Monday, August 11, 2014

Who only stand and wait

By the time I get back from vacation in a couple weeks, the end of the federal fiscal year will be about 30 working days away, which also coincides with the end of the contract I am attached to, meaning the real and true expiration of the agreement between my employer and the DoD, with no more option years to exercise, nothing to do except start the process over again. And, as is almost always the case, this means giving equal opportunity to one and all to attempt to win the privilege of contracting to the government’s stated specifications, what we in the biz call a “re-compete” - we get to compete against everyone else in the industry who’s so inclined to throw their hat in the ring, for the right to be re-selected as the contractor doing the work that needs doing.

I mention how close these concomitant deadlines are because, wouldn’t you know it, the government has yet to get around to actually specifying and spelling out what that work-what-needs-doing actually is and entails. I mean, presumably it’s a lot like the work my colleagues and I have been doing for the past five years (and which my company, and my boss in particular, have been doing around here for closer to fifteen years), but there’s always a possibility that little things might get tweaked or modified, streamlined or expanded here and there. A definitive work statement is necessary for everyone competing for the contract (my employer included) to be able to pitch themselves as the best organization for the gig, and those pitches all have to be received and evaluated fairly for the government to make a selection, and the selection has to be made and the contract signed in order for me and my colleagues to be authorized to show up and do our jobs on a daily basis. A series of dependencies, and there is no way they could all happen between now and the end of September, even if the government did have step one completed and ready to kick off the line of falling dominoes today, which of course they don’t.

The good news is that just about everyone involved on both sides up and down the respective chains of command recognizes that the year-end deadline is going to be blown, and steps are being taken now to deal with that. Basically, although it was still awaiting official approval last I heard anything (last week), the government is going to offer my employer a six-month bridge contract, which means my colleagues and I all just keep showing up and doing what we do on the first of October the same as on the last of September, and for the following six months, while the re-compete process continues to play out and selections are made and new longer-term contracts are agreed upon. On the one hand, even with the economy doing much better than it was way back when I started this blog, it’s still nice to have job stability and not have to worry about landing on my feet due to employment upheaval or anything. But on the other hand, this is an irritating way to go about doing things. My colleagues and I all have building passes and network access cards with expiration dates tied to our contract, and we will have to get new ones as the fiscal year rolls over, as per usual, but then those new ones will only be good for six months, and then we’ll have to get new ones again when we go from the end of the bridge back to the beginning of a normal, year-over-year arrangement.

Or not! You might think that by agreeing to the inconvenient bridge contract and bending over backwards to help the government out of a bad spot they completely got themselves into by blowing their own deadlines at the start of the multi-dependent-step process, that we would be solidifying our chances of winning the re-compete to a near-certainty. But it simply isn’t so. My employer agrees to the bridge contract in order to make such-and-so-much money over a six-month period, knowing full well they could be outbid by a rival and part of the bridge might become a transitional period of handing off institutional knowledge. The final outcome remains unknowable.

You might also think that given our fifteen years of incumbency on this gig, we’d have the re-compete in the bag, but again, you just never know. It’s supposed to be a level playing field where any firm can win the business at the start of any given cycle. I’ve worked on two different contracts for my employer, and the first one was at a brand new agency, where I felt we had a lock on the re-compete because we had been there literally from the beginning. And yet, I was proven wrong there, as we lost that bid and that’s how I ended up here on my second assignment. Granted, that first contract was fairly low-stakes stuff relatively speaking, whereas the contract I’m on now touches on much more sensitive and important work, and the incumbency last time was only a year or two versus fifteen, so as much as I thought it was a gimme last time, it should be a thousand times more of a gimme this time. But you never know.

There’s another, personal frustration layer at play here for me, which is that way back at the beginning of the calendar year, I got another favorable job review but I didn’t get much of a salary bump, because I’m within a hair of where my employer maxes out salaries for people with my job description. There’s not a lot of personal development growth potential given the current contract I’m on. And my manager, to his credit, told me that he knew that must be disappointing to me and that if I could hang in there until after the re-compete (for whatever non-zero value my presence brings to the table for our bid), then maybe after the dust had settled he could look around for something else for me to do, some other contract for me to transition toward, so that I could advance myself and my earning potential a little more easily. At the time, I told him I was willing to go along with that, partly because I kind of expected to just land a new job and quit well before any of that came into play. Yet here we are, and now it seems as though it would behoove me to at least see how (if at all) my manager follows through on all that, but of course it’s being delayed by the fact that the re-compete itself is off-schedule. So we shall see if it ever actually comes to anything.

And speaking of new jobs, I mentioned last week, and promised to follow up on, chatting with my buddy about the new-gig-that-wasn’t which dominated the first half of ‘14. I still don’t have any enlightening insight into why I was led on for so long only to crash into an impassable wall in the end, but then again, I never really expected that to make any kind of hindsight sense. What I did learn is that things at my friend’s place of employment have gone a bit mad lately, with the new initiatives (the ones that had them supposedly eager to hire go-getters like myself) spiraling out of control into never-ending death marches of forced overtime, weekend work, and so on. So in the end it seems I dodged a bullet by not getting the new gig! My friend of course had no idea at the time when he was encouraging me to apply that things would wind up going in that direction, but we both breathed a sigh of collective relief that I didn’t jump ship only to get caught up in all that.

At any rate, getting back to the present gig, the latest and greatest deadline the government has set for itself will come and go while I’m on vacation, so when I get back I will know if the process has finally gotten officially underway or if yet another milestone was blown and we are still in waiting mode. I will update accordingly then.

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