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shall7

Should Contractors TEACH Contracting Officers how to Write SOWs?

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An interesting draft SOW came across my desk the other day.  A customer (high level office in the Pentagon) is seeking to hire contractors to help its own contracting officers/specialists and other agencies' specialists learn how to write effective SOWs...

The goal would be to create a training program that teaches contract specialists how to write effectively.

This appears to be completely backwards (circular Excel reference error comes to mind), and quite honestly, very embarrassing for this agency as well as government as a whole.

Their apparent solution to the problem:  If the DAU can't create a course to accomplish this or an agency lacks competent leadership to teach its employees to write effective SOWs, just throw money at the problem (ironically with a bad SOW probably) and see what sticks?

Any comments, thoughts?

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Are you aware that the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI, the non-DoD civilian agency counterpart to Defense Acquisition University) operates entirely on the business model you seem to think is completely backwards? FAI hires contractors to teach civilian agency employees.

PepeTheFrog thinks you really, really need to re-think this one.

It seems like you think only federal employees should teach other federal employees...is this a joke?

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So the FAI (and DAU?) course content is created by contractors?  Instructors are contractors at FAI?  Perhaps a better approach would be for the FAI or DAU to create a new course?

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I don't think it is backwards.  Both need to have good writing skills.  I've seen poorly written work from both customers and contracting folks.

I don't think a instructor's status as a contractor or Federal employee is relevant.  What matters is that the content of the course and that the person providing the instruction be knowledgeable and an expert with the subject matter.  Many of the contractor staff were once Federal employees.

Also, while formal training may be one way of addressing the issue, it will not solve the problem.  Just look at the training programs required to obtain the various levels of DAWIA or FAC-C certification.  This training alone does not create competent contracting professionals.  I would argue that other elements such as on-the-job training, having a good supervisor, seeking out opportunities to improve one's own skills, practice, and being held (and holding one's self) accountable are more important factors in solving the problem.  Even if an individual has the benefit of these things, not having adequate time to allocate to writing a PWS/SOW/spec is could result in a poorly written document.

If I were unhappy with the solution offered by leadership or thought the training missed the mark, I would go out and seek my own knowledge.  I wouldn't wait for the agency to teach me.  I would then share it with my co-workers by providing OJT and tools/guides to help them do their job better.  I've recently took over responsibility for writing and maintaining our agency's policy.  I know that my writing needs to be improved, despite being at it for 20+ years.  So I looked to sources of information like the GPO Style Guide, our agency style guide, reviewed plain writing materials, and looked up grammar rules on the Internet.  I'm still learning.

There is a four hour DAU course on the subject (CLM 031 Improved Statement of Work).

Lastly, hopefully folks are writing more performance work statements than statements of work.

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1 hour ago, shall7 said:

Perhaps a better approach would be for the FAI or DAU to create a new course?

PepeTheFrog's curiosity has shifted to utter bewilderment.

shall7, please, PepeTheFrog begs you, share your thoughts:

1. Are you aware that if you were to switch out your federal badge for a contractor badge, you would remain the same person?

2. Why do you seem to imply that the results will be better if federal employees of FAI or DAU create or teach courses, rather than non-federal employees?

3. Have you sat through more than two DAU courses? Have you sat through more than two industry courses? Which ones? What was your experience?

4. In your interests you listed entrepreneurship and capitalism. What do you like about entrepreneurship and capitalism?

 

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Shall7,

Your assumption that contractors cannot (or should not, I'm not sure which) deliver educational value runs counter to the basic purpose of the federal procurement system as a whole...why is it not okay to use contractors for education/training purposes, but it is okay to use contractors for other services/requirements?  Shouldn't the Government just do everything itself rather than "throw money at the problem(s)?"  Where is the bright line?

I'll just add the following:

  • I've been through the DAU courses, the Naval Postgraduate School's MBA program, as well as years of agency designed/delivered monthly training and the best contracting course I've taken was designed and taught by a contractor...so I don't share your concern in the slightest.
  • The Government does not have a monopoly on contracting/acquisition information - the best publications, in my opinion, aren't even written by Government/DAU officials.  Should Government acquisition professionals not utilize those works and instead be tied to only DAU resources?

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1 hour ago, PepeTheFrog said:

PepeTheFrog's curiosity has shifted to utter bewilderment.

shall7, please, PepeTheFrog begs you, share your thoughts:

1. Are you aware that if you were to switch out your federal badge for a contractor badge, you would remain the same person?

2. Why do you seem to imply that the results will be better if federal employees of FAI or DAU create or teach courses, rather than non-federal employees?

3. Have you sat through more than two DAU courses? Have you sat through more than two industry courses? Which ones? What was your experience?

4. In your interests you listed entrepreneurship and capitalism. What do you like about entrepreneurship and capitalism?

 

 I see your point, and I agree.

1. Yes.

2. The results would probably be worse if the government relied only on its own processes to solve the problem.  I see your point.

3. I have been through course through 280 for the Level II cert in Contracting.  I felt the courses' content was good but the time allotted to do them was far too long.  The courses could all have been reduced in time by at least 50%.  I have always thought the DAU courses could be improved. I see your point.

