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Seems to fly in the face of the requirement at FAR 3.101, Standards of Conduct - "Government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach..."

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She could have done what most of my customers do. Rush the order to the acquisitions office and put us on the bubble for meeting the deadline. We do meet it 95% of the time and within regulations.

However, I know some contracting offices have the reputation of not even trying and never getting it done in time. However, that should be addressed to senior management. Splitting requirements is against the rules, is therefore unethical. It breaks the laziness rule if nothing else. Take the effort and find your contracting officer.

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Jane, an administrative assistant for another federal agency, was directed to set up a training workshop that the agency head considered urgent. Armed with her government Visa card, she set about buying the supplies that would be needed to train several hundred people. The bill came to $4,000, and government rules prohibited charging more than $2,500 for any single purchase on the Visa card. So Jane had the store clerk split the order in two, each order under the limit.

Jane knew that order-splitting was against the rules, but faced with the decision whether to carry out her assignment or follow the rules, she chose performance over compliance. She was later criticized by the auditors for breaking the rule, and could have been terminated had not the agency head vigorously defended her and praised her initiative.

The authors are irresponsible. The woman who split the orders should lose her authority to use a purchase card and receive a letter of reprimand. There is almost always a legal way to get things done. What she did was an indication of her ignorance. Her boss should be counseled for supporting her.

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I think the writer's assertions/judgments are suspect. For example:

Article says:

"Here are three tests to decide whether you may ethically break a rule.

1. Will you gain a personal benefit?

2. Is it taking the easy way out?

3. Is it serving the cause of justice?"

Even by the article writer's tests, the admin assistant doesn't pass. The personal benefit she reaps is pleasing the powers that be, and that is not a minor benefit. In the end, she gets a pat on the head (or more) from the agency head.

Not sure about 2. or 3., either....

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The "Three Tests" proposed by the authors concern me a little, specifically what they define as "taking the easy way out":

Here are three tests to decide whether you may ethically break a rule.

1. Will you gain a personal benefit?

2. Is it taking the easy way out?

3. Is it serving the cause of justice?

Neither Jane nor Bob benefited personally. They weren't taking the easy way out. (The easy way would have been to not get the job done and blame the rules ? nobody ever gets criticized for that.) Finally, they were both clearly serving the cause of justice ? in this case, doing what was best for the government.

Bold added.

If the definition of "taking the easy way out" is not doing an action because you are following the rules, then you are giving people an ethical loophole to not follow the rules. In fact, one could argue that by this "test" it is not ethical to follow the rules when the rules prevent you from getting the job done. That's absurd.

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I was placed in that position several times as a Billing Official in the AF; with senior people telling me that the issue was urgent. I managed to get the job done, within the rules and protect my card holders from situations like the lady encountered.

I would have pulled her card away and insisted on disciplinary actions.

I wonder if her Billing Official did anything? They should have.

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First of all, I'm surprised someone in Bob Stone's position advocates breaking "rules" like that. In the case of the administrative assistant, violating the requirements to get competition is more than just breaking rules.

The administrative assistant likely blatantly disregarded the rules. The person most certainly had training before receiving the card and thus knew the requirements. The person also probably knew the procurement regulations. Someone who is an assistant for the agency head could get the procurement office to immediately pick up on the purchase following proper procedures. The person didn't.

I worked once at a cabinet level agency and the Assistant Secretary personally got involved in issues like this. The only thing she had a stronger feeling about was unathorized commitments. She made examples out of everyone that didn't follow the rules. After the word got out, unathorized commitments virtually ceased to occur.

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In my former office this problem happened on a number of occasions, and each time it was due to senior managers putting pressure on lower grade employees to break the rules. In at least one case, an SES told a GS-7 to either do what she was told, or plan on looking for another job.

When we found out, there was virtually nothing we could do because the SES over our office did not want to get into a tussle with the other SES in headquarters, so we had to simply document the file and move on. In organizations like fomerfeds, good managers and executives are true blessings. In an organization like the one I used to work in, bad managers and executives are like having a bad case of chiggers, even after they are gone you still feel the itch.

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The "Three Tests" proposed by the authors concern me a little, specifically what they define as "taking the easy way out":

Bold added.

If the definition of "taking the easy way out" is not doing an action because you are following the rules, then you are giving people an ethical loophole to not follow the rules. In fact, one could argue that by this "test" it is not ethical to follow the rules when the rules prevent you from getting the job done. That's absurd.

