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PMCs and Entrepreneurs Applied capitalism. Making money in the war zone, and the issues that go with it.

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Old 03-01-2009   #1
Entropy
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Default Contractor Inanity

From S4 at War:

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The “port-o-pottys” I need are contracted by KBR. They clean and maintain them for us. I need to put them on the Iraqi Army portion of our FOB for about 5 days (the Iraqi Army portion of our FOB is connected to our side and just as safe as our side). But KBR won’t leave the contracted sections of our FOB so if I move the latrines 5 meters away then they won’t clean them. Solution?? Let one of my Soldiers drive the truck the 5 meters and clean the latrines, then return it. Can’t happen, KBR won’t allow it. In order to make this happen we have to put 4 port-o-pottys on a trailer and drive it back and forth the 15 feet to cross an imaginary line in the sand.
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Old 03-01-2009   #2
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For every bad story dealing with contractors, I can recall a good one, and also recall an even worse story dealing with support units composed entirely of US Army Soldiers.
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Old 03-01-2009   #3
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Agree, I too had the full range of experiences. That said, he is correct is his overall message that being a S4 is an experience you would not wish on your worst enemies. That blog is hilarious, which is sad.

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For every bad story dealing with contractors, I can recall a good one, and also recall an even worse story dealing with support units composed entirely of US Army Soldiers.
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Old 03-01-2009   #4
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Schmedlap,

Highlighting this particular event is not meant as a condemnation of contracting generally. In fact, contractors have provided me invaluable help when I've been downrange (and here in the US too, actually). Still, there are a lot of problems and a lot of stupidity out there. You'd think latrines would be a no-brainer.
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Old 03-02-2009   #5
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Sounds like the contractors involved are managing expectations.

Here's what REALLY happens, if they go that 5 meters: Some "Sir, yes sir, I'll make it happen" O-5 will have that port-a-potty servicing company leading patrols and assaults within a week, if they let the US Army have an inch in conflict with their contract.

The #1 problem with contracting is the US Army. Either lack of supervision by the responsible parties, or unreasonable expectations/lack of knowledge of the contract by the same.

Ask me how I know. The US Army unit I'm co-located with right now, has made itself nearly 100% dependent on us for support, despite the alleged independent nature of both parties
.
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Old 03-03-2009   #6
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Default Contracts...

Most people on both sides of government contracts are reasonable and want to be successful in contract relationships; however…

Once long ago and in a place far away the additional duty of article 32 officer landed on my desk a couple of times. My take-away from those experiences was that accountability exists, penalties increase with increasing dollar amounts involved, and penalties increase with increasing harm against others. Times have not changed that much on the issue of accountability.

The Federal Acquisitions Regulation provides a framework by which government contracts are executed. A special agent such as a contracting officer has limited authority, is only authorized to conduct a single type of transaction (i.e. they have a warrant for construction contracts), and fully understand the types of contracts (the USG uses express contracts which are further broken down into different subtypes such as fixed-price, time & material, etc.) and elements of a contract.

A Contracting Officer may designate (in writing) a technical specialist as a contracting officers technical representative (COTR). This person is tasked with writing a statement of work which details the work to be done (task, condition, and standard is an easy way to think about it), developing an independent government cost estimate (using cost data from a variety of sources), assisting the contracting officer with the technical parts of the negotiation as needed, and managing the technical portions of the project. Usually a separate Inspector will also be designated for the project (this is where a good quality assurance/control/surveillance plan comes into it’s own). Problems with the contract may have to be resolved by modifications, and only contracting officers working within the scope of their warrant are authorized to execute modifications to the contract.

Bottom line: the JAG, the Comptroller, and the Contracting Officer are earning the big bucks and losing their hair for a reason. If you have a question about a contract these are the folks to see.
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Old 01-04-2010   #7
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By the way, the FAR is heavy enough to beat a man to death with. That, plus the Defense supplement to the FAR, is enough to make me cry on a nigh-daily basis.

I liked reading that blog until the kid closed it out. I think he got it resolved later on.

