Posts posted by Mike Twardoski
Thanks, @joel hoffman! I appreciate the insight here as well as the feedback you provided in that other thread I'll have to do some googling to see what other DoD branches have similar playbooks.
On 1/20/2023 at 4:44 PM, KeithB18 said:
That said, disappointed offerors don't have a relationship, post-award, with the agency. If you've won the contract, proactive communication is a good practice for relationship building. Identify issues early as well. Keep the CO informed. Don't ask for a bunch of administrative modifications. (In a previous job, a major government contractor asked me, repeatedly, for administrative modifications that I told them were unnecessary.) Ask for feedback on your performance outside of the CPARS cycle. To the extent you can, be visible. In the pre-covid days, a contractor I worked with would stop by my office once or twice a month to check in. Don't overdo this though--I also had a situation where the contractor stopped by every day, and I was eventually like, "I've got things to do here." There is really no substitute for an actual, IRL relationship with someone. If you have deliverable deadlines, meet them, or better yet, beat them. Plan for the government to take more time reviewing your deliverable than they say they need.
I truly appreciate these insights, @KeithB18. My fear - and maybe it's unfounded - is that my proactiveness comes across as bothersome. While every contracting office is different, I do feel like sometimes my communications fall into the ether, even when they're actionable. I try not to overdo it because I don't want to be THAT GUY who emails, calls, and texts everyday. Because I get it. But, you know, maybe once a week? A weekly call? A weekly high level email of what I'm tracking?
Maybe it's time to recalibrate...
15 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:
Let's not get too carried away with that "acquisition team" business.
I literally LOL'd when I read this! Very true 😄
At the risk of sidetracking the discussion - which has been really insightful - thank you all for your insights. I really do appreciate it.On 1/13/2023 at 10:26 AM, C Culham said:
Switch it up. Industry could better understand the guiding principles to the FAR to use them to better foster the ideal of becoming a member of the acquisition team post award. Be an advocate for a relationship of good faith and fair dealing. Example - the offer partnering comes from the Government side why couldn't industry propose it with an offer? Almost like the intent of Forum be the one to take the hand of the wayward CO and in the process of solicitation to contract award be more forceful, in a productive way, to forge a mutual contract and then once awarded not let the guard down and continue in the advocate role. As advocates understand and help promote this - 1.102-4 Role of the Acquisition Team. After all if they really are a member of the "team" this should be industry's mission as well.
I like this idea, @C Culham. It's something I'd like to adopt in a forthcoming multi-year, sole-source RFP (we're the incumbent seller).
Along those lines, I do understand @Voyager's comments about motives. I don't have nearly the amount of experience as many here have, but the overall vibe I've gotten from Government contracting offices - with maybe one exception - is one of suspicion. Maybe I'm asking the wrong questions, but many of the PCO's/contracts specialists I've worked with seem to get really cagey whenever I use the word "collaboration," whether it's pre- or post-award. I understand it more pre-award, but post-award? It kinda baffles me.
Therein lies the struggle for me. I want to show good faith by saying "let's collaborate." Perhaps some of the reluctance is due to lack of face to face time, especially post-COVID. One of my favorite PCO's - someone with nearly 30+ experience - was all about relationship building, and I've tried to take a page from his book.
@joel hoffman I'd welcome the opportunity to play some softball with my Government counterparts! I love that story.
@Vern Edwards your insights are always helpful, and I appreciate your posts here.
If I may ask another question, would you all suggest finding a mentor on the Government side to get a better handle of the Government's perspective? Is that frowned upon?
I've harbored this idea for the past few weeks - finding a former PCO - to bounce ideas off of or just chat with on a semi-regular basis. I've tried this on the NCMA boards and through their Mentor portal, but alas, no takers.
The latest episode of The Contracting Officer Podcast was devoted to the 3 Doers, and how the contractor becomes a member of the acquisition team post-award.
The discussion on the pod sparked a question for me as a contracts manager on the industry side: How can industry contracts strengthen the Government/contractor relationship post-award? ? I'm interested in hearing insights and/or anecdotes from the Government's perspective. Any best practices or stories about what makes a good industry contracts manager? Is there someone (no names needed) you, as a Government employee, worked with in which you thought to yourself, "Company X's contracts manager was the best because he/she did this, this, and this..."?