4. Industry is almost always better at finding solutions to problems.  I see your point.

 

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59 minutes ago, Matthew Fleharty said:

Shall7,

Your assumption that contractors cannot (or should not, I'm not sure which) deliver educational value runs counter to the basic purpose of the federal procurement system as a whole...why is it not okay to use contractors for education/training purposes, but it is okay to use contractors for other services/requirements?  Shouldn't the Government just do everything itself rather than "throw money at the problem(s)?"  Where is the bright line?

I'll just add the following:

  • I've been through the DAU courses, the Naval Postgraduate School's MBA program, as well as years of agency designed/delivered monthly training and the best contracting course I've taken was designed and taught by a contractor...so I don't share your concern in the slightest.
  • The Government does not have a monopoly on contracting/acquisition information - the best publications, in my opinion, aren't even written by Government/DAU officials.  Should Government acquisition professionals not utilize those works and instead be tied to only DAU resources?

You highlight some great points.  This has all been very helpful.  Industry does have the answers, not the government.  I see your point.

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14 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

That's not true. 

Industry has the answers most of the time?

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38 minutes ago, shall7 said:

Industry has the answers most of the time?

No. Except for the big boys like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and such, most of industry is clueless.

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Shall7, I don't know if you are aware that most major universities in the US are contractors.  Contracting with them to teach effective writing, which would seem to be a prerequisite to writing effective SOWs, doesn't seem like a bad idea.  I suspect that most people graduating from college in the last several years could probably use an effective writing course.

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5 hours ago, shall7 said:

Their apparent solution to the problem:  If the DAU can't create a course to accomplish this or an agency lacks competent leadership to teach its employees to write effective SOWs, just throw money at the problem (ironically with a bad SOW probably) and see what sticks?

Any comments, thoughts?

What if the contractor were Vern Edwards? Would that be throwing money at the problem?

There's a lot of talented acquisition people out there that don't work for DAU. In fact, DAU routinely hires contractors to develop its courses. CON 280 was developed by a contractor. The new curriculum for small business professionals was developed by a contractor. If we were tasked with developing a course for writing more effective SOWs, we'd probably hire a contractor. 

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35 minutes ago, Retreadfed said:

Shall7, I don't know if you are aware that most major universities in the US are contractors.  Contracting with them to teach effective writing, which would seem to be a prerequisite to writing effective SOWs, doesn't seem like a bad idea.  I suspect that most people graduating from college in the last several years could probably use an effective writing course.

Retreadfed, you indicated that contracting with [most major universities in the US] to teach effecting writing doesn't seem like a bad idea. Then, you said "I suspect that most people graduating from college in the last several years could probably use an effective writing course."

I got a big chuckle out of that!  😂

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8 minutes ago, joel hoffman said:

I got a big chuckle out of that!  😂

End federal subsidies and guarantees of student loans, subject student loans to actual scrutiny and expected value, and watch college enrollment drop like a rock, college tuition prices drop like a rock, and majors like "gender studies" disappear almost entirely. "Higher education" is a racket that blew a $1T+ bubble.

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While many universities have courses on effective writing, many undergrads do not take them.  Instead, they take "relevant" courses such as "how the Seinfeld Show affected modern society."  In this regard, how many supposedly educated people do you hear say such things as "where we are at" or "raise up"?

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No one should be permitted to take a course in statement of work preparation until they've successfully completed a course in service requirements analysis, which must include training in conceptual analysis.

No one should be permitted to take a course in service requirements analysis until they have been given and passed an essay exam in which they must coherently explain: 1. What is a service? and 2. What is a task?

While writing skill is important in SOW preparation, it is not as important as analytical skill. A university course in effective writing is not necessary for statement of work preparation. In fact, an effective writing course might be an impediment.

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1 hour ago, PepeTheFrog said:

End federal subsidies and guarantees of student loans, subject student loans to actual scrutiny and expected value, and watch college enrollment drop like a rock, college tuition prices drop like a rock, and majors like "gender studies" disappear almost entirely. "Higher education" is a racket that blew a $1T+ bubble.

 

57 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

While writing skill is important in SOW preparation, it is not as important as analytical skill. A university course in effective writing is not necessary for statement of work preparation. In fact, an effective writing course might be an impediment.

Some of the least value-added courses may, in fact, lead to increased critical thinking and analytical skills.

Or, liberal arts studies are still some of the best places to learn critical thinking and analytical skills. Plus writing skills.

Or, education for education's sake is still something to which I aspire.

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One of the best contracting guys I ever knew had majored in philosophy at a Catholic university. He used to lose us when he referred to St. Thomas or some Kantian doctrine, and we thought he was a little spacey sometimes. But i remember that in negotiations, if the contractor's rep was explaining something about their pricing and he started to smile and then chuckle quietly, you could see the fear in their eyes. It must have been like playing cards with Doc Holliday. When he was on staff and reviewed contracts and files, and if I made some argument on behalf of this or that thing I was doing, a chill went up my spine when he looked at me and said, "Oh, really?" It was like the knell of doom.

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