It’s 11 PM on Fiscal Year Eve. Do you know where your contracts are?
It’s just as well. If you work for the Department of Defense, you probably won’t be reading this until the next fiscal year anyway.
This year wasn’t bad for me. Only the second fiscal year end in 30-plus years that hasn’t been crunch time for me. But then, I no longer work in Contracting. I know. I’m rubbing it in. But this time of year historically gives way to too much caffeine, bad pizza, and repetitive stress injuries/tendonitis for me because I’ve always felt I had to just keep pushing to get it all done, and it was often down to the wire unless I did a lot of planning ahead.
Right now is the best time to make sure next fiscal year end isn’t as rough. Don’t exhale on Monday and forget about it or swear you’ll be somewhere next year that won’t be as rough an end of year scenario. Even if you are—or retire or run away—right now is the best time to make next fiscal year better for the people you leave behind.
Right now, while it’s fresh in your mind, make a few notes.
1. What contract actions did you have that made you stop and cringe because you remembered—in the heat of the moment—having to do the same thing last year…and the year before?
2. What did you curse under your breath about, wishing you’d had a contract in place to handle it fast—or at least not to have to start from scratch?
3. What didn’t get done because you didn’t have the right kinds of contracts in place or didn’t get a usable requirements package for?
While it’s fresh on your mind, devise your plan to get you through next fiscal year end by creating the right structures over the next 9 months. (Yes, I said 9 months—because many Contracting shops cut off acceptance of new requirements in June or July just to make sure customers don’t wait until the end of September to express themselves.) Why not focus on putting new vehicles and tools together in the first quarter of the new fiscal year when everyone is recovering and so often little to nothing big gets done? Get a head start.
Things to consider:
1. If you found yourself once again trying to get actions on contract that hit you every single year, what kind of contract vehicles can you put in place that will allow for quick turns or as effortless as possible awards? Pre-priced IDIQ contracts? Basic Ordering Agreements? Blanket Purchase Agreements? Contracts with repeatable options. Other transactions. How can you restructure your portfolio of Contracting vehicles to stay ahead of the game? That may mean rewickering existing vehicles or planning the next one. Making sure I had the right vehicles in place allowed me to accept fall-out money on 27 September and award expiring funds within two days.
2. Start training your customers—educating them—no later than March of the fiscal year. Honestly, many of them just have no idea what Contracting is like in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year and don’t understand what a backlog is ahead of them. Train them early. Create template packages for them. Help make it easy for them to make it easy for you.
3. If getting on contract is going to be tight, work with your program managers or project managers to make sure you have everything you need in time. Too often, I had program managers go on vacation for half or even the entire month of September, leaving behind a requirements package that wasn’t quite complete or a negotiation question and no one else knew how to fix it. That meant last minute texts to Hawaii, for example, and a lot of resentment—both for an interrupted vacation and for the ability to go on a vacation. For years I was told I couldn’t take a day off in September, even for a funeral or a serious medical test, so the last thing I wanted to hear was that I couldn’t get something awarded because my program manager had forgotten to send over a legal piece of paper. Program managers, you need to make sure that if you’re out of pocket, you’ve got a stand in to answer technical questions or your Contracting Officer has quick access to you.
4. Some things must be awarded by fiscal year end, either because they have expiring funds (an arbitrary deadline, if you think about it) or because there’s a warfighter need (not arbitrary). Make sure that whatever spreadsheet or database that keeps track is complete. I always had at least one customer who wasn’t tracked by my local FM community, and if I hadn’t personally tracked their actions, we would’ve lost several critical actions. As far as “soft closeout,” that was always a joke to me because I had customers who didn’t even send money until after 20 September because that’s when their funds arrived, sometimes as fallout money because other Contracting shops couldn’t award on time and we could. Know your customers’ incoming actions and track actions yourself if you’re a chief responsible for getting it all done. It’s not a job I could ever delegate to a staff person or central contact. It was up close and personal, to make sure nothing fell through the cracks.
5. Align your existing and new contracts with a period of performance that doesn’t end on 30 September if you can. Why? Because when are you ever going to have funds on 1 October? Plan ahead for a period of performance that will take you into the new fiscal year, ideally into December or after. You don’t want to spend October (usually the bare minimum) without a service because you’re waiting for money to arrive. Theme song for October? “Continuing Resolution.”
