How to Research Government Contracts and the FAR or DFARS (Federal Acquisition Regulation or Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement)

The FAR reference book on your table was outdated the moment it rolled off the printing press.  The DPAP memorandum you saved to your computer may have been superseded weeks ago.  Statutes, regulations, and policies change rapidly, but it’s your responsibility to be informed and knowledgeable.  How can a contracting professional stay abreast of current developments?

The key is to (a) find relevant sources and (b) filter information.  The 21st century is bloated with information; the difficulty is sorting and distilling the information into useful knowledge.  Relevant sources will be the fountain of your knowledge, so make sure the stream is pure and unadulterated.  Information filtering is your method of questioning and verifying—how you use your brain to critically evaluate authority, context, scope, and applicability.

By Christoph Mlinarchik, JD, CFCM, PMP | Owner, www.ChristophLLC.com

Relevant Sources

The Army Contract Attorneys Deskbook is an extraordinarily helpful resource.  It’s not just for JAG attorneys; every contracting professional should use this guidebook.  Another excellent resource for a wealth of various contracting knowledge is the Cibinic/Nash series of books: Competitive Negotiation: The Source Selection Process, Cost-Reimbursement Contracting, Formation of Government Contracts, and Administration of Government Contracts.  For the truly inquisitive, Vern Edwards compiled an extensive list of recommended reading for the contracting professional.  To craft clear contracts and avoid confusing legal jargon, Kenneth Adams’ A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting is highly recommended.

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Where in Federal Contracting or WIFCON is a website that filters information for you.  The reading and analysis page posts scholarly articles by experts, practitioners, and academics in the field of Government contract law. The discussion section is an open forum where practitioners (although not always experts) debate issues and solve problems collectively.  The home page is a prime example of organized information filtering: rules, memoranda, press releases, court decisions, special reports, and much more are all categorized by topic and/or agency.  WIFCON should be bookmarked and visited regularly for updates.

For fiscal law, nothing beats the exhaustive GAO “Redbook,”  officially titled Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, available for download at the GAO website. While you’re there, be sure to visit the bid protest subscriptions page and request daily delivery of “Comptroller General Decisions.”  Each day, you’ll receive a concise summary of and link to bid protest decisions.  Skim the scenarios and research further any decisions involving your field of acquisition.  Always read a protest which is sustained, because that’s a sign the Government made a mistake that you can avoid in the future.  GAO decisions follow a useful convention of directly repeating the applicable rules before delving into the factual analysis—this provides a convenient encapsulation of basic contracting guidelines.

Don’t forget one of your strongest resources—your fellow colleagues.  Share information, collaborate, and communicate.  No two situations are exactly the same, but it’s likely that someone else has encountered a similar challenge.  Seek the wisdom of your peers.  In turn, if you discover a helpful resource or learn a valuable lesson, take the initiative and spread the knowledge.

Information Filtering

Who wrote this?  Is it official or verifiable?  Is it current?   Does it apply to my acquisitions?  Where and how can I conduct further research?  These five questions should guide your analysis.  Consider the source and always verify any source which is secondary, unofficial, or hearsay.  Ensure the information you’re reading actually applies to your particular situation, and never hesitate to delve deeper into a topic.  Mastery comes from patience, practice, and diligence.  Excellent habits form the basis of professional excellence.

CHRISTOPH MLINARCHIK, JD, CFCM, PMP is an attorney, expert witness, consultant, professional instructor, and author of 50+ publications on contract law and acquisitions. As owner of Christoph LLC, he teaches courses and advises on contracting, source selections, proposals, bid protests, and government contract law to federal, military, and private industry professionals nationwide—from novices to C-level executives. Christoph was a senior contracting officer for the Department of Defense and has Defense contracting experience across the Air Force, Navy, Pentagon, and Office of the Secretary of Defense. He also previously served as an Air Force JAG acquisitions attorney. Christoph was recently honored with the “Top Professionals Under 40” award by National Contract Management Association.

Christoph LLC is available for consultation, advice, and in-house training about Federal contracting topics, including source selections, proposals, Government contract law, bid protests, and more. Visit www.ChristophLLC.com or email Christoph@ChristophLLC.com for details.