Bottom line: talk to a Contracting Officer. They don't like stupidity any more than you do, and like fraud, waste and abuse even less.
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Old 01-04-2010   #8
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One of the things that bugs the piss outta me to this day is the so-called vendor/buyer (insert any USG agency here) privacy with no regard for the end user.

I spent months defining requirements right down to an inch in width and overall height and even stated less than 50kgs (man portable). Not only will this friggin wigit not fit where intended, it tops out at 86 kilos.

When we were finally "authorized" direct contact with the vendor, they were writing the "Buyer" daily ranting about our discontent over their superior product and "world-class" training.

Government funds committed and the FY over... We live with what we have despite the fact we can't employ the wigit as intended.
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Old 01-04-2010   #9
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Sounds like you're getting bad advice. You're OK to talk to the vendor, so long as both you and the vendor know that you (as the user) don't have any actual, apparent or implied authority to enter into or modify contracts. I usually give my users a little blurb to stick at the end of e-mails to cover that. Who told you that you couldn't talk to them?

By the way, is there a program manager for that item, or is it some kind of commercial-off-the-shelf widget?

If you can't get an answer, get in touch with me.

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One of the things that bugs the piss outta me to this day is the so-called vendor/buyer (insert any USG agency here) privacy with no regard for the end user.

I spent months defining requirements right down to an inch in width and overall height and even stated less than 50kgs (man portable). Not only will this friggin wigit not fit where intended, it tops out at 86 kilos.

When we were finally "authorized" direct contact with the vendor, they were writing the "Buyer" daily ranting about our discontent over their superior product and "world-class" training.

Government funds committed and the FY over... We live with what we have despite the fact we can't employ the wigit as intended.
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Old 01-04-2010   #10
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Originally Posted by sandbag View Post
Sounds like you're getting bad advice. You're OK to talk to the vendor, so long as both you and the vendor know that you (as the user) don't have any actual, apparent or implied authority to enter into or modify contracts. I usually give my users a little blurb to stick at the end of e-mails to cover that. Who told you that you couldn't talk to them?

By the way, is there a program manager for that item, or is it some kind of commercial-off-the-shelf widget?

If you can't get an answer, get in touch with me.
Sandbag, This has been an issue for more than a decade with the USG Buyer and various vendors. There have indeed been some excellent examples of vendors willing to make things work and there have been too many examples of "lowest bidder to a USG contract". In all fairness though, most of the confusion has been a direct result of the contracting officer lacking background in contracting the wigit.

You identified a real problem. When the wigit in question is anything but the right item or service, and I as the end user indicate said, there's little left to do but modify the contract (not me physically). After all, it's wrong and people's lives are at stake. Not just a wrong sized bolt or nut, but a really big deal (useless too).

There are program managers involved and these wigits over the years are not off the shelf items (they take months to years to order and receive.. exactly why I'm PO'd).

I think contracting officers should possess more than just some contract training with our vendors and end users. It's that, or let the end user dictate what is needed directly. Is 5 meters or 26 kilos a big deal? Depends largely on what end of the stick you're on !
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Old 01-04-2010   #11
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Meh, I dunno: I've done all three points of the triangle (KO, PM, user), and I find the tripod to be one unstable structure. Suckitude of just one leg results in pain. For what it's worth, Army people that do this stuff all come from other branches; I think the Air Force is the only service where you can go right into some kind of acquisition field straight out of Basic Training/OBC. Army type officers have all at least commanded companies, and some were 3s/XOs prior to changing fields. NCOs are all reclasses from something else, as well.

See, what I'd be interested in finding out is what the final spec for your widget looked like in the contract. Let's say your requirement as the user was for the widget to weigh, say, no more than ten pounds, be no more than (note I use "no more than" rather than "MUST be 8.123 pounds like the one we say at the trade show that we liked") a foot tall and a foot wide. You know what room you have to work with, and how much you can carry. You know what you want it to do, and that what you want it to do is in the realm of the possible.

