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  1. Why I Pursued an NCMA Certification

    August 23, 2017
    By Anthony C. Mosca

    The contracting profession is filled with smart and talented individuals, and that shows every day I’m in the office and in classes at Defense Acquisition University (DAU). I will have been in this career field for a year in September, barely any time at all, but in between researching the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and trying to act like I know what I’m talking about to my coworkers and supervisors, I do try to keep an eye on my future.

    I am a COPPER CAP, a U.S. Air Force intern that’s in this position for three years before the powers that be decide if they want to keep me. If the end game is just sticking around in the career field, then coming in to work every day and doing the best job I can for the federal government is all I will need to do. However, I have met many graduates from this internship program and heard about many more who have advanced up the career ladder and have really made a name for themselves. (My current head of contracting activity was a graduate of this program!)

    The question I must ask myself then becomes: “How do I stand out from everybody else and make a name for myself?” We all have the business education, and we all come in every day and work hard—two qualities that set you apart from everyone else in many career fields, but just “par for the course” in government contracting.

    Luckily, I received some insight while I was attending CON 90 at DAU. My professor, Ms. Michelle Currier, spent a day talking to us about NCMA certification and the advantages that it brings. She told us how an NCMA certification in the contracting profession gives you some credibility, because it lets people know that not only do you have a fundamental knowledge of the FAR, but that you are also willing to put in the time and the effort outside of work to become more knowledgeable of the career field. In many instances, employers who want the best candidates require NCMA certification on their job postings, or they use the certification as a “tie-breaker” between two highly qualified candidates.

    After that class, I knew that pursuing a certification was an important first step from distinguishing myself from my colleagues. The personal advantage for me is two-fold. First, it is going to give me a slight “bump” when I apply for positions after my internship, and second, having a foundational knowledge of the FAR is a great starting point when I begin studying to get a warrant. Everyone will find their own benefit in obtaining a certification, and I feel that it is an important achievement to pursue, especially since I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with so many talented and hardworking individuals—coming into the office and busting my tail for 40 hours a week means I’m just like everybody else.

    Learn more about the NCMA certification program here.

  2. How Millennials Define Business Acumen

    July 14, 2017
    By Landon Hill

    Millennials share a social platform with a collaborative voice—the impact of which has never been seen before. Now that millennials are the largest age demographic currently working in the workforce, industries and organizations are evolving to their cultural and environmental preferences to ensure they are able to attract and retain millennial talent. What about the contract management? Are we prepared to attract and retain the high-caliber employees we need for the future of our profession?

    One way we can be more prepared is by understanding how millennials define business acumen. The work culture and environment we provide must ensure we’re impacting how millennials define this term.     

    Through interviews and research, I’ve determined that the standard definition of business acumen and how millennials define business acumen are fairly similar: It’s one’s keenness and speed in understanding and deciding on a business situation. However, when asking millennials how we can enhance or improve our business acumen, I found that they feel education is more important than experience. Some millennials even suggest that culture and environment are more important than experience, because the culture or environment they immerse themselves in will ultimately lead to what experiences may shape them as individuals or professionals.

    Does this mean culture could be viewed as the root of experience, and thus a key contributor to how one defines business acumen? Possibly. Regardless, it’s obvious that if we’re not creating a work culture that reasonably meets the preferences of millennials, we won’t be positioned to retain them and build their definition of business acumen.

    It is a topic that deserves further exploration, and both millennials and non-millennials must consider how our response will prepare us and our profession for the future.

    Landon Hill is a procurement manager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a 2013 graduate of NCMA’s Contract Management Leadership Development Program. He will present on this topic during the CM Power Hourat World Congress 2017on July 25, 2017.

  3. Transforming Today, Not Tomorrow

    June 28, 2017

    By Omera Khan

    Increased turbulence and volatility are characteristics of the “new normal” operating environment for contracting, and will continue to be a struggle for many companies. Those that do not embrace this will fail to adapt and will miss out on making the fundamental transformations required to succeed in this environment.

    Conventional lean initiatives in the supply chain have focused on improving efficiencies and reducing cost through the elimination of waste. However, today’s supply chains have been left more vulnerable to events that previously may have only caused minor, local disruptions. They are also slower and less responsive to market changes, and fail to innovate at the pace demanded by their customers.

    It is imperative for businesses to recognize that they have the opportunity today to invest in transforming their supply chain strategies, processes, competencies, and culture if they are to prepare for the uncertainty that lurks in the not-too-distant future. Supply chain resilience and adaptability to a changing world are as important as ever.

    When creating a vision for the future, businesses need to embrace uncertainty and develop dynamic systems capable of adjusting quickly to volatility arising from factors such as:

    • Currency fluctuations,
    • Changes in sourcing,
    • The reassessment of distribution and inventory management,
    • The likelihood of more local-to-local sourcing or transport options,
    • New trade routes or barriers, and
    • The added costs and risks as a consequence of these factors.

    Resilience and agility have been advocated for some time as ways to deal with unknown risks or difficult-to-detect risks—such as natural disasters and cyber risks. It can be argued that the long-term impacts of geopolitical issues (e.g., the pending Brexit) on our supply chains are also unknown, but we know for sure that it will be a different operating environment to the present.

    Those companies that start to plan and invest in a business transformation strategy today will be better prepared for the unknowns and challenges they may face in two years. Waiting those two years to act may be too late. The biggest threat is ignoring the issues and not recognizing that change is inevitable.

    On the Upside

    Global disruptions could be seen as a shake-up or wake-up call for contracting; a catalyst for change requiring businesses to transform and plan for resilience and greater flexibility. Those companies that do will have a better chance of adapting to a changing landscape—such as how the E.U. landscape may look in the near future.

    Greater collaboration is required within industry to work more cooperatively and support the network to thrive. With the prospect of more local sourcing and trading, we may see the emergence of business clusters operating as an almost vertically integrated enterprise, such as the textile manufacturing verticals in the 1970s and ’80s. The new business clusters would link businesses, training, and a wide spectrum of entities operating in the chain, thus creating new jobs and competencies that are better and more closely aligned to actual business needs.

    However, the question is: “Can this vision become a reality?” Are businesses prepared to disrupt and transform the status quo? We currently have a skills shortage in logistics and supply chains, yet we have thousands of graduates in these fields. Is it time to retrain the trainers? Tomorrow’s leaders will need to have skills and abilities in areas we do not yet know. Is it time to implement the same dynamism in our teaching and training, creating adaptable and flexible people who operate optimally in an uncertain environment?

    These are challenging but exciting times. There is no doubt that continued volatility and turbulence will disrupt—and they will create uncertainty, as well as opportunity. Businesses must use this time wisely to shake up their supply chains and transform their practices and areas where greater resilience, flexibility, and agility will help them adapt to the new scenarios of tomorrow.


    Omera Khan is professor of operations and supply chain management at Aalborg University, Copenhagen. She has gained international recognition for her research in supply chain risk management, and her current research focus is on cyber risk in the supply chain and the rise of emerging technologies to impact the supply chains of the future. She will present the keynote on Monday, July 24, at NCMA’s World Congress 2017, in Chicago, IL. 

  4. The CMLDP: Far Exceeding Expectations

    May 24, 2017

    When I applied for the Contract Management Leadership Development Program (CMLDP), my expectations were to learn a few things about leadership in general, but also things that were specific to the contract management space, as well as to make some contacts through networking. Very early on, what I received in return far exceeded my expectations.

    Initially, the interaction among the cohort CMLDP members was great. Working with our assigned groups exposed me to professionals from other government agencies and professionals from industry. Hearing the different perspectives on some of our tasks was very educational and eye opening. Immediately, I learned how different mindsets and different processes all work together to accomplish different missions.

    Next, I cannot say enough about the program leaders, Russell Blaine and Vida Carroll. They have been instrumental in the success of the program and to each of the cohort members. They are constantly available for advice and assist in keeping us on track to meet requirements and our goals.

    Working with my assigned mentors also allowed me to lean on senior professionals who have been in the profession for quite some time, and I was able to interact with individuals who have been through the program recently. Both groups of professionals offered different, but valuable perspectives. The advice I received from my mentors has been fantastic. It has made going through the program a much smoother process. Many other mentors have made themselves available to us, which has also proven to be very valuable.

    However, the CMLDP really began exceeding my expectations when I was able to meet my cohort members in person for the first time at NCMA’s Government Contract Management Symposium in December 2016. (I was also able to interact with high-level management professionals at the event.)