The tests proposed are essentially those used to justify torture when fighting terrorism. "The end justifies the means" has been used to rationalize any number of illegal and sometimes reprehensible actions. I think the problem is people--be they contracting attorneys, contracting officers, administrators, or the workers--who say "no you can't do that" and stop there. As several have pointed out, you can frequently find another, right way to do things, but it often takes more work and generally requires advance planning.

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The tests proposed are essentially those used to justify torture when fighting terrorism. "The end justifies the means" has been used to rationalize any number of illegal and sometimes reprehensible actions. I think the problem is people--be they contracting attorneys, contracting officers, administrators, or the workers--who say "no you can't do that" and stop there. As several have pointed out, you can frequently find another, right way to do things, but it often takes more work and generally requires advance planning.

The problem with that is the advance planning and work need to be done by the requiring activity. That activity often see the world in a self centered way where they are important, while the card holder/contracting shop AND the rules they are required to follow are not important. That is showing up more and more as leaders are not buying into the idea of contracting being a profession and not just a fancy name for a clerk.

I also am beginning to see that some in contracting WANT to be just clerks, shuffle responsibility off to legal or back on the programs, or generally don't want to be bothered with fighting for respect by demanding that other activities do their job correctly. When procurement action lead times (PALT) are not established or if established adhered to, then we might as well be clerks again, because we will only have a fraction of the time we need to do things in a professional manner. I for one do not see the usual crisis management as making things better, which is what we are usually left with when the requirement has to be done in a manner where the ethics of the rules are questioned.

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The problem with that is the advance planning and work need to be done by the requiring activity. That activity often see the world in a self centered way where they are important, while the card holder/contracting shop AND the rules they are required to follow are not important. That is showing up more and more as leaders are not buying into the idea of contracting being a profession and not just a fancy name for a clerk.

I also am beginning to see that some in contracting WANT to be just clerks, shuffle responsibility off to legal or back on the programs, or generally don't want to be bothered with fighting for respect by demanding that other activities do their job correctly. When procurement action lead times (PALT) are not established or if established adhered to, then we might as well be clerks again, because we will only have a fraction of the time we need to do things in a professional manner. I for one do not see the usual crisis management as making things better, which is what we are usually left with when the requirement has to be done in a manner where the ethics of the rules are questioned.

Sadly, I have to agree with you.

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Sadly, I have to agree with you.

Actually I don't. Ot at least not completely.

Most program offices and program officials are conscientous and want to do the proper job. Often they aren't aware of the proper rules and procedures and want to learn. However many procurement people don't want to take the time, feel that's not part of their job, and would rather not do anything constructive and just say "no."

Program offices usually do advance planning when they see benefit in doing it and when the contracts offices is there to assist and provide guidance. Take a look at the way most agencies advance planning process works. Usually program offices are required to fill out a bunch of forms and submit them to contacts. There they just sit. If you want program offices to plan, you reach out and help them. It's a mutually supportive process and benefits both parties.

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Guest carl r culham

Wearing the hat of Federal procurement official generates many of the comments expressed. Wearing the hat of a taxpayer takes a slightly different direction.

Examples have already been offered about cause and effect on the agency side but what about to the private sector and their interest? Lofty ideals I know but aren?t the rules to protect private sector and taxpayer as a whole to insure their money is spent with all interests considered?

I would propose that Mr. Stone?s view would be very different if he were on the fouled end of split procurement where he hoped the agency would do competition for the need but did not. Also would bet that Mr. Stone would be one of the first to opine negatively about the often used example of the $600 toilet seat even if had been purchased at no personal benefit, did not take the easy way out and served the cause of justice.

Violation of any rule does not pass his three point test for one reason and one reason alone ? justice is not done to the taxpayer.

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While working for DoD, I ran across this several times while processing ratifications. Nothing ever happened to the offender and in many cases, that person was congratulated for "getting the mission accomplished".

Most requiring activities have the opinion of, "Here's what I want, here's my money, make it happen". They don't care about the rules and see the FAR as a hinderance to mission accomplishment.

The sad part is if they had come to us prior to breaking the rules, we could have gotten their precious mission accomplished legally.

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I happen to agree with Vern Edwards' 16 December comments to the article:

" by Vern Edwards (not verified) | December 16, 2009

Breaking the rules

There were countless legal ways for Jane to have accomplished her mission. Her action was a reflection of her ignorance. She should lose her authority to use a government credit card and be given a letter of reprimand, so should her boss.

