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The End of FY Madness: Things Contracting Officers Want You To Know

Updated: Jul 9

It's that time of year when I start reflecting on end of FY activities. For decades, I worked 60-70 hour weeks starting right after the July 4th holiday through September 30th. It was a grind and I'm not sure if industry necessarily understands, let alone appreciates, the mountains that get moved so that contracts are awarded by 11:59 pm on that last day, September 30th. (And, yes, I've signed my share of contracts at that very last moment.) I thought this year I'd share all the things I wish industry knew from the insiders perspective on what happens during an end of FY in the Federal contracting offices in every agency across the country.


Purchase Request Cutoff Dates

The purchase request package is the trigger to start an acquisition. It answers the six basic questions a KO (Contracting Officer, remember) needs in order to determine their next course of action:

  • What is the scope of the work being procured (e.g., services, supplies, construction, R&D, utilities, etc.)?

  • What is the random order of magnitude (ROM) estimate for the entire effort?

  • What type of funds are being used (e.g., one-year, two-year, no-year), are they available, and if so, what is the committed amount (i.e., the amount fenced specifically for this contract)?  

  • What is the duration of the scoped effort?

  • When does work need to begin?


Every contracting office sets dates by which requiring activities must have their completed purchase requests submitted in order to guarantee award by September 30th. The dates vary by type of action and dollar value based on the processing time required but generally speaking the customary cut-offs are--

  • July 1st for large negotiated contracts,

  • August 1st for negotiated task orders, and

  • August 15th for all other small dollar actions.


This gives the Chief of Contracting a known workload. If only it were that easy.


A Typical Day in the Life of a Chief of Contracting at the End of FY.

It goes something like this:


  • It's July 20th. The Commanding Officer (CO in DoD) has met with a customer agency and they just completed their scoping work on a very large key project for critical recurring services.

  • He / She promised the customer in that meeting that we (i.e., my office) will have it awarded by September 30th.

  • The project manager tells the Contracting Officer (KO in DoD).

  • The KO tells me (Chief).

  • I call the CO (Colonel) and say, "Sir, we have a July 1st cutoff for actions of this type and size that require a formal acquisition and are a competitive negotiated acquisition."

  • Silence on the phone. We both know how it happened. They are a habitually late customer. It's not the first time and it won't be the last.

  • The Commander promises my KO will have a complete purchase request package in a few days.


Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Days and more days go by. It's now August 1st and no purchase request package.


How many times do you think this same scenario happens in the last three months of the fiscal year? A few? A dozen? Try many times a week.


Are you starting to see how Requests for Proposal (RFPs) end up being released with short fuses for offer receipt dates? If not, let's talk about...


Procurement Action Lead Times (PALTs).

The PALT is the time between the initiation of a procurement action and the award of the contract. Most types contract actions have a designated PALT duration within which an award should be made. However, the more time lost early in the PALT by the program office or others in reviews and approvals is less for the Contracting Officer later in the process.


The simplified run down of what a Contracting Officer has to fit within the PALT to get every new contract action on the street, regardless of dollar value, is:

  • Receive a complete purchase request package (e.g., estimates, scope, technical specifications, and special instructions) -- the preparation of which may or may not count against the PALT, depending on agency policy.

  • Conduct market research.

  • Develop an acquisition strategy and possibly a formal written acquisition plan (depending on that ROM estimate and use of existing contracts).

  • Prepare bid, quote, or solicitation documents.

  • Obtain pre-bid/pre-quote/pre-solicitation approvals and legal sufficiency concurrence.

  • Issue a pre-solicitation notice (when required).

  • Issue the bid, quote, or solicitation.


PALT also includes the offer/proposal period, answering questions during the solicitation period, review of offers, training and overseeing technical and price evaluation boards, documentation of findings, contract formation, award, unsuccessful offeror letters, debriefings, and even a potential protest.


The minimum PALT for the most simple negotiated new contract is 60 days with half of that being the offer / proposal period.


Then there shorter PALTs for task orders and purchase orders at lower dollar values, and other types of purchases (i.e., Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPA), BPA calls, Basic Ordering Agreements (BOAs)), and no PALT for micropurchases. Those also have their own buying process, though not as involved as a new contract. These types of actions tend to pop up out of the blue even later than contracts because people think that smaller dollars equals fewer headaches. Not so.


Getting Back To Our Scenario...


Eventually the procurement package arrives on August 12th. Now the Contracting Officer has to squeeze their work, a 30-day offer/proposal period, evaluation, and award into less than 60 days. Near impossible.


AND


That same Contracting Officer has multiples of these types of actions on their desk at the same time. One action gets awarded and the celebration is short because another is immediately added to your plate.


All which have to be awarded by 11:59pm on September 30th.