    My cohort members are very sharp and polished individuals. Being able to interact with them, and meet them face-to-face, strengthened my knowledge, but also expanded my network of people to rely on for advice—if and when necessary. Additionally, we all get along. Many of us have common goals and I can truly say that I have developed lifelong friendships with many of them. Not long after we got to know each other, we were reaching out to each other on personal and professional matters.

    Another invaluable aspect of the CMLDP is the relationships I’ve built with very senior contract management professionals. Leaders with high visibility are open to us, and we are welcome to reach out to them for advice. These are the same people I’ve previously only read about, and who have written articles on professional and educational topics I’ve read. Their thoughts on the industry and leadership, as well as their openness, are extraordinarily valuable, and will continue to be so as I navigate my career in this profession.

    Overall, the CMLDP is excellent. I can’t say enough positive things about it. I would highly encourage any emerging leaders who are considering a long-term career in contract management to apply.

    Learn more about the Contract Management Leadership Development Program here.

  5. Bad Cover Letters—I've Seen It All

    May 11, 2017
    BY KAREN SECKER                                                               

    What is it about a cover letter that sometimes throws potential job candidates for a loop? Job candidates often have no problem putting together a flawless résumé, but when it comes to a cover letter, it’s as if their minds melt down. If this sounds like an exaggeration, you’ve never combed through hundreds of cover letters.

    If you can relate to this, allow me to help you. I, myself, have combed through hundreds of cover letters, and I can tell you firsthand that there are four kinds of “bad” cover letters.

    1. The “I Couldn’t Be Bothered to Write a Cover Letter” Cover Letter

    In other words, there is no cover letter. Just a résumé. I always request a cover letter when I have an open position to fill. This is partly to see how well the candidate can write, and partly to see if the candidate can follow directions. Didn’t follow directions? That looks bad, even with an amazing résumé. When the job application requests a cover letter, write and submit a cover letter.

    2. The Ironic Cover Letter

    “Im a great fit for this position cause I wirked with many different deographics and I have great attention to detail.” No. You don’t. That is, unless you don’t count glaring grammar and spelling errors as “details.” Unfortunately, I do. (Believe it or not, this sentence is from a real cover letter I received.) Only claim to have great attention to detail if you actually do. At the very least, re-read your cover letter and check for grammatical and spelling errors. Also, whatever you do, do not, under any circumstances, write an error-filled sentence that is hilariously ironic, or it could end up in a blog post about bad cover letters.

    3. The Thesaurus Cover Letter

    So, you’ve already used the word “managed” several times in your cover letter, and you really, really want to use it again, but you don’t want to sound repetitive, so you decide you need some other word—any other word! You go to a thesaurus and find “superintend.” Stop right there. Don’t do it. Use words you would use naturally in the real world. It is so obvious when you use a thesaurus. You don’t sound smart, you sound like you used a thesaurus. I don’t believe you when you claim “there is a dynamic link between your needs and my professional experience,” or that you have “superlative organizational skills.”

    4. The Random Information Cover Letter

    This cover letter contains irrelevant facts that make me wonder what your thought process was when you were writing. A couple examples (and yes, these are also from actual cover letters I’ve received):

    • “I oversee many events, coordinate meetings, and work with children.” That’s great, but the job description mentioned none of these, nor did it mention anything where skills like these would be relevant or translatable.
    • “I love animals. Kept my own horses for years. Also kept two sheep and baby, “lambchop.” Dogs, barn cats also on board. I enjoy working with both four-legged and two-legged variations.” Again, nothing in the job description mentioned…well, let’s just say I’ve never hired for a position working with animals. If I do, I’ll keep you in mind, but you probably won’t get this one.

    These four examples of “bad” cover letters are the worst of the bunch, but a “generic” cover letter isn’t much better—and yes, I can tell your “interest in growing with a company such as yours” is generic. If it’s something you can send out to a dozen job openings and you don’t have to change a thing in it for it to “fit” each one, believe me, I can tell.

    A good cover letter tells me three things:

    • Why you want this specific job at this specific organization—Research the organization and find out what its mission and values are, and incorporate this information into your cover letter.
    • What skills do you possess that I’m looking for?—Look for keywords in the job description and give a short example. It’ll make me want to bring you in to discuss it further.
    • What kind of employee you will be—This is hard because it isn’t something you write, but rather something implied. Not sending a cover letter tells me you don’t care. Not re-reading your cover letter for grammatical and spelling errors tells me you don’t pay attention to details and rush your work. A generic cover letter tells me you’re interested in ajob, but not necessarily this job. Take the time to write a well-thought-out, error-free cover letter.

    Finding a job is a job in itself, so treat it with the same care and respect you would any other job.

    Karen Secker is the director of membership and national secretary for NCMA. She has seven years of association management experience, and has hired several fantastic employees after sifting through many not-so-fantastic cover letters.

  6. My Experience with the CMLDP

    May 2, 2017

    NCMA’s Contract Management Leadership Development Program (CMLDP) is designed to develop the next generation of leaders in acquisition. I first heard about the program in 2012 from a then-current CMLDPer, who loved the new relationships he had established with others in his profession within government and industry as a result of participating in the program. Those relationships were important, as they would include the up-and-comers and future leaders in the agencies and corporations those other CMLDPers worked for.

    One of my ultimate goals at the time was to be a manager and effective leader, and I was further encouraged by this CMLDPer’s mentor—who would soon become the president of the Washington DC Chapter of NCMA (the association’s largest chapter)—to apply to the program, which would be greatly beneficial to achieving that goal. I didn’t need any additional “pep talks,” I was sold, so I responded to the essay questions, gathered the rest of the application documents, and applied to the CMLDP.

    Unfortunately, I was not selected to participate in the program that year. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll apply again next year”—except the program took a one-year hiatus and didn’t accept any candidates. Undeterred, after two years, I reapplied for the CMLDP in 2014. This time, I was selected to participate in the program. As it turned out, this was the perfect time for me to participate.

    At the same time I was accepted into the CMLDP, I was hired as a branch chief, thrusted into managing, and was suddenly leading 10 people in a large organization. The skills I learned from participating in the CMLDP have since been valuable to my agency and branch. They also came in handy a couple of years later, when I became the president of NCMA’s Washington DC Chapter myself. 

    Raymond McCollum, CPCM
    Branch Chief | QT2F1BA
    Office of Information Technology Category
    Federal Acquisition Service
    U.S. General Services Administration 

    Learn more about the Contract Management Leadership Development Program and apply now through June 30! 

  7. Government Enterprise Cloud Acquisition—Practical Help for Contracting Professionals

    April 6, 2017
    By Mun-Wai Hon


    Buying cloud computing resources and services has been a difficult process—as seen through Government Accountability Office inspector general reports and lawsuits over the past few years. Contracting professionals have tried many different approaches to ensuring a best-value outcome while protecting the government or their organization from issues with cloud contract terms and conditions.

    Many IT professionals claim that “the cloud” is just off site storage, a commodity, or an extension of current networks that can follow existing procurement, financial management, and service models. Early adopters have focused on email or document storage as ways to try out the cloud. However, more serious early adopters who “lifted and shifted” applications and systems are discovering issues with integration, limitations on system performance, and typically lack an implementable cloud adoption road map.

    Determining the “Right Fit”

    While many cloud advising vendors attempt to impose a patented process, treat the contract as a commodity buy, or apply Department of Defense processes to simplify work, many government and commercial organizations are seeing the value of investing time to determine cloud requirements, system suitability for cloud usage, and cloud computing operational changes. Gathering the insight to the system architecture, software code, and operational changes are just some of the areas that impact the choice and evaluation of cloud service providers. Data center contract templates often lack the provisions for obtaining cloud metrics and visibility into costs to determine the value derived from contracting for cloud computing—especially among multiple cloud service providers.

    How to Get There

    Without building in the appropriate “how to get there” work to establish the contract vehicle, many government agencies formed blanket purchase agreements (BPA) or indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts for procuring cloud computing. Some organizations are having success with issuing limited scope task orders. Once the scale and complexity of the cloud computing needs increase past prototype system sizes, the sponsors of different task orders are finding a lack of interfacing, data sharing, and coordination in contract management, security, and financial management. As a result, the BPAs or IDIQs so far have lacked the provisions to stop the siloing that can occur in the cloud, mainly resulting from a lack of technical depth and technical program management of the implementation projects.

