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  1. Event Recap: NCMA HQ Kicks off NES+ in San Antonio

    By: Crystal Leid

    After nearly 12 months of development, NCMA HQ hosted the inaugural NES+, a full-day learning PLUS networking seminar on October 11 in San Antonio. Participants travelled from across the Lone Star State, as well as far-reaching locales such as Boston, Tampa, and Portland!

    NES+ is a unique full-day seminar event, hosted by NCMA HQ, that broadens the way participants learn by infusing networking and collaboration with peers into the course agenda. In San Antonio, participants solidified their knowledge of commercial item contracts with extensive hands-on learning opportunities. Participants were divided into teams in order to discover the perspectives from the viewpoints of both government and industry. A key component to grasping the knowledge was attributed to the networking components infused into the course agenda.

    At the conclusion of the seminar, attendees walked away with in-depth knowledge of commercial item contracts and 6.5 CPE/CLE that can be applied to an NCMA certification!

    NCMA HQ would like to thank everyone involved for making this event and new program a success. We are glad to discover all the hard work paid off. Most important, we would like to thankMichelle Currier, CPCM, CFCM, Fellow. Her 38 years of contract management experience was evident as she guided the seminar.

    We look forward to seeing the NES+ events continue as we head to Jacksonville in January, Phoenix in March, and Seattle in May!

  2. 2018 Clarity Industry Study—Finance, Operations, Compliance Results in Depth

    October 18, 2018

    By Marc Holliday

    Reading between the lines of the “Finance” and “Finance Compliance” sections from the 9th Annual Deltek Clarity GovCon Industry Study, this year’s results reinforce the revised role of chief financial officers (CFOs) in the government contracting space. According to the Clarity Study, growth rates among government contractors have more than doubled, and are at historic highs compared to the last five years. Profits are up to pre-sequestration levels for businesses of every size, and so far, 2018 is sporting the highest level of appropriations in a decade. With such optimism in the air, CFOs are stepping away from their spreadsheets to step into the part of trusted analyst and adviser on everything from profitability potential of government opportunities to better managing overall risk.

    Recently, I reviewed the results of the “Finance” and “Finance Compliance” sections of this year’s Clarity Study with a little more depth during Deltek’s webinar, “Financial Metrics, Operational & Compliance Trends,” one of six installments of the 9th Annual Deltek Clarity GovCon Industry Study series. Based on the results from these sections, I touched on key changes in CFO responsibilities, as well as the business dealings crossing their desks every day. Read on for top takeaways to factor into short- and long-term finance and finance compliance strategies.

    Top Financial Challenges

    Organic topline growth and increasing profitability switched ranking positions compared to last year—coming in as the number one and two financial challenges, respectively. More than likely, this is due to government contractors positioning themselves for expected growth and being okay with sacrificing a few profit percentage points to do so. Topline growth could have been bolstered in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, a healthy environment for mergers and acquisitions. In terms of increasing profitability, cost-cutting measures worked in every major category, and downward-trending days sales outstanding (DSO) and invoice cycles indicate that efficiency is definitely being realized.

    Additional drivers of topline growth include contractors making diversification within federal agencies a priority for the second straight year, and involvement of the CFO in the qualification of profit potential for new opportunities.

    G&A, Fringe, and Overhead Rate Trends

    General and administrative (G&A) rates dropped a few percentage points compared to last year. With profits trending toward pre-sequestration levels, so are G&A rates. Increases in competition are also contributing to companies getting better at controlling their costs.

    Fringe and overhead rates experienced additional drops—two- and three-point drops, respectively. More companies are moving to software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors and dismantling physical IT infrastructures. Grouped with healthcare costs being increased and passed on to the employees, and new competition entering the market with early adopter mentalities, it is uncertain whether or not these drops are setting the stage for a true downward trend.

    Current Course for Average DSO and Monthly Invoice Cycle

    Focusing on making the invoice process more efficient seems to have paid off for respondents of the Clarity Study. Compared to last year’s results, they reported a drop in average DSO from 40 to 38 days. Monthly invoice cycles are also down from last year—from 15 days to 11 days, in part due to iRapt adoptions (formerly WAWF). Decreases in both metrics have meant increases in cash flow, much to the delight of company bottom lines within the sector.

    Unallowable Costs

    For 2018, “unallowable costs” was the only metric to see a bump, if only by half a percentage point. An influx of new small businesses pursuing federal contracts and only just getting familiar with “the ropes” of compliance is likely the source for the slight uptick.

    Financial Compliance: Top Audit Troublemakers

    Even though 83% of respondents to the Clarity Study reported going through an audit in the past year, changes in government oversight were flat compared to a year ago. Most small and mid-sized companies claimed no level changes, while larger businesses reported the most increase. However, compared to 2016, a sharp oversight decline is glaringly apparent for larger businesses—from 29% to 10%.

    “Indirect rates” continued to hold the number-one audit “troublemaker” spot for the sixth year in a row, with “internal control systems” moving up to the number two position from number four a year prior. Rounding out the top three challenges list was “labor and timekeeping,” and for the first time in as many years, “unallowable costs” fell out of the top five most alluded-to audit issues.

