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During the 1970s and 1980s there was a lot of interest in the "role of the contracting officer." I came across copies of these publications while going through some boxes of old documents:

 

  1. The Contracting Officer: His Authority to Act and His Duty to Act Independently, Hanes and Smith, Dickinson Law Review (1966), available via Heinonline
  2. The Judicial Role of the Contracting Officer in U.S. Government Contracting, Spriggs, Washburn Law Journal (1972), available via Heinonline
  3. The Advocacy of a Systems Contracting Officer for Major Weapon Systems Acquisition, Young, Defense Systems Management College (1973), available via Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC)
  4. The Contracting Officer and the System Manager: An Analysis of Authorities and Responsibilities within the Department of Defense, Defense Systems Management School (Feb 1974), available from National Technical Information Service (NTIS), AD780693
  5. Role and Mission of the Contracting Officer, Logistics Management Institute (May 1974), available from NTIS, AD780793
  6. The Navy Program Manager and the Contracting Officer, Defense Systems Management School (Nov 1974), available from NTIS, ADA028656
  7. Government Contracts in Public Administration: The Role and Environment of the Contracting Officer, Cooper, Public Administration Review (1980), available via JSTOR or Heinonline
  8. Handbook for Entry-Level System Buyers: The Role-Relationship of the Contracting Officer and Program Manager and the System Program Office Interfaces (April 1985), available from NTIS, ADA156313
  9. The DOD Contracting Officer: A Study of the Past, An Assessment of the Present, Recommendations for the Future, American Bar Association, Section of Public Contract Law (1987)
  10. Identification of Critical Roles of Program Managers and Contracting Officers, Shingledecker, Air Force Institute of Technology (2001), available via DTIC
  11. Characteristics and Effects of Relationships involving Federal Government Contracting Officers, Lawl
  12. The Incredible Shrinking Contracting Officer, Pachter, Public Contract Law Journal (2010), available via JSTOR, Heinonline, or Westlaw
  13.  Contracting officer workload, incomplete contracting, and contractual terms, Warren, RAND Journal of Economics (2014), available via JSTOR
  14. The Future Role of the Contracting Officer, Maldonado, Defense Acquisition University (2020), available via DTIC
  15. Characteristics and Effects of Relationships involving Federal Government Contracting Officers, Lawless, Naval Postgraduate School (1988), available via DTIC

There was a high level of interest in the role of the contracting officer in DOD during the 1970s because of the emergence of the concept of the "program office" and the "program manager" during the 1960s and 1970s raised questions about the relative authority of the program manager and the contracting officer. There was not as much interest in the civilian agencies, where the contracting officer's role during that period was still mainly that of a purchasing agent. Within the legal community, interest was high because of the procedures for settling claims were somewhat unsettled. Lawyers wanted the contracting officer to play the role of an impartial, independent judge when settling disputes.

Specific interest in the role of the contracting officer seems to have peaked during the 1980s and waned over the course of the last two decades. I suspect it is because the position is diminished relative to those of program management officials, but there may be other reasons. The Clinton Administration's "reforms" did great damage to the contracting workforce.

 

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The concept of a single person with accountability makes it beneficial.  The entire contracting process is almost overwhelming and individual pieces get lost in the maze.  An image of a Contracting Officer to resolve issues in all the complexity seems comforting.

If anything I think the actual role of the CO in some civilian agencies allows for more discretion to make decisions than their DoD counterpart.  Take the recent example here of the telework contract clause.  The thread start said he contacted the CO with the question and hadn’t heard back.  He added they were contacting their lawyer.  One big issue is DoD COs are  at the mercy of required clauses, legal concurrence, and higher level approvals even if the requirement is just local policy.  Deviation requires lots of justification.  If that question came up in some civilian agencies and a good case was made, the CO could just do a modification to remove the clause with adequate consideration. 

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On 3/23/2022 at 6:59 AM, Vern Edwards said:

Specific interest in the role of the contracting officer seems to have peaked during the 1980s and waned over the course of the last two decades. I suspect it is because the position is diminished relative to those of program management officials, but there may be other reasons. The Clinton Administration's "reforms" did great damage to the contracting workforce.

