Podcast #1: Why We Created the CO Podcast
November 23, 2014
12:15[Paul] Hello, and welcome to the Contracting Officer Podcast. You’re listening to the podcast for people who want to learn about the government market from the contracting officer’s perspective. Today’s episode should be called “Why We Did This” – why is there a contracting officer’s podcast? Why did we choose the name “Contracting Officer Podcast?” Is it just for contracting officers? We decided to call it the CO Podcast because Kevin and I share a unique background as government contracting professionals who have worked on both the government side as contracting officers and on the industry side responding to RFPs from contracting officers like we used to be. So this episode is great if you’re interested in a little background about why there is a contracting officer podcast. Hope you enjoy it, and here we go.
Hey Kevin! Today we’re going to talk about why we created the Contracting Officer Podcast. People and companies need help with the government acquisition process. Our government’s buying process is all clogged up, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that communications between the buyer and seller don’t flow as well as they do in other parts of the buying and selling world. So what do we mean by “people need help?”[Kevin] The simplest way to say it is that they don’t understand each other. I think there’s a lot of miscommunication, there’s a lot of guessing, a lot of people are spending time chasing things, they’re making assumptions that cost them time and money – on both sides. And some of the questions that I get – as a contracting officer I used to get questions that, I’m in my desk and I would get an email or a phone call and I thought, “Wow, you didn’t know that? You didn’t understand what Section L meant, you didn’t understand that you had to actually respond to a debriefing?” Some of this stuff is really basic; then the more advanced things, like the color of money means that it expires and you only have five years to spend it – and there’s all these other pieces that I just assume people knew, and since I’ve been out, I’ve run into a lot of people who ask these question still and I thought, “You know, a great way to solve that is through a podcast.” So this podcast is for everybody who has questions that they just wish somebody would answer and this is a great way to do it. [Paul] Right. And when we were both contracting officers, we didn’t understand that the industry folks didn’t understand what we were thinking, and we certainly didn’t understand what they were thinking until we left the government service and got on the industry side and saw our coworkers, our friends, struggling with, “Why is the contracting officer doing that?” So this is a great way to share the back-and-forth since we’ve both gained experience from both sides of the table. So what do we mean by “the government’s buying process is clogged?” [Kevin] Simply, there’s too much information; there’s lots of opinions, there’s lots of free insight out there, and people are drowning in information and they’re also potentially drowning in opportunity, and they really need an understanding of “Where should I throw my darts? What’s the best way for me to solve this problem?” And a lot of times just being able to understand what a contracting officer’s perspective is and get their shared experience from – for the podcast, multiple perspectives – to smooth out some of the miscommunication. And what I mean by that is that if you learn something from the podcasts that convinces you, “Oh, wow, I shouldn’t be bidding on this,” or “Wow, the contracting officer’s not just being mean – there’s a law behind this that they could get in trouble for” – I say that kind of tongue-in-cheek but it’s true. When I’ve had conversations with people about explaining to them, “This is why we did this, this is why I had to take you out of a competitive process” or “I needed to have this form” or whatever it is; there’s a reason behind that. And a lot of those reasons, they aren’t shared with people, so there’s a lot of guessing and the process gets really complicated. So going back to why it’s “clogged,” so many people on both sides are spending a lot of time trying to figure out, “Should I be doing this, should I answer this question, I need to respond to every RFI” – well, if you respond to every RFI, you eat up your time – [Paul] –And you eat up the contracting officer’s time. [Kevin] Correct. And likewise, if you bid on everything, you’re eating up your time, and you’re eating up the contracting officer’s time, because they have to review every proposal. So multiply that concept by the thousands of source selections that are happening all over the world right now, and things take longer. So, let’s try and fix that. [Paul] And if the listening goes well on both sides, I think we really hope that we can save both sides – the sellers and the buyers – we can save them time and money in the process and get the products to the government that they need when they need them. So why do we say that communications are the key here? [Kevin] It’s funny – I say that communication is the key because one of those sayings is that “the biggest myth in communication is that it actually happened”. So a lot of times, when I would put together an RFE and I would send it out to the world, and what I thought it said is not what it said, and then I would get a protest of, “Oh, well you said this, and I thought you meant that,” and we’re spending all this time back and forth. That’s what I mean by it being too formalized. What if there were an area (i.e., this podcast) where people could understand, “Oh . . . when I don’t understand something, I need to make sure I understand it before I bid” or “What’s the right way to ask to make sure that I understand it?” – or, for that matter, for a contracting officer to say, “Wow, when I wrote this language, hm. I need to be more clear. I need to be very specific.” Those kinds of things. And I’m using hyperbole, but you get my idea here, there’s a lot of too-formalized communication; people are afraid to have an open dialogue and I was the same way. I was afraid to have an open dialogue with some competitors or some companies that were competing with each other, and some source selections because I was afraid of the impact. This podcast is not regulated by anybody. This podcast is not sponsored by the government or sponsored by any government organization or, for that matter, none of this is illegal advice or anything. This is just open dialogue. So it’s an environment where we can get rid of some of those assumptions, help people understand what’s going on on both sides and to share experiences and ideas and say, “Wow, this really