Excellent read, @Vern Edwards. Thank you for sharing.
I read an article not long ago - and I'm struggling to remember where I read it - that offered some clues as to growing distrust in institutions. Initially, I thought it was social media alone, but the article offered a more telling explanation: the explosion of choices to find information. We have more choices than ever before. Back in the 50s and 60s, there were only 3 channels. Each city/town/state had one or two newspapers. There were libraries, too, of course. But those were the choices for almost everyone. As a result, there was far more common ground. We, as Americans, generally watched the same shows, same newscasts, and read the same papers.
But once cable TV offered dozens, then hundreds, of channels, we could choose where to get information. Then came the internet. By the late-90s/early-00s, we had so many more choices for information. And because we're all human, we gravitated to what fit our growlingly-nuanced views.
Those nuances, unfortunately, put us in boxes. As a result, we've come to distrust anything outside of those boxes. And that mindset is wholly evident by the discourse on social media. We're no longer a passing resemblance of a cohesive society; we're a group of a thousand different tribes. We don't seem to look at the world outwardly as much as we used to; we look inwardly first. And because it's never been easier to find like-minded people via social media, the internet, or TV, those tribes lead to more entrenched thinking, and more self-validation (for better or worse, but in this case, much worse). We only trust those within our tribes.
Institutions? They're often cast as the villain within those tribes. They've become anathema to many of those tribes, if not all of them. The common mantra: You're either with us, or against us. And the echo chamber continues to clatter.
The sad thing is that humanity has never had more access to information than right now. It should have led to more of the progress that Thompson wrote about. Instead, it's only served to fracture us as we continue to pick and choose what we consume, always rebuking anything that doesn't fit neatly into our growingly-narrow mindsets.
I found this sentence telling:Quote
Nearly 90 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that the pandemic has made the country more divided.
Talk about an implementation failure of the highest order. The pandemic was a universal event. It should have united us. Those responsible for that implementation, unfortunately, sought political points first and foremost. After all, it was an election year.
Truth be told, they could hardly be blamed. We live in a culture that is all too eager to cast as many villains as possible before it anoints a single hero.
20 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:
Nope. But thanks, Mike.
I'll add an incentive. First newbie (one year or less on the job) to post an accurate and complete citation gets a copy of The Government Contracts Reference Book, 5th ed. (2022).
"Complete" means you take us to the precise spot where the topic is addressed. Citing a higher level paragraph that encompasses more than the topic of inquiry will not be considered complete.
I learn something new everyday. Thanks for the feedback and insight, Vern!
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Thanks for sharing, Bob. I'm on the final chapter of The Government-Industrial Complex: The True Size of the Federal Government 1984-2018 by Paul C. Light, so seeing the speech was fascinating, both as a contracts professional and a history buff.
It makes me wonder what Ike would say about not only the FAR, but of Silicon Valley, which operates outside the influence of federally-backed R&D. Would he view that as a blessing or curse of the military-industrial complex?
On 9/28/2022 at 11:18 AM, Vern Edwards said:
FAR citations are like map coordinates. They tell you where rules are located in a 1,994-page pdf document that comes in several other formats, so that page numbers are not helpful unless everyone is looking at the same edition.
In FAR 2.101 the listings are easy to find, because they're in alphabetical order. But that is not usually the case, so in some cases it is essential to be more precise.
Here is a citation exercise for newbies:
Find and provide an accurate and precise citation for the FAR rule about the assignment to accounting periods of allowable postretirement benefit costs based on contributions to a welfare benefit fund determined in accordance with the applicable Internal Revenue Code.
The format for FAR citations is described at FAR 1.105-2(b) and (c).
Can anyone share any tips for building & strengthening relationships with your Government contracting counterparts in a delay-heavy environment? I'm on the industry side, and joined a new program about 2 months ago that's been plagued by a series of late hardware deliveries, most due to supply chain issues. Many of my communications to the customer so far have been notifying them of these misses, and our plans for mitigating.
Beyond that, I'm trying to develop good working relationships with my PCO, specialist & COR, with limited success so far (COR is great, PCO & specialist are hard to get a hold of). I've spoken with my predecessor about it, and he essentially told me "that's the way it's always been." I've never particularly cared for that mindset, so I'm trying to figure out some solutions. I've spoken with my PCO on other issues, but have not received his buy in on a regular tag up to review ongoing issues/concerns.
