Tenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Stereotype Thine Opponent

*This post is the tenth in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments”.*       One of the most dangerous things that can happen to us in our business career is to make the mistake of stereotyping our adversary.  In the world of Government contracting, the two most common stereotypes are (1) all Government employees are stupid and lazy and (2) all contractor employees are thieves and liars who are out to bamboozle the Government.  There are several problems with both of those statements, of course, but the most obvious is how absurd these stereotypes become when the two sides sit down at a table to negotiate: half the Government team used to work for industry, where presumably they were thieves, and half … Continue reading

Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Be Prepared to Reciprocate

*This post is the ninth in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce a new commandment and run for ten weeks.*     It would be wonderful if everything in a Government contractor’s life were black and white, where both parties could live by the language in the contract and there would be no need to stray from that language.  But that does not happen.  In fact, a Government contractor’s life is filled with dealing with people, on both sides of the fence, who either don’t like what the contract says or want to ignore it.  One of the most difficult things to learn is when and where to be flexible in terms of performing or … Continue reading

Eighth Commandment: Thou Shalt Maintain Thy Integrity

*This post is the eighth in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce a new commandment and run for ten weeks.*       On reflection, most seasoned veterans of our business would tell you that your integrity, your reputation for honesty, is your most valuable possession in the business world, including Government contracting.  Judging from countless media accounts over the years of men and women who have been convicted of a crime relating to a Government contract, it would appear that this message was either not delivered to them or was simply ignored. Personal integrity should never be confused with the Federal Government’s insistence that its contractors have codes of conduct.  Integrity starts with you, … Continue reading

Seventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Avoid Hostility

*This post is the seventh in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce a new commandment and run for ten weeks.*       For someone coming into Government contracting for the first time, one of the most difficult things to understand is the role that protests and disputes play in the Government contracting world.  In the commercial sector, the thought of suing a customer or a prospective customer is simply absurd; after all, how can you expect to develop or maintain a good business relationship with someone you are litigating against?  Isn’t the customer always right? In Government contracting, one quickly learns about a “contract of adhesion,” that is, a contract that does not result … Continue reading

Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Avoid Political Intervention

*This post is the sixth in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce a new commandment and run for ten weeks.*        In the Third Commandment, “Thou Shalt Start as Low as Possible,” I discussed the challenges associated with obtaining political intervention to solve a Government contracting problem. This topic deserves treatment on its own because it is fraught with risk. Political intervention will almost certainly give rise to something known as a “congressional” within the Executive Branch agencies.  To an agency employee, “congressional” is a four-letter word. My first experience with a congressional was in the early 1970s, when I was an Army sergeant assigned to an office in Alexandria, Virginia, where, among … Continue reading

Fifth Commandment: Thou Shalt Document Thy Actions

*This post is the fifth in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce a new commandment and run for ten weeks.* When Congress was contemplating the passage of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 (“FASA”), and its companion statute, the Federal Acquisition Reform Act of 1995 (“FARA”), many pundits predicted that their enactment would make the world of Government contracts more like the commercial sector.  Twenty years later, we know that is not the case; what really happened is that the two statutes made the world of Government contracting less unattractive to commercial vendors, and many firms began vying for Government contracts for the first time. Experience has shown that one of the worst mistakes … Continue reading

Fourth Commandment: Thou Shalt Stay Informed

*This post is the fourth in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce a new commandment and run for ten weeks.* Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether he’s twenty or eighty.”  Those words, spoken in the early 20th century, ring true today, and they certainly apply to people involved in Government contracting, regardless of your position. Why?  Because every contract or subcontract in which you are involved is just one part of a much bigger picture.  The more you know about the big picture, the better you will be able to protect your organization. Our business is governed by some daunting regulations, so knowledge and understanding of them is vital; but … Continue reading

Third Commandment: Thou Shalt Start as Low as Possible

*This post is the third in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce  a new commandment and run for ten weeks.* If all we knew about Washington was based on the dramas we watch on television or the stories reported in the media, it would be easy to conclude that everything that gets accomplished is based on who people know.  Make no mistake about it, knowing the right people can be a very helpful thing over the course of a career in Government contracts, and that is one place where experience trumps raw intelligence. However, experienced executives also know that they simply cannot keep going to their same contacts (senators, congressmen, political appointees) every time a … Continue reading

Second Commandment: Thou shalt study thy adversary

*This post is the second in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce  a new commandment and run for ten weeks.           The movie “Patton” contains many memorable scenes, but one that will always stay etched in my memory is where the great German field marshal Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, begins his retreat after being beaten by Patton at El Alamein.  As the German tanks turn and flee, Patton, played by the inimitable actor George C. Scott, screams, “Rommel, you magnificent ba$#ard, I read your book!”  Very few of the things we do in the Government contracting world will involve the kinds of stakes that were associated with this famous World War … Continue reading

First Commandment: Thou shalt do thy homework

*This post is the first in the ten part series, “A Government Contractor’s Ten Commandments” and will be released weekly. Each week will introduce  a new commandment and run for ten weeks. Because of the complexity of the Government’s procurements, the dollar amounts involved, and the chaos that unfortunately governs a contractor’s life, smart executives develop habits and rules by which they survive.  One of those rules echoes the Boy Scout motto:  Be prepared.  In other words, do your homework. Regardless of where you are in the procurement cycle, you must prepare in advance for what is about to happen.  In the solicitation stage, your team must familiarize itself with the potential customer:  Understand its culture, its modus operandi,and its peculiarities. For example, one might assume that … Continue reading