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#1 verygreen

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 03:16 PM

In an earlier post on another thread, Vern stated that "work isn't perfect or easy anywhere, but choose the organization and the job carefully and you'll be challenged and find that being a government CO can be very rewarding. Choose carelessly and you'll end up being very unhappy. Do your homework."

I guess my question is what is the best way to go about doing that homework? How can you find out if one organization is better than another, or that a Director of Contracts at one place is better than some place else? Is it all word of mouth? Does it just come with experience and bouncing around until you find a place? Or are there some places that are just known to be better than others? Vern mentioned the Air Force Space Command and the Missle Defense Agency but said there are other first rate organizations. How can these other organizations be identified?

#2 Boof

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 03:58 PM

Just my 2 cents worth but first you got to believe in and be proud of the mission of the agency. Do you want to support the warfighter, do you want to support Diplomats around the world, do you want to build highways and bridges to brag as you cross them, etc. Second is to find a place that will provide reviews/criticism to help you make a decision and then support your decisions to outsiders. Third, what is thier training policies and are most personnel well trained. You can't fly high if they don't support your training needs. And finally, do you like the workplace, office personnel and amount of travel you may have to do. Most agency COs don't do much travel but a few like USAID and Department of State offer lots of travel and some overseas assignments.

It is really up to what you want to do as to what place is best. And to do research, look at thier website to see the organization and important work they are doing. Ask for a tour and to meet some co workers when you go for the interview. See if they look motovated or just trying to get to 5Pm. It takes a little covert action sometimes.

#3 August

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Posted 10 January 2012 - 05:47 PM

VeryGreen -

I agree with Boof that it's important to feel invested in the mission of the agency you work for.

For the work environment and quality of staff, I know of no other source than word of mouth.

When ever I go to a training class, I pay attention to what agencies and offices my class mates are from, and I ask them about their work place.
Through classes, and through co-workers who have moved on to other agencies, I try to maintain a network that I can tap whenever I want to know about an agency or an office.

#4 woops85

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Posted 11 January 2012 - 09:11 AM

August has good strategy - network with folks at classes and find out what they do, what their office is like, etc. Make sure you ask about turnover rates - can people grow in the organization? Do people feel they have to leave to get more responsibility/promotion? But remember their answers may be very office specific. I'm at GSA and the 1102s in fleet, furniture, schedules and assisted acquisitions (to name a few) all have very different work environments and challenges. For every person who love workings in part of the organization but hated working in one of the other groups, there's someone else who feels the opposite way about the same two groups. Figure out what you need from the environment as well as what you want and ask questions that help you determine if it's a good environment for you

#5 Vern Edwards

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Posted 11 January 2012 - 10:08 AM

Networking is what you have to do. In addition to classes, you can do that at regular meetings and public conferences of organizations like the National Contract Management Association. http://ncmahq.org/

Since you'll be talking to strangers, probe a little bit. A person might tell you that an outfit is great or terrible, but you don't know that person's standards or reasons. Also, check out GAO reports and decisions and board and court decisions, which might tell you something.

Let me add that some kinds of contracting are more interesting and fun than others. Generally, I think construction contracting is extremely interesting and fun, and I think you can learn more about contracting in that field than in any other. The CO tends to play a very important role.

Major systems acquisition is the most prestigious field, and can be terribly exciting depending on what organization you are working for, the program to which you are assigned, and the organizational leadership.

Leadership is everything in making for a good work experience, which is why I respect Joy White so much. I remember the Global Positioning System Program Office from my youth in the mid-1970s. Being assigned to that program seemed to be like being a member of a special forces team. Their work was important and their morale was sensational. At lunchtime you could see the program manager, Colonel Brad Parkinson, leading his troops, military and civilian, on two-mile runs around the base. Some of the contracting officers were legends, and several of the contract specialists went on to be senior military officers, GS-15s, SESs, and corporate vice presidents. One of my great regrets is never getting a chance to work in that program office. But I had almost as much fun working in the Space Defense Program Office under Brigadier General Don Henderson and Lt. Col. (later major general) Ralph Tourino. The emphasis on strong leadership and mission-focus in military organizations is why I liked working in them so much. I worked on one program: "Talon Gold" where our motto was: "The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars." It's no accident that they had both been in the GPS Program Office.

A close friend of mine and a regular participant in this forum worked for the Navy buying ship husbanding services and ship repair and supporting "operations other than war" overseas, among other things. He loved it and devoted most of his career to it. His staff would have to go to foreign and sometimes exotic ports, go on board our warships when they arrived, and make arrangements for emergency repairs and other services. The staff in his office had great stories to tell about contracting with foreigners in exotic places.

