By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Putting clarity into contracting

It is widely known that one reason contracts go south is that the government meant one thing when it wrote the contract requirements, and contractors interpret what the government wrote as meaning something else. Out of these differences of understanding grow bad blood, disputes, and lots of money down the drain.

Occasionally, the "misunderstandings" aren't really misunderstandings at all, and reflect an effort by the contractor to exploit ambiguous language to its own benefit. More often, however, the problem is simply that the language was not clear enough, and that the government honestly meant one thing, while the contractor honestly thought the government meant another.
 
In a panel in which I participated at the recent National Contract Management Association Wasington conference, Claire Grady, the Senior Procurement Executive at the Coast Guard, discussed a fascinating effort at the Coast Guard to deal with this, called a "customer advocacy team." (The customers in question here are the program offices buying the goods and services about which the requirements have been written). The team consists of program people whose job it is to translate what the customer wants into RFP (or contract change order) language that industry will be able to understand. So the job is being done by people who have the perspective of a program office, but communications skills that engineers in program offices often lack.
 
Grady's presentation was part of a panel at the conference on achieving cost savings in contracting. At the risk of sounding like a broken record -- (do younger blog readers know this expression, or am I pathetically dating myself?) -- this is going to be one of the central jobs of contracting professionals for the foreseeable future.

I am going to be writing over the next few weeks two columns for Federal Computer Week expanding on some of the ideas for how contracting professionals can help. I should say in advance, however, that ideas shouldn't just be the province of Claire or Steve or whomever. Every contracting professional should challenge himself or herself to think of at least one way the government can get a better deal on at least one contract (or task/delivery order) in which you are going to be involved over the next few months, and keep repeating that challenge.

Posted on Nov 18, 2011 at 12:09 PM


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