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Almond2020

Fed seeking private sector employment

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I was previously in the private sector but wanted experience as a Contract Officer. After giving it some time, I feel as if I have made a terrible decision. It is nothing that I thought it would be. My time as a fed has been a living nightmare, really.

I don’t want to make a rash decision. I’m aware there's conflict of interest/revolving door laws for feds. What I’m unsure about is how I can still responsibly pursue private sector employment. I would be prohibited from seeking employment for any company I may have awarded contracts over $10m. Is it possible to apply to other contractors while employed as a fed? Like for instance (dramatic example), if you worked for NASA, but applied for a company that studied the characteristics of tree sap in Oregon, would that be ok? Anyone have any thoughts or guidance? Thank you.

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Do you have an ethics counselor or attorney? They can answer specific questions.

"Is it possible to apply to other contractors while employed as a fed? Like for instance (dramatic example), if you worked for NASA, but applied for a company that studied the characteristics of tree sap in Oregon, would that be ok"

If you didnt award the contract, participate in the selection of the contractor or administer the contract, what would be the conflict of interest?

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See FAR 3.104-3( c) and (d) for the prohibitions. See also FAR 3.104-6, "Ethics advisory opinions regarding prohibitions on a former official's acceptance of compensation from a contractor."

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Since you are in Contracting, I know that you must be subject to ethics training. So contact the office that trains you for "one" version of an answer to a specific question. Vern gave you a citation for the FAR process. There are probably agency ethics/conflict of interest regulations in addition to the FAR cites that Vern provided. Army certainly has them. As a civl service retiree, my former office provides a monthly ethics column in its Bulletin that I receive in the mail.

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Joel asked if you have an ethics counselor. You DO have an ethics counselor. Find him or her before you do anything. Beyond the restrictions stemming from the Procurement Integrity Act that Vern pointed out, there are a number of criminal statutes that may restrict your activities while job hunting and after leaving the Government. The rules are complicated and the answers require detailed fact analysis. Having said all that, the applicable restrictions aren't draconian (unless they intersect with the one job in the whole world that you're set on) and won't require you to seek work as a barista.

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I have read both FAR 3.104-3© and (d) and FAR 3.104-6. I have also read 5 CFR Parts 2637 and 2641. I have not done any of the activities explained in FAR 3.104-3 (d) (1) (ii). I do not plan to seek employment with any contractor that I participated personally or substantially on anything. I would plan to speak to an ethics officer to be sure of my situation but I would like to know some of the outcome before contacting him/her. After reading 3.104-6 again, I read it to say it applies only to those who do not know whether they would be precluded from applying to a certain contractor. Since I already know that I don't meet any of the criteria in section (d) of the act, I don't know where that leaves me. I wouldn't make a good barista, Craigmccaa.

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Criminy, I don't know what your apparent trepidation is with speaking to the ethics officer. Do you work for a DoD component? The FAR tends to concentrate on procurement integrity. There are other regulations which may cover post employment restrictions. You can do an Internet search for example. Since I'm not working in a Corps District Office, here is one that I found in about 30 seconds. http://www.turbotap....ng_the_Military. Try several sites to distinguish between military/civilian and DoD/non-DOD rules. I imagine that the JAG Office has some material covering post employment restrictions, as a DoD employee.

The simplest explanation is that if you didnt have any dealings with a firm while working for the government, you dont have to worry about working for them. If you did have dealings with them, you better discuss it with your ethics officer.

If I was still working full time, I'd walk downstairs to the Office of Counsel or call the personnel office and ask for the applicable regulations or statutory restrictions.. Its not rocket science.

.

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When I was considering leaving the civil service for a private sector job, the first thing I did was take an inventory of every vendor, contractor, subcontractor, etc. that I had dealt with as a Contract Specialist. All of them were off the list, so I did not apply for any positions with those firms. I also spoke with the ethics officer for my office, let that person know my intent and showed him my list of no-gos. He issued me a letter stating that he had no legal issues with my search.

When it was time to leave the civil service for position with a DoD contractor, I met with the office ethics officer again, he verified that I had not worked on any contracts or DO/TOs that involved that company and documented that information in a second letter. Shortly after that, I resigned and went to work for that company. I would still be there but the division I worked in was shut down about 2 years after I started there, and I returned to civil service where I am working today.

