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Matthew Fleharty

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  1. This highlights a fundamental problem in government acquisitions - that discussions with offerors is seen by many as a way for an acquisition to go wrong, rather than as a way to get an acquisition right. How many of us would buy a home or a car or acquire anything meaningful without negotiations (aka in government acquisition speak, discussions)? If you do a professional job and do it right, don’t fear discussions - embrace them.
  2. @Specialist123 "Contractor slipped something into"... One problem I see in this profession is a lack of reciprocity. If an offeror missed a part of our lengthy, often convoluted RFPs we wouldn't say that we "slipped a requirement in" - we'd say the contractor failed to read the whole RFP and respond properly. RFPs are always imperfect so when an offeror responded with a caveat, it's framed as trying to pull a fast one instead of detailing what they're either able or willing to do?! Why isn't the government equally responsible for reading every word that comes back in a proposal? This is a global communications contract and it seems like the government and the contractor didn't even talk about what was requested and what was proposed to ensure both parties were on the same page. That is no way to do business.
  3. We should not conflate advances in AI broadly (or in other domains) with advances in AI specifically related to government contracting - AI advancements requires effort and investment. Effort and investments usually follow the market - Industry is aware of the opportunity costs of their efforts and capital...what's the business case for pursuing AI in the government contracting field when there are likely considerably more lucrative opportunities available? I think the market for a government contracting AI solution is quite small (we can barely scrounge together the pocket change out of the DoD budget to pay for CON-IT). And even if we do find the money, I have used enough government specific software to know that, unfortunately, we often don't end up with great solutions (and we certainly do not sustain them well). All that said, I would love to be proven wrong by demonstrated capabilities, but most of what I've seen relative to AI applications to government contracting is either hope or hype.
  4. The former is possible, I would not resort to the latter.
  5. @Jamaal Valentine The search for any universal truth is beyond my expertise and contexts differ from situation to situation. Professionals need to be comfortable thinking through a situation for themselves and responding accordingly. What you're asking me for is a "cut and paste" approach and that doesn't exist. What I did in one situation likely won't work in other situations. Assess the environment, think things through, and do your best. You may think that's a dodge - I think that's reality. I will provide one example from my experiences to illustrate: when I had the opportunity to lead a contracting squadron, we went beyond the required DAU curriculum and CLPs. One way we did this was we brought the FAR Bootcamp and Source Selection Bootcamp there so both our less experienced and more experienced individuals could experience some robust professional development. Even though many of them probably didn't appreciate the challenge while they were in the midst of it, after it was over and they realized how much they learned they were (mostly) grateful for the opportunity. There was no requirement for those Bootcamps - but I personally felt an obligation to take care of our team and I felt that included their professional development. Would I take that same approach next time I have the opportunity to command? Maybe or maybe not - if the people in the next squadron have already been through the Bootcamps merely recycling that action would not be the right thing to do. I'll have to assess the situation, think about it, and make the best decision I can when I get there. You and others will have to do the same with the situations you face - best of luck.
  6. @Jamaal Valentine I think you’re taking my words out of context (it’s telling that you only quoted half of my statement in that post) - I’m not arguing that individuals disobey rules and regulations. My comments were in response to what seemed like a notion that one should simply throw in the towel on encouraging professional development because officials have reduced the certification standards. Recommend you go back and read the entire conversation so you have the complete context.
  7. To anyone reading this, that does not mean you have to follow blindly - if what senior officials want or value is wrong, don’t just give it to them - be bold enough to still do the right thing. Set higher professional standards at your level and lead those around you - I know from experience that many are eager for leadership that cares about them and will strive for more.
  8. Have you considered that systems can debase professional knowledge and standards? Consider your example of CLS - those who only utilize it rarely if ever have to crack open the FAR to read, understand, and apply solicitation/clause prescriptions. One day those individuals who have only used CLS will be in charge of writing future solicitation/clause prescriptions - how effective will they be when their only experience is answering "simplified" questions from CLS? Those placing too much of their faith in technology as their savior will be the flightless birds, not those who make the effort to develop their professional competency.
