Fostering Relationships Through Contracting

It’s time again for you to write a contract. Your agency has the opportunity to work with a new consultant or will need a new contract for an on going service. You understand the importance of the service, but you hate the paperwork involved in the contracting process.

This sentiment is common for government employees who do not write contracts regularly. Government contracts generally contain many pages of standard contractual language, followed by a customized scope of service that defines the particular agreement. It is often difficult to see what the contract has to do with the work you actually need. After all, you wrote a scope of service in your RFP and the vendor responded.

Well written contracts lay the groundwork for your relationship with the vendor in two ways. First, the standard contractual language protects your department from a myriad of legal issues. Compliance with labor law, insurance and indemnification requirements, and grounds for termination are all addressed in the standard language. The protections this language provides rarely need to be enforced by legal counsel but when they are needed, they are invaluable.

The second way that contracts establish guidelines for your relationship with the consultant are for you to discuss the requirements in the RFP and the proposal response and to make sure that both you and the consultant are in agreement about the results of the study, your deliverables, and the process for executing the deliverables. It is an official written record of the results of any discussions you have had with the consultant. This written record provides you with a definitive, legal document that you can fall back on when your expectations and the expectations of the consultant differ. It mitigates relationship problems that can result from any small disagreement. You have already solidified the framework for resolution and you need only refer back to the contract document to remind all parties how the issue will be handled.

A clearly written contract is a means of communication that is not matched by any other, less formal method of communication. It provides the resolution to some disagreements by simply rereading the contract and a method of resolving disputes for more complicated issues.

The careful consideration and written articulation of expectations that writing a quality contract provides can yield many benefits in establishing the framework for a working relationship. Take the time to use your next contract for all of the benefits it can provide rather than as just another piece of paperwork to be completed and checked off the list.

My next four posts will tackle the issue of contracting in further detail:

1) Contractual specifications

2) Contract negotiations

3) Managing risk

4) Amending contracts

Carolyn Ninedorf is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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