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Motorcity

Would you do it all over again?

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This morning I had an interesting discussion with eight veteran contracting officers (all near retirement age). We were all killing time around the table in a meeting room waiting for a presentation to start. I was the youngest of the group by 30 years and I am only about 4 years into the 1102 world (31 y.o). The casual topic of the "state" of contracting was up in the air and everyone shared their experiences in the field. So I asked the entire group if they would recommend entering into the 1102 field to anyone under 30 and I didn't get a single hand. Not a one. As a matter of fact, every person told me that they wouldn't even try to work for the government if they had to choose between public and private sectors.

So would you go into the 1102 field if you had the chance to do it all over again? What do you tell younger co-workers regarding the field and its future?

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No. I would not go into the 1102 career field if I had to do it again.

Today I would tell young workers to do something else. The government can be a good place to work if you find the right organization, with the right mission, and the right work. Contracting was, but no longer is, the right work. Everyone I know of my generation is happy to be out of it or is looking forward to getting out, and I know senior people of the next generation who are very unhappy with the work.

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Motorcity,

I've thought about this lately as well. I too, have been in the field for about four years, and am in the same age bracket as yourself. This question has come up in my office as well, although usually one-on-one or in groups of a few folks. The frustration is fairly widespread. Seems the consensus is that advancement opportunity is good, and potentially getting better with the retirement of so many baby boomers, but that seems to be where the optimism ends.

I suppose the bigger question is do you like what you're doing? After four years, you should have some idea of whether you like the field or not. If the answer is yes, than I suggest you find out what your co-workers don't like, and see if another agency or 1102 position might be a better place to move towards (e.g. systems PCO, cost/price analyst, etc.).

As for me, I am undecided about long term prospects in contracting. I'm considering the private sector, or possibly a change in occupational series (i.e. out of the 1102 job series). I do like contracting, but find the work to be stressful and unrewarding more often than not. I'll be interested to hear what other 1102s have to say about this.

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We already suffer from a lack of leadership. It's terrible to think that the next generation of senior people will be those who dislike the work, but stayed in the field in order to "advance".

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I've had 25 years of federal service, but only the last 10 in contracting. Even in that short a timeframe, I have noticed a shift in contracting that is disturbing. Instead of contracting professionals being "professionals", the wave of standardization and simplification has made the field boring and uninspiring. At the rate of this "progression", in 5-10 years there will no longer be a need for GS-9/11/12/13/14s to do the work of a true contracting professional as it is being reduced to the level where you can have a bunch of GS-4 clerks fill out the templates and then submit it for signature.

Now, all that being said in those 10 years I have moved from a GS-7 up to a GS-14, so progression in this field is possible. I would recommend that if contracting is something that interests you, really get into it. Read, research, and learn so that you can grow in this field and so that you can be the person in your organization who can offer innovative ideas instead of just following the "do it quickly and move to the next project" wave.

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My own experience is that advancement (progression) has not been a problem if you are intelligent, competent, and willing to relocate from time to time. If you don't want to move you are going to have less frequent opportunities.

Desperado made a good point about standardization and simplification. Increased dollar thresholds, commercial items policy, and the availability of GSA Federal Supply Schedules, MACs, and GWACs has made most buying relatively simple. Most contracting actions above the SAT are orders against existing contracts and modifications. I've said this before: most contracting work is purchasing agent (GS-1105) work. It does not require a college degree. But there are some jobs, like the job of being a contracting officer in the Global Positioning System program office or the Launch Vehicles program office of the Air Force Space and MIssile Systems Center, or similar jobs at places like the Missile Defense Agency and other such places, that demand considerable knowledge and skill. Those kinds of jobs are the real GS-1102 jobs. Those jobs are relatively few in number. For a long time, the leadership has oversold contracting work to prospective recruits. All that talk during the 1990s about COs being "business managers" has misled a lot of people. Moreover, the volume of administrative and clerical work laid on 1102s has taken much of the pleasure out of contracting.

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The nature of contracting jobs definately changed. 1102 work is moving more towards repetitive, clerical tasks in many instances including placing task/delivery orders under contracts. As the government moves towards more consolidated contracts including GWACS and governmentwide startegic sourcing vehicles, this likely will increase. Even more complex things like preparing solicitation and contracts can be done by novies using automated tools as opposed to replying on experience and extensive expertise.

On the other hand, the scope of 1102 is broadening and becoming more challenging in different ways. As opposed to being the resident "FAR expert", many 1102s are relied upon as being the "business expert" and guide progarm offices through the acquisition maze. The need now is more for an 1102 that learns what the program is all about, sees what's needed to make the program better, understnds industry and what solutions are available, translates that into statements of requirements, assists in developing business cases, helps develops acquisition strategies, determine what is the best procurement method, decides the ideal source selection process, etc. But it also includes knowing traditional contracting and ensuring the proper things occur like price/cost analysis is performed, a favorable price results, the right contract is written, etc.

