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Eagle93

Ethics and Transparency

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Hi All,

I'm a brand new contract specialist, and frankly I'm having second thoughts about this career choice.  I'm working in a command that's very much a "don't ask questions" kind of place.  For example, I was given permission to look at contracts to learn how they are structured, but was told in no uncertain terms right off the bat  to not even try to look at one contract in particular, "or else," supposedly because my seeing the contract wold compromise the privacy of some on-site contractors. The contract is to procure their support services.

This is not a classified or top-secret environment at all. We are buying very straightforward commercial, off-the-shelf supplies and services.

Another thing is my CO does not like to publicize anything, and for actions over the SAT will go so far as to lie to reviewers in hopes of getting away with it. That looks really bad to me. I totally believe in being transparent.  People in this organization were busted a few years ago for corruption. I would think my command should be bending over backwards to be transparent and demonstrate that they aren't corrupt.

I'm just very uncomfortable with the vibe that I'm working in. They want me to be warranted sooner than later, but I feel like if I'm going to be personally and legally responsible, I should have way more trust and faith in my command than I do.  Am I overreacting? Is it like this everywhere?  

 

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I wouldn't judge the career field based on one experience.  It is not like that everywhere.  I've worked for two different agencies and my wife for three.  There are some agencies I wouldn't work for.  Management can make a place a difficult or even miserable place to work.  On the other hand, good leaders can make the same agency a great place to work.  If I were in the environment you describe I would move on as soon as I was able to.  In the meantime I would offer my opinion only when asked and in the meantime do my job to the best of my ability.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason some folks do not like to be challenged or proven wrong.  I guess it's human nature.  I'd focus on what I could control and let others be responsible for their actions and contracts unless I had reason to believe that something illegal or improper was going on.  If that were the case then I would report the issue to my manager or even to the IG if appropriate, but I'd want to have some solid basis for my assertion and not just a comment to not look at a certain contract. 

As far as being warranted goes, I'd focus on learning and doing the job the right way.  As a CO you will find yourself challenged by management or customers to do certain things.  Sometimes the flexibility exists to accomplish what they are seeking, sometimes it does not.  Part of being a CO is dealing with these challenges, finding a path if possible, or sticking to your guns if you believe what is being asked is inappropriate and then refer the issue to management.  I've seen some COs push back in a confrontational way and/or without adequately explaining why something is not appropriate, which doesn't usually end well.  On the other hand, being non-confrontational and adequately explaining why something must be done a certain way or why something is inappropriate may help resolve the issue.

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14 hours ago, Eagle93 said:

Am I overreacting? Is it like this everywhere?

Yes.  Yes, but it varies depending on where you work.  Different places have different cultures.

Your general observations are not unique to the federal contracting community.  I’ve seen the same in the military and private industry, neither of which had anything to do with federal contracting.

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On 11/14/2017 at 3:24 PM, Eagle93 said:

I was given permission to look at contracts to learn how they are structured, but was told in no uncertain terms right off the bat  to not even try to look at one contract in particular, "or else," supposedly because my seeing the contract wold compromise the privacy of some on-site contractors. The contract is to procure their support services.

This is not a classified or top-secret environment at all. We are buying very straightforward commercial, off-the-shelf supplies and services.

"Or else" what? Did you ask? Would they discipline you for looking at it? Fire you? "Don't look at it, or else" strikes me as ridiculous on its face.

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Another thing is my CO does not like to publicize anything, and for actions over the SAT will go so far as to lie to reviewers in hopes of getting away with it. That looks really bad to me. I totally believe in being transparent. 

In other words, to avoid synopsis? If that's it, you'd have to discipline a quarter of the workforce for trying to evade synopsis when prospective dollar values are, shall we say, elusive.

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I'm a brand new contract specialist....

Okay, well, watch and learn. Wait until you've got some time under your belt before you start getting too judgmental.

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Thanks everyone. Vern, I was told that I shouldn't even try to look at the contract because "it didn't end well" for the last person that examined it and questioned them on it. I agree, it's ridiculous and a total jerk move on the part of that upper manager. And he's a jerk. Go figure.  But that's the vibe at this command. I said "sure" and started looking for another job. I don't work that way. 

As far as the example I gave, that was in regards to an above the SAT notice of intent to sole source. I see a general avoidance of publicizing things, despite the benefits of stimulating competition to lower prices.  I observe that part of the reason  is a cowardly fear of protests. 

I'm new to federal contracting/procurement and to the FAR, but I'm not new to working on contracts in lower levels of government. I actually do have enough background knowledge and experience to justify being judgmental. I think we have a fiduciary duty to be as transparent as possible in our dealings.  It's just a very different environment that I'm not digging. From what I've seen I regret making this move.  I totally get there are better fed environments to work in, I just wish my first fed experience had been in one of them.

 

 

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I don't know any more than I can read here, so what I'm writing is supposition.  Maybe the command is tired of people who want to disrupt accomplishment of the mission with an academic or pedantic focus on transparency or whatever is the buzzword of the day.  Maybe they have a contract that works, and they don't want to mess up a good thing.  My recommendations:  learn as much as you can, and use everythIng you learn to help support the mission.  You will build technical and professional credibility.  Then, you will be in a position to start making any needed changes.  I suppose I am like others -- I don't like it when I'm doing by something difficult but legal, and others with less skin in the game and holier-than-thou perspectives start using words like ethics to question my actions -- they're wrong, and they don't understand, and they need to learn a lot before trashing my work.  Maybe this is causing the vibe at your command?