It's not rocket science, and the only pitfall that I can see would be if the the ethics officer spilled the beans that you were thinking about leaving to your current supervisor, which might make for some uncomfortable meetings if you have not communicated your intentions to your supervisor earlier.

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Okay, the ethics thing has gotten boring. What's really interesting is this from the opening post:

I was previously in the private sector for a few years doing contract administration. I enjoyed it immensely, but wanted experience as a Contract Officer. Well over a year into it, I feel as if I have made a terrible decision. It is nothing that I thought it would be, and I'm capable of performing far more. My time as a fed has been a living nightmare, really.

Almond2020:

I would like to know:

1. Why was it a terrible decision? How is the job different than you expected?

2. In what way has your time as a fed has been a "living nightmare"?

Please ignore my request if the answers are based on purely personnel issues, and forgive what may seem to be prying. That is not my intent. But if the answers are based on job content and working conditions, then I would like to know more, assuming that you are comfortable with explaining.

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I do not plan to seek employment with any contractor that I participated personally or substantially on anything.

OK, I'll give this one more try. I can't tell whether the above quote reflects your understanding of the applicable rules or just an overcautious approach to postgovernment employment, but ironically the approach both you and Vecchia (in post #8) descibe is far more restrictive than the rules require.

As I said in my previous post: complicated rules requiring detailed fact analysis. Find your ethics counselor and provide him or her with the necessary facts.

And although part of my job is as an ethics counselor, I'm more interested in your answers to Vern's questions.

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As someone at a major Air Force contracting activity who spent several years as an ethics counselor where 75+% of my time was post-government employment counseling, I offer the following advice. You have two choices. Rely on your reading of the general rules and ignore the advice of virtually everyone who has responded to see an ethics counselor, or GO SEE THE ETHICS SOUNSELOR. Why on (or above or below) earth would you "like to know some of the outcome before contacting" the ethics officer? Are you afraid of the answer (it doesn't seem like it) or are you planning to tailor your response to questions in order to get the right answer (again, it doesn't seem like it)?

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Wow, I too would love to hear the answers to Vern's questions. While I wouldn't characterize my experiences as "nightmares" I must admit that being a Contracting Officer has become more and more of a challenge. I've found myself having to protect contractors from rogue COR's, leadership that relies too heavily on office gossip and tattle telling than facts, an unwillingness to accept an 80% solution when sometimes expediency calls for it, personal attacks from clients that think you are in "bed with" the contractors simply because you have to enforce what is written in the contract and not what they thought. The list goes on and on. But, years ago I wrote to this forum when I was ready to give up and was told to hang in there. I'm glad I did. I hope that you do provide some answers to Vern's questions because I believe you might find that you are not alone, and, the answers may help you or someone else that is going through something similar. Good luck either way.

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Vern, I know you're aware of the many pitfalls of working as a present day 1102- the overly burdensome admin work, the shoddy procurement systems, the 200 databases everything has to be entered into, the filing, the feds retiring in droves while inexperienced COs fill the void, just to name a few. I think I underestimated the monotony that goes along with the position while overestimating the amount of actual thoughtful analysis whether financial or legal that is required for the position. To make matters worse, you have a workforce that is constantly battered down and used as a political pawn. Morale is abysmal. GoGOLD made some good points too. I appreciate everyone's input. I have no plans on avoiding ethics. wvanpup- your comments are well taken- what I meant is I want to be prepared, that is all. Can you speak to what, if any, confidentiality one could expect during such a conversation (w/ethics)?

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In a related note, I have been corresponding with an acquaintance who has left the private sector and has been trying to get a specialist job with DCMA (not an 1102 position--something very specialized). I received this email from him recently--

... you are not going to believe this, or maybe you will...after being told that I was their top choice (by far), and to wait for an offer, the [ ] position was filled with someone else. When I asked what happened, I was basically told that they thought I was overqualified, and they really just wanted [ ], and that I could do much more...but that they had posted the job at a 13 by mistake, and it should have been a 12. When I asked if they hired the person as a 12 or 13, they said a 13! So they would rather OVERPAY an underqualified person than Underpay a highly qualified person? Maybe I am not cut out for government work, this has been the most frustrating and exasperating thing in my life. ....

