Future Innovations Impacting Contract Specialists

Just reading these interviews shows you the Internet is evolving. And as the Internet evolves, so will contract specialists. See, we’re partly paid to be walking-talking-regulation-spouting machines, meaning we understand the Federal Acquisition Regulation and its several-bazillion supplements.

And as much as the Internet has impacted contract specialists, more changes are coming.
Mobile FARing
FARSite has a mobile version now. It’s a step in the right direction since workforces are increasingly accessing the Internet from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. I see contract specialists, particularly those in contingency operations, working more with mobile devices in and outside the office.

Verbal FARing
Here’s the thing. Vlingo is able to translate conversational speech into actions like complex actions like texts or map directions or web searches. It’s very impressive and better than Google Voice Search. I predict similar technology will be applied to more unique situations such as the FAR. Instead of saying, “Call: Jane”, any customer with a question can ask, “How will the FAR Part [Insert Number] impact XZY’s finance if it doesn’t get paid this week?”.

Right now, Vlingo brings up specific parts of the FAR with web searches, but my customers don’t know what those legal words and phrasing mean. I simply can’t always be there to explain.
That’s where a future innovation will come in handy.

Legalese to Plain Language Translator
Google Translate instantly translate websites from Russian to English, I expect the web will eventually translate Legalese to Plain Language. This is more difficult than it sounds. Digital dictionaries exist for Russian to English, Chinese to Spanish, and hundreds of other languages; however, there is no Legalese to Plain Language dictionary. It needs to be created. Still, I see the dictionary and this translation engine happening, especially if the PlainLanguage.gov folks adopt the idea.
Is This a Threat to Contract Specialists’ Jobs?
If you don’t adapt then yes, it’s a threat. It’s the eternal rule of business: adapt or die. Still, I think this is great for contract specialists because it frees us up from boring, mundane research duties. Instead, I will focus more on building customer relationships and business advising. After all, the Internet can’t do those things just yet.

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Brandon Jubar

Interesting post; but I have a few thoughts on the “Legalese to Plain Language” translator idea:

First of all, it’s a myth that “plain language” is any clearer than “legalese”. At least with “legalese” you have terms of art — words that have a specific, common meaning in law — whereas “plain language” is all open to interpretation.

Second, much of the interpretation of “legalese” (including provision within the FAR) is constantly evolving through case law. So even if you could “translate” the FAR, such a translation would only be valid if it was updated frequently to reflect legal decisions related to the various provisions.

And finally, using “plain language” instead of “legalese” won’t change the nature of Federal acquisitions. The FAR is going to be a lengthy, complex set of regulations no matter what words are used in it’s drafting; so program officials are going to expect someone else to be trained to understand the “rules” of acquisition.

I agree that the role of the Contract Specialist will continue to evolve — but I really don’t think that “plain language” poses any real threat to the continuing need for the 1102 series.

Antoinette Taylor

Mobile FARing? You just made my day! As a Contractor you also have to be a walking, talking, regulation spouting or translating machine when talking with Clients and Contracting Officers. Now I can do a FAR brain dump and remember where I left my iPhone instead of memorizing FARs. I think technology advancements will free up Contract Specialists to do other things too. One of the areas that I recommend Contract Specialists use some of this new found time is on understanding technology. When you are working with a Contract Officer accepting vendor questions, proposals, and awarding technology contracts, and they do not really understand the technology it makes for a some times bumpy road for the Contracting Officer, the Contractor, and unfortunately the Government Buyer.

Perhaps the best way to spend your time is to develop a few resources that you can turn to for help with understanding the nature of the technical products and services, that you will be awarding. You can do this by talking to Customers and Contractors about some of the technical contract award issues and locating resources to rely on in the future.

Our Clients often say that the statement of work that they sent to the Contracting Officer is completely different from what ends up in the RFP. The end result is that the Customer’s contract is missing some key language that dramatically impacts their deliverables, and I don’t mean in a good way. For example, I have a collection of analogies that I use to help Contract Specialists and Officers understand exactly what bandwidth is, as it relates to web hosting and why it is difficult to propose at a firm-fixed-price when the web-application to be hosted does not exist yet, and the Customer has no idea what the future usage will be. Another issue that comes up is when a customer contracts for a huge web-application that will take several months to deliver and the contract is written as one deliverable, one invoice, one payment, without an option for progress payments. In most cases, after you have had an opportunity to discuss this with the Contracting Officer you can come to an agreement on more amenable contract terms, but getting there is some times unpleasant for everyone involved. The goal, at least in my mind, is to make contracting fast, and easy for us all.