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Successfully Quarterbacking Government Contract Closeout Files

By Clarence Pittman, CFCM

Imagine a college football game day – large crowds of fans, student colors, marching bands, and the cacophony of noise. Once the last touchdown is scored and the crowds leave, the crew that remains behind has the important job of ensuring things are brought to a close and all is in place.

Representatives who contribute to the closeout of a government contract have a similarly important job to lock things down. The game-on flurry of preparation, award, execution, and management of the cradle-to-grave process have been completed. Thus, the closeout analyst, a Contracting Officer Representative (COR), vendor representative(s), and Contracting Officer (CO), while carrying out other duties simultaneously, are also conducting the closeout steps to bring about closure.

Just as the lights have turned off in the stadium after Game Day, the government contract services and/or supplies have ended, and many of those engaged in these respective operations have their energies diverted elsewhere. In contract closeouts, a completed contract doesn’t as often receive the fullest of attention and energy to properly close out, however… it should! Why?

When contracts are not properly closed out, it can have concerning consequences. On numerous occasions, closeout analysts have identified and de-obligated hundreds and thousands of dollars of excess funds. This processing enables better tracking of taxpayer dollars to be returned to the respective agency for another purpose, for example underfunded, mission-critical programs. Now that’s making an impact in this tight budget environment!

Also, performing proper contract close outs offer a convenient story of a contract that can be used to inform lessons learned and lead to better planning for future contracts of similar scope. In other words, it can help you avoid making the same mistake twice.

Ways to Make Closeout Smoother

Having supported multiple agencies as a closeout analyst, I’ve found there are several actions that will make any closeout smoother.

  • Conduct Contract Files Due Diligence: Conduct due diligence on contract files to understand dates, Task Orders (T/Os), Delivery Orders (DOs), extensions, obligated amounts, etc.; Reviewing large & voluminous files can be time consuming but can also mitigate mistakes
  • Identify The Correct COR(s) & POC(s) for vendors: Staff turnover, retirement, transfers and other changes may happen during the course of a contract in both the public and private sector. That’s why it’s a good idea to compare files with vendor web site(s) and also double-check on the appointment of CORs and POCs
  • Conduct Continuous Follow-Up with CORs & POCs: Closeout responses may not be a top priority for others; follow- up is a continuous task and you should approach it in a determined but professional way, with reminders on how it benefits the COR and the program outcome
  • Secure Financial Data: Validate obligated amounts & excess funds; match up & do math on all financials to ensure correct excess funds and de-obligations

Those are four actions you should take on every contract closeout. There are also some things you should not do:

  1. Accept an unclear written response and fail to request clarity: ambiguity more often leads to processing mistakes while compiling bad information and/or calculating wrong dollar figures
  2. Fail to understand closeout procedures outlined by respective government agencies: understanding an agency’s procedures produces efficient and effective closeout results
  3. Fail to establish a good working rapport with CO and other key government representatives: displaying a customer oriented demeanor establishes trust, resulting in the contractor closeout analyst being treated more favorably as a business partner to a government agency

Successful programs require a tremendous amount of energy be exerted from cradle-to-grave in the management of contracts by all team members of the government. However, a completed contract doesn’t as often receive the fullest of attention and energy to properly close out. That can lead to funds mismanagement and factual errors.

In our fast paced and busy world of acquisitions, it is imperative that representatives lead the way in ensuring that government contract files are properly closed out. My top four actions: conducting contract file due diligence, identifying CORs and POCs, continuous follow-up, and securing financials will result in well managed contracts and the best use of agency funds.

Do you agree or have additional ideas?

Reposted from the Integrity Matters - Perspectives on Acquisition and Program Management blog.

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