Why Boundaries Are Needed for Other Transactions

“If it’s something I want, then it’s something I need—I wasn’t built for comfort: I was built for speed.
“And I know that I’m gonna be like this forever…I’m never gonna be what I ‘should,’
“And you think that I’ll be bad for just a little while, but I know that I’ll be Bad for Good.” – “Bad for Good,” Jim Steinman

Like it or not, knowing our boundaries is a good thing when it comes to Other Transactions and innovation tools, both 10 USC 2371 and 10 USC 2372 included.

The Other Transaction community and the acquisition community at large have been mildly freaking out since the GAO decision regarding Oracle America Inc for a $950M follow-on prototype OTA for cloud migration/cloud operation services. (By the way, if you’ve read only articles about the GSA decision or–cringe!–only pithy headlines about the decision, finish my ramblings and go read the 20-page decision in my link.) As I had feared, all of the original Other Transaction naysayers have jumped on this decision as proof that Other Transactions are Evil Incarnate and should be avoided at all costs. I, however, am not breaking out my dragon’s blood incense and sprinkling black salt in a circle around me. Quite the opposite.

“There are no statues to critics, only to those who are criticized.”– Tim Ferriss

For any new territory to be explored, it helps to know the boundaries. As we venture into the unknown, we create maps. The way we create maps is by exploring. You can’t draw a map if no one’s been there.

You can’t sit behind your desk and neither tromp bare-foot nor in boots through the wilderness and still know firsthand what’s out there. You can’t come back and tell others what it looks like, where the jagged edges of the path are, where the walking is smooth and pleasant, where there is both broken glass and tar pits and quick sand to be avoided or snakes and poisonous swamp vapors. The territory is wild and you can know it truly only by being willing to wade through it up to your neck at times until you know better how to navigate it.

Not all who wander are lost. — J. R. R. Tolkien

Those who wander through even part of the wilderness, let alone all of it, contribute to making the map for the rest of us. Even if they stumble out of the wilderness bruised, scratched, or otherwise wounded. They know where the pitfalls are and they can warn the rest of us, even if that warning comes in the form of new structure put on them or on the process.

“Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.” — Antonio Machado

Any time there is new wilderness or new ground to be explored, eventually there will be a map.

For the last two decades, I–and a few others–have wandered through the Other Transaction and the 2373 wildernesses without a detailed map but with an occasional marker or bread crumbs and a pretty good machete. To be frank, nobody ever stood in my way back in the ’90’s when I first sashayed into the dark wood. I never really had much of a map, just a few paragraphs of statute and a little advice here and there from my lawyer, and the rest has been personal experience with pushing through it.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I too the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” –Robert Frost

Other than that, I didn’t have boundaries forced on me because except for a supportive Air Force lawyer and a nodding supervisor, no one really knew what I was doing, much less understood it and they were happy not being involved and I was happy not having them involved. At times, I was downright grateful not to have “leadership” involved or bringing their risk aversion with them to the edge of the woods. Those of us some called pioneers in this wilderness were doing our own versions of Naked and Afraid, only without camera crews watching. We were armed with the statutes and maybe a few regs, but we intentionally pushed to see how far we could go and still be legal–and we turned some super fast actions, all legal, all good work.

“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” – Stephen Hunt

Now a new spotlight has been aimed at the entrance to this new wilderness and as far down the path as can be seen. Everyone, it seems, wants to head into that wilderness now. With or without a map. With the exception of naysayers passive-aggressively picketing the gates.

As more people explore the wilderness, the edges of the map become better defined. This is not a bad thing, not even for those of us who just want to be out there alone with our machetes, blazing trails that other people can follow. With each new decision and each new interpretation of the statutes, the edges of the map become more definitive, and the trails are easier to walk for most people because the brambles have been kicked aside and you can see the footprints in the trampled grass. They know–sorta–where they’re going.

“Be bold, and mighty forces shall come to your aid.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Knowing the boundaries means that we can now venture into areas that we previously thought were unsafe or dangerous, places that even those of us dressed like Lara Croft and carrying a machete with a big grin would not have dared to tiptoe through. What we’re finding with these latest interpretations from GAO and others is that the wilderness is a lot bigger than we thought, and there’s more there to be enjoyed than we might have thought a few months ago and we’ve been directed to some paths we didn’t know were there.

That brings us to the other thing that boundaries define for us–not just what we might have to do but also what we don’t have to do. These boundaries set a precedence, whether they are called that or not, so we know exactly how hard to push in certain areas that have already been explored and we don’t have to spend our energy re-blazing trails that have already been defined. We can use the templates or samples of successful innovative tools because they’ve already been vetted and interpreted as appropriate, and we can spend our energy instead more efficiently on new ground to be tamed. Eventually, this wilderness will become a well-known, well explored, reasonably familiar park for us to walk in, and the once dangerous quick sand and tar pits will have been paved over into comfort zones with an occasion mountain of distraction. Personally, I hope there are still a few wild patches left for us to explore so we can find a hidden treasure or at least a secret gate to the next new wilderness.

Meanwhile, don’t be too negative about mistakes that are made in this trial and error stage because it’s all for the greater good of learning the wilderness and honing those machetes. The people willing to explore these wildernesses are the map-makers, making the territory safer for those who traverse it in the future.

As you can tell, I’m fond of pathway/journey/road quotes, but I’ll leave you with my all-time favorite as inspiration. If you’ve not seen Gattaca, my favorite movie, rent it this week, and you’ll understand why it’s my favorite when you get to this one line:

“I never saved anything for the swim back.” — Andrew Niccol, Gattaca


c 2018 Lorna Tedder

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.





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