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1102ForLife

Paperless Contracting

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Our office wastes paper like there is no tomorrow. For every contracting action that we submit for review, we are required to print out: (1) a draft copy of the award/mod, (2) A copy of the Contract Action Report, (3) a copy of the "PD2 Integrity Check", and (4) A memo "telling the story" of the contract action. Consequently, every one of our contract files (which are primarily Simplified Acquisitions under 100K) are bursting at the seams. Some of our purchase orders are 2-3 brown folders.

In my opinion, this is extremely wasteful. I don't believe that our leadership is very receptive to new ideas, as they are "set in their ways". It would take a lot for them to change , which is why I would like to investigate this matter and write up a report.

I think that our office would benefit alot from paperless contracting. I believe the biggest obstacle to implementing this would be in finding a suitable electronic filing system. For starters, i'm not sure how much one would cost, nor how I would go about obtaining one. Another problem with filing systems, (I've noticed) is the speed of filing. They seem to transfer files verrrry slowly We could file the contracts on shared drives, but I'm not sure if that meets the requirements of being a proper "contract file", as the data can be easily manipulated or deleted?

I'm mainy interested on hearing back from people who are contracting paperlessly. What do you think of it? Are there any major drawbacks that I'm missing?

We are in the 21st century..we have all the tools we need to acheieve this, so why are we still killing trees?

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You avoid the easily manipulated issue by saving files on the network both in their original form (word, etc) and as a .pdf file. If you don't already have that capability from within your office suite, it's pretty easy to obtain. The metadata on a file will show the creation date so it would be easy to tell if someone had "replaced" a pdf file in its entirety. Our official copy is the one attached in our ordering system (system controls prevent replacement of attached files once an order/mod has been awarded. The network files are the backups. For our network files, we've created an electronic contract file folder format. There's a sample folder with the required subfolders underneath it. When a new procurement starts, you copy the sample folder into our "Pre-award" folder and give it a new name that includes the solicitation number. All working documents are filed in appropriate subfolders as created. CS is responsible for version control. Once award is made, folder is renamed to the contract number and moved to an "Awarded" folder. When mod is done, a Mod ## folder is created and associated documents are stored there.

Took a while for folks to get used to, and there was lots of grumbling as we moved all ongoing contract folders into the new format but now everyone can find the documents without a lot of hunting so definitely worth it in the long run.

We kill lots of trees too for reviews since many of us (myself included) find it easier to the document review and reference cross-checks on a paper copy instead of on the screen. But at least we've gone to mandatory double-sided printing.

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1102forLife, welcome and thanks for your first post.

On the contractor side, our company is moving towards electronic files for prime contracts (in Adobe's Portable Document Format or some other format that cannot be edited), but not yet for subcontracts. We are, however, required by FAR to keep original hard copy records for one year before we can shred them and rely completely on the electronic copy.

Going paperless is something that should have been done a long time ago. In my experience, which goes back to punch-card batch processing computer system days (any ex-USAF folks remember CIAPS?), computers have made it possible to create more paper, faster.

In one company I worked for, we were designing a Foxpro-based system that would take a transaction from requisition through purchase order, receiving report, invoice, check request, and payment, with a branch for property tag as needed. The conservative accounting folks wanted the design of the system to mirror the paper-based system, tracking each piece of paper through the process rather than making a process that does not rely on paper, because the paper process was what they were comfortable with. The result was a system that was just as inefficient as the old one, but allowed immediate visibility of the location and status of every item in process, which, in turn, allowed more metrics, more reports, more paper, and more inefficiency having to run reports, deal with metrics, analyze results, report on things that don't matter, etc.

I too prefer reviewing documents on paper rather than on screen, but I am selective about what I print for review.

We need to help make paperless happen. I am a believer in sustainability, and certainly paperless has significant cost advantages.

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We are, however, required by FAR to keep original hard copy records for one year before we can shred them and rely completely on the electronic copy.

Cajuncharlie,

Where in the FAR is that requirement?