 

 

@Vern EdwardsThis has been true in my experience. We're coming up on 30 years since those "reforms" and the successive Administrations' policies implemented during the wars that followed 9/11. The credibility of the role of the contracting officer is very low among my colleagues because they know there is no importance or respect of the role, since all they need is a rubber stamp to "get the contractor on board".

We are so desperate now that we've eliminated all standards to be eligible for the career (which many have argued is necessary and forward-thinking) and the current situation has revealed our real challenge (the one you've been writing about for two decades) - the old-timers have been getting out and we have no strategy to bring in the best and brightest when the work is not suited to their talents or skills. Moreover, we have no strategy to keep them since the training approach needs to fundamentally change. You and your company are to be saluted for your efforts and the important work you have been doing to elevate the level and type of training!

It is self-evident that the interest in the role of the contracting officer continues to decline while deficit spending and budget levels continues to soar.

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Let's talk about standards. Standards for being competent.

Competent to do what?

Here's an excerpt from FAR 1.602, which specifies the authority and responsibility of contracting officers:

Quote

1.602 Contracting officers.

1.602-1 Authority.

      (a) Contracting officers have authority to enter into, administer, or terminate contracts and make related determinations and findings. Contracting officers may bind the Government only to the extent of the authority delegated to them. Contracting officers shall receive from the appointing authority (see 1.603-1) clear instructions in writing regarding the limits of their authority. Information on the limits of the contracting officers’ authority shall be readily available to the public and agency personnel.

      (b) No contract shall be entered into unless the contracting officer ensures that all requirements of law, executive orders, regulations, and all other applicable procedures, including clearances and approvals, have been met.

1.602-2 Responsibilities.

Contracting officers are responsible for ensuring performance of all necessary actions for effective contracting, ensuring compliance with the terms of the contract, and safeguarding the interests of the United States in its contractual relationships. In order to perform these responsibilities, contracting officers should be allowed wide latitude to exercise business judgment. Contracting officers shall-

      (a) Ensure that the requirements of 1.602-1(b) have been met, and that sufficient funds are available for obligation;

      (b) Ensure that contractors receive impartial, fair, and equitable treatment;

      (c) Request and consider the advice of specialists in audit, law, engineering, information security, transportation, and other fields, as appropriate...

There is a lot more to that than preparing, processing, and signing paperwork.

Now suppose your office procures construction under contracts that average $1.5 million each. What do have to know and how much experience should you have in order to do what FAR requires?

Suppose that your office is engaged in the acquisition of major systems. (See the definition at FAR 2.101.) What do you have to know and how much experience should you have in order to do it?

What do you have to know and how much experience should you have in order to consider the advice you are given by specialists in audit, law, engineering, information security, transportation, and other fields? Consider advice, not do as you're told.

Think about it.

In another thread, someone posted this:

On 3/17/2022 at 6:59 AM, WifWaf said:

As a GS-12 CS, you could get a $5M limited warrant based on supervisor discretion by passing a written board exam after 2-3 years’ experience in the shop.  To go from that to an unlimited warrant, you had to pass two boards and have no less than 3 years’ experience in the shop to get a warrant.  

Now, what does "2-3 year's experience" mean? What happens in two to three years? Is it the same for everyone in that shop? Is there a standard experience in a year?

What do you know and how many of the duties described in FAR 1.602 are you competent to perform after working in a contracting office for two to three years? "Years" is an absurd measure of experience. Does doing something once make you "experienced" in the ordinary sense of that word? In my opinion, passing written exams and "boards" and having three years of experience in no way qualifies a person to do all the things required of a contracting officer with an unlimited warrant. I wasn't qualified when I got mine after four years.

You need extensive and deep knowledge and experience to be competent at doing the things required by FAR 1.602. You need the ability to explain contracting concepts, principles, and rules to program managers, and to devise contracting solutions that meet their needs without having to convoke a synod.

On the other hand, if in your shop all COs do is prepare documents, assemble files, ask their boss what to do next and how to do it, go to the lawyer to ask what is okay and what is not, and ask questions at Wifcon, well maybe two to three "years" experience is enough for an unlimited warrant. Why not, since COs in your shop don't do professional work. They're clerks, and the only reason they have a warrant is so they can sign things after someone else does the professional work, if anybody does it at all.