    The key approaches to address audits when they happen, or to prepare for the future, include:

    • Conducting internal audits,
    • Reengineering business processes for better compliance, and
    • Hiring more experienced talent—i.e., specialists who have been through specific audit types—when possible.

    Of the nine overall audit categories specifically identified by contractors in the last two years, contractor purchasing system reviews (CPSRs) and Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) and Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) floor check audits proved to be the costliest—with CPSRs topping the “investment needed” list. Additional audit types included: DCAA audits, incurred cost submissions, internal controls, pre-award cost accounting system audits, forward pricing, and “other.”

    Hours Spent on Government Audits

    In terms of actual hours spent on government audits, smaller companies reported spending less time than their mid-sized to larger business counterparts. Overall, 25% of surveyed businesses spent 40 hours or less, 31% spent between 41 and 160 hours, and 11% spent more than 161 hours. Of all business sizes, larger companies spent the most time in the audit “trenches.”

    Even More Clarity Results

    The “Financial Metrics, Operational & Compliance Trends” webinar is brimming with additional results from the Clarity Study—like the hours spent specifically on incurred cost submission reports and the potential future for investing in dedicated risk officers. Watch the on-demand webinar anytime.

    For complete results from the 9th Annual Deltek Clarity GovCon Industry Studydownload the full report

    About the Study

    The 9th Annual Deltek Clarity GovCon Industry Study provides critical benchmarks and insights for finance, operations, and compliance leaders, as well as decision-makers in business development, human capital management, IT, and project and risk management, to help each assess the health of their firm and identify steps to drive future success.

    For the 2018 Clarity Study, more than 600 survey respondents answered a series of benchmarking questions to provide a comprehensive overview of the federal contracting environment. Businesses of every size were represented, with most identifying themselves as IT services, professional services, or defense, weapons, aerospace, transportation, or manufacturing providers. Healthcare or medical, management consulting, and engineering services were also included in the results. Forty-three percent of respondent companies are headquartered in the Washington, DC, metro area and the surrounding states of Maryland and Virginia, while 57% call other U.S. regions home.

    Marc Holliday
    Director, Product Strategy and Management Group
    Marc Holliday specializes in helping project-based businesses understand how technology investments in business intelligence, human capital management, project management, collaboration, contract management, customer relationship management, and enterprise resource planning can help support growth strategies. He has experience in the professional services, government contracting, distribution, manufacturing, and nonprofit industries. 

  3. 9th Annual Deltek Clarity GovCon Industry Study: Top-Line Results and Benchmarks

    August 30, 2018

    By Marc Holliday

    Cautious optimism gave way to full-blown optimism as respondents rounded up their 2017 business experience for the 9th Annual Deltek/Clarity GovCon Industry Study. More than 600 survey respondents answered a series of benchmarking questions to provide a comprehensive overview of the federal government contracting environment. A comparison of their reported business experiences and hundreds of hours of research by Deltek’s expert analysts revealed a variety of reasons for the good vibes. After years of decline, signs are pointing toward federal contracting indeed being in a phase of recovery.

    • Across the board, fiscal year 2018 appropriations levels for government agencies are seeing the largest increase in a decade.
    • Defense recovery, which started in 2016, continues to trend upward.
    • Small and medium business contracting has never been stronger—growth rates have more than doubled for many, and historic Clarity Study data shows a five-year high overall.
    • Profit rates have edged up to pre-sequestration levels.

    Everyone from finance, compliance, and human resources leaders, to business development, project management, and IT decision-makers weighed in on exactly how the sentiments and spending are affecting their business corners. During Deltek’s recent webinar on the 9th Annual Deltek/Clarity GovCon Industry Study, I reviewed these results, and provided executive-level context for short- and long-term business strategy considerations. Read on for some key takeaways from the survey data discussion. 

    Business Development

    For those out to secure more government business, the top two challenges from 2017 into 2018 included:

    • Limited development resources, and
    • Successfully navigating the indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracting environment.

    To overcome these and other issues, business development leaders researched expanding into other government agencies beyond their current customer space, rather than looking for additional opportunities in the commercial sector. Because of the leanness of the past few years, exploring opportunities with agencies outside of a firm’s “comfort zone” proved a gamble, with commercial being more of a sure bet. But, after addressing business development process concerns and honing approaches to identify best-fit opportunities, many leaders feel less anxiety moving into different government spaces. Adjusting the focus to more clearly understand opportunity requirements earlier in the proposal-building process has aided in calming a few nerves as well.

    Project and Risk Management

    Inexperienced project managers, poorly defined scope, and inaccurate project timeline forecasting are the top three hurdles identified by leaders overseeing project and risk management within government contracting firms.

    Though an emphasis on training dollars dropped down the priority list for many leaders, the development of internal project manager best practices to counter a lack of experience and historical context for younger workers (who are replacing retiring baby boomers) has not. In fact, it tops the list of next-steps, alongside leveraging business intelligence to better track formal key performance indicators and more accurately define scope, timetables, and commitments.


