By Steve Kelman

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Taking the temperature at the National Contract Management Association World Congress

I am enjoying the incredible weather in Long Beach, Calif., attending the World Congress of the National Contract Management Association. That's the professional association of people who work on government contracting (about half government, half industry). For the benefit of my non-U.S. readers, the word “world” here is not misused quite as badly as Major League Baseball's "World" Series -- in which the "world" is the United States plus Toronto -- but probably 99 percent of the participants are Americans.

At any rate, the mood at the events I’ve attended, both plenaries and workshops, has been, I guess I would say, put-upon. Contracting professionals are not regarding the country’s political leadership, either in Congress or the White House, as an ally or supportive in their efforts to achieve better contracting outcomes. Instead, they are seen primarily as the source of politically driven but substantively dubious mandates forced on contracting professionals.

The primary object of resentment, mentioned again and again in conference sessions, is the push by both the administration and Congress for more firm fixed-price contracts. Contracting professionals believe they are being pressured to award contracts as fixed-price in situations where this contract type is inappropriate, either because the work is risky or the requirements are ill-defined.

One delegate noted that under the Recovery Act, all non-fixed priced contracts will need to be culled out on a public database available to inspectors general, and that, in such an environment, contracting officers are likely to take the easy way out and award contracts as fixed-priced despite their better judgment. The overwhelming sentiment at the conference is that this will lead to problems. (I think there is something to these fears, but I also believe they are somewhat exaggerated and in fact that there are opportunities for the government to award more contracts fixed-price – I think I will write an FCW column on this shortly.)

Another topic that has come up a lot is some new guidance from the Defense Contract Audit Agency (unearthed by my colleague Steve Schooner at George Washington University) stating that “actions by government officials that appear to reflect mismanagement, a failure to comply with specific regulatory requirements or gross negligence in fulfilling his or her responsibility that result in substantial harm to the Government or taxpayers, or that frustrate public policy will be reported to the Department of Defense Inspector General in lieu of reporting the conditions to a higher level of management.” This is sending a wave of fear among contracting professionals, who worry that whenever they disagree with DCAA, their behavior might end up being reported to the Inspector General. “We’re going to put a new contract specialist out there, and, if they make a mistake, they’re going to get reported to the IG?” one delegate asked.

By the way, this blog seems to be getting a fair number of new readers, so for any of them (and for older readers as well) I wanted to state again that my own goal (not always met, but I do try) is to have these blog posts come out twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also, in the spirit of the social networking tools discussed here, I would be grateful for suggestions and comments, anonymous or otherwise, of themes you’d like me to discuss more – or to discuss less. Thanks!

Posted by Steve Kelman on Apr 07, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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