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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Wifcon.com



Over on the Wifcon Forum, a member started a topic called How to find the best places to work. It made me remember how I became involved in contracting as an auditor for the Government Accountability Office (GAO). I've laughed about it many times over the years.

When I was hired, GAO had a rotation policy for its new employees (trainees). There were 3 trainee assignments: one for 2-months and two for 3-months within the various GAO divisions and offices. After the trainee assignments, the trainee faced a 1-year assignment. The 1-year assignment was preceded by a meeting in which the trainee was given a choice from a list of divisions and offices that had openings. If the trainee rotated at the beginning of the month, there were openings in each of the divisions and offices. If the trainee rotated at the end of the month, there were only the leftovers.

Before we get to my 1-year rotation, let me briefly explain GAO's pre-1970 organization. Prior to my being hired, GAO underwent a reorganization. Before the reorganization, there was a Civil and a Defense division. After the reorganization, the Civil division was broken into several divisions covering the programs of the civilian agencies. The former Defense division was broken into functional divisions. For example, there was the Procurement and Systems Acquisition Division (PSAD) and a Logistics and Communications Division (LOGCOM). Theoretically, these functional divisions could perform audits in both defense and civilian agencies. However, for the most part, PSAD and LOGCOM remained the old Defense division because its management and employees were set in their ways. On the other hand, the new civilian divisions were filled with GAO's up-and-comers. The civilian divisions were the divisions where everyone wanted to work. There were no up-and-comers in PSAD or LOGCOM--just plenty of geeks. PSAD and LOGCOM were the divisions to avoid.

Now it was time for my 1-year rotation meeting and it came at the end of the month. My choices were PSAD or LOGCOM and I had 30 minutes to choose. PSAD was pronounced as the letter "P" followed by SAD. P-SAD. How would you like to hear that as a 22-year old? LOGCOM was pronounced just as it looks and the scuttlebutt was that LOGCOM was worse than PSAD, if that was possible. For 20 minutes, I thought about the end of my career and then I was told that GAO didn't have to give me a choice. "Pick one," I was told. I "chose" PSAD and walked down the hall on my career "death march." Whenever I told someone I was going to PSAD, they laughed at me. That wasn't the end of the laughter. It came when I entered PSAD.

PSAD was broken down into three groups: General Procurement (GP), Science and Technology (S&T), and Major Acquisitions (MA). Three of us rotated into PSAD on the same day and we met in the Office of the Director for assignment into one of the groups. Our host started with MA and described the travel and the work on major systems. It sounded great! Then he described the work of S&T--it wasn't bad either. Now, it was my turn. He looked at me, explained I was going to GP, and just laughed. That was it. He just laughed. Here I was in the land of the geeks and one of the geeks just laughed because I was going to a sub-group of the geeks.

My first work in GP dealt with Defense Contract Administration Service (DCAS) and Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) reports and contracting officers' price negotiation memoranda. I was doing the preliminary work for GAO's defective pricing reviews. Back then, GAO did about 25 pricing reviews each year. Of those 25 audits, maybe a handful led to defective pricing. They led indirectly to cost recovery and we were always looking for that. I never imagined that for the next 40 years of my life I would be involved with federal contracting.

Federal contracting is business and that is why I like it. We have contracting laws, contracting regulations, administrative and legal decisions, etc. There is always something to learn in this constantly changing process and always something to improve--including ourselves. When I fell into a career rut, I sought self-improvement. In the 1980s, I earned an M. S. in Procurement Management on my own time. GAO never fully appreciated it but I did. When I was bored at work, I went in a slightly different direction. I wrote GAO's only procurement course for its auditors. When I wanted to be part of the internet, I created and managed Wifcon.com in the 1990s--on my own time. Federal contracting--our club--has fulfilled all my career needs.

Now, I can laugh about being 22 and entering the land of the geeks--PSAD/GP. I'm just so happy I never had the opportunity of choosing to work in one of those boring GAO civilian divisions. Besides, I found that I fit in well with the other geeks.


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