How to Get Started in Contracting


Writing contract specifications can seem daunting, boring or like a mere formality. Where should I start? What should I write?

It is difficult to start with a blank piece of paper and to generate the specifications for a contract. If the service is existing, start by thinking through the day to day details of the service being provided. What needs to happen, at what time, to what level of quality, with whom does communication need to happen and when?

I am preparing the first of new series of semiannual contractor performance meetings. I started by developing an agenda, which I sent to the user department for review. They returned the agenda to me with a list of five items that were causing minor problems. I went back to the contract to see how they were addressed in the contract so we could reference the contract language. None of the five issues the department had identified were addressed in the contract. Not one! I was surprised to see that basic issues like the days and times of deliveries, the fact that cell phones cannot be used by staff in the secure portions of our jail, and holiday scheduling procedures were not addressed.

Herein lies the disconnect. As the contract manager, I am generally not close enough to the execution of the needed service to understand the day to day operations. Management staff at the department level is given the primary task for writing contract specifications and generally they are not involved in the day to day operations either.. Line staff and administrative staff are most often involved in the day to day operations and they are not consulted about contract language, even though they are tasked with dealing with the resulting contract.

The take away for me is that as a contract manager, one of my main responsibilities is to prompt and motivate both management and line staff at the department level to clearly articulate their needs. Additionally, obtaining genuine feedback from the contracted vendor is necessary to develop a document that is truly a roadmap for a productive and mutually beneficial relationship throughout the term of the agreement.

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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Juana Williams

The topic of this article is contracts, but the same disconnect can be seen in government forms. Forms are designed (both in spatial terms and directions) by people who never have to fill out the forms. Designing a form on a computer and filling out a form long-hand is another example of the disconnect in government. I have had to complete forms that didn’t even have a place for a date! Of course, I added the date.