Happy New Year! Anybody confused by that subject line? When I was in the Air Force, this time of year was the most hectic time of all for Contracting folks. It was the end of the Government Fiscal Year. 1 October marks the beginning of a new Fiscal Year in the Government world for funding and contracts actions. We would always celebrate the new year because it meant life would go back to normal (well normal by military standards).
We in the Contracting Office would be working overtime starting in mid July and it would gradually increase to include later nights and weekends. No leave was allowed unless it was an emergency and if you were sick, well suffer through it and work unless you were in the hospital. Everyone was needed.
Why did we have to work like crazy people up until 30 September and get everything processed by then? If you don’t know anything about Government funding, most of the funds given to organizations by the Government are good on an annual basis only. What that means is if your funding expires on 30 September every year. If you don’t spend it by the end of the fiscal year, you lose it and not likely to get as much the following year. So if you had a $100K budget and only spend $50K, your budget would most likely be reduced to $50K the next year because you obviously didn’t need $100k. So people manage the budget the entire year frugally and then go nuts that last month or two of the fiscal year buying all kinds of things.
However, they didn’t “buy” the things. They sent it through the system and it ended up at the contracting office along with the hundreds and hundreds of other daily requests that only a handful of buyers were working. Needless to say stress levels were high. The last few days of the Fiscal Year we were there until 10pm at night. On 30 September is was past midnight.
One year when I was stationed in the United Kingdom, I was the Systems manager for our mainframe computer system. It was an old Wang system. We would hold the computer on 30 September for a few days after the fiscal year end to put any last minute orders or contracts into the system that had been manually awarded. If we rolled the system over those contracts would be credited in the new fiscal year. As a result we had to take the system down just before midnight and roll it back so it wouldn’t cross over at midnight.
We had one buyer who was waiting on some pricing from back in the U.S. to finalize a very large (almost $100K) order for computers. We were combining several organizations requests on the order (by the way, we had limited funding so would ask each organization to give us a computer or two. As a result we got our squadron outfitted with new computers when we didn’t have a budget to do so – everything is negotiable!)
I was holding off taking down the system until she got the order in. That was the last order and once she got it in, we were done for the night. It was after 11:30pm and she still hadn’t gotten the pricing. I had to take the system down and push the date back so she would have to do it after the system came back up.
Well, guess what happened? Of course! The system crashed as I was taking it down! To make matters worse, that system took 3 hours plus to recover! After the system recovery, she got the order in and we all left. Most of the people had been sent home as it was only the few key people needed. It was 4am when I left there and my commander expected me back at 6am to bring the system up so people would be able to work at the normal time. Wow, that was nuts. I went home slept for about an hour or so then came back in wearing my sweats to bring the system up. I went back home after slept for a few hours then came back in with business as usual.
One of the slogans in Air Force Contracting is “You Got It, We Bought It.” Another one was “We Make It Happen.” Nothing happens in the Government without a contracting professional initiating a purchase. Planes don’t fly, operations don’t execute, personnel don’t move unless a contract has been executed. Contracting is one of the most stressful jobs in the Air Force because the entire base depends on contract execution for support. So this is just a little insight into the world of the “desk flyer” Still making it happen just in a different way.