Stan Soloway

OPINION

4 steps to prepare for the shutdown

Hope springs eternal, yet reality is what ultimately counts. As we approach the end of the fiscal year, all of us hope that the powers that be on the Hill and in the White House can find their way toward at least a temporary agreement to fund the government.

The potential scenarios are many and range from a 90-day continuing resolution (probably the most optimistic of the scenarios), to a very brief, almost symbolic shutdown on Oct. 1, to a shorter term CR with another shutdown showdown in November, and on and on.While those negotiations are well beyond any of our control, that does not mean that companies can afford to sit idly by. There are a number of immediate steps that should be taken to be prepared.

First, as basic as it sounds, make sure you know the period of performance, funding sources and duration of funding for all of your contracts. It’s not enough to know you have the information somewhere. Centralize it and make certain that all of the appropriate executives have access to it at any given time.

Second, know where your employees are. Again, this may sound overly basic, but in this era of distributed workforces, including some with whom you cannot easily communicate given the nature and location of their work, employee communications is always a challenge.

As we saw two years ago, some employees will be able to continue working because the contract involved is still using unexpired funds. But if they work on-site with their government customer, will they be able to telecommute? Will some have to be re-tasked in order to avoid furloughs? What about available personal time off or other options? All of these factors will have to be considered and it is almost certain that one size will not fit all. This thus puts a premium on your ability to reach, quickly and efficiently, every employee.

Third, for each contract, know who in the government is authorized to provide direction in the event your contracting officer is not available. Remember, unlike the commercial world, in which the concept of an “implied contract” is common, in the government marketplace, only the contracting officer is authorized to commit funds and direct work. Thus, if your contracting officer is deemed to be “not exempt” from the shutdown, it is vital to know who is his or her back up. Only that individual can authorize schedule changes or other changes to the normal contract.

Fourth, three words should guide everything you do: document, document, document. There are companies that are today still negotiating final decisions related to the last shutdown. Despite “official” direction from agency leaders, individual government offices and contracting officers may have different perspectives.

For example, during the last shutdown, a number of companies were unable to continue working on contracts even though all of the key conditions for continuing to work had been met: funds were available and the work did not require access to a government facility nor day-to-day government oversight. That caused significant challenges.

At the same time, some companies reported that their customers went out of their way to make sure they could keep working even though their government counterparts were not. In short, it is inevitable that confusion and miscommunications between the government and contractors will occur. To make matters worse, your government customers will likely not be getting their own instructions until the last minute. As such, extensive documentation is your best friend.

We don’t know precisely what will happen between now and 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30 or at some other inflection point. But that lack of clarity does not mean that anyone can wait to the last minute to prepare. Otherwise, the chaos and pain that naturally accompanies a shutdown, if it comes, will only be worse. The Boy Scout motto is all you need to remember. And in the meantime, hope WILL spring eternal.

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