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April 10, 2006

Contractor Lexicon

As an Outside-The-Beltway Bandit who reads the occasional government Request for Proposal (RFP) and then tries to craft a credible fantasy document for the government that will, A. Give them what they want, what they really really want, vice what they asked for (you gotta read some of these to believe 'em*), and; B. squeeze enough blood from the turnip to get filthy stinking rich yet not attract the attention of people like Owen Dyer or Mike Wallace, yet still win the bid, I can relate to this bit.

Government Contracting Dictionary

CONTRACTOR -- A gambler who never gets to shuffle, cut or deal.

BID OPENING -- A poker game in which the losing hand wins.

BID -- A wild guess carried out to two decimal places.

LOW BIDDER -- A contractor who is wondering what he left out of his bid.

ENGINEER'S ESTIMATE -- The cost of construction in heaven.

PROJECT MANAGER -- The conductor of an orchestra in which every musician is in a different union.

CRITICAL PATH METHOD - A management technique for losing your shirt under
perfect control.

OSHA -- A protective coating made by half-baking a mixture of fine print, red tape, split hairs and baloney -- usually applied at random with a shotgun.

STRIKE -- An effort to increase egg production by strangling the chicken.

DELAYED PAYMENT -- A tourniquet applied at the pockets.

COMPLETION DATE -- The point at which liquidated damages begin.

LIQUIDATED DAMAGES -- A penalty for failing to achieve the impossible.

AUDITOR -- People who go in after the war is lost and bayonet the wounded.

LAWYER -- People who go in after the auditors and strip the bodies.

Oh, btw, ain't gotten anywhere close to the initial clause of B, yet *still* managed to attract Owen's attention. Sigh.

If you didn't understand that last sentence, you don't read all the comments to all the posts. Shame on you.

*When I worked for the government, I used to write these things. Knowing now what I didn't know then, the RFPs I worked on weren't a whole lot better. It's a matter of perspective. The thing is - as a contractor you get very good at parsing through this (and do the research on your client) to many times better understand their needs than they do - many times because the contract team is composed of people who used to work there and have a lot more experience than the people writing the RFP. [Not always, nor are all RFPs bad, but, the bit isn't funny if you don't proceed from that premise, eh?] Of course, therein lies the source of a different set of problems, too.

But the risk, really, is all on the contractors side... you're the one who's going to starve, take a pay cut, sell blood and your children, develop the drug habit, and get pursued by government lawyers and people like Owen. The government guy is going to get promoted for setting you up to fail because he'll suddenly discover what a low-rent thief you are and suddenly is a Good Steward of the Public Funds.

That said - it's only true if you screw up little contracts. As Boeing or Lockheed have been demonstrating for years, you don't get in much trouble if you screw up big, which is something that *still* baffles me.