    Look Beyond Initial Costs

    Cloud payment models vary among providers. This has created budgetary processes and contract challenges that continue to evolve. These models include:

    • Pay-as-you-use,
    • Fixed or subscription-based pricing, and
    • Spot pricing.

    Mapping the models to budgeting processes and payment schedules, while avoiding risks (such as anti-deficiency claims), has made contracting officers cautious. For cloud costs, too many early adopters focused on initial costs using capital expenditure funds without regard to the quality of service, age of resources, and cost of maintenance. Even cloud hosting locations have regional pricing that can provide advantages if systems do not require domestic hosting locations.

    Understanding how payment models work and the importance of post-award financial management are key aspects to contract and vendor management.


    Mun-Wai Hon, PMP, CISSP  Mun-Wai Hon has over 20 years’ experience in proactively helping federal clients with issues in cyber security, cloud computing, and foreign assistance areas. He has spoken internationally and at numerous law enforcement conferences, and for the past 17 years has taught cyber hacking and other technology courses. At NCMA’s World Congress 2017 in Chicago, he will present “Government Enterprise Cloud Acquisition—Practical Help for Contracting Professionals.”

  8. Subcontracts—Don't Leave the Basics to Chance

    February 14, 2017

    By Kenneth Allen, JD, Attorney, Consultant

    Fifty years ago, most companies carried out their contracts (supply or services) with their own resources, and “make or buy” decisions were usually “make.” Today, this is uncommon. Yesterday’s “purchasing officers” are today’s “subcontract managers.” There are thousands of companies that depend on being subcontractors, and many have to be proficient in complying with the ever-changing and complicated rules of government contracting. 

    However, let’s keep in mind that a “subcontract” is only from the federal government’s perspective—a “subcontract” is a private commercial contract. Most “problems” in subcontract relationships are avoidable if the parties anticipate them in advance—and smartly and clearly address the ones that pertain to them in their contract.    

    I will be leading the workshop “Subcontract Concerns of a General Counsel” during the 2017 NCMA SubCon Training Workshops (Session C03), on Friday, March 31, from 8:30–10:00 a.m. I am a retired government lawyer and defense contractor’s general counsel, author of Thompson Reuter’s law books, and trainer for several NCMA education partners. I believe in the slogans: “If you don’t know what questions to ask, you’re just lucky to get the right answers”; and “None of us is as smart as all of us.” The main takeaway of this workshop will be identifying issues that need to be addressed in the subcontract; the secondary focus will be on substantive topics, such as the Parol Evidence Rule (about making sure all the important agreements get captured in the final contract) and organizational conflicts of interest (i.e., what they are and how they can result in a prime-sub team being disqualified to compete for a government contract).

    The thrust of the presentation is that key facets of the prime-sub relationship should not be left to chance or past practice, and the most important first step in good subcontracting is identifying what should be addressed in the contract. I will get the attendees started, but the participants will do the “heavy lifting” by sharing their experiences and thoughts. Topics of discussion could include things such as what state’s law governs the subcontract, invoicing and payment, the sub’s obligations regarding changes to and terminations of the prime’s contract, continued performance during a prime-sub dispute, how disputes will be settled, or even the handling of the sub’s cost and pricing data or how the sub will account for the costs of an equitable adjustment. They may also include matters prior to the award of the government contract, such as the sub’s notice to the prime about ambiguities in the government’s request for proposals, or how the sub maintains its bid worksheets and records to support litigating a future claim against the government. 

    In short, the list might not be short. Please join us for this workshop.

    "Subcontract Concerns of a General Counsel”
    NCMA's SubCon Training Workshops
    Session C03
    Friday, March 31

  9. Section 809 Panel Chair Calls for Bold Ideas

    By Ryan Burke, Senior Editor, National Contract Management Association
    December 19, 2016

    Today, a great deal of emphasis is being placed on defense acquisition reform, to a degree not seen in years. Many challenges are shared across Department of Defense (DOD) components, including cumbersome processes that slow our ability to get product to user and weapon to warfighter, stagnant requirements that prevent us from taking advantage of technological change, and systemic budgeting issues that don’t allow for flexibility in procurement.

    We were pleased to welcome a number of Section 809 panelists at the 35th Annual Government Contract Management Symposium, and were fortunate enough to sit down with Deidre Lee, chairman of the panel, and Terry Raney, panelist and NCMA president, to chat about the purpose of the panel, the challenges it has been tasked with analyzing, and where to go from here.

    What is the Section 809 Panel?
    Section 809 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016 mandated the creation of a panel—composed of experts in acquisition and procurement policy with diverse experience in both the public and private sectors—to examine the current defense acquisition processes and provide recommendations to streamline and improve its efficiency and effectiveness in order to maintain the United States’ defense technology advantage. This mandate includes the creation of recommendations for the amendment or repeal of regulations.

    The Section 809 panel is similar in structure to the Section 800 panel from 1993, which is credited with recommending significant acquisition reforms subsequently enacted by Congress, including the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act and the creation of Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 12, “Acquisition of Commercial Items.” Similarly, the Section 809 panel is looking for bold transformational changes that serve the customer—primarily the warfighter in the field, but also those who serve them— the Senior Executive Service member who needs an innovative study, the action officer who could use a new software platform, the tiger team that needs a collaboration tool. Cost and time need not be inversely related—the system can be both fast and cost effective, providing maximum value for money, and items that are fit for purpose.

    While the focus of the Section 809 panel is solely on the DOD acquisition system, the panel recognizes that DOD operates in the larger federal acquisition system. As such, many of the challenges DOD faces are systemic to the entire federal acquisition process. The panel will be looking at regulations, statutes, and the overall system itself.

    What Will the Section 809 Panel Do?

    The panel has two years to deliver its report to DOD and to Congress, and the 18 commissioners are looking at the following six initial focus areas:

    • Examining statutes and regulations to enable a more efficient acquisition process,
    • Simplified buying,
    • Commercial items,
    • Why commercial companies don’t do business with DOD,
    • Key factors in successful acquisitions, and
    • A framework for success.

    One of the fundamental challenges faced by the defense acquisition community is the turnaround time the current system takes from requirements definition to delivery. “If it takes 18 months to conduct a source selection for a piece of technology, has anything changed with this technology in the past year and a half?” said Lee. “By the time you actually award the contract, are you receiving current technology in return?”

    “We have an acquisition infrastructure in place, but the market for technology changes much more rapidly than this framework seems to be able to keep up with,” said Raney. “Is this because of disconnects between the pieces of the infrastructure, or is there a better way to arrange it?”

    Another challenge faced by the Section 809 panel is barriers to entry into the federal marketplace by nontraditional government contractors. “The technology that we need today—not tanks or trucks, but IT, cybersecurity solutions, and other capabilities—is needed by the commercial sector as much as it’s needed by DOD,” said Raney. “These companies that develop this technology worry about the compliance risk of government contracting.”

    Anecdotally speaking, these companies appear to be deterred from contracting with the government because it “costs too much, takes too long, and it’s too high of a risk,” said Lee.

    How Can YOU Help?
    “The Section 809 panel is looking for bold ideas,” said Lee. Your expertise and thoughts are welcome—program and contract practitioners know what works and what doesn’t. You know what barriers you face. You have ideas for change, so please share them. “Don’t think of our current processes as the baseline from which to begin,” says Lee. “How should it be? We shouldn’t just accept what it is and tweak around the edges.” This is an opportunity to make tough, broad, necessary Twenty-first Century updates to the defense acquisition system and the profession as a whole.

    “This is not an exercise to generate change at the margin,” says Raney. “It’s to fundamentally identify those things that can be done that will change the paradigm.”

    For more information about the Section 809 panel and to submit your comments, observations, or suggestions for the future of the defense acquisition system, visit the panel’s official website at  

  10. Are You Ready for 2025? Preparing Your Organization for Millennials to Take the Reins

    By Jeanette Nyden
    December 7, 2016

    Baby boomers (ages 50+) are retiring and taking the business know-how to negotiate complex contracts with them. As they retire, there will only be half as many “seasoned” Gen X (ages 35–49) employees available to fill those positions. This means the millennial generation (ages 18–34) will have promotion opportunities faster, and they will require more learning to support them through this transition.

    Is your organization ready to promote millennials to lead negotiator? Are you confident your millennial team members can negotiate the best deal for your company? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” now is the time to prepare the next generation of negotiators in your organization.

    Organizations Must Re-think Negotiation Skills Training—From Design to Delivery to Content

    Millennials were taught differently in school than boomers and Gen Xers were. They also approach problem-solving somewhat differently. Millennials tend to separate tasks into their component parts and objectives, and complete each component/objective based upon predetermined criteria stipulating “acceptable” and “unacceptable” levels of performance.

