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FCW : June 30, 2016
Post-Award Management 14 June 30, 2016 FCW.COM Key discussion points A central concern about the cur- rent role of CORs is that they are not viewed as a cadre of skilled leaders. They often perform the COR duty as a side responsibility in an “other duties as assigned” manner that is secondary to their “day job.” They receive training that does not address some key aspects of their job roles and focuses on operations and compliance at the expense of negotiation and issue resolution. And they do not have a channel to come together and share best practices. A central theme emerged: The COR is perhaps the key person in government involved in an ongo- ing way in monitoring and man- aging contractor performance. As one SPE said, CORs “are crucial to the quality delivery of goods and services” to agencies. Participants emphasized that ongoing management often involves frequent and informal information gathering by the COR, and informal feedback/follow-up about performance under the contract. Many participants found informal processes to be as valu- able as formal ones, if not more so. As one participant said, “Everything that is successful is high touch,” meaning that more interaction between the COR and the firm performing the work makes a productive outcome more likely. The COR’s role in dealing with problems and blockages was also emphasized. As one COR stated, “Without a strong COR, there is a tremendous spike in the administrative burden of everyone around — [contracting officer], project staff, agency executives, etc. — when issues arise.” Issues that escalate under the scrutiny of the whole organization can be a huge drain on resources. Ideally, a thoughtful COR can sit down with all affected parties, review the contract and — in concert with the contract- ing officer — craft a compromise that allows the vendor to maintain momentum. Roundtable participants identified a number of challenges to successful contract management, including: • An emphasis on reducing risks and following standard processes instead of approaching contracts as an oppor- tunity to deliver value. Contracts are written — and CORs are trained — to focus on protecting government assets and protecting against downside risk if things go wrong. • Annual feedback cycles that are too long and slow to affect behavior and contract outcomes. • CORs who can be overwhelmed by tracking compliance with reports from contractors that don’t add value, which can obfuscate conditions on the ground (good or bad) and draw time away from more useful pur- poses. (Multiple participants raised this theme.) • Frequent turnover among CORs and contracting officers, coupled with limited documentation, which leaves the government with little institutional memory of the history of projects or why certain decisions were made. • Poor communication. Often the COR is the last to know about decisions that project managers and executives have made or is pulled in only when something goes wrong. • Lack of focus on tactical, operation- al training — especially in-person (vs. online) training that can build ongoing advice networks among CORs and use case examples to show how CORs can tackle common issues. To address those challenges, round- table participants offered a number of recommendations. 1. Pivot to post-award management Agency leaders would benefit from giving greater attention to post-award management relative to source selection, and agencies should consider devoting more time and expertise to post-award management. That might involve full-time equivalents, short-term staff or detailees, or even indepen- dent verification and validation of contract deliverables. In a $500 billion contracting budget, any incremental improvements would likely have very large returns, and efforts could be made to assess return on investment in the form of better contract performance. We also suggest that agencies consider replacing the bureaucratic and uninspiring job title “contracting officer’s representative” with one that is more engaging and mission- oriented, such as “contract performance manager.” The job description should be revised accordingly to reflect the importance of this key function. 2. Streamline COR operations Although many agency executives are already involved in pre-award briefings, they should also be involved in post- award briefings. Doing that would signal increased agen- cy attention to post-award management. One participant shared the example of an agency executive meeting with company CEOs on a quarterly basis to review progress on key acquisitions. CORs should give vendors more frequent — but short and to-the-point — feedback on performance. One partici- pant noted that “the younger generation likes smaller sound bites — don’t wait till the end of the year.” Some CORs already give frequent feedback, but the prac- Steve Kelman 0630fcw_012-015.indd 14 6/6/16 2:00 PM
June 15, 2016
July 15, 2016