And after two or three years you should know what to put in Standard Form 30 block 13C.

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  • 1 month later...

I'm a KO on an ACAT-1 Navy program, 19 years of experience within DoD as an 1102. Unfortunately, on Oct 1 2018 Elliot Branch, as DASN(P), turned all Navy 1102's into the category of:

On 3/25/2022 at 5:48 AM, Vern Edwards said:

On the other hand, if in your shop all COs do is prepare documents, assemble files, ask their boss what to do next and how to do it, go to the lawyer to ask what is okay and what is not, and ask questions at Wifcon, well maybe two to three "years" experience is enough for an unlimited warrant. Why not, since COs in your shop don't do professional work. They're clerks, and the only reason they have a warrant is so they can sign things after someone else does the professional work, if anybody does it at all.

The Navy issued the Memorandum For Distribution, Subject: Legal reviews for Department of the Navy Acquisitions, on Oct 1 2018, which listed out nearly all actions need legal review, which has been interpreted as review=approval. 

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Confused,

Do you agree that review = approval?

Why don't you ask Elliott Branch if the word "review" in his memo really means "approval"?

I have obtained legal review of matters in my past contracting officer practice, and still made my own independent (but informed) decision.

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Based on my conversations with KO's at other Navy SYSCOMs, I'm saying Navy SYSCOMs have interpreted it as review = approval; my interpretation means very little when local policy formalizes it. This has caused required legal reviews of things as minor as incremental funding modifications on cost reimbursement CLINs when appropriation type was set at award. It has literally made the KO into a clerk, or revert to a specialist type role. Pretty detrimental to the fulfillment/esteem of being the KO.

 

 

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Once, I had an attorney who insisted that I include a certain offeror in the competitive range.  So in my document, I wrote that I included A for some reason, and B for some reason, and C because my attorney insisted and the procurement could not go forward without her concurrence, so I was including C in the competitive range so the procurement could proceed.  For some reason, the attorney was offended that I told the truth.

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4 hours ago, Confused1102 said:

This has caused required legal reviews of things as minor as incremental funding modifications on cost reimbursement CLINs when appropriation type was set at award. It has literally made the KO into a clerk, or revert to a specialist type role. Pretty detrimental to the fulfillment/esteem of being the KO.

Legal review is required in most procurement organizations. When there is disagreement between a lawyer and a CO over a legal issue, lawyers have a pertinent advanced degree on their side and the fact that most bosses are afraid to reject legal advice.

All the same, and depending on the boss, a CO with stature beyond their own organization—due to acknowledged expertise, a good argument, and a few publications—and who knows how to pick their fights, their assignments, and their bosses just might win out. But a CO who argues on the basis of their job title is a likely loser.

It's interesting to me how people like to talk about COs as professionals when so few COs do anything to enhance their professional standing beyond their own office door. Whatever happened to making a name for oneself? You know you've done that when the program manager delays a meeting until you can get there and when people in other offices ask for your opinion on a matter in which you are not involved.

You have to do more than just your job to get top-level respect. It's not enough to be "a good worker."

You have to be the expert, and you have to be KNOWN.

 

 

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4 hours ago, Confused1102 said:

Based on my conversations with KO's at other Navy SYSCOMs, I'm saying Navy SYSCOMs have interpreted it as review = approval; my interpretation means very little when local policy formalizes it. This has caused required legal reviews of things as minor as incremental funding modifications on cost reimbursement CLINs when appropriation type was set at award. It has literally made the KO into a clerk, or revert to a specialist type role. Pretty detrimental to the fulfillment/esteem of being the KO.

How is that Elliot Branch's fault? He said "review".

Can you post the memo?

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Increased legal reviews occurred all over the government in the past few years.  That’s because of numerous errors made by 1102s.  Many of those errors resulted from lack of knowledge or just not exercising basic contracting expertise.

I recently heard an attorney at one agency say he has to rewrite some of the file documentation provided for his review.  He questioned what is the 1102 even doing, what the 1102s supervisor is doing, and what does their contract review do?  The mistakes are appalling in his opinion.