    Most millennials are used to well-defined assignments, clear benchmarks, and continual feedback and discussion. As such, it is the process they assume will be in place in the business world. The lack of success many companies have experienced in working with millennials is the result of a collision between this generation’s worldview and how most companies function.[i]

    Think about this trait in the context of training programs. Does your organization provide learning objectives and a path to reach those learning objectives? Millennials tend to prefer clearly defined goals and milestones. Therefore, your training programs should follow suit and not only clearly define goals, but also articulate a path to achieving them. 

    Since many training programs are not often paired with independent learning objectives or career development plans, millennials can feel disconnected from their work goals. Training millennials needs to look more like a feedback loop.

    So, are you ready to create contract negotiation skills training programs that look like this? It’s time to train millennials the way they want to be trained. We have a duty to prepare people to lead—and preparing millennials to take the reins is one area that procurement needs now more than ever. 

    Jeanette Nyden, author of three books, including Getting to We: Negotiating Agreements for Highly Collaborative Relationships and Negotiation Rules! A Practical Guide to Big Deal Negotiations, will present on how you can prepare millennials to take the reins at NCMA’s 35th Annual Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS) at the Marriott Washington Wardman Park in Washington, DC.

    [i] Diane Spiegel, “Training: Why the Millennial Generation’s Needs Differ,” The SHRM Blog (Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): June 18, 2010), available at

  11. Where “Cyber Hygiene” Is Concerned, Convenience Is the Enemy

    By Meg Prior, Senior Director of Contracts, Monster Government Solutions
    December 5, 2016

    Today you will most likely shop, connect with loved ones, pay your bills, and manage your personal information and records online. It’s also possible that you’ll manage or be in contact with confidential information or the records of others during the course of your work day. And not just from your desk. You’ll use a combination of devices (desktop, tablet, and phone) seamlessly as you move throughout your work day.

    Inarguably, the internet touches almost all aspects of your daily life. This ubiquitous connectivity brings extraordinary benefits, but with it comes increased risks to our nation’s economic and national security. Convenience is the enemy of security! Recent large-scale cyber attacks have not only exposed the personal information of millions of Americans, but also compromised sensitive information and intellectual property.

    This past October was the 13th Annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a nationwide effort to educate and engage government and private-sector stakeholders and the American public on cybersecurity issues through a variety of outreach efforts and events. National Cyber Security Awareness Month raises awareness about cybersecurity to ensure all Americans have the tools and resources they need to stay safe online. Cybersecurity is our shared responsibility—we all play a role in making the Internet safer and more secure.

    Every American must help create a safer and more secure cyber environment by taking steps to keep themselves, their identities, and their information safe online.

    Good “cyber hygiene” includes simple things we can do every day, including:

    • Set strong passwords with 8 characters or more and a combination of upper and lower case letters.
    • Lock down your login credentials by enabling strong authentication options on your sensitive accounts, like for banking and email.
    • Keep your operating system, browser, and other critical software optimized and secure by installing updates.
    • Maintain an open dialogue with your family, friends, and community about internet safety.
    • Limit the amount of personal information you post online, and use privacy settings for your apps and social media websites.
    • Be cautious about what you receive or read online; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    Strengthening the cybersecurity of networks, systems, and data is one of the most important challenges faced by the federal government and is a contract requirement for all private industry partners handling government information and government computer systems. As cybercriminals have become prevalent, the government has evolved its legal and contracting programs accordingly.

    Come learn more about how new “cyber hygiene” requirements are affecting the government contracting world and what you need to know now to improve your compliance programs at NCMA’s 35th Annual Government Contract Management Symposium. Meg Prior, senior director of contracts for Monster Government Solutions, will present the session, “Cleaning up Your Act: Cyber Hygiene for Contract Managers,” on Tuesday, December 13 at 2:15 pm at the Marriott Washington Wardman Park in Washington, DC.  

  12. Convenience or Compliance—Do You Have to Choose?

    By Daniel Smith, Leader, Global Education, Amazon Business
    November 30, 2016

    To keep pace with demanding and complex mission goals, employees in public sector organizations look to purchase goods and services in the most convenient way possible. The end user mentality is often, “I need to buy what, when, and how I want.” Convenience and speed are key.

    Procurement professionals face enormous challenges in ensuring that goods and services are delivered in the fastest, most cost-effective, and competitive manner, while ensuring organizational compliance. Common everyday purchases, often conducted on a purchase card, represent billions of dollars a year in spend for government entities. Yet these dollars are often unmanaged, with little visibility by senior leaders of the organization into what end users are buying, how much they are paying, and who they are buying from.

    Convenience or compliance—do you have to choose? Advancements in procurement technology present public sector procurement officials with the opportunity to optimize both convenience and compliance.

    At Amazon Business, we believe organizations should not have to make a trade-off. End users can enjoy an intuitive shopping experience and the broad selection they need, while still meeting compliance requirements. Procurement professionals gain access to controls and rich data that help them advance strategic initiatives. In creating a convenient and compliant solution, Amazon Business enables busy public sector procurement professionals to focus on their core mission.

    In King County, Washington—one of the 15 most populous counties in the United States—p-card holders were already using accounts to take advantage of fast, free shipping and access to dozens of categories and tens of millions of items. In the process, procurement officials lost visibility into critical transaction data and did not have access to basic controls on Amazon to ensure compliance.

    King County consolidated ‪‬‬‬‬‬ purchases with a centrally administered Amazon Business account. The solution provides the Amazon shopping experience that buyers love, while facilitating greater oversight and management of these dollars and adhering to procurement policies and requirements. Buyers and analysts access detailed and summary reporting on spending patterns, enabling them to plan more effectively for future procurement decisions and drive strategic sourcing initiatives.

    The free Amazon Business account includes tax-exempt purchasing for eligible entities, Free Two-Day Shipping on eligible orders, the ability to pay by invoice and attach a purchase order number, order approval workflow controls, and easy punch-out and reconciliation integration with leading third-party eProcurement systems, including SciQuest, Ariba, and Coupa.

    Join us at the Government Contract Management Symposium, December 12–13, 2016, in Washington, DC, for a conversation about how technology can create a more convenient and compliant experience for buyers in your organization. I'll be presenting on Tuesday, December 13 from 1:15pm–2:15pm.

  13. Are Requirements Officers Ready for Value Adjusted Total Evaluated Price?

    By Michelle Currier and James Rich
    November 17, 2016

    Given that the guidance on the Value Adjusted Total Evaluated Price (VATEP) is relatively new, there is very little operational field data on VATEP to work with. That poses a bit of a dilemma for requirements officers forced to jump into the murky waters and decide what is really important for achieving program objectives. 

    Under VATEP, the requirements officer is responsible for defining the value of higher performance/capability. In addition to making clear which above-threshold minimum capability requirements are of substantial benefit, the requirements officer must establish affordability limits and may establish a cost cap above which an offeror will not be eligible for award. The model requires of the requirements officer both an increase in work volume and an increase in the complexity of fulfilling the responsibilities of the position—and they have to lock down their monetized priorities before the solicitation is issued.

    The Department of Defense (DOD) released new Source Selection Procedures effective April 1, 2016, which establish DOD policy and guidance for conducting competitively negotiated source selections. A key aim of the Source Selection Procedures is improving the alignment of the DOD source selection process with the initiatives set forth in the several iterations of Better Buying Power (BBP) guidance issued by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. A core principle of BBP is seeking improvement in the quality and utility of information the government shares with industry in the acquisition process. The Source Selection Procedures directly address the goal of providing industry with information on the value, in monetary terms, of higher levels of performance/capability than minimally acceptable or threshold levels with the establishment of a new source selection process, VATEP.

    While there's not much to go on with VATEP at this juncture, the need for it is clear. There is a rich history of the challenges posed by the subjective nature of the source selection tradeoff process and attempts to impose on that process a disciplined, mathematical objectivity without disincentivizing innovation. That subjective approach incentivizes innovation but it also generates a good deal of anxiety as vendors are left to conjecture what enhancements, if any, the requiring activity really wants.

    VATEP works to achieve a balance between a subjective and a more rigidly objective source selection process by revealing in the request for proposal (RFP) what the government is willing to pay for enhanced performance on specific evaluation factors thus sharing with industry the absolute value assigned to increments of enhanced capability. In the VATEP model, industry retains the freedom to innovate but with reduced risk, as they are able to target their resources to address monetized performance/capability factors that are clearly prioritized.