  9. @WifWaf I agree - we should find joy in learning Let’s not kid ourselves either - sometimes learning is difficult. But we shouldn’t shy away from learning when it is tough - in fact, that’s probably a sign we should embrace it because that’s likely the type of learning we need to do to grow.
  10. A first step towards what? AI clause generation? CLS has been around since I entered the career field in 2009 and is not much better now than it was then. It's interesting watching your comments pivot - previously you mentioned you could write a contract in mere minutes, but when I explained that CLS alone takes almost an hour, you merely claim that eventually "it will save time for most CO's moving forward." I think that is wishful thinking (especially because there is no explanation of how that will happen - what is this "more appropriate way to input more nuance"?). It's a shame to think that the systems will save us - they won't - the path to professionalism in this career field is through self-study and hard work. No contract writing system can substitute for professional competence. Admiral Rickover once said "Organizations don't get things done. Plans and programs don't get things done. Only people get things done. Organizations, plans, and programs either help or hinder people." I have seen good, hardworking professionals overcoming bad plans, programs, and systems - what I have not seen are individuals who are the opposite do well even with good plans, programs, and systems. You can focus on magic wands if you like - but I think our profession would be better off if we spent more resources on mentoring and educating people.
  11. Have you used the Clause Logic System (CLS)? There is nothing "AI" or automated about it - CLS merely generates clauses based on answers to questions from users - and even that it does poorly. I saw a report that in a single month, thousands of clauses generated by CLS were deleted because the user determined they did not apply. It clearly cannot teach itself to correct its mistakes. Further, CLS is not "fast" - it takes considerably more time than mere minutes. I sat with users going through CLS's required question and answer process numerous times. For even a simple commodity contract, if my memory serves me correctly, CLS required over 60 questions that took an experienced user over an hour to answer - I must note, this process would have been faster if users were allowed to use their professional judgment instead and choose clauses outside of CLS. Fast and easy? CLS is anything but.
  12. The desire for data and statistics too often gets in the way of sound thinking/reasoning. I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Admiral Rickover (emphasis added): "Organizations don't get things done. Plans and programs don't get things done. Only people get things done. Organizations, plans, and programs either help or hinder people." To add further context to the last sentence of Adm Rickover's quote, I have seen situations where good people can overcome bad organizations, plans, and processes and, conversely, I have seen situations where bad people cannot succeed despite good organizations, plans, and processes.
  13. I do not have the article you requested, but other essential reading on this topic is Vern's Briefing Paper "A Primer on Source Selection Planning: Evaluation Factors and Rating Methods." Fortunately, he has provided it to WIFCON at the following link: https://wifcon.com/articles/BP17-8_wbox.pdf Since you don't cite the Nash & Cibinic Report article you were reading, if it wasn't "Retreating from Reform: We have Met the Enemy, and He is Us!" I would recommend it as well for an example of what not to do, also available on WIFCON here: https://www.wifcon.com/articles/The Nash & Cibinic Report (June 2022).pdf Frankly, anything Vern writes and generously provides freely to WIFCON is worth the time to read and consider. Browse through the articles at the following link to find more: https://wifcon.com/analysis.htm
  14. Such a system depends on getting the requisite data to feed into the AI for the recommendation/decision. Do you think government contractors - particularly the traditional defense contractors (e.g. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, NG, etc.) - would be willing to provide the requisite data for such a system to work (accurately)? Or do you think the government already has the requisite data and we're just not using it because we don't have the right AI technology to feed it through?
  15. To me, the examples you provide are not routine, but require professional judgment appropriate to the specific acquisition situation. For example, whether something is or is not a FAR compliance issue is often not binary or clear - it requires reading and thinking through the issue(s). For an example of how difficult what you propose to accomplish with computers/algorithms/magic wands, see the woefully inadequate and inaccurate DoD Clause Logic System.
