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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Achieving Functional Excellence in Development Programs

There are so many different resources and recommended learning programs out there that it makes one’s head spin.  The more we send our employees on uncoordinated, non-sequential and non-strategic training jaunts to check the box of “we offer training”, the more confused and, ironically, uneducated in the areas of their functional responsibility they become.  There is, after all, no greater threat to any program than people who know just enough to be dangerous.

An intelligently designed training program for your staff, especially Procurement, Contracts, Grants and Finance staff can lead to nonpareil functional excellence in the areas which represent the back bone of a solid and effective development program management.

Having been around a bit, I have now finally noodled out that a good training program consists of three main categories of training, provided online or in classroom (on regular and repetitive basis) for all existing and incoming employees:

General Mandatory Training –these would be training sessions on topics mandated by state, federal or local laws and regulations as well as those specific to the corporate status of each entity, as well US Government mandated training topics for its contractors and grantees.

Functional Mandatory Training – this would consist of basic training courses which link each person’s functional category/position/job description to the standards of excellence expected of them by the company.  For example: Understanding company’s Procurement Policy for Procurement staff, Finance SOP for finance staff etc.  This would also include continuous education courses for those who would like to progress and deepen their knowledge of their chosen functional area/field.  These should be designed with built in exams, to assess the progress and understanding of advanced topics, and linked to promotion opportunities within the chosen category.  For example:  Contracting Officer 1 with $100,000 warrant and signatory authority upon completion of Basics to Contracting Officer 2 with $1,000,000 warrant and signatory authority upon completion of Advanced and so on.

Functional and Cross Functional Elective Training - these could be almost anything designed to deepen personnel’s knowledge of their own or adjacent functional categories.  For example:  Procurement Personnel learning about Grants or Finance staff being apply to apply for Procurement Positions within the company.

As an example of a good program, addressing all three categories of training, I would like to use my Functional Excellence Training Dream Plan for Contracts & Grants staff working on USG (primarily USAID and DoS) programs:

General Mandatory (All Staff across Functional Categories)
·       Ethics and Business Conduct
·       Ethics and Business Conduct Compliance: Cross-Cultural Component (include cross cultural element for all countries of performance)
·       Business Etiquette and Professionalism
·       Cultural Diversity in Workplace
·       Overview of Company:  Core Competency, History, Past Experience, Mission, Vision, Current Strategy
·       Safety & Security in Workplace (include global component if necessary)
·       Fraud, Waste and Abuse in Overseas Programs
·       Protection Against Sexual Exploitation (PSEA)
·       Trafficking in Persons (TIP)
·       Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Aid
·       Anti-Harassment
·       Timekeeping and Time Allocation (including use of Work Authorizations and CAS considerations)
·       Contract/Award Brief and Overview of Terms and Conditions – for projected dedicated staff specific to their contract/award


Functional Mandatory: Contracts & Grants Staff
All of the above +

·       Basic: Procurement Policy Overview and Procurement
·       Basic: Grants Overview: Grants under Assistance, Grants under Contract  
·       Basic: Subcontract and Vendor Management
·       Basic: Subgrantee Management
·       Basic: Audit Readiness for Pass Through Instruments (subcontractors, subgrantees, grants under contract etc.)
·       Basic: Procurement & Grant Fraud Awareness, Mitigation and Prevention:  Best Practices
·       Advanced: Assistance & Acquisition Instruments in Depth
·       Advanced: Procurement Methods, Best Practices and Records
·       Advanced: Grant Methods, Best Practices and Records
·       Advanced: Cost Principles in Depth
·       Advanced: Identification and Treatment of Unallowable Costs



Functional and Cross Functional Elective:  Contracts & Grants Staff

All of the above +

·       Advanced Plus: Property Management
·       Advanced Plus: USAID Project Management Cradle to Grave Basics:
Proposal-Negotiation-Implementation-Close Out-Audit
·       Advanced Plus: Effective Communication and Presentation Skills
·       Advanced Plus: Teaming Agreements
·       Advanced Plus:  Foreign Language
·       Cross: Direct & Indirect Cost Policy Overview
·       Cross: Financial Management of USG Contracts
·       Cross: Financial Management of USG Awards
·       Cross: Program Start Up and Close Out
·       Cross: Monitoring & Evaluation: Effective Design and Implementation of M&E Programs



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Indirect Rate Ceilings on CPFF contracts = #winning?



I googled “caps on indirects” before writing this and found very little in the area of any other agency but USAID. The chief reason for that is the fact that establishing indirect ceilings in cost type contracts is not widely used by any other Government procurement agency. The reason why they don’t is simple - if they desire to fix costs, they use Fixed Price or T&M type instead.

Losing money on the sure thing– how improper contract administration makes CPFF contracts a looser for contractors…


So, I love cost reimbursable contracts; what’s not to love?  You estimate the total cost based on, most of the time, a very generous scope of work and then bill the Government for all your allowable direct and indirect costs plus a profit for job well done.  Risk = 0, right?