    If we consider VATEP as merely a structured technique for objectivizing how some (or all) of the requirements would be treated in the tradeoff process, and then communicating that to offerors in the RFP, its role makes sense. Not every requirement can/should be monetized. Here's the rub: The requirements officer must understand and determine which requirements are truly discriminators to optimally balance price and performance/capability above minimum requirements (identified as ”threshold” requirements in VATEP) to maximize the achievement of program objectives. The additional responsibilities of the requirements officer, and increased complexity of the role, may be contributing to the lack of VATEP examples in the current universe of solicitations.

    Learn More:
    Michelle Currier, professor of contract management at the Defense Acquisition University; and James Rich, senior advisor, Dawson and Associates; will present the session, “DOD Source Selection—Have You Met VATEP?” at NCMA's Government Contract Management Symposium, December 12–13, in Washington, DC.
  14. A Summary of the Findings of NCMA’s Annual Review of Government Contracting, 2016 Edition

    June 10, 2016

    This month, NCMA and Deltek released theAnnual Review of Government Contracting, 2016 Edition. This edition of the annual report presented data compiled over the last 10 U.S. federal government fiscal years, up to the 2015 fiscal year, and included such data as government agency spending trends, what kinds of contracts were being awarded (and what kinds weren’t), data on the commercial firms being awarded those contracts, and much more. An analysis of this data shows that the pace of federal contracting is finally recovering from the slump period experienced over the last few years.

    The Impact of Recent Legislation

    In fiscal year 2012, we started to see reductions in contract spending, as anticipated by the President’s budget.[1] The reductions were driven in part by fiscal conservatism in the White House as well as in Congress, as manifested in the Budget Control Act of 2011.[2] Contributing to the downward slope of contract spending was the military drawdown in Southwest Asia, which especially diminished spending on transportation, logistics support contracts, and consumable supplies.[3]

    Then, in fiscal year 2013, the feared sequestration took effect halfway through the fiscal year and led to a precipitous reduction in contract activity. Since the Executive Branch had done little contingency planning in anticipation of sequestration, many programs were required to cut their spending by roughly the same percentage, to result in across-the-board spending reductions. Sequestration imposed a harsh setback in the growth of contracting over the preceding years.

    Gradually, since that time, agencies have been attempting—with some success—to restore previous program cuts by requesting budget increases to “get well.” With some cooperation by Congress, contract spending in a number of agencies has been on a slight rebound. Two significant events yielded a measure of stability that the acquisition system was seeking. One was the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013,[4] a deal brokered to avoid sequestration in 2014. And then another deal was reached in December 2015 to provide some additional relief from the budget caps.[5]


    As the spending data show subsequent to fiscal year 2013, we can now see slightly increased contract spending due to relief from cap ceilings granted by Congress. Federal agencies have been able to recover some of the spending authority that they lost during sequestration. However, the elixir of stable budget authority has done little to remedy the uncertainties that continue to plague federal acquisition. These uncertainties stem from irregular appropriations, procurement workloads, and oversight actions.

    What effects do these uncertainties have on the federal acquisition system? Most participants and observers would agree that the acquisition system—consisting of program management, procurement, and closely related functions—seldom performs satisfactorily. Acquisition planning is often delayed, leading to unreasonably short timelines and the potential for mistakes. Execution of source selection processes is often delayed, incurring additional incumbent contractor expense for bridge contracts or bench time for the offerors. The path chosen for the acquisition strategy is often the path of least resistance, inviting risks from choosing contract types or source selections methods inappropriate to the circumstances.


    Excluded Data

    The Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS)[6] is one source we use to glean insight about the effectiveness of the federal acquisition system. Despite the many improvements to the FPDS, it unfortunately doesn’t tell us the whole story about federal contract spending. Typically, about 10 to 15 percent of the total contract spend is not reported to FPDS (not including highly classified contracts, which are reported in a separate channel).

    There are also federal agencies exempted from reporting by federal policy and regulation. Besides the highly-classified agencies, most of the Legislative Branch, most of the Judicial Branch, and most government-sponsored enterprises—like the Federal National Mortgage Association (also known as Fannie Mae)[7]—are exempt.

    Further, contracts below the micropurchase threshold (presently $3,500 under most circumstances) need not be reported, although many agencies do report contracts priced lower than the threshold. Certain types of commodity spending, such as petroleum or petroleum products ordered against a Defense Logistics Agency indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract, need not be reported.

    But even among agencies that are required to report, many lower-dollar-value transactions do not appear in the FPDS. Some of the larger simplified purchases using government purchase cards escape reporting. Some orders placed under the terms of IDIQ contracts and many orders placed under General Services Administration Schedules are also underreported.

    It is indeed problematic that contracting agencies are not reporting to a greater extent. With an increasing emphasis on category management and commercial item purchasing (products and services), and competitive pricing, the acquisition strategists in the federal government rarely have enough data on which to base their structuring of commercial item programs, including category management.

    Emphasis on Commercial Items

    As the Annual Review and FPDS data show, commercial items are one of the more lively topics in federal procurement. We are now achieving some insights about commercial items.

    Emphasis on selecting commercial items, largely in order to save costs, has led to challenging scenarios. Some purchasing organizations, responding to the pressure to use commercial items, are expanding the definition of what would reasonably be categorized a “commercial item.”

    While the commercial items designation is to be applied to commercial items or nondevelopmental items, procurement offices have been increasingly designating many other desired products or services as “commercial,” which should mean that the service or product item is already being offered and sold to the nonfederal market. Commoditizing a service for the sake of a simplified procurement can inject performance risks into contract execution.

    Then, upon declaring an anticipated procurement to be for a “commercial item,” procuring activities tend to simplify the source selection methods accordingly, leaning toward “lowest price technically acceptable” (LPTA) or other methods that may not account for the complexity of the requirement and its attendant risks.

    So, while the trend makes sense to leverage commercially-available solutions, it also suggests higher levels of risk when more complex services or products are purchased at very low prices, often with fixed-price contracts.

    To the federal procurement community’s credit, the FPDS suggests the community is now making more rational decisions about the commerciality of products and services—as shown by the decline in the average award price of commercial items from fiscal years 2013 through 2015. According to FPDS, the number of awards for commercial items declined from 1.12 million awards in fiscal year 2012 to 0.86 million awards in fiscal year 2013 (due in part to sequestration) and has since climbed back up to 1.79 million awards in fiscal year 2015. However, the good news is that the contract spend on commercial items has declined 2.3 percent over the same period, down to $110.1 billion. And the really good news is that the average contract award price for commercial items has dropped from $74,200 to $43,200 per award.

    We can conclude that federal contracting officers are being more judicious about using commercial item procurements—mainly for smaller, less-complex products and services. That’s the way it should be.

    [1] See

    [2] Pub. L.112-25, as later amended by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (Pub. L.113-67).

    [3] See, generally, Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, “Fiscal Year 2015 Comprehensive Oversight Plan for Southwest Asia,” available at

    [4] Pub. L.113-67 (see note 2).

    [5] Known as the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016” (Pub. L.114-113).

    [6] See

    [7] See

  15. From a Degree in Economics to NCMA

    June 6, 2016

    How does anyone end up in the contract management career field? For me, and I’m sure many others, it was serendipity. After graduating with a degree in economics, I was looking for a career path that harnessed both law and business. Having completed a short stint at a DC-based lobbying firm, I scoured for opportunities in regulatory policy and legislative opportunities, eventually stumbling on an opening for a contract specialist. Through several interviews, hiring freezes, and sequesters, I eventually entered the federal government as an 1102-series contract specialist.

    NCMA almost immediately became a source of guiding light. Wanting to immerse myself in the profession, I relied on NCMA to provide the resources and a qualified network that would support my professional development. I decided to sit for the Certified Federal Contracts Manager (CFCM) exam early in my career, I volunteered at the chapter level, and eventually joined my chapter’s leadership board. These opportunities provided invaluable leadership experiences that I would not have otherwise been afforded in my work environment. Building on each success and gaining confidence in my capacity to lead, I set my sights on the Contract Management Leadership Development Program (CMLDP).

    The CMLDP is structured around webinars, live events, and group assignments that, in my view, can generally be grouped into three broad categories:

    • Personal leadership and ethics reflections,
    • Leadership and conflict strategies, and
    • Leadership functions and governance within NCMA.