    Despite the major challenges of growing the top line organically, while protecting the bottom line, increasing profitability, and reducing costs reported by contracting financial leaders, many firms are investing in growth—more so than in years past. In part, this new focus is a result of the revised roles of CFOs and other top finance officers. Many finance leaders are weighing in on project management practices and providing final sign off on pursuing new government opportunities. Why? Because opportunities are being more thoroughly vetted and qualified in terms of profitability, which has also resulted in contracting diversification—pursuing new customers in different government agencies.

    Also, cost-cutting is becoming more strategic, with general and administrative, fringe, and overhead rates proving most effective in reducing invoice cycles and providing several other substantial benefits within contracting firms.

    Finance Compliance

    Overall, reported instances of audits were flat compared to the Clarity 2017 report, with 83% of respondents confirming their review experiences. A majority of small- and medium-sized businesses surveyed indicated a consistent amount of government oversight over the past several years. Larger businesses reported the most increase; however, since 2016, there has been a sharp oversight decline—from 29% to 10%.

    For the sixth year in a row, indirect rates are the number one audit challenge, immediately followed by internal control systems and labor and timekeeping. Also, for the first time in a number of years, unallowable costs dropped off the list of top financial compliance challenges—the assumption being that contracting firms have a better handle on definitions and management. Conducting internal audits and reengineering business processes have also proven successful tactics in addressing compliance needs, as has larger investments in hiring more experienced, better-qualified talent.

    Human Capital Management

    Speaking of talent, the war for best-fit candidates within the government is very real, and it’s being fought on two fronts simultaneously: fending off other government entities and the commercial realm. In the last 50 years, the unemployment rate has only been as low as current reports (June 2018) two previous times, making the labor market tight for employers hoping to attract better-qualified talent. With the market being more on the side of the employee, employers are having to get creative with competitive compensation and benefits offers.

    Within industry, many human resource departments are trying a new tactic—actively investing in rebranding what it means to work for their firms. More so than in years past, younger generations of candidates are doing their research on businesses. They are especially seeking out current employees they are connected with to inform their decision on whether they even want to apply for a position. In response, contractors are increasing incentives and making their referral programs more lucrative.

    With hiring specifically, firms are investing more in recruiters, sourced both internally and externally. They are also working to improve passive recruitment techniques—with human resource personnel using their own personal and professional networks to identify candidates who are not actively looking for a new job, but are qualified for open positions.

    Human Resource Management

    There is a serious need to retain top talent in today’s market, and implementing effective performance management and strategic workforce capacity and planning are all weighing heavy on the minds of human resource managers. Coupled with succession planning and career development being of high importance to younger members of the workforce, many human resource leaders are bolstering reward and recognition programs, crafting more formal career development plans, and adopting mentorship programs to better engage current and future employees. They are also working to create human capital management metrics to help managers become more strategic advisers.

    Information Technology

    IT leaders are struggling with the same challenges identified in previous Clarity surveys: IT and data security, finding top talent, and satisfying government system security and regulatory requirements being the top three challenges identified. With budget pressures decreasing for many, and the need for effective IT and data security rising, leaders are looking to hire more IT staff than in previous years, and are creating new security policies and procedures while also reengineering current business processes to satisfy new government regulation, like NIST 800-171.

    For more analysis on the results from the 9th Annual Deltek/Clarity GovCon Industry Study—such as the resources and systems government contractors of all sizes are using to manage contract information, the ratio of ground versus cloud solutions firms are using, and the top technology trends pulling focus—watch the webinar on demand anytime.

    For complete results from the Deltek/Clarity GovCon Industry Study, download the full report.
  4. Next Buy, a Time Machine? Remaining Successful when Innovation Disrupts

    May 9, 2018

    By Markesha McCants

    “Disruptive innovation” is not simply a trending hashtag. Today, it is a reality with enough power to transform long-standing procurement processes—and much more. Contracting professionals must be nimble in an ever-changing world full of breakthrough technologies, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and various other technologies that once upon a time were only observed in science fiction movies.

    One of my all-time favorite sci-fi movies, Back to the Future, examines the introduction of “disruptive technology,” and while the technology in the movie is fictional (for now), the movie provides a few tips contracting practitioners can use to ensure success when innovation disrupts.

    Collaboration drives continuous improvement and results. The collaboration between Back to the Future’s two central protagonists, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown and Marty McFly, was filled with trust, respect, and support of each other’s pursuits. They were different from each other, yet still highly effective together. Doc Brown desired to be a world-renowned scientist, and Marty wanted to be a rock star. Today, Doc would be classified as a “baby boomer” and Marty a “millennial”; yet still, this dynamic collaboration resulted in time travel.

    In collaborative cross-functional teams, effective communication is just as important as being contract savvy. Marty McFly had his share of challenges communicating with various characters in the film. One of the most challenging relationships was with the antagonist, Biff. Despite the various challenges between Marty and Biff, Marty was able to communicate with Biff in a way that allowed him to solve problems and achieve the desired outcome.   

    The contracting “comfort-zone” may not always be the best acquisition approach. Disruptive innovation provides an opportunity to create new acquisition strategies. In Back to the Future, Doc Brown transform a sports car, a DeLorean DMC-12, into a time machine using technology that incorporated a fictional “flux capacitor,” but was fueled using several different methods of nuclear fusion. As the trilogy of movies progressed, Doc kept changing and upgrading his approach to fueling the DeLorean. Today, we are more likely to travel by an Uber, and not a DeLorean; however, the principle is that the comfort-zone approach may not always produce the best results.