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Guest Vern Edwards

I couldn't find the word paperless anywhere in the FAR itself, but did find it in the EPA and OPM FAR supplements.

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When I worked for DoD, my office was using PD2 to be paperless. All file supporting documentation, memorandums, D&Fs, etc were created/scanned into the system. We had pretty rigid naming/filing rules and, frankly, it worked. In the beginning, we were running out of server space and such, but that got resolved by changing scanning and importing processes and more storage.

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Army is using PCF and is working fine. Add the full Adobe program to the organization and there is rarely a need to print anything.

The only thing I don't like about the way we are working PCF is the established file format, we had to make a cross-reference sheet from our old chronological file to the "new and improved" one because we have not yet been able to decipher the logic behind it.

On RFP's we are asking for a CD copy of the proposals along with the official paper copy and that makes it fairly easy to transfer the proposals to PCF.

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I'm mainy interested on hearing back from people who are contracting paperlessly. What do you think of it? Are there any major drawbacks that I'm missing?

My agency uses PRISM, and only maintains electronic files. It's ok.

Downside is that contractor's hard copy documents must be scanned and added to the file, and sometimes that's a big job. We try to collect all documents electronically, but not all contractors seem able to do that.

On the plus side anyone in our agency with CO authority can look at anyone elses files. It helps when searching for examples of earlier efforts. It also eliminates the cost and space of file cabinets, and of course saves trees. It also helps when a CO is out of the office, and we need to delve into someone elses files. It's all at our fingertips.

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Guest Vern Edwards

There may be reasons for not going entirely paperless other than fogeyism. See: Sellen and Harper, The Myth of the Paperless Office (MIT 2002):

Over the past thirty years, many people have proclaimed the imminent arrival of the paperless office. Yet even the World Wide Web, which allows almost any computer to read and display another computer's documents, has increased the amount of printing done. The use of e-mail in an organization causes an average 40 percent increase in paper consumption. In The Myth of the Paperless Office, Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper use the study of paper as a way to understand the work that people do and the reasons they do it the way they do. Using the tools of ethnography and cognitive psychology, they look at paper use from the level of the individual up to that of organizational culture.Central to Sellen and Harper's investigation is the concept of "affordances" -- the activities that an object allows, or affords. The physical properties of paper (its being thin, light, porous, opaque, and flexible) afford the human actions of grasping, carrying, folding, writing, and so on. The concept of affordance allows them to compare the affordances of paper with those of existing digital devices. They can then ask what kinds of devices or systems would make new kinds of activities possible or better support current activities. The authors argue that paper will continue to play an important role in office life. Rather than pursue the ideal of the paperless office, we should work toward a future in which paper and electronic document tools work in concert and organizational processes make optimal use of both.

See also: York, "Ecological Paradoxes: William Stanley Jevons and the Paperless Office" Human Ecology Review, Vol. 13. No. 2 (2006):

Contrary to the expectations of some, computers, e-mail, and the World Wide Web, are associated with an increase in paper consumption. For example, con- sumption of the most common type of office paper (uncoated free-sheet) increased by 14.7% in the U.S. between the years 1995 and 2000 (Sellen and Harper 2002, 11), embarrassing those who predicted the emergence of the paperless office... The reasons that computers led to a rise in paper con- sumption are not particularly surprising. Although comput- ers allow for the electronic storage of documents, they also allow for ready access to innumerable documents that can be easily printed using increasingly ubiquitous printers, which explains in large part the reason for escalating office paper consumption (Sellen and Harper 2002).

Finally, see: Dykstra, et al., Persistent Paper: The Myth of ?Going Paperless,? AMIA Annual Proceedings 2009 (American Medical Informatics Assoc., 2009):

How does paper usage change following the introduction of Computerized Physician Order Entry and the Electronic Medical Record (EMR/CPOE)? To answer that question we analyzed data collected from fourteen sites across the U.S. We found paper in widespread use in all institutions we studied. Analysis revealed psychological, ergonomic, technological, and regulatory reasons for the persistence of paper in an electronic environment. Paper has unique attributes allowing it to fill gaps in information timeliness, availability, and reliability in pursuit of improved patient care. Creative uses have led to ?better paper.
?