What I'm guessing is that somewhere along the way, your requirement as the user got tweaked by the TRADOC people (assuming you are Army), and extra got added to the requirement, which drove size or weight up. If that's not the case, and the contract for the widget clearly sets thresholds in the design for the production version, then there's a problem that the Government has every right to claim remedy for. The Government doesn't just take it in the shorts if what was asked for isn't what was delivered; I don't know who's telling you that, but they're wrong on that count.

So anyway, the $1M question is: "what was the contractually-explicit specification vice what was delivered"? I know this doesn't help your situation at all (and I really don't know if we carry the same widgets), but it bears asking. If the lowest bidder isn't going to deliver the right item, the contract doesn't get awarded to them. This happens far more often than the reverse, but obviously doesn't sell newspapers were it to be published.

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Sandbag, This has been an issue for more than a decade with the USG Buyer and various vendors. There have indeed been some excellent examples of vendors willing to make things work and there have been too many examples of "lowest bidder to a USG contract". In all fairness though, most of the confusion has been a direct result of the contracting officer lacking background in contracting the wigit.

You identified a real problem. When the wigit in question is anything but the right item or service, and I as the end user indicate said, there's little left to do but modify the contract (not me physically). After all, it's wrong and people's lives are at stake. Not just a wrong sized bolt or nut, but a really big deal (useless too).

There are program managers involved and these wigits over the years are not off the shelf items (they take months to years to order and receive.. exactly why I'm PO'd).

I think contracting officers should possess more than just some contract training with our vendors and end users. It's that, or let the end user dictate what is needed directly. Is 5 meters or 26 kilos a big deal? Depends largely on what end of the stick you're on !
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Old 01-04-2010   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sandbag View Post
Meh, I dunno: I've done all three points of the triangle (KO, PM, user), and I find the tripod to be one unstable structure. Suckitude of just one leg results in pain. For what it's worth, Army people that do this stuff all come from other branches; I think the Air Force is the only service where you can go right into some kind of acquisition field straight out of Basic Training/OBC. Army type officers have all at least commanded companies, and some were 3s/XOs prior to changing fields. NCOs are all reclasses from something else, as well.
It's State doing the contracting - Far worse than the Army could dork up. I initially had the pleasure of ordering and receiving which is far less painful but not without some drawbacks.


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Originally Posted by sandbag View Post
See, what I'd be interested in finding out is what the final spec for your widget looked like in the contract. Let's say your requirement as the user was for the widget to weigh, say, no more than ten pounds, be no more than (note I use "no more than" rather than "MUST be 8.123 pounds like the one we say at the trade show that we liked") a foot tall and a foot wide. You know what room you have to work with, and how much you can carry. You know what you want it to do, and that what you want it to do is in the realm of the possible.
Good point. After discussions with the vendor, I printed out my 1/2" of paper and shocked him. Been too quiet lately with me thinking "I really pissed some DC dude off this time" ! There's been disconnects before, but most work out.

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Originally Posted by sandbag View Post
What I'm guessing is that somewhere along the way, your requirement as the user got tweaked by the TRADOC people (assuming you are Army), and extra got added to the requirement, which drove size or weight up. If that's not the case, and the contract for the widget clearly sets thresholds in the design for the production version, then there's a problem that the Government has every right to claim remedy for. The Government doesn't just take it in the shorts if what was asked for isn't what was delivered; I don't know who's telling you that, but they're wrong on that count.
In this last case our widget specs did get tweaked based on funding limitations. I think someone should have got back with us and stated our expectations vs funds didn't jive. BUT, what good would it be to give me something I can't deploy simply because it fit into financial imitations? I thought it was logical to simply reduce the quantities by one or two til the end user-specified item could be had. Too simply ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sandbag View Post
So anyway, the $1M question is: "what was the contractually-explicit specification vice what was delivered"? I know this doesn't help your situation at all (and I really don't know if we carry the same widgets), but it bears asking. If the lowest bidder isn't going to deliver the right item, the contract doesn't get awarded to them. This happens far more often than the reverse, but obviously doesn't sell newspapers were it to be published.
On paper the vendor fulfilled what the contracting officer required. Only later (the widgets have yet to arrive) did we (vendor and us) determine the widgets don't exactly fit the intended mission. Worse yet, some of the miscellaneous items for this widget are sub-contracts and the vendor claims being stuck in the proverbial corner.

