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The Impending Exodus of "Experienced" Contracting Personnel: Crisis or Opportunity?

Posted by Don Mansfield, 20 January 2012 · 4,565 views

It seems that every few months we see a new article, report, or hear testimony predicting a mass exodus of "experienced" 1102s from the Federal workforce. Citing workforce data, the conclusion that is commonly drawn is that a "crisis" will result. If we just look at numbers it would seem that this would be a reasonable conclusion. However, has anyone given any thought to the caliber of the 1102s that are leaving the Federal workforce and those that are entering? Do we really need one new 1102 for every 1102 that leaves?

Consider the fact that one must now have a college degree to even be considered for an 1102 position, whereas most of the "experienced" 1102s that will soon be leaving did not have to meet such requirements. Many "experienced" 1102s entered the Federal workforce as clerks, typists, secretaries, etc., and stuck around the organization long enough to move into an 1102 position. That's not to say that these folks did not work hard or that they don't deserve their positions. I'm sure each office has its own success story to share in this regard.

In my experience, I have worked with "experienced" 1102s and I currently teach newbie 1102s. To generalize, the newbie 1102s are smarter, more motivated, and have more respect for the laws and regulations that govern their agency's acquisitions. Give me an office full of 1102s with less than 10 years of experience and we will work circles around an office of "experienced" 1102s with twice the staff. Our processes will be more streamlined, our employees more productive, and our acquisitions fully compliant with law and regulation.

Nothing is more discouraging than to hear stories of how newbie 1102s return to their offices after training, intent on making the necessary changes to ensure that their acquisitions comply with the FAR, only to effectively be told by "experienced" 1102s "I don't care what the FAR says, this is the way we've always done it and we're not about to change." I say good riddance to those folks.

To be fair, there are some "experienced" 1102s who are excellent--the Government will suffer when these folks leave. However, I would not place the majority of "experienced" 1102s in this category. When I hear about the impending exodus of "experienced" 1102s and the ensuing crisis, I'm reminded of a line from an REM song..."It's the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine." How do you feel?




This is hard to discuss, because you can't do it without resorting to inevitably broad generalizations and hurting some feelings.

There are plenty of fine pros among experienced 1102s. I'm not sure that the newbies are smarter (IQ wise). They are, by the mass, more alert and eager than the older generation, but that is to be expected. The older generation have been the victims of the creeping clericalization of the workforce that began in the 1980s, and 15 to 20 years of exposure to the contracting cubicle life of the last two decades has sucked the energy out of many of them. They have been through successive rounds of "initiatives" and "reforms", which have made many of them skeptical and some of them cynical. That is not to excuse the fact that they have been a lot less professionally curious and ambitious than the generation before them and the generation that is following.

The newbies respect the laws and regulations more because they're still worried about getting into trouble and because they have not yet been fully subjected to the time pressures of contracting office work. That will change. They are both less respectful of authority and more sensitive than their predecessors, which can make them a pain to deal with. (I am from a generation that did not have to be managed with kid gloves, which saved a lot of time.)

Having said all of that, I will be glad when the "experienced" generation is gone, but I have one caveat--the next generation will be better if and only if they get better leadership than the last. Do we have any reason to think that they will? Where will that leadership come from? Look around. The leadership landscape looks nearly empty to me.

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I have to agree with Vern. I was going to post something similar to his last paragraph, but he beat me to the punch. I work with DCMA very, very often. And it's the leadership that's the issue. I'm not talking about Charlie Williams, Jr. either. I'm talking about the layers of management between the average CO and Charlie. Fix that and you fix a lot of "cultural" issues.
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I agree with Mr. Edwards, the young ones are fresh and are destined to become jaded and cynical as they learn how do do things "wrong" after the formal class training and they get embedded in there contracting offices. Their greatest challenge is not to develop a cynical, apathetic attitude and stay in the profession. 1102s are becoming very well paid clerks, and the application of critical thinking is absent in many offices. Policy shops do more damage by posting boilerplate D&Fs, PNMs, J&As and other "tools" that dumb it down for the masses, as long as the contracts are awarded quickly! The substandard quality of work is a cancer that is hurting the profession in ways that can't be comprehended. Where is the oversight? Where is the accountability? Who cares? No, realy who cares?
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Vern is right! My feelings are hurt! Some of us that do NOT have a bachelor's and havehad the opportunity to stay within the profession for over 25 years are not as Don generalize them. You have other "young" 1102's that all they want to do is get promoted ($$$), get training, get Certified as Contracting Officers and then, move on to Corporate, where the "cash" is even better. They are the ones who still have to get counseling and are afraid to make that innovative move, to save money, and make the work practical and more importantly, make it right. Ask some of these "new generation" individuals to differentiate between cost analysis vs cost realism, T&M vs LOE, or even where in the FAR to go and find it (memorize the FAR parts - here we go Don) which Part / SubPart to reference, which clauses to include, etc.... I've had experienced where some have been put in charge of awarding millions of dollars worth of contracts, with only 3-5 yrs of actual Contracting experience, and receiving legal advise from counsel that have only had 2-3 years of actual contract law experience as well. It's an old rant, but someone has to do it, specially when you see the kind of work that is being let out and ends up as 1103ktr indicated, "The substandard quality of work is a cancer that is hurting the profession in ways that can't be comprehended."
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In all honesty, being of the "younger" contracting generation, it seems as though no matter how much "proper instruction" we get, the ability to enact or emplace what we learn is just not there. No matter where we are throughout the course of our interships or OJTs, there will always be that one KO or that one Deputy or that SBS that will fight you tooth and nail about how to do something, because that's the way they've done it for the past 15 years. It leaves a great potential learning experience feeling more like a two way shouting match in which you've completely lost your voice. In my personal opinion, we would not become "jaded" or "cynical" were we to be taken seriously, no matter what the scenario. Be it from suggesting a different interpretation of a FAR citation, to the methodology behind doing something that deviates from the office norm, why not give us the opportunity? As the Don said, had we the chance to, I can guarantee you that we can streamline the processes we go through and STILL do them compliant to our guiding regulations. As far as leadership goes, I can guarantee you that there are many great leaders that will leave this field and it will be a disconcerting situation but I can also guarantee that there will be many leaving that will leave me with no doubts nor any second thoughts about whether or not they should still be here. No one joins this workforce to learn the wrong way, nor do they join to fail at it. We want to succeed, we want to do it the right way because this is our future. I, in no way shape or form, discredit any work that the more "experienced" 1102's have done, I am simply stating that we should be taken just as seriously if not moreso, because we are new, we have the desire, we have the motivation, and I can most certainly say that we do not lack the knowledge or the capacity to take this field to new heights.
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