6. Speaking of theme songs for the end of the fiscal year, September’s is “Is there going to be a shutdown?” with a reprise in December because Congress (of today and of previous years), can’t get their act together. I always planned for a shutdown, no matter how many Contracting Directors told me they didn’t think Congress (of any dominant party) and the President (any President) would let that happen. It was absolutely necessary to know what contracts needed an increment of funds to keep them going in case we got sent home, which military members would be left at the office to keep the bare basics going, including whether we had a captain or major with a warrant who could sign contracts in case no one else was there and they couldn’t call us Chiefs for advice because we were not allowed under statute to help during a shutdown. Shutdowns are frustrating times: in 2013, at 5:17 PM on 30 September, I was awarding an urgent requirement and was the most important person on the base, or so some thought. We wrapped up and went home, only to come in the next morning to be sent home as non-essential. So stay ahead of the shutdowns by having a plan, both for your office and for your contracts and contractors. I saw so many threatened shutdowns in the last five years that I had a standing plan for my office, so we never had to recreate it and it lessened the sense of panic. We just followed my process every time and yawned when official word came down late the day before a shutdown that we needed to create/carry out a plan.
7. Here in the South, we always have another worry in the month of September, and I was always queasy about staying ahead of schedule. I’ve never forgotten staying home from work for a week after Hurricane Opal or days away from work after Hurricane Ivan. Without power, we couldn’t even work from home on our laptops, even if telework had been allowed, and we were stuck at home waiting on gas trucks to refill the local tanks. You can’t afford to let up because hurricanes can run you out of town or shut you down in the last critical days of the month. The last days of September 1998, Hurricane Georges flooded roads in my area, and while the main roads to the base were still open, more rural areas were impassable and Contracting employees couldn’t get to work. One of my buyers knew how badly she was needed at work to finish a critical contract, so her dad drove heavy equipment (backhoe? bulldozer?) to her house to pick her up and transport her to the nearest unflooded road. I always factored in a one-week shutdown due to hurricanes and tropical storm flooding so that I could meet deadlines…just in case.
8. Though it may help to have your customers piece-meal requirements packages to you, think hard on this one. I was burned often while trying to get a headstart. If you allow a customer to send what what they have as soon as they have it, you might be able to get some things done in advance but you won’t be able to get very far. Your customer will remember giving you a piece of the requirements package in January and forget the five reiterations of the requirements and demand to know why you’re not on contract when you still don’t have the full package that’s needed to wrap up an award. All they remember is that “Contracting’s had it since” January. Sometimes it works better to wait for the entire, complete, fully usable package before committing to a start. You should know your customers well enough to know whether it’s better to charge ahead without a full package or if you need to hold any action hostage to make sure you actually get what you need. Yes, this sounds crazy to outsiders, but it’s way too common.
Bottom line: Plan ahead, plan as if you know you’re going to face a major hurricane and a Government shutdown, put flexible and fast vehicles in place, educate your customers. And start in October, not in June, and oh, heavens, no, not in next September.
Start this week. Do it. Make it part of this week’s staff meeting to talk about how next year will be different because of the plans you put in place now.
c 2018 Lorna Tedder
- Rapid Acquisition Consultant
- Recently retired Contracting Officer, unlimited AFMC warrant 1991-2018
- Nationally recognized Innovation Thought Leader in Government acquisition
- Rapid acquisition teacher, both FAR and non-FAR based contracting
- Master brain-stormer and advisor to program offices across the DoD
- Expert in developing junior and mid-level personnel to become innovators in Government acquisition
- 3 decades of first-hand experience and success with Other Transactions, Oral Proposals, 10 USC 2373, Broad Agency Announcements, unique pricing arrangements, Price Based Acquisition, Award Without Discussion, streamlined source selections, multiple award IDIQs, UCAs, waivers, omnibus tool creation, Quick Reaction Capability teams, and strategic sourcing
- Do you need help? Would you like me to spend a couple of days teaching your Government team how to use innovative contracting methods? Message me on LinkedIn or my contact page.