  16. I wrote a similar note in the margins of my copy as I was going through it - page 3 is also inconsistent with their incorporation of HTRO when it limits the best value continuum to LPTA and states "the tradeoff source selection process spans the entire remainder of the continuum." Paragraph 1.2.2 on page 2 is also puzzling - why go through the trouble of establishing an IDIQ only to be encouraged to subject them to these cumbersome source selection procedures for orders greater than $10M? Paragraph doesn't do our DoD acquisition community any favors by biasing source selection teams to choose factors like "technical approach...management approach, [and] personnel qualifications." Vern has written extensively on the problems with these non-promissory "essay writing" factors here: https://wifcon.com/articles/BP17-8_wbox.pdf https://www.wifcon.com/articles/The Nash & Cibinic Report-May 2022-Contracting Process Inertia.pdf https://www.wifcon.com/articles/The Nash & Cibinic Report (June 2022).pdf Overall, my main issue is that these DoD mandatory source selection procedures have been around for the past decade, yet they have not improved DoD's source selections and acquisition outcomes. So why publish a mere update rather than a substantive rewrite (or elimination) of procedures that do not appear to have markedly improved acquisition outcomes? [rhetorical question]
  17. How does your office use RFQs as an offer? Does your office lay out all the terms and conditions, price included, and the first contractor to accept gets to do the work?
  18. It's far more helpful than you give me credit for...how does the old adage go? "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink..." Despite the rudeness in the remark ("If you don't know then don't answer") I'll continue to try to help - did you look up the definitions for those two words in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), specifically Part 2?
  19. @Boogie_DownHave you tried to look up the definitions for the terms you're unsure of (e.g. "offer" & "solicitation")? A piece of advice I provide to all beginners is rather than merely asking questions, try to answer the questions for yourself first and then provide the questions and the possible answer(s) along with the information informing that position for feedback. I think it is imperative to build good habits early and if the habit you form is to ask others for the answer each time you encounter a question, you'll have a hard time developing the research and thinking skills contracting professionals desperately need to succeed.
  20. No "innovation" necessary - just get off the fiscal year cycle. Shorten the initial PoP to end on 31 May and start each subsequent 12 month option period on 1 June. This is just another example of an "idea" labeled as an "innovation" is anything but...have you thought through your proposed COA, for example: - gaps in service and how they might impact your mission partners - whether or not a company would even accept such an arrangement (or the premium you might have to pay for it) - are you even solving the problem? Would 60 days even be enough time? From my experience, these types of funding issues are usually driven by continuing resolutions (CRs) and many CRs are lasting longer than 60 days... (see https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL32614.html) One final note: as you re-compete this effort, please do not ask for an essay writing contest on offerors' "technical approaches" and "management plans" - see the following must reads: https://wifcon.com/articles/BP17-8_wbox.pdf https://www.wifcon.com/articles/The Nash & Cibinic Report-May 2022-Contracting Process Inertia.pdf
  21. I put together the following reading list at the request of some young contracting professionals and figured it'd be worth sharing here for anyone who might be looking for a book (or ten) to read. The list is broken into categories with a brief explanation before the book(s) followed by a few excerpts to hopefully whet the prospective reader's appetite. I hope others find these reads as useful and enjoyable as I did. Some Reading Recommendations for Contracting Professionals Contracting Essentials – Ask yourself, when was the last time you read the FAR or a GAO/COFC decision just to learn (i.e. not to look up a rule or reference for a particular issue)? For most, the answer is probably longer than it should be. Reading the FAR and case law just to learn is essential to becoming a contracting professional. My personal tip – start with FAR Part 1 (the part I’ve heard from too many people that they were told to skip…). 1+. The FAR & Cibinic & Nash Series FAR 1.102(d) “The role of each member of the Acquisition Team is to exercise personal initiative and sound business judgment in providing the best value product or service to meet the customer’s needs. In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition team may assume that if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority.” Core Skills (Reading & Writing) – Contracting professionals are words people – we must use words to create contracts. To do that effectively we must read and write well. Reading and writing are skills and, like any other skill, we get better at them with practice. These two books will help you develop those skills. 