Government Employee

When you are working on a government contract, you sometimes have to interact with a government employee. Some of them fit the stereotype perfectly. Come in and drink their coffee. The read the newspaper until lunch. Long lunch leads into an afternoon coffee break. Finally they leave early for the day.

But there are many other types of employees who work for the government. Some of them are very talented and hard working. Often times our subject matter expert is a government person. And I have been surprised to see that many government employees work late and on the weekends to get their job done,

In terms of software development contracts, the government employee normally has the role of overseeing the contract. They make sure things are running well. And if not, they try to figure out why. But there are also situations where the government workers are tasked to work side by side with the contracts, doing the actual programming for the task.

I have some insight into the government employee situation because one upon a time, I myself was employed by the federal government. But that is a story for another post.

Preferred Vendors List

Sometimes government contracts are open to anybody who wants to bid on them. My company's client has a different arrangement. They first issue a request for companies to submit proposals to get on the list of companies that are eligible to bid on tasks. More often than not, only very large government contracting companies win this right. Because you need to have money and time and expertise to submit your proposal. And winning only gets you the right to win actual work. You don't get any money for the first level win.

Once the rights have been awarded, all work that the government agency needs done will be put up for bid by those who have won the first level. This is, in effect, creating a list of preferred vendors for the government to award work to. I imagine this is a process that ensures the only contractors doing work have the ability (and size) to complete the large tasks that need to be awarded. It also simplifies the distribution of work since there is only a fixed number of companies that even quality to perform the contractual tasks.

There are times when this system appears inefficient. I spot many oppotunities where a smaller firm or even an individual could do a better job for some tasks. But I guess the client like the ease of this setup. For those with truly exceptional skills, but do not belong to any of these companies, there is sometimes the ability to subcontract to the approved list of contractors. There are no rules that state subcontractors cannot do the work. But the tasks can only be awarded to contractors on the approved list.

It is funny how these contacting and subcontracting arrangements work. There are even times when sub contractors themselves subcontract out the work. This scenario results in a high end cost to the government. I do not think that cost is much of as issue for them though.

Winning the Recompete

My company is a large government contractor. In fact, our vice president said we are the largest contractor providing services to our particular customer. There are some benefits to working for the big guy. I guess for the right people, there is a lot of money to be made. And we have the budget for overhead functions like proposal writing.

The current contract I am working on was coming to an end. Normally this is not a big deal. The client puts the contract out for recompete. And usually the incumbent contractor has a good chance to win the work in the future. Our situation this time was a bit different. We failed to deliver a huge rewrite of the system two years in a row. This cost the client a lot of money, both in paying us, and in lost profits from a lack of a new system.

Due to our situation, our company called in the big guns to ensure we would win the recompete for our contract. For once we got a truly competent project manager. And we got assigned a new director who was a superstar headed towards a vice president position. So listening to these guys, I was fully expecting us to pull off a win. And they put on a good show when presenting our case for why we should win the work. Unfortunately we lost the contract.

It appears a smaller and more hungry contractor underbid us significantly. They plan to do the same amount of work with less people. And I think they also plan to pay their employees less than my company pays us. If this new team can do the same work that my company can do, then the client has made a smart choice. Only time will tell. For now I am wrapping up work on this contract. Luckily my company is big. And they plan to roll me off onto another contract. In fact, my next gig will be a much larger project. Hopefully that means the potential to make a larger salary as well. Good luck to me.