I once took a course called “The FAR Bootcamp”, in which students were required to memorize the titles and corresponding part numbers to all 53 FAR parts. The course was given by Vern Edwards–one of the most highly respected and reputable instructors in the field of Federal contracting. Vern explained that his class was about the FAR, and if you wanted to learn about the FAR, then you were going to have to know what topics it covered. Students shouldn’t waste time complaining about it–they should get busy preparing their 53 flash cards. Even though I already knew the parts, I liked the idea that someone like Vern thought it was important to know them.
A few years later, I was tasked with leading the development of a four-week introductory course in the FAR and DFARS (now known as CON 090). The very first learning objective I suggested for the course was “Memorize the titles and corresponding part numbers to FAR Parts 1-53.” This was roundly rejected by almost all that were participating in the course development. “Why do they need to memorize when they can just look up the titles in the table of contents?” was the most common question. My explanations that knowing the titles helped to find information faster and helped in identifying the subject matter of FAR clauses and provisions were unsatisfactory. Memorization was bad. Begrudgingly, I withdrew the suggestion.
Then came the first student pilot of CON 090. It was so important to DAU that the DAU president at the time, Frank Anderson, actually sat in the back of the room and observed the class during the first week. Frank Anderson was a retired Brigadier General who once held the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Contracting in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force. Frank Anderson knew contracting. Well, on graduation day Mr. Anderson came back to the class and spoke with the students. The first question he asked was “What’s FAR Part 37?” Silence. Then, when one of the students began to look it up, Mr. Anderson qualified his question with “without looking it up!” More silence. Mr. Anderson then took the opportunity to explain that it was important for contract specialists to know the FAR Parts because in order to become an expert in the FAR, you have to at least know the topics covered. The other members of the development team found themselves dodging my “I told you so” glance.
From then on, CON 090 students were required to memorize the titles and corresponding part numbers for all 53 parts of the FAR. While many students see the benefit of doing it, others become self-appointed Government contracting training experts explaining how it will not benefit them in any way and it will be a waste of the Government’s time and money (most CON 090 students have less than a year of work experience). Whenever I see one of my former CON 090 students, I always ask if the time and effort that went in to memorizing the FAR Parts was worth it. I have yet to receive a negative response. I think that Vern Edwards and Frank Anderson were on to something.
I love the story. Since I took CON 090, knowing all 53 parts has helped on my job and significantly in my career — it is an easy way to show credibility for someone as young as I am.
I always told those who I mentored, you don’t have to memorize anything, as long as you know where to find it. Don hit the nail in the head on this one!
Sure, it’s fine for folks to memorize the titles of Pas 1-53, as long as they also memorize the following from Part 1 and actually use the flexibility that it allows for innovative thought and business acumen: “The FAR outlines procurement policies and procedures that are used by members of the Acquisition Team. If a policy or procedure, or a particular strategy or practice, is in the best interest of the Government and is not specifically addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, Government members of the Team should not assume it is prohibited. Rather, absence of direction should be interpreted as permitting the Team to innovate and use sound business judgment that is otherwise consistent with law and within the limits of their authority. Contracting officers should take the lead in encouraging business process innovations and ensuring that business decisions are sound.”
I look at it as desired but not required. As some have said knowing the structure of the FAR and where to zero in on particular subject matter is a plus. I’d rather have someone who is able to use the guiding principles (as Tuttle noted) to interpret policy and be empowered and flexible to make sound business decisions on behalf of the government. Sometimes I’ve encountered situations where a CS/CO artificial constraints themselves because they have gotten too wrapped up in the transactional nature of procurement & contracting rather than being able to synthesize statutes, regulations and policy to achieve business outcomes and still comply with the aforementioned. They need to move beyond a rule-based mentality to a results-based mentality with proper balance.
To Don’s defense and IMHO, I’d say he was making a general comment that was geared mostly to “quasi” “green -in – Federal contracting “individuals.
Ron’s last sentence is a key statement. Lack of balance between rules and results gets you ever time. Now, that being said, back in the day, the first ALMC Course I took had quite a bit of memorization on FAR Parts. This was extremely helpful for me as a new contracts guy. It was some help as I slowly evolved into an acquisitions guy, but working with contracting shops, requirements shops, R&D organizations, program offices, PEO’s and with several contractors really helped to build a rounded perspective (maybe “balance” is a good word too) about the overall process. Cheers and have a great evening.
Although I don’t teach Vern’s course, the FAR Immersion course I do teach allows the flexibility, at the instructors discretion, to make the students memorize FAR 1-53 titles and part numbers. This does not entail memorizing the FAR, but just where information is contained.
The important part is how to interpret that information to make the best decisions for the taxpayer. That is what the course is ultimately about, and what the students need to concentrate on.
Anybody can memorize information, but understanding it is another thing all together.
Since the early days of learning and teaching in America, teachers have relied on the rote memorization of subject material as a platform for learning. This type of learning does not suit all learners….especially when they pressured to memorize passages, titles, dates and numbers. More time should be spent having students “discover” and analyze what they are attempting to learn. Rote memory fades quickly; what sticks are analogy, self discovery, and analysis. Let’s teach folks how to think, not just recite. The Federal government probably does not need folks who can recite FAR passages or clauses but needs folks who can interpret the FAR and make good business decisions.
Well said. A mindless memorizer is useless to me. I’ll take a critical thinker with a computer and iniative over a drone who has memorized the FAR Parts and believes that parlor trick makes a difference in the age of digital databases, search engines, and online forums.
Ah, the false dichotomy fallacy.
It’s true, the traits in my example are not mutually exclusive. However, the example is not meant to represent a true dichotomy. So, I will state my point more plainly. The mere memorization of the FAR Parts is of little or no value. It is only after digesting the material contained therein that the titles may hold any meaning (e.g. Extraordinary Contractual Actions and the Safety Act). A young contacting professional may think to him/herself, “What’s an extraordinary action? Moreover, what’s an ordinary action?”.
That is HOG Wash….just like attorneys memorize all the USC/CFR. You must know where to go to find the answer…..memorizing FAR parts is useless…….I can see the conversation now at a Contracting Conference “What is FAR Par 46?” “Who cares”