    No industries or professions are exempt from disruption. Therefore, we must be aware of how to successfully operate during this time. So, what does success look like? As contracting professionals, success during a time of disruption requires us to remain compliant yet courageous and impartial, but also ingenious. As Doc Brown says in Back to the Future, “If you’re going to build a time machine, do it with some style.”

    Markesha McCants is a senior contracting officer who works with GSA, Federal Acquisition Service, to deliver acquisition services to both civilian and defense agencies. She will serve as co-chair of NCMA's World Congress 2018, and will be participating in the main stage discussion, "Leadership Storytelling: Discover the Leader in You," on Wednesday, July 25 at 8:30am.

  5. The Continuing Need to Emphasize Improved Acquisition Through Government/Industry Communication, or “Can We Talk?”

    March 13, 2018
    By Michael Fischetti 

    The Deputy Secretary of Defense recently issued a memorandum to all Department of Defense (DOD) components outlining national defense strategy (NDS) intentional engagement with industry to “harness and protect the National Security Innovation Base as well as modernize key capabilities.”

    This two-page memo, followed by four pages of attached instructions—including specific “myth-busting” examples and relevant statutory guidance—is yet the latest top-down guidance promulgating how government and industry can and must communicate properly to meet the government mission. In this case, national security depends on this dialogue. The memo even highlights the importance of association events in this regard.

    For as long as most can remember, the specifics of what, when, and how government acquisition officials communicate with industry have been at issue. Despite all manner of instruction highlighting how more communication is better, not as limiting as might be believed, and that improved requirements, solicitation, and award outcomes can therefore be improved, the myths surrounding this subject endure.

    It is not news that the past 60 years have seen a gradual move of work to support both defense and civilian agency missions outsourced toward industry. The government of course must meet citizens services, as provided in agency appropriation acts approved by Congress and executed by the Executive Branch. However, the sources from which products and services are delivered have rely increasingly on government contractors for implementation. In many cases, federal employee expertise has been challenged to keep up with the increased complexity of work and requirements by which today’s mission is accomplished. Thus, the government heavily relies not only on industry to deliver the necessary products and services, but also on contracted services to support creating the solutions, requirements, and follow-on analysis of those solutions provided by industry. This is a reality even in the commercial world.

    However, myths of how government interacts with industry have continued to often act as a bar to effective performance. In the case of national security, these communication myths must end now. For those who understand this, it will take strong leadership at the local level, waiving the DepSecDef memo (in the case of DOD leaders) against the propensity of local counsel, executives, ethics officers, oversight officials, and acquisition officials to defer to past practice. Some may believe that the more limiting the communication, the less opportunity for doing something wrong.

    No less than our national security—not to mention so many other important government goals—is at stake. Whether within the requirements or acquisition community, both government and industry have a mutual interest in following legal and ethical processes when creating answers for today’s government mission. They simply must interact as necessary. Professional associations in particular offer a neutral forum to come together and discuss common problems, while engaged in mutual learning and professional development.

    The time has come to take this further; for both industry and government acquisition professionals to be trained, while interacting together, in such a neutral third-party forum, learning the same competencies and technical standards from each of their perspectives. Then when communication does become more controlled (such as formal initiation of a solicitation of a procurement), all parties will understand all perspectives to better meet each other’s goals.

    Everyone has a role in putting a stop to nonsensical bars to communication. This does not weaken our nation’s exemplary, ethical, acquisition system. As every reasonable business can attest, communication is everything! As it pertains to national security, we all want to believe that the best ideas and solutions are on the table for consideration. Any idea not brought forward because of unnecessary and prohibitive communication practices, or sheer lack of access, is a recipe for failure. Building a secure nation through the government’s frequent and open engagement with industry, along with fair, transparent, and ethical acquisition processes, are not mutually exclusive goals. Yes, we can talk—and it must start now!


    Michael Fischetti, JD, CPCM, Fellow, CAE, is the executive director of the National Contract Management Association (NCMA).

  6. Soft Skills Matter: Which Four Do Employers in Contract Management Look For?

    January 7, 2018
    BY ALISON LOUGHLIN                                                              

    The beginning of the year is a great time for getting hired. Many organizations get the go-ahead for hiring points at the start of the year, and with most vacations over and decision makers back in the office, the process picks up speed.

    If you’re considering making a move, bear in mind that while solid technical skills are essential, more than three quarters of employers value “soft skills” just as highly. Having the right balance of each is key.

    Here are four soft skills employers are looking for:

    1. Creative Problem-Solving

    While requirements vary from role to role, some remain constant in the contract management profession. Critical thinking can’t be underestimated, according to Jennifer Hanks of E3 Federal Solutions. “Being able to apply what we know in a variety of ways makes us more valuable to our organization and customers.” But while it is important to be able to analyze data and issues, there is a softer side to critical thinking: problem solving.

    The ability to apply both logic and creativity to solve problems and make appropriate decisions — and to solve problem autonomously without relying heavily on others — is valuable to an organization.