As far as the government is concerned, there are many benefits if you end up at the right place - serving your country well, assisting in achieving a meaningful mission and purpose, assuming responsibility for really significant things, rapid progressions and recognition for jobs well done, and relatively good benefits. Despite all the attention paid to furloughs and pay freezes, that's much better than the private sector fared. Instead of furlough days, private sector employers just eliminate jobs. You face different pressures than just achieving your mission like increasing profits, growing new business, deciding on how gets fired, etc.

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formerfed:

I don't think the government is moving toward clericalization. I think its there, and by management choice. The disease may still be spreading, but the epidemic is well underway.

I don't think the scope of 1102 work is broadening as a general trend, although that may be happening in a very few places. I don't think that "many" 1102s are being used as "business experts." By the mass, they're not even FAR "experts."

I don't doubt that your comments reflect your experiences and observations, but I wonder how much of the 1102 world you have seen lately. I get around, and by and large I do not see or hear good things, and very little that reflects your on-the-bright-side comments.

I'm not trying to be pessimistic or negative, just honest about my own experience. I have had enough of the exaggerations about the 1102 career field. I consciously try not to use the term professional with respect to 1102s. I prefer the word practitioner. Professional means something in terms of habits of thought and practice, and I don't see it in most contracting offices.

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Vern,

I defer to your experience because you have much more contract with the larger 1102 population. But what I do see are some 1102s progressing rapidly by doing new and diffrent things like taking program management training, volunteering for assignments in program and PMO offices, getting involved in DoD 5000 acquisition projects, etc. There seems to be a huge demand for people that understand and can apply both contracting and acquisition.

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I see that, too. I wrote a blog post about one young person who left the 1102 series to become a program manager and then a manager of program managers. http://www.wifcon.com/discussion/index.php?/blog/2/entry-93-but-can-we-keep-them/

She's 32 and now a GS-15.

If you qualify and are willing and able to take the heat and the risks, program management is the place to be. A former colleague of mine left the 1102 career field to become a PM and eventually became an SES occupying a major general's (two-star) position.

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I did 6 years as a Fed before going private - the money is way better and much more rewarding if you're willing to put in the time/energy to get it.

In the 10+ years I've worked in the private sector, I've watched how COs rarely last longer than my contracts now.

The CO's I worked with years ago seemed more in control of the contract than CO's now. I see few very good COs now; too many let their COTRs push them around. I think is because CO work has become more standardized and the "power" that someone running a program has over someone that's viewed as only administering paperwork.

If I did it all over again in government, I would have try to get into a Program Management role. And not just any PM role, something that deals directly with the Agency's mission.

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From what I have observed over the past few years a lot of the more talented contracting officers that I have worked with have looked toward program management as a better use of their many and varied skills. I my self have applied for some program management positions without success. I would say that in order to be the program manager you would really need to follow the track of first being a project manager and live in the trenches for a couple of years.

There are niches of great places to work throughout the Government as a contract specialist though, and I have been very fortunate to find these positions about 50% of the time.

I'm a rather basic guy, but to me it comes down to being able to do meaningful work that ties directly to what the Government should be doing according to the preamble U.S. Constitution: "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare". To me, in my career of public service, if I am doing something profound that points directly to one of these four ideas, then I am doing meaningful work.

After that, if in doing your work you can say that both you have done what you can to provide others with the tools that they need to do their job, and if you are being provided the tools and resources that you need to do your job, then you're already better off than half of your conterparts at other agencies. At that point, do your best to be an expert at the basics, find a way to be a leader of the Acquisition Team - either formally or informally, then the rest will take care of itself. If you're good at what you're doing you'll be rewarded wtih advancement, if not, then you're a good American contributing to society.

So yeah, I'd do it all again, and I'd shape the minds of others to make their work place a better place as I can and would expect others to do the same.

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Formerfed nailed it in post #9. I too see contracting turning into an automated career on the execution side of things and COs/CSs taking on more of the role as acquisition advisor, i.e. just guiding coworkers through the "acquistion maze".

I've worked at an AF Systems Center, Base Level (USAF), in the IC, and in a contingency environment over my 10yr career. I enjoy the career much more than I did 5yrs ago primarily because I came across this website. The worst thing that happened to me was DAU. The training actually turned me off to Contracting during my first 5yrs. I believe, we force feed bad training in the first 5yrs which kills retention of 1102s. Reading WIFCON blog posts, daily review of protest results, combing through Nash and Cibinic Reports made publically available, and topically reading the Nash and Cibinic books has taught me infinitely more than DAU ever has or could.