It is one thing to "break all the rules" of the business world, when "rules" means standard practices. It is another thing entirely to break government laws and regulations. The Federal Acquisition Regulation expressly prohibits splitting orders in the way that Jane did. See 48 C.F.R. ? 13.003?(1)(2). A rule in the Code of Federal Regulations is not the same as a business "rule."

This article was described at a popular website about government contracting. The authors are irresponsible and should publish a retraction."

Where there is a will (and some knowledge of the available avenues to get the job done), there is a way. Anarchy would soon set in if everyone decided to "break the rules" whenever they don't know any other way to get the job done. What guidelines would determine when to and who can break the rules? Anytime one thinks that the job wont get done if "the rules are followed"?

You cant tell me that having an administrative assistant use her government credit card and split the requirement into 2 transactions is the only way to be able to make a $4,000 training conference purchase! What basis did an administrative assistant have to determine that there was no other way to accomplish the requirement than her using her government credit card to make the purchase(s)? The author offers nothing to support his hypothesis that the mission couldn't be fulfilled any other way! What a poor example to make his point.

P.S. I can Verify that Vern Edward wrote the above quoted comment!!

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formerfed,

I have worked in offices where program offices and personnel DID work well, provided information and requirements on time and were good team members along with the contracting office, customer and other team members. Unfortunately that is not always the case, it has been pretty rare since I left my first contracting job with NAVFAC SW in San Diego. At that office, it was as good as I could image it could be.

Since then, it is not unusual to have program managers work on a project for months, and then toss it over the fence and expect contracts, who has never even been told of the requirement prior to it landing on their desk, to get it done "right away before the money expires!!!"

An example: Program office knew that a contract would not be completed by the scheduled completion date more than 6 months prior to that date. That information was not communcated to the Contracting Officer, despite requests for information within that time frame. Finally, less than 30 days before the CCD, a program manager comes into the office on a Monday and expects a modification extending the POP by the following Friday.

The cost of that extension was in the millions, and required far more than a simple memo to the file, so it was completely impossible for it to happen in 5 days. When that information was communcated to the program office, they exploded with "why cannot I get support from contracts!!" That is not a fictional scenario, it has actually happened.

That sort of thing might not happen in your workplace, but in DHS and some DoD agencies, as well as in the private sector, it does happen far too often.

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An example: Program office knew that a contract would not be completed by the scheduled completion date more than 6 months prior to that date. That information was not communcated to the Contracting Officer, despite requests for information within that time frame. Finally, less than 30 days before the CCD, a program manager comes into the office on a Monday and expects a modification extending the POP by the following Friday.

That is a serious communication failure and indicates a serious problem of relationships at higher management levels. It seems to me that there is more at work in that story than a breakdown between contracting officer and program manager. And why wasn't the CO in the loop? Why wasn't the contractor communicating with the CO? Why wasn't it copying the CO on emails, etc.? What did the CO do as a result? What were the consequences for the program manager and the contractor?

What you had in that story was not a violation of regulations and an ethics issue. What you had was a professional discourtesy amounting to outright disrespect.

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I will certainly agree that management and contracting incompetence and inefficiency also occurs in the "private sector", if you consider major DOE and defense contractors, who's management and acquisition systems appear to me to be products of the government contracting system to be the private sector. If you think it is bad in government agencies, these people can make gov't bureaucrats look like models of efficiency! Many of these firms'business management side are well staffed with ex-military ("efficiency, what's that?") and ex-civil service programs and contracting types. It's particularly frustrating to deal with the ones whose primary business lines are predominantly cost reimbursement type contracts.

My experience with several of these firms over the past 15 years has been that they won't generally break a rule to get the job done BUT often won't find a way to overcome challenges within the rules, either. We've often had to negotiate paths forward or lead them by the hand to find ways to overcome significant management or contracting problems.

It's challenging for some of them to successfully perform firm, fixed-price contracts. They can't seem to or won't grasp the contractual differences in risk allocation. But it also occurs on their cost contracts.

So - it aint just the government side who is subject to these type problems.

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Vern,

The amazing part of the story is that the program manager for that contract and the KO work in on the same floor of the same building in offices less than a 60 second walk apart. In this case, the KO quietly asked me to process the action as appropriate, and I got it done in about 2 weeks by personally walking the approval documents to each of the approving officials. It got done in time, but it would have been much better to have done it the right way. Contracts would have looked better than to have needed special treatment in the approval process, and if there was a better way to solve the problem than the modification, we certainly did not have the time to look for it.