worked, and this really didn’t.” [Paul] Yeah, a lot of what you’ve talked about can be attributed to Hanlon’s razor, and if you don’t know that maxim, that’s “Never attribute to malice what can be easily explained by lack of knowledge.” And I think that’s what I found when I got to the industry side, is so much of the industry wonders why the government is stupid, or so slow, or “Why are they doing this crazy thing?” If you go back to me as a contracting officer, I didn’t know the impact that I had on industry when I did something. That’s not what contracting officers generally get trained in, is the impact of their actions. So I really felt like when I got to the industry side my eyes were opened up and I would have been a better contracting officer. So if we can share some of that back-and-forth and help the sides understand that, “Hey, the other guys aren’t stupid, why did the contractor not understand why our people–” well, it’s not because they’re stupid, it’s because they didn’t understand what you were going for there. So if we can open that up, I think we’ll be doing a great service. [Kevin] And the other part of this is that the cynics of the world say, “Well, this is a problem that’s really hard to change.” You know what, it is. But somebody’s got to start somewhere, and this is our attempt at using the Gandhi concept of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This is our attempt at changing some of these problems we see. [Paul] Right. So what kind of stuff are we going to cover? We’re going to try to keep the topics in small doses so that whatever issue comes up, you can take a look through the site and find a podcast that touches on those topics. And we’re also going to ask for input, for what do you want to know more about? What confuses you? What topics would you like to hear us talk about? [Kevin] And one of the big things we’ll talk about here is this isn’t “The Kevin and Paul Show.” This is the “Contracting Officer Podcast”. So while we have our own experiences, which you’re going to hear a lot about, there are lots of (obviously) contracting officers who we intend to invite on the show – some we’ve already talked to about this – to talk about their experiences. For example, I was not a GSA contracting officer. But there’s a GSA contracting officer out there who we have to have on the show who will be able to give you their perspective on what happens in their agency. And that’s what I mean by opening up the dialogue, to give specific topics, to say this is a tactical ground-level insight that you can use today to help you navigate this market better. [Paul] That’s a great point. There’s tons of people out there that have different perspectives. You and I were contracting officers for years, but we both worked for the Air Force, so big picture, we both have a narrow view of government contracting. We both had wide-ranging experiences across lots of different types of acquisitions, but there are tons of people that we can get on to talk to describe experiences that we might not have covered. So I’m really looking forward to that part, to bring in the other folks around to it. And we’re not going to try to talk big government acquisition policy issues, we’re not going to try to change the world by making the FAR a hundred pages instead of its current thousand. We’re going to try to stick to ground-level topics that are “This is what I care about today; hey, let’s talk about that.” [Kevin] And Paul kind of undersells the fact that he’s also worked in the National Reconnaissance Office, I also worked in Special Operations Command, but the point is still valid that we still only touched a small portion of this market, and this is a great environment to really be able to touch a theoretically infinite number of topics and contracting officers and issues, etc. And that’s why we don’t want to get any higher than the tactical level, because then it just gets fuzzy and you’re not going to find it as useful. [Paul] Alright. So – where do you find more information about the contracting officer podcast? So the podcast itself is on iTunes and all the other sites where you can grab this content. On the website, www.contractingofficerpodcast.com, you can reach out directly to either of us, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and we really hope to hear from you and hear what you have questions about, and what are you confused about. [Kevin] Exactly. And the one last thing we’ll bring up is that this is our first podcast, so as you can tell we’re not going to be the most polished speakers – actually, funny enough, we’re actually pretty good public speakers, but this is new content – we’ll get better at it; I’d appreciate any feedback on like if you can hear sounds in the background that we don’t hear . . . we’re not trying to make this an edit show, we try to turn it into the perfect solution, because there’s just so much content to cover. We’d rather spend time focusing on great content that you can use and if our recording isn’t the best in the world, our theory is that if that’s why you’re not listening, then the content’s not that good. So we’re going to focus on content. So just to throw out there as a ground-laying concept: don’t hate us if we don’t edit out every “um” that we throw out there. [Paul] That’s nice. Set it up early for “give us a break, we’re learning as we go.” [Kevin] Exactly. We’ll get better. Alright, thanks. [Paul] Alright. That’s it for this episode. If you have questions, comments, or complaints, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.
Companies need help. They are awash in information (and data),but they are starving for insights on the COs’ perspective. As contracting officers, we saw so many companies overwhelmed by the rules, the process, the seemingly limitless options and the shear volume of opportunities in the market. They were, and still are, looking for insights to help them better understand how our federal government’s processes work. We created this podcast to improve the acquisition process by sharing COs’ collective perspective.
Contracting officers need help. They are awash in information (and data), but are starving for insights on the contractors’ perspective. Since leaving our contracting officers positions, we see how some of our actions as COs, while well-intended, impacted companies in ways we did not know. We wish we knew then what we know now. We also created this podcast to offer COs some insights on the contractors’ perspective.
We want to “be the change we wish to see in the world”.
Many say that the procurement system needs more regulation(or less), or more oversight (or less), or more funding (or less),or more people (or fewer), and so on. We decided we’d startwith more communication (not less).