H2H

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Almond2020: Ethics counselors are almost always attorneys, but their communications with their clients are not subject to an attorney-client privilege. I advised the people who sought my assistance that not only could I reveal information they gave to me, but if they told me something that indicated they had violated a statute or regulation I might be compelled to disclose the information. However, I also told them that I considered the communication as between me and them, not necessarily "confidential" if that implies an obligation to not disclose anything but more as a respect for their desire to keep things private.

That is my standard. It is not a required standard, and I have no idea what standard is applied by the ethics counselor(s) at your location. I also have never been concerned about letting my supervisor know if I was applying for another position, because I have been blessed with supervisors who recognize that promotion in the Government almost always means changing jobs and therefore did not consider me a traitor for seeking a better job. YMMV

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Vern, I know you're aware of the many pitfalls of working as a present day 1102- the overly burdensome admin work, the shoddy procurement systems, the 200 databases everything has to be entered into, the filing, the feds retiring in droves while inexperienced COs fill the void, just to name a few. I think I underestimated the monotony that goes along with the position while overestimating the amount of actual thoughtful analysis whether financial or legal that is required for the position. To make matters worse, you have a workforce that is constantly battered down and used as a political pawn. Morale is abysmal. GoGOLD made some good points too. I appreciate everyone's input. I have no plans on avoiding ethics. wvanpup- your comments are well taken- what I meant is I want to be prepared, that is all. Can you speak to what, if any, confidentiality one could expect during such a conversation (w/ethics)?

Almond2020 et. al.: Just to throw another log on this fire - is Almond2020's experience increasingly typical? That is, setting aside the many irritations that attach to almost all federal employees' jobs, (i.e. sequestration, pay freezes, negative societal attitudes towards goverment, overworked, underpaid, etc.) is the 1102 world getting better, worse, or about the same? If worse, why? If better, why? I know individual experiences differ, but I wonder what those with at least 15+ years of experience as 1102s would say - from a 50,000 foot type of perspective. I doubt there was ever a truly "golden era" of federal contracting: when leadership understood the legal and time restraints involved, when customers were responsive and supportive, when legal and policy reviews were always on time and helpful, when there was adequate resources and personnel for effective contract oversight, when contractors were always above board, when there was time for thoughtful analysis of they type that Almond2020 admirably seeks, etc. (Chanelling Edith Bunker at the piano). In other words, I'm to know curious what has fundamentally changed from previous eras that is (apparently) making the 1102's life more miserable (or better).

Thoughts? Comments?

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Some thoughts:

I'm not sure what you mean by "golden age." I can tell you that there was a time when:

(1) the regulations were less complex and easier to learn,

(2 the average contracting workload was smaller,

(3) 1102s had more clerical support,

(4) there was much less reporting and data entry work,

(5) 1102s (contract specialist) did not do 1105 (purchasing agent) work, except in extraordinary circumstances, and

(6) promotions were much slower, so it took longer to reach GS-12 and higher, and so the average person had more and broader experience and knew more by the time they reached GS-12 than is usually the case today.

I think that 30 years ago was a better time to be an 1102, though I wouldn't call it a golden age. The worst thing about today's 1102 world is the amount of clerical work, including data entry. People who became 1102s during the data entry age don't know anything else, but those of us who were around before can remember when that work was not as big a part of the 1102's job as it is today. I think the 1102 job is much less interesting and much more tedious than it once was.

Bottom line: I am easily bored and need a challenge, so I would not pursue an 1102 career today, and I routinely advise bright young people not to pursue an 1102 career if they have better options. Some offices do interesting, professionally demanding work, but even then the size of the contracting workload and the 1105, clerical, and data-entry workload detract from job satisfaction. On the other hand, an 1102 job offers steady employment and can be okay if you just want at least moderately good pay and benefits and will not be easily upset by the downside facets of being a government employee -- pay freezes, furloughs, etc.

1102 career quality could be greatly improved, but the current generation of political and career leaders cannot/will not make the necessary changes.

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I hear a lot of this type of "complaining/quitting" regarding the government contracting career field in this discussion forum and in the office. At the same time, some of the more thoughtful and/or experienced people on this forum seem to thoroughly enjoy this profession so it made me think, why? Then, I heard this quote the other day on the radio. I think it's appropriate to this discussion:

"The most impractical advice in the world...follow your dreams

I say, follow your effort...if you're working at it, you're gonna get good at it, and if you're good at it you're gonna like it and if you like it you're eventually gonna be great at it."