I'm gonna go off on a tangent here:

As I have read numerous times on WIFCON, we need better training to energize new 1102s or the career is doomed. We won't have enough competent folks to teach the generation behind us (do we now?). I really think you have to have a particular mind set to enjoy reading and analyzing procurement regulation, case law, and books. It takes time, is tedious, and requires deep diving on topics which, from what I have read, is the opposite of how my generation consumes information via the internet.

So, I think bad training mixed with generational social changes, together, may undermine the field of contracting.

To answer the poster's question, I would second the comment in post #12:

So yeah, I'd do it all again, and I'd shape the minds of others to make their work place a better place as I can and would expect others to do the same

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Sorry if this is more introspective than philosophical. I left the Government after 5 years, 1 month, and 3 days (but who was counting?). Since then, I've spent about 10 years working in the U.S. and 25 overseas.

It was 1978 when I left the job at Air Force base level, running the Systems Management Branch, riding herd on the antiquated daily batch processing punch card computer system supporting 30 or so folks in the Base Procurement Office (actually just renamed Contracting), still an ASPR-trained young Contracting Officer signing some of the things the computer cranked out.

My job was rated 50% contracting and 50% computer systems manager. What would have happened if I had jumped to the computer side instead of staying on the procurement side where I started? Who knows?

On one hand, I may have been able to retire as a rich techno-geek by now. On the other hand, I may never have been able to travel the world as I did in my younger days, to over 34 different countries, vacations every 3-4 months, then between projects taking my retirement a few months at a time, traveling through Asia with a suitcase and a dive bag, moving on or hanging around as the spirit moved me, and looking for work when the life of leisure began to pall.

Would I do it again? Hard to say.

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These are the kinds of thoughts that sometimes keep me awake at night.

I have only a few years into federal service as an 1102, after years in the private sector.

I have about 5 years left to work until I retire, possibly sooner once I decipher the new health care exchange options resulting from the ACA.

I am concerned about the impacts to my health if I remain in this position for another 5 years. I don't have any background as to what's typical or unusual in federal employment, but I am tossing around the idea of seeking a position one grade lower just to relieve the stress...I am topped out, my next move after this one, is to pasture.

It seems to me that I all I need to do is appy for lower positions - or ask my boss to place me in one as it becomes available? Will this seem an odd request? I have received good performance evals, my guess is they might want to keep me, if this is what it takes...but still in the speculation stages. Any thoughts on this situation? How would it generally be viewed if a person applies for a job that is one grade lower? Thanks

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@AgencySpecialist - not knowing what 1102 position/grade/ (and possibly agency/DoD vs civilian) you are in, it would be hard to comment on whether applying for a lower grade would really make an impact on the stress you are experiencing?

Back in the old days, I got RIF'd to a lower grade but my workload didn't change a bit.

If you are a contract specialist you may find some less stress in being a procurement analyst; however, stress is unique. I got a little bored moving into a supervisory procurement analyst position (before my job was eliminated and I was lateralled back into a contract specialist position).

So, absent the information, cannot say. If you only have a few years into Federal service and are feeling stressed out, welcome. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

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Thanks...I think, lol. I am in a civilian agency where grade seems to be very important to the culture and I know that those just one grade below, receive far less stressful assignments...hence my question.

The Govt has invested a great deal to get me to this particular spot in terms of credentials...it would almost seem a crime to head back to the private side...but I have to look out for myself.

Thanks again.

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Hi Agency Specialist - I can only speak from my own experience, but it sounds likes we might be in the same chronological point in our careers. I would love to retire in 5 years, but will probably need to work for 8 more years (2 kids in their early 20s who are a bit adrift in the cold, hard economy out there). I worked for 20 years in the private sector and then switched to government 1102 work. I have been an 1102 for 12 years now and recently decided to switch to a lower graded position to reduce the stress in my life. I was a supervisor of GS-14 level contracting officers and am now the equivalent of a GS-14 Procurement Analyst working in the Policy and Training area. But, I work with wonderful colleagues and for a wonderful supervisor who have been supportive through the transition process. Also, the administrative side of being a supervisor has never been fun for me. I am much happier managing knowledge than managing people. And lucky me, I now get to delve into interesting contract questions, and give guidance on contracting law, policy and regulations (no sarcasm here, I really do love it). Right now, things are definitely more stressful than I like with the lapse in appropriations. But I can only hope that this will get resolved.

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Okay, well, we all have those days. Today my answer is sure, I would do it over again. But with the current state of the Government and no end in sight, I think it would be best to decide to leave federal service unfortunately earlier than the retirement age of 57 and open a micro brewery / micro distillery.

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My answer is: yes. I would do it all over again. While of course it is important to look at the level of job security of which you are comfortable, growth potential, etc.. it really comes down to whether you enjoy or gain satisfaction from at least 51% of what you do. Personally, I do- but everyone is different.