    One of my favorite aspects of the program has been completing the research paper. Having the freedom to develop a topic of my choice that presents a fresh perspective to the community gets to the heart of why I joined NCMA—to be an active and trusted member of the contract management profession. My topic focused on something I wouldn’t find myself researching as thoroughly in my official work capacity, but that supported my interests (and hopefully the people who read it too). 

    The greatest benefit of the CMLDP, however, is the people—the participants and the NCMA members and leaders that support us. “Networking” has always sounded so formal and forced, but the CMLDP has introduced a network of professionals to me that I will rely on far beyond the scope of the program. Whether we were observing a Board of Directors meeting or socializing with them afterward to hear their personal stories and insights, each connection made throughout the program has benefitted me and hopefully, in turn, my chapter and employer.

    The professionals that I’ve met throughout my time as an NCMA member and CMLDP participant have pushed me far beyond the potential that I have ever set for myself. While serendipity introduced me to this career field, it will be the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve gained through NCMA and the CMLDP that keep me in it. 

    Learn more about the program!
  16. A Variety of Perspectives - CMLDP Experience

    May 16, 2016

    “My experiences have taught me that the value of diversity is in the variety of perspectives it brings—participating in the CMLDP offers this value and much more.” I wrote this statement on March 6, 2014, when asked to provide a quote on the Contract Management Leadership Development Program (CMLDP). Over two years later, this statement still best captures my view of the CMLDP.

    y CMLDP class was diverse in terms of education, background, and experience, yet we all shared a common goal—to build on both personal and professional development. This was a unique opportunity as our class felt an immediate connection to one another given our shared objectives and exposed each other to various approaches. By evaluating different views, each of us was given the opportunity to reevaluate our perspectives for the better, or to reaffirm our opinions.

    Participating in the CMLDP was a great learning experience and I currently serve on the board of directors of the Tysons Chapter of NCMA, work as a law clerk, and attend The George Washington University Law School. I maintain contact with my CMLDP classmates and it is invaluable to be a part of a community where growth is encouraged—and more important, supported. If you are reading this and have any questions about the CMLDP, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Simply put, NCMA and the CMLDP are awesome.

    Learn more about the program.
  17. My Experience as a Current CMLDP Student

    May 5, 2016

    After only three months in the contract management field, my company had been acquired, and I was back in the job market. Uncertain of what to do, I was told to look into “NCMA.” 

    I signed up to become a member, not really knowing what that entailed, and began receiving e-mails from the Tysons Chapter about a training program. I signed up for it mainly to enhance my résumé, but it resulted in so much more. I waited after the course to ask the instructor for guidance. As a board director of the Tysons Chapter, he had a wealth of knowledge on NCMA offerings. We exchanged contact information and later that day I received information on more training courses, volunteer opportunities, and a mentorship program. I participated in each one.

    With my continued involvement in the chapter, I was selected for NCMA’s Contract Management Leadership Development Program (CMLDP). The program offers training in both the technical aspects of contracts and in leadership. Though training is a large aspect of the program, you also engage a network of contract management professionals across both government and industry, as well as develop really great friends. Today, I currently serve as a board member of the Tysons Chapter.

    Each step with NCMA has helped shape my career, developed my knowledge in government contracting, created a network of resources and support, and provided amazing experiences—such as with the CMLDP. While I originally joined NCMA to strengthen my résumé, the end result is a solid foundation for the rest of my career within contract management.  
    Learn more about the program.
  18. Business Acumen for Contracting. Touchdown!

    April 19, 2016

    If I had a dollar for every time a contracting professional asked me what business acumen means, I could buy a few lattes. It’s typically thought of as an ability to understand and positively deal with a business situation, but I think it’s more illuminating to think of it as an ability to see “the entire field of play.”  

    Imagine watching a football game. It’s a given that each player knows the plays, knows his role, and has the ability to carry out his assignments—otherwise, he wouldn’t be on the field. But that’s not good enough. The player also has to know what to expect from his teammates—who’s weak, who’s strong, and who can he count on (and for what) as the team drives toward the endzone. But that’s still not enough. The player also has to know about those facing him on the field of play—who’s weak, who’s strong, how are they motivated, and what can be expected of them as they drive toward the opposite endzone. So, while technical abilities are important, it’s often the ability to see the entire field of play that distinguishes the good from the great.

    Imagine yourself as a contracting professional on a field of play. How much of the field can you see? Maybe you know your plays—i.e., the regulations, policies, and processes you need to follow. Hopefully you know the motivations of your stakeholders as well. You’ve worked with your fellow acquisition team members before, so you know their abilities and you’re able to strategize and support them in planning and executing the “plays.” But that’s not good enough. 

    What about the other side of the field? What do you know about the regulations, policies, and processes they’re required to follow? What of their motivations, challenges, abilities, strategies?

    Great contracting professionals, whether in industry or government, need the knowledge, interest, and ability to fully analyze all aspects of their own organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and constraints, along with those same attributes of the organization with which they are conducting business. 

    Sounds pretty simple. But in contracting, nothing is simple. That’s why NCMA has added an entire “Business Acumen” track to our World Congress being held in Orlando Florida, July 24–27. Two sessions in the track I’d like to highlight illustrate how helpful it can be to see the entire field of play:

    For government: “What I Wish I Knew as a Contracting Officer”—Two former contracting officers will discuss issues facing small and large business contractors, including such topics as how industry reacts to FBO notices, how contracting actions affect the business development cycle, how communication (or lack thereof) with industry affects outcomes, and how development of requests for proposals affects industry actions—as well as a discussion on contractor teaming, proposal development, and how contractors can be “frenemies.”

    For industry: “New to Cost Reimbursement Contracts? Meet Your New Friends”—The world of cost reimbursement contracts has many exciting twists and turns. Contractors have to be ready to tackle the roller-coaster ride that comes with these complex contracts. This session provides an overview of some of the strict regulatory requirements that come into play as contract value and risk increase. The presenters will touch on the business system criteria, annual cost reporting requirements, the Cost Accounting Standards, and more.

    For more information, visit
  19. Before the Auditor Comes Calling

    April 12, 2016


    “The auditor is coming! We must get ready! Where do we start! WE NEED MORE TIME!” We all know this isn’t the way to do it, but we’re all busy and the pressure of day-to-day challenges to meet urgent procurement and subcontract needs in support of successfully meeting prime contract requirements takes precedence.

    Part of the underlying stress in this situation comes from the fact that we tend to think of running an efficient and effective purchasing system and passing a Contractor Purchasing System Review audit as two separate activities. Our day-to-day activities are about meeting project needs, while once every three years or so, we clean everything up for the biginspection. No one has the time or resources to be successful at both. We must weave compliance and documentation into the fabric of an efficient and effective purchasing system. As the old saying goes, we must “build the quality in”—i.e., into every purchasing action. How can we do this? We can do it by following the three basic tenets of any business system audit:

    • System existence,
    • Adequacy, and
    • Compliance.

    A “gap analysis” is a great way to start looking at system existence and adequacy. First, are there written procedures covering all needed systems? Second, do the written procedures cover all the requirements of all the systems? Prior audits, existing checklists, and review of prime contracts are great starting points for looking at your current procedures. (Remember, if a system isn’t documented with a written procedure the auditor can read, the system effectively doesn’t exist!) Next, does the documented existing system comply with all the requirements that are expected to make it “adequate” under the Federal Acquisition Regulation(FAR), the applicable FAR supplement, and prime contract? As a matter of due diligence and business system management, system existence and adequacy should be assessed long before any discussion of what to do when auditors knock at the door.

    Then there is the third tenet—compliance. This is the part you always hear about; what the auditors found (or didn’t find) in the acquisition files. It makes it sound like the audit is all about the files! The reality is that compliance is all about three things:

    • The presence of an established and documented system,
    • Whether the system adequately addresses government requirements in sufficient detail, and
    • Whether the acquisition files contain adequate proof that the acquisition staff is compliant with system requirements.

    If you did everything “right” but, in the opinion of the auditor, didn’t adequately document it, then the file is noncompliant. If the same noncompliant condition is found in other files, then a significant deficiency has been identified. A significant deficiency can preclude a recommendation for system approval under FAR 44.3, “Contractor Purchasing System Reviews.” If you have Defense FAR Supplement(DFARS) 252.244-7001, “Contractor Purchasing System Administration”;DFARS 252.242-7005, “Contractor Business Systems”; or the Department of Energy comparable special provision in your contract, a significant deficiency can also result in withholding on provisional payments.