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See FAR 4.703?

Ok. Here's what it says:

Nothing in this section shall be construed to preclude a contractor from duplicating or storing original records in electronic form unless they contain significant information not shown on the record copy. Original records need not be maintained or produced in an audit if the contractor or subcontractor provides photographic or electronic images of the original records and meets the following requirements:

(1) The contractor or subcontractor has established procedures to ensure that the imaging process preserves accurate images of the original records, including signatures and other written or graphic images, and that the imaging process is reliable and secure so as to maintain the integrity of the records.

(2) The contractor or subcontractor maintains an effective indexing system to permit timely and convenient access to the imaged records.

(3) The contractor or subcontractor retains the original records for a minimum of one year after imaging to permit periodic validation of the imaging systems.

Where is the requirement to "keep original hard copy records for one year before we can shred them and rely completely on the electronic copy"?

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Ok. Here's what it says:

Where is the requirement to "keep original hard copy records for one year before we can shred them and rely completely on the electronic copy"?

"(3) The contractor or subcontractor retains the original records for a minimum of one year after imaging to permit periodic validation of the imaging systems."

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Having firsthand experience with agencies involved in incident and emergency response I would be concerned about total dependence on a paperless program. The discussions that Vern Edwards has provided therefore resonate with me when extended to the incident/emergency need. At Katrina for instance the interruptions were short in nature and use of the old stubby pencil was very handy during this period. Yes we did convert much to paperless process, in an after the fact effort, but the endeavor was in some cases almost more and was frustrating at best, especially when you have more on the ground effort in front of you. Instant information is the understandable norm in the electronic era but to struggle with the priorities of protecting life and property and getting stuff on a database to get reports in was an interesting balance. Looking to the future if the predicted earthquake event does occur on the west coast (and it most likely will) I suspect the interruptions will be exponential when compared to the natural and man caused events we have faced to date.

In considering the matter of paperless my mind also turns to the discussions in this forum, especially of late, regarding FPDS-NG and other practices intended to take the processes of contracting to paperless. If and when full or partial paperless is and can be the most efficient, the wise use and management of same needs to be a part of the effort.

Following as well the thoughts of the references provided in Vern Edwards post the example of the experiences of our war fighter?s appetite for electrical power come to my mind. It seems there might be unintended consequences that result from the creation of necessary infrastructure to provide or harvest power, provide adequate storage, and to create the ?paperless? in the first place that would drive a paperless process.

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Our office has not gone paperless per se, but we do try to avoid printing until the final, official copy of whatever document is ready for the file. We try to keep all draft copies (ie, the PWS) in electronic form where we use MS Word's Track Changes tool and comments to easily and legibly make changes. And we do keep electronic copies of all the important contract docs on a share server. But our PD2 system is simply too unstable and unreliable to upload massive amounts of files to it; I think we'd probably kill the poor hamster, running on his little squeaky wheel, if we tried to do that B) .

Also, a totally paperless environment is not practical for us at this time, as we simply don't have the electronic resources (memory space) to implement it in the first place. Expanding those resources is darn near impossible, as we work under one of the most restrictive (read: asinine) computer networks on the planet.

I for one, get a lot of friendly ribbing from my office mates because my physical desktop is often completely free of paper. However, my computer desktop routinely has many files open on the task bar (currently I have 11 different items open, about average for me). I rarely use paper files these days; I only do so when I can't access something electronically. I have placed shortcuts (organized into folders and subfolders) under the Windows Start menu linking to all my most frequently used files (contract polices and procedures, IT procedures, ongoing contracts and contracts being administered, etc). The end result is if someone asks for the warranty provisions in contract ABC, I can often have the info within seconds. Works for me.

Problem is when the network goes down, I am basically paralyzed.

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Our office is 100% paperless. All offers are received via an electronic offer system, we process everything electronically, and sign all documents (awards, PNMs, etc...) via a digital signature. The conversion was tough, especially for workers who are less computer-friendly, but eventually everyone in our office has come to enjoy working in a paperless environment.