    2. Team Working

    Working well with others and having the ability to contribute ideas to the group are relationship building skills in high-demand. “Contracting is a team sport,” says Thomas Miller, PMP, of Defense Acquisition & Contracting Solutions, LLC. “The objective is for the PM team, of which the contracting officer is a part, to provide a good or service to a customer. The contracting officer isn’t successful unless the team is successful.”

    While it can be stressful to support new ideas or suggest a different approach, the needs of the team may demand it. A positive outlook, assertiveness when presenting ideas, and openness to constructive criticism (while also offering constructive criticism to others) are key traits.

    3. Effective Communication

    Since communication skills are critical to managing a team, or relaying strategy back to a group of peers, it comes as no surprise that they are in high demand in contract management. “Excellent communication (both oral and written)” is crucial according to Cisco’s Marcia Langan. Digging deeper, Dominick Belfiore, CFCM, of Moving the Stone, highlighted the need “to understand the perspective and needs of others (PMs, contractors, CORs, etc.) for both negotiations and general relationship building.”

    The employee who balances reason and logic with an awareness of others is much sought after by employers for keeping morale high and maintaining a shared sense of accomplishment among team members. These kinds of strong internal and external relationships are crucial during negotiations and in building strategic relationships.

    4. Nimbleness

    Being able to adjust quickly to changes in the workplace is another in-demand skill. “You need to be proactive rather than waiting for information, input, or disputes to erupt,” says Tapestry Solutions’ Kassy McMichael. “Our company moves lightning fast. We don’t have time to wait for something. We go seek it out and take action.”

    With deadlines and projects changing at a moment’s notice, employers are looking for people who can learn to quickly adapt, while remaining focused on deadlines.

    The Bottom Line

    Today, soft skills are no longer just “nice to have” in a contract management job. For teams to perform at their highest level, hiring people with strong soft skills is an absolute must. 

    Alison Loughlin is a senior marketing specialist for NCMA. She has seven years of association management experience and her 2018 New Year's resolution is to keep working on her soft skills.

  7. What Can Chapter Leaders Learn from

    December 1, 2017
    By Peggy Hoffman

    As I write this, some 9,689 “Meetups” are happening around the globe, based on stats. [link:] That’s a lot of people connecting face to face. In fact, there are more than 300,000 Meetup groups and 35 million members.

    What’s driving all this? We are. We are social beings. Technology and the internet have allowed us to create connections beyond our community and to do this whenever we want. This hasn’t replaced the face-to-face meeting. One thing we can learn from Meetup is that the in-person event is not passé.

    Why then are our chapters not as magnetic? Let’s look at a few other lessons we can learn from

    Commit to Evolve

    Meetup’s core values [link:] includes C: Change, the company. If you join Meetup, you’ll see this in action in the way they are continuously evolving the platform, the services, and the experience. Are we changing up our chapters?

    Connect through Shared Interests

    When you sign up for Meetup, you are prompted to choose what you’re into and then matched with groups of like-minded people. We can do the same in chapters by setting up member groups based on issue, interest, or specialty.

    Provide Easy Access

    Signing up and signing in, RSVPing for events, asking questions—all are easy to do from my desktop or mobile device. Don’t underestimate how important it is that people can find you and interact with your group online. The online experience tells people how welcoming you might be in person. How easy is it for your members to do the same?

    Stay in Touch

    When I sign on to or open the app, I have notifications that tell me what’s happening. Maybe your chapter can’t do this in this exact way, but consider having members sign up for text alerts or try implementing a weekly update email (no promotions, just cool updates).

    How can your chapter emulate the wow of Meetup groups? We’ll be asking that question at the Leadership Master Class: Winter Session on December 3, 2017.

    For more scoop on Meetup, check out this post What Meetups Tell Us About America [link: ] or take a tour at

    Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management, has worked in associations and with association volunteers for many years and most enjoys having conversations to spark new ideas and new ways of engaging members. You can connect with Peggy on Twitter @peggyhoffman or LinkedIn or her blog at And ask her about triathlon, dance, or living with three sons.

  8. Cybersecurity for Contractors: Debunking Four Common Myths

    November 29, 2017
    By Mike Cullen and Michael Wright

    Government contractors face misconceptions on how to address and manage cybersecurity compliance requirements, such as the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) 252.204-7012, “Safeguarding Covered Defense Information (CDI) and Cyber Incident Reporting” and 32 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 2002, “Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI).” Based on our experience assisting government contractors in this area, we’ve identified four common myths that need to be debunked.

    Myth 1: Compliance Is Equivalent to Security

    While a contractor may have met security requirements such as those contained in the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication (NIST SP) 800-171, “Protecting Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Information Systems and Organization,” meeting those requirements does not mean the contractor is “secure.” These security requirements lack prescriptive detail, allowing contractors to select from a wide range of options for implementing controls to meet the objectives of those requirements. As a result, controls implemented by contractors may have varying degrees of effectiveness.

    Contractors should consider that, while they may be compliant, they are not necessarily “secure,” and cybersecurity requires a continuous, ongoing effort. To further improve cybersecurity posture, it’s recommended that contractors conduct periodic risk assessments and ongoing review of regulatory requirements, and to prioritize cybersecurity as part of their organization’s strategic planning process.