That disrespect goes far beyond just the PM-KO relationship. We have a J&A that needed to be signed by higher authority for one project that we sent up to DC in Jan 09. The higher authority returned the J&A in Dec 09 demanding a large number of revisions before they would sign it. That left the KO less than a month before the end of the previous contract for all of the other approvals, and the December holidays to deal with. Needless to say, that forced the extension of the previous contract, which also required approvals and J&A's, and separate funding to be provided. My previous example is not a part of this example, it was completely separate and was going on at the same time.

The result of this is people retiring early and transferring at a rapid pace, which adds even more problems as institutional knowledge is lost. And of course the powers that be up in the rarified atmosphere of DC think they can fix the problems with more reviews, more bureaucracy and more regulations. As if a 1 year review process for 1 single document was not enought time.

DON,

Sorry to have taken the thread off topic. But if we cannot run the major contracts correctly, how can we expect the small purchases and purchase card decisions to be any better?

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I've been a lowly GS 5 purchasing agent with a purchase card. I am a GS 12 contracting officer now. I would NEVER have split the purchase as the administrative assistant did. I would have found another way to do it. They could have put together an order for those supplies in less than a couple of hours. BTDT. It was HER obligation to say no. She should have her card yanked and have discilplinary action taken as should her billing official. Just because there is pressure to get it done, doesn't mean it's ok to break the rules. This was a BLATANT case of it. When I was a GS 5 purchasing agent there were a few times that I had to take a stand and say NO. It's your name on that card. It's your behind if you do something wrong. Those people that pressured you will be long gone when IG comes a callin. You'll be left holding the bag.

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I'm coming to this fascinating thread a little late but would say that not adhering to acquisition regulations and policy seems to have become the 'in thing'. I typically hear of three key drivers that contribute to non-compliance occurring early and often.

(1) New-bees being trained by Old-dogs and being led down the wrong path. They (New and Old) are not intentionally 'breaking rules', they simply don't know them and don't teach them and so the problem of non-compliance is perpetuated in the culture. Unfortunately automated systems help with this.

(2) There are those in a position of authority who turn a blind eye to or request non-compliance because compliance takes time, eating into their lean workforce's capacity.

(3) There are those leaders that cannot accept that non-compliance occurs and when it does, do not want it identified nor documented. Identifying non-compliance is scorned and often the non-compliance is covered up and not treated as a learning/teaching opportunity.

Curiously, with all the various levels of audit, non-compliance is rarely identified.

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(3) There are those leaders that cannot accept that non-compliance occurs and when it does, do not want it identified nor documented. Identifying non-compliance is scorned and often the non-compliance is covered up and not treated as a learning/teaching opportunity.

Leaders don't want non-compliance identified because it reflects poorly on them that such occurrences took place in their organization. Often it's swept under the rug or they just pretend it didn't happen.

I just heard yesterday about an instance with a private sector company. The employee got fired within a couple hours of management finding out. He was told to get his personal belongings and leave. Management looks like a hero for taking prompt action and making the company look good.

Contrast that with what happens in the government. The most common response is leaders try and ignore it. In some instances, leaders take some action and generally the IG gets involved. Agents often come in and interview everyone with some involvement. People get scared because they somehow feel implicated. Employee unions sometimes get in the picture and the party may get a lawyer on their side. Finally after months of investigation and reports, a decision is made. Most times the employee gets a minimal punishment or reprimand. And after all of this, the leader gets the instance noted in their annual performance review and the recognition isn't because they did a good thing with reporting the incident.

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Recently, a government employee asked one of my employees to do something illegal -- falsify a document -- so that the agency could obligate this year's funds. When I found out about it I went off the deep end, emailed the government employee, the employee's supervisor, and the agency head. I pointed out that falsifying a document as requested so that the agency could obligate this year's funds would be a federal crime. I heard back from the employee, who claimed that my employee had misunderstood the request. I know that is not true. The government employee then amended the request so that it would be proper. I have not heard back from the supervisor or the agency head. I doubt that I will.

I copied my email to a well-known government contracts attorney who has experience defending government contractors against false claims charges. The attorney told me that she has been shocked at how often contractor's are asked to falsify documents in order to facilitate a procurement. Any contractor who does it is a fool. What really pisses me off is how many government employees think that integrity is mainly a contractor problem.

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