At the other end of the spectrum, I'm glad that I left field-level work before I had to buy information technology supplies and services or spare parts, which I consider to be boring occupations. I wouldn't have stayed in contracting if that had been my earliest work experience.

I found doing staff work at a headquarters to be dreary beyond words.

Most contracting work is simple and routine. There can be great satisfaction in such work, but you have to choose the work that works best for you. What are you looking for?

I hope I'm not coming across as a garrulous old fool, but I loved what I did and whom I did it for.

#6 leo1102

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Posted 11 January 2012 - 01:08 PM

I agree with everything said so far. I would like to add that there is a BIG difference contracting at military installation levels, at higher HQ levels, at civilian agencies, etc. There is a difference contracting for supplies or services or construction or R&D or A&E. There is a difference contracting using 1 year funds, 5 year funds and non-expiring funds. There is a difference between working pre-award and post-award administration. Talk to people. Get a feel for the type of contracting at each agency at each level and determine your interest. Remember - 1102 is a very mobile field at this time - employment opportunities are all over the globe. You can start in one agency, move to another, and keep on growing until you find your nitch. Some find multiple areas of contracting that they enjoy. I love my career and the work I do. It took me 6 years and 3 offices to find where I want to stay. USAJobs has the listing for 1102 jobs open to both the public. Good luck.

#7 verygreen

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Posted 11 January 2012 - 04:03 PM

Is it worth it to stay in an intern program to finish with a higher grade, even though the work is boring, the office lifeless, and the management hopeless? This is probably a money or happiness kind of question, but is there something in trying to stick it out for the experience and then move, or would moving offices sooner be more beneficial? I know that no one can answer these questions but me, but some insight from older and wiser voices would be appreciated.

#8 Don Mansfield

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Posted 11 January 2012 - 05:13 PM

verygreen,

I asked myself the same questions when I was about half-way through my internship. I decided to finish the program (and get my annual promotions). However, I spent that time planning my next move. An external rotation was required as part of my intern program, so I set one up with a contracting office that I thought I would like. I did like it (and they liked me, too). Within three months of graduating from my intern program, I was working at that office.

#9 FAR Fetched

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 12:54 PM

I think it has to do with the individual. I don't need the support that I needed 15 years ago, so working in an organization that had tons of approval levels would annoy me to no end. I started in Government as a Contract Specialist, it was good at the time and I learned a lot from the CO I worked for. Fast forward 15 years, I could never go back to that agency. I'm much happier in a small company with a few direct reports; I report to the president and outside councel is my support system.

For 'me', it's perfect. I'm not sure that would work for many other people. It's a lot of responsibility and I rarely have a vacation day that I don't end up on the phone or in front of a computer for something...and I love it.

For me, the perfect job is one where I make a difference, my opinion matters and I'm needed.

#10 verygreen

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 02:51 PM

Is there a big difference between working in a program office vice base contracting? Could someone explain the structure difference to me if there is one? Any pros or cons or one versus the other?

#11 Vern Edwards

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 04:22 PM

"Program office" takes in a lot of territory. I can tell you that there is a world of difference between a DOD major system program office and a base contracting office. The subject matter of the major system world is fascinating ("rocket science"); contract actions are more challenging due to their subject matter, dollar value, and complexity; you work with people of higher education and higher military rank and civilian grade; and the contractors are much more knowledgeable and sophisticated than the typical base support contractor. I have worked in both worlds and would jump at the chance to work in a major system program office.

#12 formerfed

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 06:24 PM

I worked at a major R&D program office which was also located on a base. The base had their own contracting office. At the program office I worked in an environment similar to what Vern described. I also quickly felt like I had an important part to play in making the program successful. The work was very challenging and exciting and the results were highly visable.

Towards the end of the FY during a period of heavy procurement workload, I was detailed to help out the base contracting office. There I did things like setting up IDIQ contracts for plumbing and water system supplies, contracts for grounds maintenance, and a laundry contract to clean protective clothing of staff that worked in a reactor area.

The difference between the two work situations was like night and day

#13 verygreen

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 12:19 PM

"Program office" takes in a lot of territory. I can tell you that there is a world of difference between a DOD major system program office and a base contracting office. The subject matter of the major system world is fascinating ("rocket science"); contract actions are more challenging due to their subject matter, dollar value, and complexity; you work with people of higher education and higher military rank and civilian grade; and the contractors are much more knowledgeable and sophisticated than the typical base support contractor. I have worked in both worlds and would jump at the chance to work in a major system program office.