2. How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler “learning is meant understanding more, not remembering more information that has the same degree of intelligibility as other information you already possess.” “just as there is a difference in the art of teaching in different fields, so there is a reciprocal difference in the art of being taught. The activity of the student must somehow be responsive to the activity of the instructor. The relation between books and their readers is the same as that between teachers and their students. Hence, as books differ in the kinds of knowledge they have to communicate, they proceed to instruct us differently; and, if we are to follow them, we must learn to read each kind in an appropriate manner.” 3. Do I Make Myself Clear by Harold Evans “We know that the right worlds are oxygen, that dead English pollutes our minds every day.” “Writers generally set out with good intentions, but something happens along the way. We don’t really know what we want to say until we try to write it, and in the gap between the thought and its expression we realize the bold idea has to be qualified or elaborated. We write more sentences. Then more. We are soon in the territory defined by the French mathematician Blasé Pascal but associated with others, too: I would have written something shorter, but I didn’t have time.” Acquisition History – History consistently fascinates me and I think we ignore it at our own peril. We are not the first people to write contracts or manage acquisition programs so we should learn from the successes and struggles of those who came before us. In an era where there are too many half-baked ideas masquerading as acquisition innovations, history can serve as a guide to figure out what might be helpful and what might be hurtful. 4. The Weapons Acquisition Process by Peck & Scherer “In brief, these comparisons demonstrate that weapons development is like few other activities in the American economy. Rather, it is characterized by unique elements of uncertainty resulting from the combination of, first, the extent to which weapons press the limits of existing engineering art and scientific knowledge and, second, the character of the demand for weapons in a cold war environment. The better performance of commercial developments in staying within budgets, meeting schedules, and achieving performance objectives is explained largely by the fact that most commercial project developments are not initiated until major state of the art and marketing uncertainties have been resolved. Under extraordinary competitive pressures, a commercial development occasionally does push the state of the art in a weapons-like way. On such occasions, weapons-like problems tend to occur; cost targets are exceeded, schedules are slipped, and the product fails to meet its performance promises. This would suggest that comparison of weapons and typical commercial developments is hardly a fair index of relative efficiency, and that the direct transfer of business practice to weapons efforts is not, in and of itself, a meaningful solution for improving the acquisition of technically advanced weapons.” “the uncertainties connected with weapons acquisition preclude the development of a market system in anything approaching the usual meaning of that term.” 5. The General and The Genius by James Kunetka “The conception and development of a theoretically complex and technologically advanced weapon, made from materials heretofore unimagined, in two and a half years is an extraordinary tale in its own right.” 6. Stealth by Peter Westwick “The initiative for Stealth did not come from presidents or generals operating from a grand strategic vision. Nor did it come from the bottom up, from the soldiers—or, in this case, pilots—who would be the ones to wield the new technology. It came rather from the middle, from engineers and program managers who translated technology into strategy and policy, and vice versa…much of the history was not romantic or heroic. It consisted of countless mundane meetings, memos, and briefings, interspersed with trips to the remote, ramshackle outposts of RATSCAT and Area 51. No Eureka moment made Stealth aircraft possible…the concept’s strategic importance and technological challenge inspired a large number of smart people to work exceptionally hard for a long time to realize it. That was the true secret of Stealth.” Thinking & Decision Making – Contracting professionals must know how to think and make sound decisions. These books are essentials for understanding different ways for how we may think and act better. Economic thought, in particular, is but one way of thinking – but what we cannot afford to do is ignore the costs and tradeoffs inherent in many of our decisions. 7. Thinking: Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman “A deeper understanding of judgments and choices also requires a richer vocabulary than is available in everyday language.” “many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.” “Maintaining one’s vigilance against biases is a chore—but the chance to avoid a costly mistake is sometimes worth the effort.” 