How close is too close for contracting officers and contractors?

Let’s see if we have this right. According to the Obama administration, federal agencies would do a better job of developing good programs if they collaborated more with contractors from the beginning. But according to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), contracting officers are already getting too friendly with contractors and compromising their objectivity. What’s a contracting officer to do?

Based on the comments we received on our story about McCaskill’s concerns, most contracting officers just want to do their jobs. Here is a sampling of the comments, which have been edited for length, clarity and style.

Keep it workable

As a taxpayer, I think reviews and recommendations are necessary. As a federal contracting professional with 18-plus [years of] experience, I think her bias toward auditors is unfortunate and calls into question our entire procurement system. If the contracting officer is not the final authority, then industry will not know if the negotiations are ever final. It will create undue instability without any significant tangible improvement in processes. If auditors find COs have not struck the right bargain, then improve processes and training for COs but do not take away their authority.
— Anonymous

Let's have the auditor sign the contract — and defend it in any subsequent audit/protest. As a 17-year contracting officer, I'll be happy to assemble the file and forward it to the auditor for negotiation and award. If you want to make us clerks, say so.
— Michael McManus

Adversarial: Not good

As much as I respect and admire Sen. McCaskill's efforts to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse in federal contracting, I could not disagree more with her premise. First, contracting officers and industry should have a strategic partnership because both parties are trying to execute the same goals and objectives. Of course, government and industry have different means to achieve these goals, but it is through understanding each other and open communication that both parties will be successful. Adversarial relationships are neither objective nor productive. They just create friction and missed opportunities for successful outcomes.
— Jaime Gracia

Auditors play an important role in the acquisition process, but they are much like the devil's advocate: They look for the dirt, but they don't make the decision. Auditors’ asserted impartiality is at times as much an indication of what they don't know as it is what they do know. The good [senator] continues to give credence to the perception that contractors are crooks and cannot be trusted — unless, of course, they are doing work in her district. The best contract operates when “we” replaces “us” and “them.”
— SPMayor

Tie the knot

Long-term contractors are used and treated like employees, so it is only natural that the daily working relationship is like with other co-workers. The simplest answer, which happened around here while the insourcing push was still on, was to just hire the contractors in place and make actual employees out of them.
— Anonymous

Excuse me?

Yes, true, true. But then, Congress has contractors and lobbyists writing their legislation, so like pot and kettle, eh?
— Anonymous

About the Author

John Stein Monroe, a former editor-in-chief of FCW, is the custom editorial director for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group.

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