What are some ways a contracts lead in industry can bridge the gap, so to speak, with his Government counterparts? What are some ways he can make things easier for the Government? What do they really care about in this environment? What solutions can I offer my counterparts? I'm still semi-new to Government contracting, so I'm open any ideas or suggestions from some of the more seasoned folks here on this board.
P.S. My supply chain POC recently told me "I'd hate to be in contracts right now. You're not going to deliver anything on time for the next 5 years." Yay.
This discussion reminds me of a book I just finished - The Good Life and its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement. Granted, it's from 1995, but it's a truly enlightening read about how Americans, once accepting of some common setbacks (unemployment, job insecurity, retirement worries), are no longer willing to stomach those pitfalls. Or anything like it. So Government has been pressed into service as the end all solution for so many things. As such, Government programs have continued to expand since post-WWII, and are rarely rolled back because of the political clout of the stakeholders.
So what if a given Government program is essentially failing, expensive, or obsolete? Benefits (Social security is discussed at length) that have been granted to Americans are now seen as "rights," even to those who don't need them (like the wealthy over-65 crowd). A few other social programs that provide the so-called safety net to folks are rarely reworked or reimagined; rather, more cash is thrown at it, lest strong political constituencies start making noise.
Pain avoidance over pain tolerance.
I'm never disappointed whenever I poke into Recommended Reading
First, thank you for the book recommendation, @Vern Edwards. Another one to add to the never-ending stack.
And @here_2_help, your story really resonated with me. Back in my hiring manager days, curiosity was a key characteristic I sought for new hires, but only after I had been burned by focusing on those with the best qualifications.
One candidate, in particular, was extremely accomplished, and on paper, probably the smartest person I'd ever interviewed. She resigned 8 months later, and was in the midst of a performance improvement plan that already wasn't going well. I contrasted her performance with that of another recent hire who didn't have the traditional background or qualifications, but always asked great questions. Questions that actually gave me pause and sometimes required me to re-examine how we did things.
Curiosity is a wonderful trait, and to me, it aligns with the "hire for attitude, train for skill" approach.
5 hours ago, General.Zhukov said:
Analogy: A family member has a really nice vintage Porsche. He needed some rando part for the engine. From what I gather, this part is exclusively used by a few models of Porsche made in the early 2000s. This part (forget its name or what it does, not a car guy) is literally a small piece of metal - no moving parts. Weights a pound or two. The material costs couldn't have been more than a few dollars. The Porsche mechanic in our area had one in stock, and charged (approximately, this was a few years ago) $200. $200 for a $5 part. $5 for the part. $195 for having a small retail warehouse of obscure German car parts located within a short driving distance. This would be excess profit, no?
@General.ZhukovI think this analogy is apt. What constitutes excess profit? One could argue that if adequate market research is conducted - whether by a consumer or the USG - then caveat emptor. If I buy a premium product like a Porsche, part of the "bargain" is that I'll need to pay premium prices for replacement parts. What's $200 to someone who probably paid >$100K for a Porsche?
I hate resorting to worn phrases, but context is important.44 minutes ago, REA'n Maker said:
Ah yes, but in a commercial environment it's easy for the vendor to walk away because of their seller power regardless of how the item is classified.
For the government to try and fix that with C&P data is like going to the Toyota dealer and expecting them to give you the price you determined to be fair by pricing up all the components they used to build the car in December 2020. In fact, when I took my truck in for service last week the dealer was charging $12K over invoice for a new 4-Runner. At first I thought "wow; they are gouging the crap out of people." Then I noticed all the employees sitting around and the grand total of 5 cars on their lot, and wondered how they were getting paid. So is that "gouging" or "covering your fixed costs as properly allocated to a very low volume of sales"?
Scarcity is a huge driver of cost.
If I was in the start-up business, I'd take a deep dive into what companies like Transdigm are producing and try to offer a competing product. Sell the heck out of it to whomever in the acquisition office will listen, and angle for a competitive procurement.
Then again, if I were in the start-up business, I'd probably run as far and as fast away from an industry as heavily-regulated as Federal contracting. #sadbuttrue
13 hours ago, joel hoffman said:
Mike, We probably need to get some clarification from you concerning the context of your questions and concerns. Is your proposal for a new contract or an action under an existing one?