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8 hours ago, formerfed said:

He questioned what is the 1102 even doing, what the 1102s supervisor is doing, and what does their contract review do?  The mistakes are appalling in his opinion.

I’ve noticed some SAP purchases require up to six reviews. This often leads to an incoherent acquisition strategy and execution. Frequently, the contracting officer is left to implement something that was levied upon them and that they don’t understand. Results vary.

Honestly, who is the ‘real’ contracting officer in such a system? What affect does this have on the contracting officer? The position? I think it will tear at the confidence and accountability contracting officers should have.

The prestige of being a contracting officer is at risk of losing its luster.

 

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5 hours ago, formerfed said:

I recently heard an attorney at one agency say he has to rewrite some of the file documentation provided for his review.  He questioned what is the 1102 even doing, what the 1102s supervisor is doing, and what does their contract review do?  The mistakes are appalling in his opinion.

A young attorney for the old (pre-9/11) U.S. Customs Service told me the same thing 20 years ago. I have heard similar stories several times. Legal review and complaints about it, and attorney complaints about contracting office standards, are nothing new. I have been in this business since 1974, and I have heard such complaints many, many times throughout my career

We simply must acknowledge that many COs do not measure up to the ideal image of "The Contracting Officer."

Generally, the problem is not the fundamental qualities of individual persons—intelligence, commitment, and work ethic. It is generally about education, training, experience, work standards, and appointment standards. Ultimately, the problem is attributable to failures of leadership and management.

 

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15 hours ago, formerfed said:

I recently heard an attorney at one agency say he has to rewrite some of the file documentation provided for his review.  He questioned what is the 1102 even doing, what the 1102s supervisor is doing, and what does their contract review do?  The mistakes are appalling in his opinion.

I witnessed this type of stuff in the last contracting office I worked in. Some 1102's had the attitude that since legal had to review the documents, then it was better to push documents through to legal without doing a thorough review, as legal would edit it to say what they wanted it to say anyway.

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Which created a contracting do-loop. Which comes first- the chicken or the egg?

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On 5/5/2022 at 5:07 AM, jtolli said:

I witnessed this type of stuff in the last contracting office I worked in. Some 1102's had the attitude that since legal had to review the documents, then it was better to push documents through to legal without doing a thorough review, as legal would edit it to say what they wanted it to say anyway.

 

2 hours ago, joel hoffman said:

Which created a contracting do-loop. Which comes first- the chicken or the egg?

I've always found that the best approach is to make my work product as close to perfect as I can get it, prior to review by another. Do I always meet expectations in that regard? No. But I strive for it.

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51 minutes ago, here_2_help said:

 

I've always found that the best approach is to make my work product as close to perfect as I can get it, prior to review by another. Do I always meet expectations in that regard? No. But I strive for it.

Totally agree.  And I had a close working relationship with my attorneys. 

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One issue across the government with legal review is you often don’t have standards for legal sufficiency.  Plus lawyers also aren’t constantly dedicated to contract issues.  An attorney in a legal office may cover a variety of legal concerns.  So one attorney experienced with strictly contracting issues may may have a different perspective from a less experienced one.  

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3 hours ago, formerfed said:

One issue across the government with legal review is you often don’t have standards for legal sufficiency.  

Generally, legal sufficiency means in compliance with law, regulations, policies, and procedures, or more generally, adequate for legal purposes. It means different things in different contexts.

The term appears in 103 places in the United States Code. It appears in 57 places in the Code of Federal Regulations. It appears in the FAR System only once, at 42.1203, with reference to novation agreements.

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What appears to get lost is the need to preserve the contracting officer’s independence. Reviews are a fact of life and contracting officers must request and consider the information, opinions and advice of others, but the contracting officer’s decisions must be independent.

To me, an independent decision should be informed by the advice of others. However, the decision must be the contracting officers own. After all, the contracting officer is responsible and liable. For example, within DoD contracting officer’s are Departmental Accountable Officials and have pecuniary liability.

If contracting officers are performing poorly try training and resourcing them. And hold them accountable.

Unfortunately, many contracting offices are understaffed and our government is significantly contracted out so the contracting officer mill will continue.