This has been a gateway to working more in a telework environment, as our agency has issued each of us a laptop and a blackberry and we can work from anywhere.

Our electronic contract filing system was very slow when we first converted to it, but as they have improved capacity and processing speed, we have found it to be very easy to use.

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Guest Vern Edwards

Well, then, you're a long way from being a child any longer. More like an old coot, like me.

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I'm a millennial PWAC--so I don't have the history of knowing if the grass is greener on the other side, but...

Our specific contract mandates that everything must be submitted in electronic form to the government (be it proposals, correspondence, mods, etc). That's what you get for be a contractor with an un-named agency that prints with soy ink on recycled paper :P

Do I miss the days of having to print out 6 copies of subcontractor backup data in addition to our voluminous proposal and do binder book check to make sure pages are not out of order, everything is stapled, looks perfect, printer did not run out of ink? Not really.

Do we have fits when the wrong 'version' of the electronic copy is used for the next modification? You betcha!! Our contract specialist frequently keeps 'rogue' copies and previous versions that had been modified and then uses those as the base to write the next mod, when we are more than 5 mods ahead of what was in the desktop copy. You can tell them and lead the horse to the water...but you can't make them drink it and use the right mod!

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Paperless would be nice but, at least here, it would be risky. Our PD2 system seems unreliable at best (meaning it is not uncommon for PD2 to crash and be down for hours or even days). And like jad, when PD2 goes down, I am pretty much paralyzed as well. And if you have to bring documents to a meeting, I prefer to have the whole contract with me as there always seem to be additional questions. And since we don't have laptops, we cannot just open the document.

And my KO prefers to make any changes by handwriting it onto the paper since he isn't too good with typing.

But paperless would be nice as I feel that I am single-handedly wiping out whole forests.

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we are utilizing PCF Paperless contracting file (web based) as our official contract file. While it is "great" idea, it is a PITA.

All documents are to be electronically signed and uploaded to this website in the appropriate cabinet.

A cabinet has to be created for each modification or TO/DO on this website.

but there is not tethering of the original award cabinet.

slow to upload, not user friendly to access.

We are now in process of running compliance reports, but the only way to verify the information is uploaded correctly is to review each cabinet.

and when originally started, no standard naming nomeclature for the documents to be uploaded.

having used both, give me a paper file. much easier to access and find stuff. Can do it much quicker.

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Thanks for the responses guys. I am actually working on a project to ge Paperless procedures implemented at my office. With regards to going paperless, I don't see much of an argument for not doing it. It saves money in supplies, files never get lost, saves on storage costs, and audits could be performed remotely thus, saving on TDY costs.

Sure, there may be some accessibility/reliability issues, ie...what happens when the system is down? But to answer that you have to ask yourself, what could you accomplish by having a paper contract but no computer? I think its safe to say that most of us are dead in the water without our computers. I myself did a contingency sint in Afghanistan, and we ran our power off a diesel generator. Sometimes it went out, and there was nothing we could do, but most of the time it worked fine and we still got the job done outages or not.

Also, I don't think its practical to eliminate paper completely. You should be be able to jot down notes, or print off some handouts for a conference. However for business, I think there is no good reason to not make everything paperless. . I realize its more preferable to review documents on paper rather than computer screens, however organizations could adopt a "print then destroy policy".

Anyway enough of that rant. My previous organization also used PCF. Are there any systems folks out there that might know how I could get my organization access to it? Or is it something we have to procure seperately with our own funds? We are a DoD Component. Any info would appreciated.

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Check with ACC at Redstone, PCF is part of the Virtual Contracting enterprise now.

send you a PM with a contact link

Edited by airborne373

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I'd like to re-open this conversation under a slightly different light. Is there anyone out there in private industry that uses or has seen a contract administration system that allows for effective organization and management of prime contracts? I have clients that use a mix of Windows File Manager, Sharepoint, and one that says they use GovWin for this purpose (though I haven't seen this myself). Anybody have experience with other systems that they can share?

Thanks in advance!

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