I've been raising hell thus far, but the funds are committed and gone. The vendor has til the end of FY10 to have the goods here and training accomplished.
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Old 01-04-2010   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sandbag View Post
... You're OK to talk to the vendor, so long as both you and the vendor know that you (as the user) don't have any actual, apparent or implied authority to enter into or modify contracts. I usually give my users a little blurb to stick at the end of e-mails to cover that. Who told you that you couldn't talk to them?
It's usually somebody at the program management level (government or contractor) who's decided that they want all information to funnel through them for insecurity/political/career reasons. (FWIW, if you are letting your users talk to the developer/vendor, and as you've described, you're doing things the right way.)
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Old 01-04-2010   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stan View Post
In this last case our widget specs did get tweaked based on funding limitations. I think someone should have got back with us and stated our expectations vs funds didn't jive. BUT, what good would it be to give me something I can't deploy simply because it fit into financial imitations? I thought it was logical to simply reduce the quantities by one or two til the end user-specified item could be had. Too simply ?

...

On paper the vendor fulfilled what the contracting officer required. Only later (the widgets have yet to arrive) did we (vendor and us) determine the widgets don't exactly fit the intended mission. Worse yet, some of the miscellaneous items for this widget are sub-contracts and the vendor claims being stuck in the proverbial corner.
See my comment to Sandbag. Odds are:
  1. The vendor didn't know what your mission/operation was - probably wasn't told and didn't ask.
  2. Nobody wanted to go back and explain there was a disconnect somewhere in what you asked for/what was technically feasible/what was affordable.
  3. I'm inferring that by "sub-contracts" you mean government furnished or specified components. Which means somebody failed in developing the specs (par for the course after point 1), or didn't want to upset someone else by attacking their (in this case) pet rock.
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Old 01-05-2010   #15
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See my comment to Sandbag.
Hey John !
During two large contracts, this is exactly what went wrong. A very big Beltway Bandit with way too much on their plate - my contract ended up with a "logistics specialist" who unceremoniously dumped a line item because the potential vendor I had worked with before (and provided as a reliable source) was not their source. The log spec then ordered some other friggin doohickey that was not only incorrect for the intended application, but way too expensive resulting in me ending up short for my units.

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Odds are:
  1. The vendor didn't know what your mission/operation was - probably wasn't told and didn't ask.
  2. Nobody wanted to go back and explain there was a disconnect somewhere in what you asked for/what was technically feasible/what was affordable.
Precisely ! All of the above

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Originally Posted by J Wolfsberger View Post
I'm inferring that by "sub-contracts" you mean government furnished or specified components. Which means somebody failed in developing the specs (par for the course after point 1), or didn't want to upset someone else by attacking their (in this case) pet rock.
Basically sub-assemblies that we refer to as "tools" (weapons) that are sub-contracted to a third party (your pet rock theory in action). By ordering a different widget and the sub-assemblies for that wrong widget, I end up with a logistical nightmare trying to store non-standard ammo and spares.
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Old 01-05-2010   #16
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The problem I've had when I'm at the unit level is that I have no input into the requirements. I'll get equipment that shows up on by doorstep and too often it sits around collecting dust. Most of these are intel systems that assume I'll have plenty of room when deployed, reliable power and good bandwidth. Frankly, if it can't fit or run on a laptop or an external hard drive then chances are it's not coming on the deployment.
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Old 11-23-2010   #17
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Quote:
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A very big Beltway Bandit with way too much on their plate - my contract ended up with a "logistics specialist" who unceremoniously dumped a line item because the potential vendor I had worked with before (and provided as a reliable source) was not their source. The log spec then ordered some other friggin doohickey that was not only incorrect for the intended application, but way too expensive resulting in me ending up short for my units.
And the boll weevil said to the farmer,
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Farmer said to the boll weevil
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Lookin' for a home
Ah, you have a home, all right
You'd have a home, real hot home."

Last edited by Pete; 11-23-2010 at 01:19 AM. Reason: Format.
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