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I just have to think that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Policy Letter 05–01, Developing and Managing the Acquisition Workforce has been lost in the plethora of additional stuff found here https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/management/office-federal-procurement-policy/

OFPP is worthless unless as an entity it redeems its responsibility with regard to the acquisition workforce.

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What troubles me about this thread is I don’t see we hit upon a couple root issues.  One is we have lots of contracting officers that progressed to senior positions based upon other than demonstrating sound contracting expertise.  A second is we have a risk adverse contracting culture where people want to avoid accountability and others are quick to blame and accuse.  Our current nationwide political environment is a perfect example.

Vern posted this earlier.  I don’t think many of us disagree.  I then think about how many COs mow I see in the government acting and practicing this - very few.  But there are lots of GS-13/14 CO who don’t.  

Quote

All the same, and depending on the boss, a CO with stature beyond their own organization—due to acknowledged expertise, a good argument, and a few publications—and who knows how to pick their fights, their assignments, and their bosses just might win out. But a CO who argues on the basis of their job title is a likely loser.

It's interesting to me how people like to talk about COs as professionals when so few COs do anything to enhance their professional standing beyond their own office door. Whatever happened to making a name for oneself? You know you've done that when the program manager delays a meeting until you can get there and when people in other offices ask for your opinion on a matter in which you are not involved.

You have to do more than just your job to get top-level respect. It's not enough to be "a good worker."

You have to be the expert, and you have to be KNOWN.

The risk adverse work situation stifles bold thinking and actions.  I scanned through the OFPP link Carl provided.  OFPP issued four separate myth-busting memos over eight years telling people it’s not only okay to talk with industry but it’s good practice. Why did they do this?  Largely because people were either afraid they would be criticized for doing it or didn’t know better.

Increased legal review happens because 1102s are either not well trained and make mistakes and/or management wants extra assurance that an award is proper.  I heard a senior agency official say at a speaking engagement contracts are much more significant than in the past.  Wrong award decisions result in potential embarrassment, large financial payments, and political  implications (not directly related to mistakes).  So instead of investing in improving the contracting workforce, they resort to more stringent reviews and controls.  For example, many agencies must submit complete source selection information for legal review where attorneys even review rational for proposal strengths and weaknesses! 

I believe the only way out of this is encouraging and training 1102s to be leaders - leaders in the contracting field professional sense.  Ones than program officers, agency managers, and even lawyers turn to for guidance.  I don’t mean being expert in citing the FAR or policies - I mean providing leadership and direction in achieving agency acquisition objectives.

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1 hour ago, formerfed said:

I believe the only way out of this is encouraging and training 1102s to be leaders - leaders in the contracting field professional sense.  Ones than program officers, agency managers, and even lawyers turn to for guidance.  I don’t mean being expert in citing the FAR or policies - I mean providing leadership and direction in achieving agency acquisition objectives.

Sigh. No one can provide leadership in Government contracting until they know the what, how, and why of:

  1. the pertinent concepts,
  2. the pertinent principles,
  3. the pertinent rules,
  4. the art of curiosity,
  5. the art of inquiry,
  6. the art of analytical reading and interpretation,
  7. the art of explanation,
  8. the art of communication (oral and written),
  9. the art of argument,
  10. the art of process design,
  11. the art of procedure design, and
  12. the art of insubordination.

If you don't know the what, how and, most especially, the why of those things, then you cannot lead.

You cannot learn those things by taking classes sponsored by DAU and FAI. You learn them by training your mind to think and by studying systematically, deeply, and persistently throughout your entire working life. Study by reading, observing, analyzing, experimenting, and critiquing.

It's a do-it-yourself endeavor.

After you have done that for a number of years you will know a lot and can begin to lead. You lead by teaching other people that they have to think, read, observe, analyze, experiment, and critique. You don't lead by telling people how to do things or giving them things to cut and paste. You lead by showing them the arduous path to competence.

And you have to accept that while you'll have a few successes in return for your efforts, the biggest part of what you'll get in return will be disappointment.

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Hear! Hear!

for those of us still trying, these wise words are still as applicable in 2022 as they were in the early 2000’s. Vern, you are a scholar and a gentleman and we appreciate YOU very much. Sincerely.

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