Is there a way to research DOD major system program offices? A list of programs other than the Defense budget? Or a good way to see what program offices are where? I take it they are spread across the country at differenet bases with a bunch in the DC area?

Also, is contacting people at these offices in hopes of recieving information about current openings/ opportunities even worthwhile? I don't like the idea of "coldcalling" people for information on their offices, but with USAJOBs as the main way to research job openings, it doesn't leave me much hope.

#14 j_dude77

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 04:12 PM

I would like to say that one of the most important things you can do is, ask questions. Announcements have a POC; I would contact that person to see if they could put you in touch with someone in the contracting shop. When you ask questions it is important to pay attention to how it is answered. If the answer is unclear or does not give you enough information, ask them to be more specific or ask the question in a different way. The most important thing that I have learned is; don’t assume anything. That is why you need to get answers that thoroughly satisfy you. I like to find out as much information as I can before applying for a position.
Besides some of the obvious, some other questions I like answered are:
  • What types of procurements are handled in your office (R&D, Construction, ect.)?
  • What types of procurements would I be handling?
  • What are some of the different types of items that are purchased? Ask for examples.
Those questions will give me a general idea of whether I would like the work or not. They also answer other questions like, would the opportunity be available to work on different types of procurements. I was fortunate in having contacts in the agency that I went to work for before accepting a position. I was able to have many of those questions answered before I applied. One thing I will warn you about is word-of-mouth. You have to be careful with that. You may be speaking with someone that is just not happy where they are, and will say it is miserable. If you speak to another person they may love it there. On the flip-side, everyone has told me that there is one agency locally to avoid like the plague. Usually when one or two people say it is a bad place; I take it with a grain of salt but when everyone you meet says it is bad, there has to be some truth there. Also try and pay attention to how often announcements for the same positions are advertised.

#15 Motorcity

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Posted 13 March 2012 - 08:56 PM

Networking is what you have to do. In addition to classes, you can do that at regular meetings and public conferences of organizations like the National Contract Management Association. http://ncmahq.org/

Since you'll be talking to strangers, probe a little bit. A person might tell you that an outfit is great or terrible, but you don't know that person's standards or reasons. Also, check out GAO reports and decisions and board and court decisions, which might tell you something.

Let me add that some kinds of contracting are more interesting and fun than others. Generally, I think construction contracting is extremely interesting and fun, and I think you can learn more about contracting in that field than in any other. The CO tends to play a very important role.

Major systems acquisition is the most prestigious field, and can be terribly exciting depending on what organization you are working for, the program to which you are assigned, and the organizational leadership.

Leadership is everything in making for a good work experience, which is why I respect Joy White so much. I remember the Global Positioning System Program Office from my youth in the mid-1970s. Being assigned to that program seemed to be like being a member of a special forces team. Their work was important and their morale was sensational. At lunchtime you could see the program manager, Colonel Brad Parkinson, leading his troops, military and civilian, on two-mile runs around the base. Some of the contracting officers were legends, and several of the contract specialists went on to be senior military officers, GS-15s, SESs, and corporate vice presidents. One of my great regrets is never getting a chance to work in that program office. But I had almost as much fun working in the Space Defense Program Office under Brigadier General Don Henderson and Lt. Col. (later major general) Ralph Tourino. The emphasis on strong leadership and mission-focus in military organizations is why I liked working in them so much. I worked on one program: "Talon Gold" where our motto was: "The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars." It's no accident that they had both been in the GPS Program Office.

A close friend of mine and a regular participant in this forum worked for the Navy buying ship husbanding services and ship repair and supporting "operations other than war" overseas, among other things. He loved it and devoted most of his career to it. His staff would have to go to foreign and sometimes exotic ports, go on board our warships when they arrived, and make arrangements for emergency repairs and other services. The staff in his office had great stories to tell about contracting with foreigners in exotic places.

At the other end of the spectrum, I'm glad that I left field-level work before I had to buy information technology supplies and services or spare parts, which I consider to be boring occupations. I wouldn't have stayed in contracting if that had been my earliest work experience.

I found doing staff work at a headquarters to be dreary beyond words.

Most contracting work is simple and routine. There can be great satisfaction in such work, but you have to choose the work that works best for you. What are you looking for?

I hope I'm not coming across as a garrulous old fool, but I loved what I did and whom I did it for.


This is what is starting to happen to me in my current position at a civilian agency. For me, buying laptops, conference space and janitorial services is starting to become rather boring to say the least. Whenever I talk to DoD 1102s, they tell me about all the amazing projects they get to be a part of and how they play a major role in the contracting process. Seems like they are a long ways away from doing de-obs and task orders.




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