It is what the Pretty Woman would call “a sure thing” for contractors.

And therefore the riskiest for the Government… or is it?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Competition for Subcontractors Included as Part of Proposal

With thanks to fabulous Babylonia Aziz for the great topic.

The question of the day is:

Do you have to conduct a full and open or, even, limited competition and therefore have on file a complete procurement package IF the subcontractor or vendor is being included in your (winning) proposal?


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Exercising Option Years under USAID Contracts

This blog post is about the rights of both, the contractor and USAID, in dealing with the Government’s right to exercise options under any particular contract.  

What is an option?

Per FAR 2.101, an option is a “unilateral right in a contract by which, for a specified time, the Government may elect to purchase additional supplies or services called for by the contract, or may elect to extend the term of the contract.”

Just because USAID requests, evaluates and includes an option in a contract, it does not mean USAID is required to exercise such option (s). All it means is that USAID can at its sole discretion purchase additional quantities of supplies or services or to extend the contract performance period.

Options offer USAID flexibility to require continued contract performance when a contractor is performing well and the services/good continue to be needed.  Although the decision to exercise is a unilateral decision, before being able to exercise an option, USAID’s CO is required to determine that the exercise of the option is “the most advantageous method of fulfilling the [USAID]’s need, price and other factors…considered.”

For example, if USAID believes it can obtain better pricing or other terms more favorable than those applicable under the option, it can elect not to exercise the option and instead conduct a new procurement. On the other hand, it can elect not to procure the items or services at all.

There are also very important restrictions that affect the contractors under this USAID’s right to exercise its option to continue with the contract.  As discussed further below, an option must be exercised strictly in accordance with its terms, as evaluated during the proposal and award stage, and,  as included in the contract, including price, terms etc. 

Any change to the terms or conditions of the option upon exercise by USAID renders the attempted exercise a counteroffer that may then be accepted or rejected by the contractor.

We will deal with services contracts as part of this blog post.



There are two standard clauses for services contracts which allow the Government: FAR 52.217-8, Option to Extend Services (NOV 1999) and FAR 52.217-9, Option to Extend the Term of the Contract. I

In addition, there is FAR 52.237-3, Continuity of Services (JAN 1991), which requires a contractor to provide phase-in training and best efforts to “effect an orderly and efficient transition to a successor. We will not be discussing this particular clause as it is rare and specific to the types of essential services, like security etc.

FAR Subpart 17.2 describes two standard service contract options: (1) the so-called -8 option, named after its standard clause, FAR 52.217-8, which provides for short term extensions of up to six months, originally intended for use when award of a new contract is delayed, and (2) the so-called -9 option, named after its clause, FAR 52.217-9, which is the common additional option periods clause, often known to USAID contractors as “Option Years”. Thus, if a contract is awarded with one base year and four one-year options, the CO would need to exercise each of the four one-year option periods by following the requirements in FAR 52.217-9.


Notice of Intent to Exercise Options

FAR 52.217-8 and 52.217-9 include blanks for the CO to fill in with the required notice period to exercise the option, and, in the case of FAR 52.217-9, the time by which the CO must give preliminary notice to the contractor of its intent to exercise the option.

Which Option to Choose?


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fly America Act and Allowable Airfares - everything you need to know to avoid questioned costs in audit


This post in made possible with the kind assistance, and expert review by Krista Pages.

Just to make you all feel better about not knowing all of these answers off hand, remember this:

In order to compile this information, we have had to comb through the following sources:

  • Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)
  • 2 C.F.R. 200 Uniform Guidance for Grants and Cooperative Agreements
  • USAID ADS 303 Mandatory Provisions for US Recipients
  • ADS 302 Mandatory References and Additional Help
  • AIDAR
  • The Office of International Aviation Information Blog
  • U.S. Department of State Open Skies Agreements Webpage
  • GSA Open Skies Information Page for Fly America application
  • GSA Help Desk to answer burning questions about all the “other Open Skies” nobody has an answer to
  • Department of Transportation Air Agreements Information
  • Federal Registrar for Comptroller General Notices
  • DCAA Guidance Webpages
  • Federal Travel Regulations and
  • Finally USAID Internal Policies and Internal Memos to Contracting and Agreement Officers

Just saying…. How could anyone know (or for that matter: want to know) that they have to study all these regulations just to find an answer for every question that arises about whether a certain flight will be allowed or not?  

This blog was created to show the benefit of having common information and interpretation in one place, which, if done by an official source, would be so helpful for all the stakeholders -  Auditors, Contracting Officers, Contractors, Grantees and finally tax payers – and save us all so much money and aggravation!

No pride in ownership – GSA, please take notice, you can do this for the Government wide coverage!

Anyway…. this is a very long blog post because there are a lot of frequently asked questions and we wanted to put it all in one place for ease of reference.