Disrupting Acquisition Blog
Turning Fiscal Year End Moans into Better Plans
- 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?
- 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?
- 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:
- Put portfolio contracts in place. 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.
- 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.
- Work together to stay ahead. 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 family member’s funeral or a serious medical test of my own, 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.
- Pay attention to expiring (or otherwise disappearing) funds. 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 financial management 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 fall-out 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, and my guys downrange got what they needed.
- Cross fiscal years when it makes sense. 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.”
- Plan for Government shutdowns. 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),usually can’t get their act together fast enough for us. 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 I was told. 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 my last five years as a Chief of Contracts 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.
- Plan for natural disasters. Here in the South where I’ve lived my entire life, 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 or fleeing Hurricane Michael just before it made a sharp right turn and took out my mom’s home instead of mine. 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.
- Avoid piece-meal requirements packages except in emergencies. 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 head start. If you allow a customer to send 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.
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–don’t wait until next September.
Start this week. Do it. Make it part of the last staff meeting or the year and the first staff meeting of next year to talk about how next year will be different because of the plans you put in place now.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors only and do not represent the positions of the MITRE Corporation or its sponsors.
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