Top Five Small Business Mistakes After Winning a Federal Government Award (part 3 of 5)
Third post in a series.
Mistake Number 3: Not understanding the DCAA and DCMA roles
Another key mistake is to misunderstand the roles these supposedly independent agencies play in the government contracting industry. In our experience, we found that they do share the mission to reduce contract values by any and all means possible. Although you probably won’t find this written down anywhere, except as a “save taxpayers money” doublespeak. I promise you, however, that a DCAA auditor that consistently does not find “something wrong” with contractor cost calculations will probably be banished to the children’s table at their annual agency picnic! Same is true, though with a twist, of DCMA staff, particularly the Administrative Contracting Officers or the ACOs. An ACO who fails to perform as a de facto employee of DCAA and follow the auditor “recommendations” will probably not be invited to DCMA’s holiday party.
For those who may find this critique of the agencies harsh, first I again remind you that my opinion is based on our direct experiences with the two agency staffers – and the fact that we still are trying to get paid on a contract that we delivered in 2005. Next, I would also refer to you to 2008 review of DCAA where whistleblowers unambiguously reported improper influence by DCAA supervisors that resulted in findings (DCAA-speak for audit results) more favorable to large federal contractors, as reported here. As for DCMA, a recent Inspector General’s review of the DCMA operations in Afghanistan found that “of of the 221 DCMA personnel training records reviewed from a universe of 1,170 from FY 2004 through FY 2009: 103 DCMA personnel were not fully qualified for the position occupied, and 57 quality assurance representatives did not have or could not produce proof of Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act certification.” If an agency fosters such a defective management infrastructure that it handles assignments to support a decade-old war in such a shabby and sub-standard way, how much care and thought do you think DCMA’s leadership has put in equitably treating your little two- or three-man small business? You can read the Inspector General report here.
Now that we have hopefully established the environment where small businesses must function, you need to absolutely understand that despite what FAR says, ACOs will typically only act as executioners of the DCAA audits. This means two things – First and foremost, in our direct experience, the whole “DCAA only makes recommendations” is just pure, unadulterated deception. The ACOs who do not carry on DCAA’s “recommendations” are often chastised. In fact, DCAA has an internal process set up for auditors to report ACOs that show any sign of anything but full submission to DCAA’s will. Secondly, don’t expect any help from your ACO. Assuming s/he actually understands the problem, chances are the ACO won’t risk his or her pension or promotion just to be fair or equitable. And invoking FAR 1.602-2(b) won’t help either. Trust me, we tried with our ACO. I suspect all we accomplished was to give a him laugh.
Lesson Learned: While the above opinions are formed through our direct experience with both DCAA and DCMA, you should keep in mind that both agencies are huge and there is always chance that your experience will be different or, hopefully, at least a bit less punishing than ours. It does, just the same, make sense that you err on the side of caution and treat both DCMA and DCAA employees with civility but as adversaries.