an assertion directed at me and then state to just leave it at that? Besides, if you re-read my post, my primary exception to your issuance of kudos wasn't the financial performance, but the problems with the program(s) themselves...why laud efforts like the KC-46 when it's been behind schedule and consistently failed to deliver on its performance? I'll assert that you don't understand the bigger picture. Shall we just leave it at that?
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