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Actually, people from this command have recently been sentenced to time in federal prison. I guess they weren't into "buzzwords"  like ethics, transparency, or legality getting in the way of their mission. I guess some people's accomplishments were disrupted. I found that out after I started. Lesson learned-I should have done my homework before taking the job with this org given the black eye it has. As far as the command wanting to hide their work to that extent, that looks really bad. If they're being legal and competent they have a terrible way of showing it.

When things are hidden and people are warned not to ask questions, that limits learning and it calls the leadership's technical and professional credibility into question. Are they ashamed of something? Otherwise why wouldn't they show their work to new staff to train us and show us how it's done?

I was approached that way within my first 2 weeks of starting the job. I wasn't out to challenge them. I'm still not. I want nothing to do with them after seeing the secrecy and lack of leadership. They have a high turnover rate, and I'm next out the door. Problem solved for everyone. I'm sure they'll eventually find someone who's a good fit. 

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I'd rather not say. Doesn't matter at this point. Feel free to delete this thread. Some of the above responses actually reinforce a decision I just made. Thanks.

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8 hours ago, ji20874 said:

My recommendations:  learn as much as you can, and use everythIng you learn to help support the mission.  You will build technical and professional credibility.  Then, you will be in a position to start making any needed changes.

Best wishes wherever you go.  The advice you got here is good advice.

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On 11/14/2017 at 3:24 PM, Eagle93 said:

For example, I was given permission to look at contracts to learn how they are structured, but was told in no uncertain terms right off the bat  to not even try to look at one contract in particular, "or else," supposedly because my seeing the contract wold compromise the privacy of some on-site contractors.

Request the contract through FOIA.

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If you look closely at my WIFCON avatar, you can read a quote that I thought was powerful enough to warrant reiteration as much as possible:

"The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate."

Option 1: Become an agent for change. This is the hardest road, but the one with the most payoff at the end. It's risky and, if you don't succeed you might regret taking this path--but it's the honorable thing to try.

Option 2: Become an agent for the OIG. Gather evidence. Report your co-workers. Remember your higher allegiance is to the country and the taxpayers. There's no payoff here, except the knowledge that you helped to rid the workforce of some bad people.

Option 3: Get out. Don't wait for a new job to arrive, just get out now. If you have skills you should find a job fairly quickly--especially if you are willing to relocate. Save yourself because you can't save anybody else.

Option 4: Keep your head down and shut up and do your job to the best of your ability, knowing that you are surrounded by people who are incompetent at best and law-breakers at worst. But at least you have a paycheck and benefits. There's no honor here, but you are surviving.

Hope this helps.

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I agree with the folks that have said to watch and learn.

You are a 'brand new contract specialist' who is 'new to federal contracting/procurement and to the FAR'. You were given 'permission to look at contracts to learn how they are structured.'

Despite being brand new to the field, and without a firm grasp yet on how contracts are structured, you see:

On 11/15/2017 at 9:30 PM, Eagle93 said:

a general avoidance of publicizing things, despite the benefits of stimulating competition to lower prices.  I observe that part of the reason  is a cowardly fear of protests. 

In my opinion that is quite a leap. For anyone to make. Let alone someone new to the FAR. I could be wrong but in your short tenure at this agency I don't think you could have been exposed to enough pre-solicitation activity to make that call. And it is tough to think you are close enough to the purchasing landscape of whatever you are buying to know how to stimulate competition.

It takes years and years of experience to really see the big picture. There is pre-award and there is post-award. There is buying and there is selling. There are big businesses and small businesses. And on and on. There is what you read in the Washington Post, or hear in the news, and there is government contracting reality.

I am offering my perspective because it would be tough for anyone to advise you one way or another. Changing jobs is a serious thing. You have bills, maybe kids, maybe a mortgage.

If you have another job in the pipeline, have some good connections, or if you are confident you could land another job pretty easily, I would think of an exit strategy. Working with criminals is not fun and life is too short.

If you do not have that luxury, here are some words of encouragement for grinding it out. Making a career in contracting is a marathon, not a sprint. You sound really motivated to learn and perform at a high level. Those are good things. But you gotta pay some dues.

I found myself in a similar environment when I first started my career (private sector). I wanted to read contract files, tear apart old proposals, explore the accounting system. Always thinking of my next move. I wanted to be in the meetings with the bosses and the go-to person for all things contracting. There are reasons I wasn't. I wasn't ready! 

If you are just entering the field be patient. Enjoy the ride. Get a solid foundation of contracting principles and practices, and learn on the job at your own pace.  When it's your time you will know it. Enjoy the luxury of not having to make the really tough calls yet - because when you do, you better be ready to support your position with compelling facts. Your reputation is very important in contracting. You will be asked to bend rules. You will have to decide for yourself which ones can be bent (or risk your command's same demise).

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