So, if this is a proposal for a new contract and the PCO “invoked” the DFARS clause for use in a competitive acquisition after only one proposal was received, the PCO (who you apparently haven’t previously worked with) probably notified you that you are the sole proposer and they need you to provide cost and pricing information, more detailed breakdowns and subcontractor cost or pricing and/or breakdowns.
So, are you asking if there could be a pre-negotiation conference to establish responsibilities and expectations, I’d say yes, you could request that and I see no reason why the government should not agree to that - but you’d have to ask, since it may not be their usual business practice.
A pre-negotiation conference should also certainly help allay suspicions about working with an unfamiliar government team. It can also be useful to clarify scope or requirements questions and explain aspects of your proposal.
I used to participate occasionally in pre-proposal and pre-negotiation conferences.
As for “partnering”, as practiced By the USACE, that is a voluntary, post award practice. Carl Culham provided a link to the USACE Partnering guidelines. Good luck!
@joel hoffman Indeed, it's a proposal for a new, follow on contract. Thank you for the advice and insights!
4 hours ago, joel hoffman said:
Having participated in Alpha Contracting on a large construction task order on a multibillion dollar, long term CP, IDIQ Systems Contract for design/build/systemization/pilot operations/operations/closure of a plant to demilitarize Chemical weapons, the circumstances you just described don’t appear to be “Alpha Contracting”. However, I would suggest that the parties engage in some type of “partnering process” , if not too late, that might allay your suspicions and concerns.
Thanks for the tip, @joel hoffman. Forgive my ignorance, but how does one go about starting that partnering process? Is it a pre-negotiation conference? I'm very interested in learning more.
16 hours ago, Matthew Fleharty said:
A couple thoughts (which may or may not be worth what you're paying for them) 😉:
- Optimal speed vs. faster: speed is just one aspect of any acquisition and and the right speed depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Just as an athlete trying to run and win a marathon will not run the race at 100m pace, acquisition professionals need to think purposefully about their particular acquisition to find the optimal speed rather than just trying to go as fast as possible with the potential for unintended consequences.
- Work in parallel (both between government/industry and internally): I found it beneficial to get the cost data the government thought it needed as early in the process as possible, certainly well before the contractor delivered their proposal. This way we could start analyzing methodologies and estimating a fair and reasonable price concurrently with the contractor. In some cases the information we requested was not what the contractor relied on to build their estimates, but that's okay - there is usually more than one way to generate an estimate and we could always discuss which were best during negotiations. This requires the cooperation of industry, who can be reluctant to share information with the government early before it goes through their own internal review processes, but thankfully I have worked with and established trust with some excellent individuals on the contractor side which facilitated early exchanges of information.
- Transparency & Expectations: see my comments on this thread.
Great insights, @Matthew Fleharty. Much appreciated! At the moment, we're about 2 months away from the start of negotiations. The PCO invoked 252.215-7008 ONLY ONE OFFER (JUL 2019) shortly after we submitted our proposal last summer, so we're in the process of circling back and getting new, compliant quotes from our suppliers for the CCoPD submission, which is taking a fair amount of time.
I read - and re-read, and then bookmarked - your comments about transparency & expectations. which I found especially enlightening. Our team is working with a contracting office we have no experience with. As you might expect, suspicions are heightened from our end. The idea of setting expectations and responsibilities at the start is something that certainly resonates, at least with me.
Thank you again, Mr. Fleharty!
14 hours ago, Matthew Fleharty said:
Ever since I heard the term "Alpha Contracting" I thought it was a funny thing - if it is simultanesouly so different AND successful, why not use it for every sole source acquisition? I think those who understand sole source negotiated contracts understand that the factors that determine whether "Alpha Contracting" is successful are not unique to it - that second article you post talks about the importance of factors like "trust," "top management support," and "commitment and focus" - does "Alpha Contracting" automatically come with those characteristics? I highly doubt it - trust has to be earned and maintained, not every acquisition is a top priority, and depending on who the players are on each side will determine if they are professional enough to remain committed and focused.