    Management of a contractor purchasing system has the dual challenges of meeting project needs and doing it in line with government purchasing system requirements. By continuously monitoring the system and system compliance with adequate feedback and training for staff and an emphasis on continuous improvement, the auditor at the door shouldn’t be a time of panic—well, light stress maybe, but not panic.

    Hear more from this author at our 2016 Audits and Compliance Virtual Conference. Click hereto sign up.
  20. It Takes Two to Tango

    March 1, 2016 

    In our personal lives, we have all grown accustomed to recognising the importance of creating and managing relationships—with our families, our spouses and partners, friends, colleagues; everyone with whom we want, and need, to work or live. And of course, we all know the value of making these relationships successful. But what about organizations? Whether it’s at one end of the spectrum with a small private company, or at the other end with a huge government agency, do the same principles for successful relationships apply as they do in our private lives? Can the same benefits and value be gained from such relationships? The answer surely has to be “yes,” at least in theory, but in practice?

    Companies spend significant resources, time, and money researching their markets and exploring how best to grow their share of these. This includes developing their approaches to market through their sales personnel. No company would dream of risking its chances for success, or its reputation in the market, without being confident that its sales workforce was fully trained and properly skilled to identify opportunities and exploit these to the maximum benefit. Part of this is understanding the roles and influences of those who make the decisions to purchase; by definition, this must include the procurement department. Consider now the purchasing organization—the focus of these skilled and trained sales professionals. Have similar resources, time, and money been committed on a proportionate scale to ensure that the purchasing workforce is able to equal the tools, techniques, and skill sets of the sales workforce in an equal way? Most of us know that the answer is “no,” certainly in the public sector. In truth, it’s an unequal contest—maybe not so much during the tendering activity, but certainly afterward during the life cycle of the contract.

    So what, if any, is the link between these two points? Well, there is a link, and it’s a very important one. It’s using the first point—relationships—to help even the unequal contest of the second—investment in skills. Using two major case studies from the United Kingdom public sector (the first involving a joint venture company of two private-sector organizations and a city council, established after a competitive tender, to provide road management services for a local area; and the second involving a private-sector organization contracted to a local health authority, again following a competitive tender, to provide soft facilities management services to a hospital), the significant benefits from creating and managing successful relationships during the life cycle of a contract can be compared with the considerable loss of benefit when all attempts to create a relationship fail. As with all relationships, success requires both parties to perform. To quote the old saying: “It takes two to tango.”

    About the Author

    RICHARD HAWTIN, FCIPS, is the chief procurement officer of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, England. In this capacity, he leads a commercial program of efficiency improvements throughout the trust’s supply chain. He has worked in commercial/contractual roles throughout the supply chain for more than 35 years, the past 20 years in senior positions."

    Attend Richard's keynote presentation at the upcoming Subcontract Management Training Forum on Friday, March 18 from 8:00am–9:00am at the Sheraton Tysons Hotel in Tysons, VA. 

  21. Teaming Tips, Tricks and Traps

    February 22, 2016

    Over the course of my career in and out of both government and industry, I have encountered too many small businesses with horror stories about teaming with other organizations to deliver services to federal clients. Subbing, or being a “team member,” with another (larger) organization acting as the “prime” presents a very challenging situation for many small business owners. Some are so turned off by their past experiences they have vowed never to team (sub) again.

    However, the benefits often outweigh the negatives, and small businesses need to know if teaming is right for them. Here are four questions you need to answer before entering into a teaming relationship with another organization—large or small, sub or prime.

    1. Why Are You Teaming?

    Besides the socioeconomic benefits that can be derived from teaming with a small (disadvantaged) business, the number-one reason ought to be because the client needs the collective skills and products that the “team” brings to provide the solution they require. Filling gaps in that list of requirements is what wins contracts.

    2. How Are Team Members Treated?

    All team members need to know and fulfill their purpose for being on the team. Are team members included in creating the proposal strategy, building the solution, or preparing the technical/management/past performance responses to the solicitation? Are they specifically identified in the proposal? Who has a “seat at the table” for proposal color reviews? Is their work share clear? Are their resource requirements clear? How are they included in the post-award contract management activities?

    If your sole involvement is providing a logo, a brief description of the company, a price list, and/or small business status, be prepared to be disappointed. My advice is run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit. You are not a team member—you are a vendor.

    3. Is There Transparency?

    No one likes to be kept in the dark. If you are a prime, over-communicate with your team members. If you are a sub, expect to be kept abreast of the ebb and flow of the solicitation process; e.g., what questions have been posed and answered, are there extensions or modifications, what negotiations have taken place, etc.—even if you are only following the action on FedBizOps or the agency website. Transparency is a two-way street. If you are a sub, keep the prime aware of any changes in your capabilities or resource availability, and be sure to pass on any intel you pick up about the opportunity.

    4. Do You Know Your Stuff?

    Make sure you are well-schooled in the art and science of the federal proposal process and the Federal Acquisition Regulation(FAR). Other topics you need to be knowledgeable in to work effectively in the federal environment include:

    • Marketing,
    • Sales,
    • Capture management,
    • Conflicts of interest, and
    • Budgeting and finance.

    Know how to operate effectively in the program offices as well as the contracting offices.

    These are just some of the things you can do to be a good team member or leader. Teaming can help you grow your revenue, enter new markets, and develop a rapport with other organizations for future business opportunities. The “Golden Rule” still rings true: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” 

    Want to learn more? Join us March 3, 2016, for our annual Small Business Virtual Conference.
  22. What I Learned From 2015: One Step Back Can Equal Two Steps Forward

    January 5, 2016

    Reviewing statistical data on contracting trends of the past year reveals that the system is largely working, and that many of the issues some of us were warned would plague the profession last year—such as contract protests, the use of LPTA, and program failures—were not as prevalent as predicted. To that end, all of us that profess interest, knowledge, or opinions on our profession should be ready to discuss what we learned over the past year—either to prove, or hopefully also to disprove, notions previously held to be true.

    For instance, one of the hot-topic items that received a great deal of attention over the past year was contracting workforce education and training. A recent panel of academic leaders revealed many interesting facts regarding how and what was learned over the past year, and in what settings. For example, the use and effectiveness of various forms of information delivery and education—such as e-learning, webcasts, and other electronic information delivery media—were not as high as one might have thought. Contrarily, face-to-face meetings and in-person learning and networking were highlighted as the most effective forms of engagement. This may be surprising to some with the paradigm notion that working from home or otherwise conducting business electronically is more effective, believing there is little need to venture out for business purposes. However, when considered intuitively, not everything can be learned over the Internet. People need to be around other people. We are social beings—not just on a personal level, but on a professional level as well.

    This data suggests there is perhaps an overreliance on technology in the profession, based on the perception that more technology produces better outcomes. Take the supporting staff of the contracting manager, for example. Is it perhaps time to bring back the GS-1106 clerical positions in government contracting offices, and similarly for industry? After all, these positions performed many useful roles that gave good contracting officers the extra time to meet with industry, program managers, small business specialists, and other customers, and reverting back to this model could potentially provide the improved relationships often cited as lacking in today’s contracting environment. Today, contract managers are buried in paperwork and reporting requirements—they need help that IT tools cannot exclusively provide.

    We’ve heard it for many years, but change really is happening—as evidenced by the efforts brought about over the past year. This isn’t just management theory or futuristic thinking; today’s change is profoundly altering government views on contracting and the manner in which it is conducted. The necessity of interpersonal skills, which are always important, rise even further as a core competency as technical contract knowledge becomes more available through technology. Just as in the private sector, the march of time will see new startup firms with fresh ideas quickly rise to prominence in the government sector as well. Agencies such as the Department of Defense and the General Services Administration are already nurturing this sector and facilitating their entry.

    In particular, understanding how contracting for information technology, with the need for agile and iterative approaches and innovative acquisition strategies, can be relevant to most other services or commodities, remains an unlearned lesson. Good contracting applies across the spectrum (or NAICS codes). The policies, processes, relationships, and strategies used in well-done IT contracting can be applicable anywhere. Look beyond IT itself for those solutions.

    Contracting remains a great career field. Whether in the public or private sector, the changes being witnessed everywhere are or will be manifested within contracting. Whether the process itself, the relationships it is built on, or the requirements that must be met, contracting is the key to future global economies and commerce.

    For those already in the business, you may see this happening even now. For those considering a career in this field, jump in and enjoy the ride!