8. Radical Uncertainty by Kay & King “The world is inherently uncertain and to pretend otherwise is to create risk, not to minimize it.” “There is an alternative story to that told by behavioral economics. It is that many of the characteristics of human reasoning which behavioral economics describes as biases are in fact adaptive—beneficial to success—in the large real worlds in which people live, even if they are sometimes misleading in the small worlds created for the purposes of economic modelling and experimental psychology. It is an account which substitutes evolutionary rationality for axiomatic rationality.” “The false assumption that good process leads to good outcomes is pervasive in public sector organizations, where good often means lengthy, involves many people with little responsibility for the result, and is imbued with ill-defined concepts of fairness centered around issues of representativeness and statistical discrimination. Process has become the policy, with deleterious effects on outcomes.” 9. Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell “Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses…life does not ask us what we want. It presents us with options. Economics is one of the ways of trying to make the most of those options.” “Competition among people for scarce resources is inherent. It is not a question whether we like or dislike competition. Scarcity means that we do not have the option to choose whether or not to have an economy in which people compete. That is the only kind of economy that is possible—and our only choice is among the particular methods that can be used for that competition.” Bonus Books – Contracting professionals are both leaders and honest brokers, so the following two selections are on those topics. “The Strategist” is a particularly interesting read about an Air Force Lt Gen who set the standard for what an “honest broker” can and should be. 10. On Leadership by John Gardner “Confusion between leadership and official authority has a deadly effect on large organizations. Corporations and government agencies everywhere have executives who imagine that their place on the organization chart has given them a body of followers. And of course it has not. They have been given subordinates. Whether the subordinates become followers depends on whether the executives act like leaders.” “we must not think rigidly or mechanically about the attributes of leaders. The attributes required of a leader depend on the kind of leadership being exercised, the context, the nature of followers, and so on.” “Leaders discover that the great systems over which they preside require continuous renewal…It is not a question of excellence. A society that has reached heights of excellence may already be caught in the rigidities that will bring it down. An institution may hold itself to the highest standards and yet already be doomed by the complacency that foreshadows decline.” “Mentors are ‘growers,’ good farmers rather than inventors or mechanics. Growers have to accept that the main ingredients and processes with which they work are not under their own control. They are in a patient partnership with nature, with an eye to the weather and a feeling for cultivation. A recognition that seeds sometimes fall on barren ground, a willingness to keep trying, a concern for the growing thing, patience—such are the virtues of the grower. And the mentor.” 11. The Strategist by Bartholomew Sparrow “Scowcroft’s sense of organizational politics, his willingness to act as the president’s agent, the control he exercised on the quality of the NSC process, and his respect for the views of others in government had, in combination, that much more effect because his actions were infused by his ability as a strategist: his ability to discern the people and organizations in play, to understand their backgrounds and origins, and to see how they interacted and what the likely consequences would be in relation to the desired objectives of US policy.” “his own approach to almost every question is to view it with informed skepticism…” “It is utterly amazing how one person…can make all the difference in the world.”
  22. Next best thing is to learn from him - I just finished reading “How Ike Lead” which was written by his granddaughter. Not the best biographical book, but it is written in a way that highlights what she felt were Ike’s principles & leadership strengths.
  23. Kudos to you Bob for sharing and the frank admission - too many people pretend and just regurgitate the headline summaries they've heard ("See! Didn't Ike warn us about the military industrial complex!"), without reading or listening to the original speech for the complete context (this one and many others). My favorite excerpt of his farewell speech is this: There are no easy answers to important challenges (or crises) - no "innovation" will suddenly rescue us. We need a sober understanding of the tradeoffs, good judgment to make the right decision, and hard work to execute the decision competently.
  24. Hammer meets nail - I'm shocked that after reading this the government is paying even more money for further "research"
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