Simply put, you can't simply declare that an acquisition is going to use "Alpha Contracting" and expect success. Conversely, you can achieve success without even knowing a thing about "Alpha Contracting." I successfully negotiated multiple large sole source contracts (some quite rapidly) before I even knew the term "Alpha Contracting" existed. It is not a prerequisite nor is it a panacea - I think if both parties promise to do a professional job and strive to maintain a healthy working relationship throughout the process you'll achieve success, regardless of whether you use or call it "Alpha Contracting" or not.
Thanks for the insights, @Matthew Fleharty! I think the conditions surrounding trust, top management support, etc. are present considering this is a long-running program with a solid rapport between us and the customer. I'm sure there are issues in our blind spot that'll unravel as we go, but I think we have a good foundation at the moment.
You spoke about negotiating some multiple large sole source contracts quite rapidly. What are the keys to achieving that beyond trust, commitment, and focus? Could you share any lessons learned?
I'm on the industry side of a recent proposal in which the ETA for award is about one year out. Because there is a push on our side to get it awarded by the end of the year, there's been some discussion about using Alpha Contracting, which I'm not familiar with. I read these articles to try to get some insights, and wanted to know if anyone had any first hand experience and could share any pro tips or pitfalls.
Thank you in advance!
9 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:
@Mike TwardoskiWhat else are you reading, Mike?
That's a loaded question, @Vern Edwards
Right now, I'm bouncing between Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond, by Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman and The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking, by Saifdean Ammous (Christmas present from my brother who's nudging me to invest in Bitcoin). Just about finished with the latter, so I have An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination, by Sheera Frankel and Cecilia Kang on deck.
Not too long ago, I revisited your Recommended Books for Government Contracting Professionals, so I have Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads by Joel Best in my queue at the library.
By the way, the Recommended Reading discussion on this forum is easily my favorite, if only because it feeds into my insatiable need for reading more books.
10 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:
I should add, as a warning, that I found the chapters about the two crashes very painful to read, especially the chapter about the crash in Ethiopia. The author pulled no punches.
Those were tough chapters, indeed.
@Vern Edwards No doubt the author viewed the Boeing-Douglas merger as the focal point of the path to the crashes. I do, however, think he painted the political decision-making by whomever was in the Oval Office (Clinton's policies were good, those of Reagan, Bush 2, and Trump were bad) as blameworthy as well. The Trump bashing was a typical journalistic crutch, as well. It detracted from a truly compelling story. I would've liked to have seen more context on the merger. Obviously, we've seen plenty of mergers in the Government contracting world over the last 25 years, and I think a semi-deep dive into industry amid this environment would've been enlightening.
Either way, the Government's relationship with Boeing post-merger was undeniably incestuous. In terms of that acquisition official who awarded billions in contracts only to be hired away by Boeing, it seemed to highlight the downright corruption that existed between both agencies. That particular story should be a huge spotlight on what you mentioned above: a decline in the quality, but not quantity, of American government. So I'm suspicious of any hypothesis that suggests more regulation is the antidote to bad regulation.
Personally, it was difficult to read it without wearing my federal contracting lenses. Government contracting has become enormous, to the point in which it's easy to see how this tragedy developed. To me, that's the biggest issue at play. Corruption exists, to be sure, and some regulation is warranted. But how much? Many discussions on this board center on the monster that's the modern-day FAR. Do we need more of that? I'd argue no. I also say that I wish I had a solution to offer. I don't know what the answer is.
Writing-wise, I wholeheartedly agree with you, Vern: Michael Lewis could've knocked this story out of the park! I'm actually amazed that someone who worked the Boeing beat could only offer semi-general perspectives and the occasional anecdotal story as he fleshed out the story. It was an interesting read either way, but I expected more from an "insider," at least in the journalistic sense. Maybe my expectations were too high
Fixed Price CLINs and COVID
in For Beginners Only
Without understanding the whole situation, the answers I've received from a couple of different contracting offices when it comes to seeking additional costs on FFP CLINs due to COVID impacts can be summed up in two words:
Their rationale is when we (the contractor) submitted a proposal for work under FFP, we accepted all the risk. Yes, COVID wasn't a thing when we were awarded the contract back 2016. And yes, we have the Excusable Delays clause in the contract. But no, no the PCO does not want to hear our sad song about COVID impacts. I believe there was a memo issued last year wherein DoD that reinforced that view as well.
So if it's a DoD contract, you might be SOL.