  23. World Bank's Benchmarking Public Procurement Report

    November 17, 2015

    World Bank Issues Study on Ease of Accessing and Navigating Public Procurement systems in 77 Countries

    Can suppliers submit a bid online in Singapore? What is the amount of bid security that suppliers must post in Colombia? How long does it take for a contractor in South Africa to receive payment? Where should a disgruntled bidder file a complaint in the United States?

    Answers to these questions and many more were part of the results unveiled by the Benchmarking Public Procurement 2016 Report, a new annual World Bank Group publication that monitors public procurement systems in 77 economies.

    Benchmarking Public Procurement was launched two years ago to address the lack of comparable data on public procurement at the global scale. Using indicators developed on the basis of recognized good practices, the report highlights how countries compare with one another in targeted areas, and it can be used to identify opportunities for reform.  

    Policy-makers, government officials involved in tenders, and private-sector companies can learn about the obstacles that suppliers face to enter and navigate procurement markets, to access information in a timely fashion, or to obtain redress when they have been wronged. Those willing to go more in depth can browse through the data displayed on the website and read about the procurement system in a specific country.

    The main findings of the data collected this year revolve around two main thematic areas that are critical for private firms responding to public calls for tenders: assessing the four phases of the public procurement life cycle, ranging from preparing and submitting a bid to the system for managing contracts; focusing on the ease of challenging a public procurement tendering process through a complaint system and reporting conflicts      of interest and misconduct.

    Of the economies covered by the report, the vast majority around the world uses online platforms to advertise the purchases of goods and services, but often the websites are empty shells with negligible information available to prospective suppliers. Furthermore, less than half of them allow bidders to submit their bids electronically.

    More generally, the persistent lack of transparency and weak enforcement of rules are the issues that stand out across regions. Transparency is the cornerstone of good practices in the field and it often guides procurement reforms. However, Benchmarking Public Procurement shows that one way or another, a majority of systems still lack transparency. As for procurement rules, the report reveals a gap that often occurs between such rules and their implementation and/or enforcement. This is particularly the case for rules pertaining to time frames, whether for a supplier to obtain payment or for a review body to deliver a decision.

    Data for the United States shows that the U.S. federal procurement system generally meets internationally accepted standards, specifically when it comes to suppliers’ access to information. However, a few elements distinguish the United States from its fellow high-income economies. A few examples are the lack of a standstill period between the notification of the contract award and the beginning of the contract, or the high amount of bid security that suppliers must post along with their bid.

    In 2016, the project will reach a global geographical coverage of 189 economies and extend its thematic scope to include all the phases of the procurement process.

    For additional information, please visit In order to participate in the project, please email  


  24. Leveraging Government Buying Power

    November 4, 2015

    The government spends around $450 billion per year in contracting. Almost 65 percent of that is in services. The General Services Administration (GSA) Information Technology Schedule 70, which serves other government agencies, easily dominates other contract vehicles. Most agencies recurrently procure the same or similar products and services year after year, but there is no central coordination or planning of procurement requirements between agencies that might permit leveraging these multiple, repetitive arrangements to permit lower prices and more favorable terms for the government as a whole. 

    That being said, some significant actions have occurred just over the past month that will result in the government taking increased advantage of its huge buying power to realize such long-elusive savings to taxpayers:

    • On October 1, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) became the first cabinet agency to migrate its financial management systems to a federal shared services provider, moving two major parts of its financial system to the Treasury Department’s Administrative Resource Center on October 1. Contracting will eventually follow. Six or seven Department of Homeland Security components are in discussions to move their financial management systems to a federal provider as well. The Department of Veterans Affairs and three or four other cabinet agencies are also interested in following HUD’s lead.
    • On October 14, GSA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released an announcement that detailed seven steps they have taken to further implement category management, including establishing agency goals, governmentwide guidance, an online tool, agency “centers of excellence,” and specific contract vehicles.
    • On October 16, OMB released a memorandum regarding the way agencies spend over $50 billion a year on hardware, software, telecommunications, IT security, and IT professional services, and that OMB intends to address the fragmented, decentralized structure by which federal agencies are often managed and programs implemented—as well as overseen by the legislative branch—to hopefully improve upon the acquisition and management of common IT goods and services.
    • On October 22, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its strategic sourcing report, titled “Opportunities Exist to Better Manage Information Technology Services Spending.” This report states that agencies are more strategically managing and improving spending for IT services, including software design and development; designating officials responsible for strategic sourcing; and creating offices to identify and implement strategic sourcing opportunities, including those specific to IT services. However, according to the report, most agency IT services spending continues to be obligated through hundreds of potentially duplicative contracts—a statistic that continues to diminish the government’s buying power.GAO recommended that each agency conduct spend analysis, monitor spending, develop savings goals and metrics, and consider the use of standardized labor categories.
    • Also on October 22, OMB and GSA released an announcement detailing the planned establishment of a first-of-its-kind governmentwide shared services “Management and Oversight” (M&O) operating model for mission support functions. According to the announcement, “stakeholders from across the government will work together to manage and oversee mission-support shared services with the goal of enabling the delivery of high-quality, high-value shared services.” Further, “[t]he initial scope of this M&O structure will be acquisitions, financial management, human resources, travel, and information technology….”

    Obviously, the administration and some agency officials are determined to bring acquisition strategies that leverage buying power and lower unit pricing into the culture of government contracting. Will these strategies be successful? Perhaps, but they’ll have to overcome several significant impediments; e.g., programmatic, socioeconomic, political, bureaucratic, etc.

    Nevertheless, the continued pummeling of the discretionary budget (versus entitlements) to deliver the improbable goal of a balanced budget will keep the pressure on—with acquisition as a historical source of opportunity, short-term savings, and criticism. While these are worthy business goals, other competing interests and impediments will determine their overall success. Certainly, much is happening and compliments should be given to all who persevere in an environment where all too often, “no good deed goes unpunished.” 

  25. Summer Chapter Leader Summit Summary (2015)

    August 26, 2015

    The weather outside the 2015 Summer Chapter Leader Summit, held July 25 and 26, in Dallas, Texas, was hot—102 degrees under the north Texas sun. However, inside the Gaylord Texan Hotel & Convention Center, it was a cool 72 degrees, and the hot topic inside was “Improving Upon Your Chapter’s Success—The Sky is the Limit.” About 80 of our chapter leaders participated in the two-day event.

    The Summer Chapter Leader Summit began with an enthusiastic Shené Commodore, CFCM, CCCM, sharing her chapter success story in Atlanta, Georgia. She told us the chapter leader should have a good “vision.” Each chapter should create a “story” for their “vision.” The “story” should highlight where the chapter is thriving, what the chapter has achieved, and where the chapter wants to go next. A lot of innovative concepts for running a successful chapter were presented.  

    On the subject of chapter volunteers, Shené gave us ways to recruit, retain, and recognize chapter members. For innovative chapter meetings, it was suggested that we have “fun” meetings, to include baseball games, golfing, facility tours, or a picnic in the park. To increase participation, invite members of other professional organizations to join in on the fun.

    Pamela Bernard of the Greater Baltimore Chapter spoke on the “Top 10 Tips for Keeping Volunteers Motivated, Happy, and Engaged.” The number-one tip was to mentor the volunteer. Anyone with more than five years of experience can be a mentor. A good mentor may say things like “I see attributes in you that can best be utilized as a (fill in the blank).”  

    On Saturday afternoon, chapter leaders participated in a Community Service Project to help the Veteran Resource Center in Dallas. NCMA contributed both funds and manpower to work on this project. We put together hundreds of care packages for the veterans. 

    On Sunday, Carlos Smiley, CPCM, and Christina M. Cusack of the Atlanta Chapter gave us some great ideas on how to determine your chapter vision. They were followed by Luisa Martinez-Medina of the Rio Grande Chapter, who gave us examples of how to raise money and benefit the community at the same time.  

    The Sunday breakout sessions were also very informative. They were presented by Dale Cottongim, CPCM, of the Old Dominion Chapter, who spoke on bringing a dormant chapter back to life. Michelle Currier, CPCM, CFCM, Fellow, of the Norfolk Area Chapter, spoke on chapter education programs. Robert Jones, CFCM, CCCM, Fellow, of the Dayton Chapter, presented a “Step by Step Guide for Winning Any Award.”  

    It may have been hot in Dallas last month, but the Summer Chapter Leader Summit was well worth the time and effort. I hope to see you at the Fall Chapter Leader Summit, December 13, at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, DC! 

    Daniel Chalfant is a senior price/cost analyst for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.