    Myth 2: The DFARS Cyber Requirements Only Apply to Large Defense Contractors

    DFARS 252.204-7012 applies to any government contractor andtheir subcontractors and suppliers, regardless of size, if they process, store, or transmit CDI/CUI on their covered contractor information systems in performance of a federal government contract. These requirements flow down across all tiers wherever CDI/CUI is provided by the government or next higher-tier contractor, or created by a contractor in performance of a contract.

    All contractors must implement adequate cybersecurity safeguarding controls on all covered contractor information systems and report cyber incidents involving CDI/CUI within 72 hours of discovery. Also, all contractors should be prepared to meet these requirements by December 31, 2017, and not wait to be notified by the government or their next higher-tier contractor customers.

    Myth 3: The U.S. Government Clearly Identifies and Marks CDI/CUI that Is Passed on to Contractors

    Federal agencies are not always clear and consistent on marking or identifying CDI/CUI requiring protection. As such, contractors should consider themselves responsible for protecting CDI/CUI regardless of whether or not it has been explicitly identified in a contract.

    In cases where a contractor becomes aware of CDI/CUI being used in performance of a contract, and it has not been previously identified, the contractor should notify the contracting officer.

    Myth 4: Implementing Cybersecurity Controls Is Always Expensive and Time-Consuming

    Security requirements, such as those prescribed by NIST SP 800-171, do not recommend specific technology solutions or methods to meet the intent of those requirements. Therefore, contractors should implement practical cybersecurity controls to address the specific risks associated with handling CDI/CUI. Additionally, many security functions already exist in the contractors’ current systems and tools, or can now be supplied through service providers and cloud vendors. Furthermore, costs associated with implementing the cybersecurity controls will likely be considered allowable, allocable, and reasonable with support as part of the contractor’s indirect rate.

    While DFARS 252.204-7012 does not specifically address recoverability, costs for other prior DFARS rules have been historically recoverable. Contractors should always consult with contracting or legal experts on cost recoverability.

    Michael Wright, CCSFP, CISA, CPA, PMP, and Mike Cullen, CISA, CISSP, CIPP/US, are both senior managers at Baker Tilly. They both possess over 15 years of experience in cybersecurity and IT risk management. They will present December 5 at NCMA’s Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS) on “The New Frontier of Cyber Clauses: A Call to Action for Contractors.”


  9. The Importance of the Acquisition Team: A “Jack-of-All-Trades” is Still a “Master of None”

    November 15, 2017
    By Michael Fischetti 

    With every passing year, the need for adequately trained and experienced acquisition professionals is stated over and over again. However, no matter how adequately trained or experienced, no one professional possesses the technical knowledge of everyaspect of a given complex acquisition—whether it be knowledge of item management, property management, asset management, requirements determination, market analytics, cost analysis, auditing or audit compliance, quality control, engineering, information technology, and other technical disciplines (not to mention knowledge of policy, basic contracting principles, the regulatory environment, overall business acumen, agency mission, or the applicable supply chain complexities, manufacturing processes, or legal matters that may be involved). 

    To possess all of this knowledge requires a veritable super-hero. In today’s era of lean program resources, gathering together a broad array of diverse expertise—or even sufficient expertise—from all the various specialties that may be involved in a particular acquisition is challenging. Many of the necessary or required skillsets are diminished, gone for good, or in a slow and tenuous rebuilding process, requiring those few who remain to wear “multiple hats.” Unfortunately, this often leads to lower-risk, less-than-completely-innovative solutions, because even the most experienced and expertly trained contracting officer, program manager, finance manager, or other professional cannot be an expert in every single area. A “jack-of-all-trades” is still a “master of none.”

    When differentiating successful from unsuccessful programs, it’s clear that success is most often achieved through the ability of various specialties to coalesce and react to challenges and opportunities, which requires not “group-think,” but diverse expertise and approaches, where the sum of collective human capital is greater than any one individual. Unfortunately, increasing the workforce, in both government and industry, to execute the complex requirements of today’s contracting environment isn’t happening. In fact, resources for many may decrease further. Generally speaking, contracting in this decade, the “Twenty-Tens,” requires much more effort with many fewer resources.

    In this environment, more than any new law, policy, or regulation, the issue of the “acquisition team” forms the crux of acquisition challenges today. Acquisition teamis nebulously defined as all participants in an acquisition, “including not only representatives of the technical, supply, and procurement communities, but also the customers they serve, and the contractors who provide the products and services.” As excellently analyzed in Matthew Jeffery’s “Revisiting the ‘Acquisition Team’ Definition” in the November 2017 issue of Contract ManagementMagazine, performing more with less, and managing the various outsourced services that have traditionally been performed in-house, requires those who have an enhanced ability to work within an interdisciplinary team that can differentiate the “forest from the trees” in deciphering and analyzing all the relevant data in developing and meeting complex program requirements and solutions.