Starting to feel panic setting in? Good, because now you can begin to understand the life of a Contracting Officer and Chief of Contracting at the end of EVERY FISCAL YEAR.


And exceptions to the cutoff dates get made over and over again.


I've had my own staff say, "Can't you push back?" Yes, I can. But as a Chief of Contracting you make exceptions early when risk of untimely award is low. You hold your cards for when leadership tries to force that last minute big contract or two into the pecking order when it is far too late to be successful and risk of no award is greatest. And it always happens.


As a Chief, you watch the workload, push people on status and deadlines weekly, monitor overtime, and watch for employee burnout. Then you shift workload as needed based on skill sets. It's non-stop balancing act taking into account remaining time, staff skills, employee morale, agency mission, and public funds. And it's a grind.


So...Why Do Contracting Officers (COs/KOs) Get A Bad Rap?


Bottom line, here are the facts about COs/KOs and Contract Specialists this time of year.


They hate late RFPs and short offer periods just like you. The scenario above happens constantly through the end of FY. So when a RFP drops late, know that COs/KOs aren't doing it for the fun of it. And they aren't making up their time on your time. It is simply that there isn't enough time and if you want the contract (and they want to award the contract on time) everyone has to make it work somehow.


They are the "Enforcers" of Federal procurement. (And yes, my nickname as a CO/KO was "The Enforcer".) Because of this enforcer role, COs/KOs deal with a lot of people that become rude very quickly when they don't get their way. It gets old really quick. Be the one nice person in their day and they will remember you. Honey, not vinegar.


The "End of FY Email Deluge" is H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. Quarter 4 of any FY is NOT (I repeat, NOT) the time to do a huge marketing push at a CO/KO if you haven't done any work for that agency before and don't have an existing relationship. If you haven't done your marketing by this point in the FY, work on your strategy for Quarter 1 of the next FY. Sure, you can send an email or two and let them know you are there if they need a vendor for a last minute purchase order in your area of expertise, or a micropurchase (read my blog on those small actions that are prevalent at the end of FY). Bad timing and pushiness doesn't start any relationship off well.


Our Lips Are Sealed. This 80's song is the "Go-Go" motto of COs/KOs and Contract Specialists year round but especially during end of FY procurements. Why? Risk of jeopardizing a contract award with no time left to recalibrate. If a CO/KO says they can't give you any info, it applies to everyone calling about that same project. It goes back to the rules (which they don't make and only enforce). And they understand it can be frustrating. It can be for them, too.


Money gets tighter the closer it gets to September 30th. When it comes to budgets and funding, COs/KOs don't control any of it. If you worked long hours on a proposal to get it submitted in a matter of days (or hours) only for project funds to never materialize, you aren't the only one disappointed.


COs/KOs and Contract Specialists are constantly juggling the use of multiple Federal systems and tools. Market research tools, SBA Dynamic Small Business Search (DSBS), contractor portals, eOffer and eMod systems, SAM.gov and its Contract Opportunities, contract writing systems, financial management systems, invoice and payment processing, GSA eBuy, GSA Advantage!, Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS), Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), and more. And each system has workarounds because systems development doesn't keep up with rulemaking and policy. Sounds sort of backwards, right? It does to them, too.


They are not policy experts, but COs/KOs live and die by it. Read the FAR or any FAR supplement. Now you see my point. Enough said.


The sacrifices are big. Only now, in their 30s, have my daughters told me how much of their childhood I missed as a single mom while climbing the ladder, going to college at night, TDYs to negotiate and oversee contracts, and working 60-70 hour weeks for no less than 25%-30% of the year as a CO/KO and Chief of Contracting. I wish I could get it back. No one can. Contracting jobs age people fast. People get sick from the stress. I know the extremely high level of stress over many years and deploying to Afghanistan for several months in a contingency contracting environment contributed to my own cancer diagnosis at age 42 within two months of my return from overseas. I had no prior family history. This happened as I reached my dream job as a Chief of Contracting. And I worked every day while going through treatments except chemo days and a few days after surgeries. I've seen Contract Specialists, Contracting Officers, and the technical folks that support them take computers to hospitals to work while their kids go through leukemia treatments, come back to work the day after a funeral for a loved one, hold negotiations on the afternoon before their wedding that night. All to get it done. They do superhero things at the end of FY, but they are human.


What I'm Trying to Say is...


Be kind at the end of FY. Thank a CO/KO and Contract Specialist for their time, their hard work, and for their service to the public. They are the stewards of the public's funds and they take that job very seriously.


They will do it all again next year, and the next year, and the next knowing what they know of the workload, obstacles, challenges, and successes. And now you know too.


Signed,

A former superhero that is human, too.


References:

Check out the fedsubk.com/about page for a small sliver of the experience that informed the above.

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