I like the balance between the specific and general aspects of this profession. As an 1102, one has the ability to dig into certain areas of interest, while also having the luxury of being able to move around through a broad field. This is not an option for many other types of professionals. I think back to my now retired father who worked over 40 years in DOD as a nuclear engineer. His field was hyper-focused on a very specific subject matter and he had very little ability to move around. He was OK with this, but I am different- and thus chose a much different field.

In essence, I would do it all over again- but that is me. Everyone has to assess from their own perspective.

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My 1102 journey starts fairly comparable to the earlier post by 'Cajuncharlie'... started with USAF back in the days of ASPR, but worked in the "Systems Branch” of Base Procurement. Engaged mainly with the folks in Data Processing on ancient programs such as CIAPS, various computer listings, and systems vagaries, hitches, glitches, edits and errors --- schlepping boxes of key-punch cards back & forth after reviewing pin-holes all day. (Yes, the old Burroughs 3500). Never saw much action in either of the other operational branches (Small Purchases, Services, Construction) as I was tracking heavily in Systems, but interacted with these folks as/when needed to clear edits/errors/etc. Eventually gave in to ‘guidance’ to complete procurement skills training and was "volun-told" into ‘rotational training’. Got a lot more seat time in Procurement than I planned, but eventually learned to really enjoy it and never looked back. That is, until sometime recently…!!! Seems the hand-writing was on the wall when our 702s, 1105s and 1106s began to disappear. We were gradually morphed into some kind of hybrid contracting-clerical-administrators. The cascading clerical duties and adverse administrative functions seriously tarnished the glow that was “Contracting”… so, I bailed. Several years later, I returned --- refreshed, renewed and with a new attitude…!!!

I can say it was, well, worth it --- in a 'best-value trade-off' sort of way!

Would I do it again? Yes…

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soboco - i guess I am interested in what you did in the interim, if you don't mind sharing?

GIven the requirements for holding my position, I never would have dreamed, once on the other side of the wall, the amount of clerical data entry required.

Also, have not dealt with a dictatorial management style before, as a professional - perhaps they are used to govt employees who work in govt for life...but when you don't have many years in - some of us who came from other environments, may be working for insurance benefits or life balance - not for promotion or pension...

I am seeking a change, but appreciate the comments here.

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The government can be a fastinating, interesting, and challenging place to be at but often you need to find the work that makes it that way. It's also filled with people in jobs that are rountine and boring. The big issue is I see is competent and bright people get "rewarded" by new assignments and this moves them into less interesting work.

When I left, I noticed about half my time was spent on non contracting things like implementing a new agency time and attendence system, bargaining with employee unions, heading up the CFC campaign, attending numerous non-contracting training, and so many meetings on so many mundane subjects I still can't believe.

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My 1102 journey starts fairly comparable to the earlier post by 'Cajuncharlie'... started with USAF back in the days of ASPR, but worked in the "Systems Branch” of Base Procurement. Engaged mainly with the folks in Data Processing on ancient programs such as CIAPS, various computer listings, and systems vagaries, hitches, glitches, edits and errors --- schlepping boxes of key-punch cards back & forth after reviewing pin-holes all day. (Yes, the old Burroughs 3500). Never saw much action in either of the other operational branches (Small Purchases, Services, Construction) as I was tracking heavily in Systems, but interacted with these folks as/when needed to clear edits/errors/etc. Eventually gave in to ‘guidance’ to complete procurement skills training and was "volun-told" into ‘rotational training’. Got a lot more seat time in Procurement than I planned, but eventually learned to really enjoy it and never looked back. That is, until sometime recently…!!! Seems the hand-writing was on the wall when our 702s, 1105s and 1106s began to disappear. We were gradually morphed into some kind of hybrid contracting-clerical-administrators. The cascading clerical duties and adverse administrative functions seriously tarnished the glow that was “Contracting”… so, I bailed. Several years later, I returned --- refreshed, renewed and with a new attitude…!!!

I can say it was, well, worth it --- in a 'best-value trade-off' sort of way!

Would I do it again? Yes…

This is a GREAT way to describe contract in terms of "best value." One of my first mentors/trainers has been in contracting for many years and had been fortunate to witness this interesting evolution.

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Well this is depressing.

I'm young (26 yo) with about 3 years of 1102 experience. I thought I was lucky to "fall" into a pseudo-internship that got my foot in the door. I chose contracting because it seemed to be a relatively stable career field with excellent promotion potential. It was this or the financial industry, and I chose the lesser of two evils. Vern Edwards lamented in a previous response about people choosing contracting for the promotion potential. I'm not sure what merits one should base their chosen career on but I'm not going to feel bad about sticking with contracting to obtain a higher salary and possible pension. I plan to hang around for a few more years to see if attrition works in my favor but I'm already burnt out.

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