    However, throwing together all the members of an acquisition team and expecting successful results to naturally form is misguided. Teaming requires teamwork, communication, empathy, trust, and openness to change. Also in the November 2017 Contract Management are Christopher E. Harris’ “Effective Pre-Solicitation Communication With Industry—A Key Ingredient of Successful Acquisition Teams,” as well as “Playing Nice: The Adversarial Partnership of Program Managers and Contracting Officers,” by John Dobriansky and John Wilkinson. As these articles explain, if you can’t collaborate with others, it’s much harder to get your message heard, no matter how important. Members of successful acquisition teams must have the ability to form productive, interpersonal, and interdisciplinary relationships; demonstrated written and verbal communication expertise; and the related ability to work well with others. Anything less will result in one or more team members “checking out”—permitting those with more authority or persistence to aggressively push individual ideas forward, often to the detriment of the overall program. In essence, programs managed under traditional management styles, or with poor communication amongst team members, will become victim to a team that won’t tell the emperor he isn’t wearing any clothes.

    There is a fundamental change forming within the skillsets of today’s acquisition workforce, and it includes the need to quickly adapt to constant change, as well as the need for a reasonable understanding and appreciation of multiple acquisition disciplines. To support these needs, the most important skills, beyond technical competence, are found through teaming. NCMA believes that the definition of today’s contract manager has expanded: Everyone on the acquisition team is a “contract manager” in some form or fashion, whether their title is business manager, systems engineer, program manager, or contracting officer. 

    The Defense Forum, which will be held December 4–5 as part of NCMA’s Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS) 2017, recognizes the invaluable importance of teaming. While the Defense Forum, as well as GCMS, will discuss issues with a government focus, the importance of teaming is not unique to those within the “GS-1102” community. In fact, the entire acquisition team needs to learn and work together effectively to improve future results. These changing roles and responsibilities are also reflected in the expanded competencies within the new fifth edition of NCMA’s Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK). Whatever your role in acquisition, whether government (federal, state, and local) or industry (government contractor or commercial), the GCMS and the Defense Forum coming up in Arlington, Virginia, will benefit you. Bring your fellow team members and together let’s improve acquisition.

    Michael Fischetti, JD, CPCM, Fellow, CAE, is the executive director of the National Contract Management Association (NCMA). The Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS) will take place in Arlington, VA on December 4-5 and the concurrent Defense Forum on December 4.

  10. The Defense Forum and GCMS: Four Observations for the Uninitiated

    November 10, 2017
    By Russ Blaine

    NCMA’s Contract Management Leadership Development Program (CMLDP) prepares emerging leaders to address the issues that will affect the future of the contract management profession. As this year’s CMLDP “coach,” I have the honor of working with the 2018 CMLDP cohort to ensure their development experience aligns with the association’s strategic outlook. Thus, when an event such as the “Defense Forum” is on the docket at the upcoming Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS), I want to ensure students are prepared to capitalize on the experience. Many of our CMLDP participants are first-time attendees of national-level events of this type, and can find them to be a little overwhelming. As such, I often share the following observations with students, based on my own experiences from many years ago, to get them in the right frame of mind: 

    1. Presenters/Speakers Won’t Have All the Answers

    In fact, though many presenters and speakers will share common criticisms of the problems facing contract management, very few will have actionable solutions. To an attendee new to NCMA national events, frequently-heard phrases—such as “We need to do something or we’ll face grave consequences”—may prove frustrating when unaccompanied by a solution, but this is by design! Albert Einstein once offered, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Listen closely, and you’ll note that speakers carefully deliver their messages with the intention of creating a sense of urgency. Their desire is to engage listeners in becoming actively involved in addressing the challenges of the future. Indeed, it is part of their legacy to leave the business in the trustworthy hands of those who think differently and see the world through new eyes.

    Lesson: Don’t be confused when solutions don’t pour forth from the stage! The easy problems have been solved, and our business needs fresh eyes and minds to handle the major challenges of the future.       

    2. The Profession of Contract Management Sometimes Appears to Suffer from Insecurity 

    You’ll hear speakers allude to encroachment upon the independence of the contracting officer, or express indignance about the blames heaped upon the professionals in our business. Use this as an opportunity to carefully study the unique nature of the contracting or procurement profession and those who engage in its practice. You are a vital part of the business systems operating within an organization, and you will find yourself at some point in your career bearing the brunt of the blame for a project or program that is failing. Our presenters and speakers are sensitizing you to the pointed words that will be directed at you by Government Accountability Office investigators, requirements agents, auditors, and legislators you may encounter as your career progresses.  

    Lesson: Consider yourself an active participant in an “intellectual contact sport.” Acquisition, contracting, and procurement aren’t for the faint of heart, and a thorough understanding of the challenges faced by your predecessors helps you gain context.  

    3. You May Begin to Suspect that the Contract Management Profession Has a Split Personality

    …and you’d be correct in your assessment! Longtime buyers and sellers, particularly those who operate in the federal and defense environments, will sometimes spar over the ways in which business is conducted. Buyers will claim they require additional information to preclude overspending, while sellers will declare that the cost of generating additional information is what drives a higher price. Similar arguments will ensue over profit margins, source selection methodologies, communication channels, etc. You are witnessing a well-orchestrated (and longstanding) “dance” that is in actuality a macro-level extension of the negotiation process designed to move prices to the “fair and reasonable” point. Once you grow accustomed to the debate, you’ll realize that both sides of the contract management profession are united by a very strong ethical code that allows for open discussion and debate, but has very little tolerance for those who would transgress the code.

