I've long been skeptical of the Director of National Intelligence's emphasis upon "Excellence in Acquisition," but the recent contracting experience of a green badger has me convinced it might not be such a bad idea after all. And no, this is not a joke or parody. I'm business as usual in the wacky world of intel contracting.
Recently, an intelligence community (IC) agency awarded a multi-year contract for services to a major government contractor after a lengthy, scrupulously fair competition. It was anticipated that there were going to be two, perhaps even three, initial task orders (TOs) on the contract. No problem. The contracting officer (CO) assigned was young and inexperienced, but the workload on this particular contract was anticipated as being light.
The contractor’s contracts manager (CM) that had been assigned to the contract was an experienced hand who had left the awarding agency after several years for the greener pastures and lighter pressures of the private sector. On the Friday after the contract award, he got a panicky telephone call from the young CO. “There aren’t three initial TOs, there are eleven!” And they’re due out by COB (close of business) Monday. I can’t do it, I don’t know enough about the different specifications for the task orders.”
The green badger felt for the young CO, he knew what it was like to be under a lot of time pressure, which was one of the reasons that he had left government service. “Don’t panic”, he said, “I’ll come in over the weekend and help you out, if you like.” The CO agreed to the help.
Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, the CM essentially wrote the eleven initial task orders from scratch, each one with customized administrative specifications for security, personnel, travel. work locations (i.e., on site or off site), etc. The CM gave the TOs to the CO in “softcopy” (i.e., on a thumbdrive) Sunday evening so complete that the CO could just fill in the contract number, print them, and send them back to the contractor. After he finished, the CM was feeling pretty patriotic, and even treated himself to a stiff drink with dinner on Sunday evening. He may not be a government employee anymore, he thought, but he was still taking care of the mission.
When the hardcopy TOs arrived by courier mid day on Tuesday, the CM was stunned when he started reviewing them. The “blank” contract number had indeed been filled in, and the substantive deliverables were still the same. The customized administrative specifications for all eleven TOs had been changed, however, by someone just copying those that had been written for the first task order into the other ten. For at least four of the eleven TOs, this materially changed what was required to respond to the TOs, and thus increased the cost over the amount that would normally have been proposed. More importantly, however, was the fact that new administrative specifications rendered at least those four task orders nonsensical, and the CM had to go back to the CO and ask him to clarify what he really wanted.
“I can see now why the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]procurement executive thinks that acquisition needs to be a core competency,” the CM commented. “It’s gotten so bad in acquisitions that you can’t even do their job for them without them somehow screwing it up.”