REALITY CHECK: Most people never work in their dream profession.

In this career, "working at it" is a long process and most people don't work at it. That involves a lot of reading and so they never get good at government contracting and in turn hate their job.

My advice, you can keep bouncing around until you find that "dream job" or you can dig in, open the books, learn, enjoy and be great at it. When I mean learn, don't rely exclusively on DAU. You will learn more through your own effort and reading.

Everyone's situation is different, but if you're in the game you might as well work at it, enjoy it, and be great at it. OR, you can always keep searching for that perfect job.

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Given what you describe as your working conditions, why are you glad you hung in there?

Vern, sorry for the late reply I had an evaluation board to attend to! I'm glad I hung in there because ultimately contracting is a fascinating field. I've met some brilliant people, government and private sector. I have the opportunity to travel the world if I so desire. I perform a service to the American taxpayer when I exercise my brain cells and negotiate a contract at the best possible price. There are jerks in all works of life. You cannot let them define you. I want to see change in this field, but, there aren't too many of us left willing to go the extra mile to fight for that change. Vern, I've got too much time left to walk away, therefore, all I can do is hope that if enough of us hang around when and if the political climate changes such that true leaders can be heard the career field will get better for everyone. I'm a hopeless optimist with a fairly strong back.

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Some thoughts:

I'm not sure what you mean by "golden age." I can tell you that there was a time when:

(1) the regulations were less complex and easier to learn,

(2 the average contracting workload was smaller,

(3) 1102s had more clerical support,

(4) there was much less reporting and data entry work,

(5) 1102s (contract specialist) did not do 1105 (purchasing agent) work, except in extraordinary circumstances, and

(6) promotions were much slower, so it took longer to reach GS-12 and higher, and so the average person had more and broader experience and knew more by the time they reached GS-12 than is usually the case today.

I think that 30 years ago was a better time to be an 1102, though I wouldn't call it a golden age. The worst thing about today's 1102 world is the amount of clerical work, including data entry. People who became 1102s during the data entry age don't know anything else, but those of us who were around before can remember when that work was not as big a part of the 1102's job as it is today. I think the 1102 job is much less interesting and much more tedious than it once was.

Bottom line: I am easily bored and need a challenge, so I would not pursue an 1102 career today, and I routinely advise bright young people not to pursue an 1102 career if they have better options. Some offices do interesting, professionally demanding work, but even then the size of the contracting workload and the 1105, clerical, and data-entry workload detract from job satisfaction. On the other hand, an 1102 job offers steady employment and can be okay if you just want at least moderately good pay and benefits and will not be easily upset by the downside facets of being a government employee -- pay freezes, furloughs, etc.

1102 career quality could be greatly improved, but the current generation of political and career leaders cannot/will not make the necessary changes.

Vern, I was wondering what career fields do you recommend for bright young people as opposed to 1102? What if someone had approximately 10 years of contracting experience but was looking for a change? Thanks.

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I'm afraid that I don't have any recommendations. Contracting is an administrative job, and I suspect that most such jobs are similar in that you spend most of your time in a cubicle or in meetings, you participate in various administrative processes, analyze this or that, decide this or that, produce documents, enter data, etc. I assume that there are many such kinds of jobs. Some such jobs are better than others. I suspect that many such jobs were more interesting and even fun before the age of the personal computer and desktop data processing.

I stumbled into contracting after military service and college. it was not a conscious choice. I just needed a job. I got lucky in terms of where I worked. I would not choose contracting as a job today. Wouldn't even consider it. I don't know what I would choose to do, but it would not be an administrative job of any kind. I can think of all kinds of things I'd rather do for a living.

I know this isn't much help, and I'm sorry. Maybe someone else has some ideas.

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There are some good things about the contracting career field -- I chose it because my father was a contracting officer in the early Vietnam years -- had a cash warrant and bought needed supplies in Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, and wherever else with case -- then went to an embassy, turned in his papers, and filled up his bag with more cash. Every agency has 1102s, and they are spread all over the place, in large cities and small towns. And our grade structure is very good, compared with many other federal careers requiring just a bachelor's degree. Yes, we're over-clericalized and we're peons to our automated systems. To me, it's still a good job.

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