    Lesson: Grab some popcorn and enjoy the squabbles! No worries, though; we’re all family here.  

    4. The Business of Contract Management Sometimes Loses Sight of Why it Exists 

    You’ll hear celebrations of individuals who halted procurement actions that appear, on the surface, to have been legitimately conducted. You’ll hear stories from requirements agents about how the contract management community moves too slowly, or doesn’t have the interests of the warfighter or user at heart. These remarks, while they may be hurtful, should remind you that you hold a unique position of authority that comes with significant obligation to multiple stakeholders. Certainly, without “users with money,” your position would be unnecessary, and you have the primary obligation to assist them to obtain the goods and services they need. You also have an obligation to those whose money is being spent to ensure you engage in the buying and selling business reasonably and ethically. To balance your competing responsibilities will require patience, fortitude, and leadership.  

    Lesson: Don’t fear the commentary. Work closely with those you support to keep them apprised of all you do to address their needs. Finally, always be mindful—they need you, and you need them.   

    For those of you who’ve “been around the block,” I ask you to consider how you prepare individuals who are new to the contract management field to attend large (and potentially overwhelming) events such as GCMS or the Defense Forum. Great opportunities to learn require active reflection, and you can help newer attendees to benefit from these events through some engaged conversation and mentoring. To all who will be attending the upcoming GMCS and Defense Forum, prepare to be stimulated by amazing speakers and subjects…and prepare to understand, adapt, and lead us forward as you address the challenges of the future!   

    Russ Blaine, CPCM, Fellow, has over 25 years of defense-related experience, and has held executive positions in contract management, business development, operations, and proposal development. Prior to his current position, he served as vice president for program development with Wyle Aerospace after retiring from the U.S. Air Force as director of contracting and chief of staff at the Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base. He also served as NCMA’s national president (2013–2014).

    The Defense Forum will be held during the Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS) on the afternoon of December 4 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA.

  11. My Experience at the First Leadership Master Class—July 23, 2017

    October 27, 2017
    By Morgan Ziatyk

    Earlier this year, I was reflecting upon my experiences participating in the first-ever Contract Management Leadership Development Program (CMLDP) class—this summer was 10 years since we graduated—and how quite some time had passed since the last time I took a leadership-focused class. Then, I came upon the Leadership Master Class  that NCMA was offering this summer in conjunction with World Congress 2017 and thought: “What great timing! I should attend!” And I did.

    The purpose of the Leadership Master Class was to serve as both a professional development program and a leadership develop program. It is designed to enhance the leadership development of NCMA chapter officers by blending the Contract Management Body of Knowledge(CMBOK) “Leadership” competency with “emotional intelligence,” on the basis that effective chapter leadership will drive effective people development.

    The class started off with an overview of the CMBOK “Leadership” competency and a focus on competence and character, then shifted to how emotional intelligence applies to how we conduct ourselves as leaders—and specifically to how to recognize and understand our ourselves and others and use this awareness to manage behavior and relationships. This ability is extremely important, not only as a contracting professional, but also as a chapter leader. Dr. John Wilkinson drove the importance of the lesson home with this meaningful quote from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” If that quote isn’t enough to make you want to evaluate how emotionally intelligent you are and potentially modify how you conduct yourself as a leader, then I don’t know what will!

    We then engaged in very relevant case study discussions. We divided into teams, then presented to the class. There was a great exchange of information among the attendees, and I felt that this information would be greatly beneficial to bring back to my chapter for potential implementation, so at the conclusion of the class, I went around the room to take pictures of the information that was shared on each team’s “briefing chart.” What I particularly enjoyed during this class was when current CMLDP class members presented their creative ideas and tools that chapter members could use to solve chapter struggles/challenges.

    If you have yet to participate in the Leadership Master Class experience, I encourage you to attend the session coming up in December. The discussions and ideas that flow during this open communication forum are beneficial not only to your personal and professional growth, but also to the growth of your chapter. I’m looking forward to the next class because in addition to further developing our emotional intelligence, as a group we will laying the foundation for exploring how we approach our local communities for NCMA in the coming years. It is envisioned to be a big-picture discussion, and I’m excited to hear the diverse opinions and viewpoints that will flow during the class in order to achieve mutual goals and objectives. The cost is so low—and includes the ability to earn 4 CPE/CLP credits—it seems like a no-brainer that this is a worthwhile investment! 

    Morgan Ziatyk, CPCM, CFCM, Fellow is a graduate of the inaugural Contract Management Leadership Development Program (CMLDP) class and currently serves as Chairperson for Awards, Nominations, and Elections for NCMA's Picatinny Chapter. An NCMA member for 12 years and previous recipient of the Advancing Professionals Award, Morgan is a Contracting and Agreements Officer for the Army Contracting Command - New Jersey. 

    The next Leadership Master Class will be held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA on December 3.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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. 

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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! 

  18. 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.”

  19. 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

  20. 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  

  21. 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

  22. 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.  

  23. 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.

  24. 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.
  25. 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