I hadn’t been out of college too long when I started working as a Department of Defense contractor. I was filled with hopes and dreams and was ready to make a difference in the world! I quickly became frustrated, however, with some of the seemling small but important details that were not communicated to me. I’m not sure whether there are any “Explaining the DoD Contracting World for Newbies” guides out there, so I’ve documented some of the things that got me hung up and am passing them on to you, dear reader, to help you avoid the pitfalls that I went through. Here are three things I wish I’d known when I first started my defense contracting career.
Monthly Status Reports
Be sure to write down what you work on each day, because your company may have to submit a Monthly Status Report to the government customer listing all the work that is being done on the contract. I bet I looked like a deer in headlights when one of my supervisors approached me and said that my monthly status report was past due! I frantically went through my Outlook to see what taskers I had sent to the customer. I’m sure my first monthly status report was skimpy and made me seem like I didn’t do a lot of work, because I did it in such a hurry and probably overlooked some things. Don’t let this happen to you! What I now do is write down what I did each day on a notepad, or type it in a Word document that I later format and send to leadership. Also, make sure you are clear on the due date, because it can vary by person.
Know Who You Are Allowed to Talk to, and Who You Are Not Allowed to Talk to
I always figured if you have a question, ask the person who would know the answer. Makes sense, right? Well, this isn’t exactly the case in the government contracting world. One day I had a question about creating a navy.mil email account (because for some reason my company email was not enough), and whether I could check it on my company laptop. After asking several people in my office and getting different answers and “I don’t knows” I decided to go straight to the source and emailed a government civilian with the question. I was pleasant and professional in my email, and he was pleasant and professional in his response… but then I found out that he forwarded my email to my boss, who was NOT happy. Hearing her yell “Christina didn’t get her act together” within earshot of several people in the office created a searing embarrassment that I still remember to this day.
Folks, don’t be like me. Cement it into your brains now that it is not always okay for a contractor (especially a junior contractor) to contact the customer. Try your best to find the appropriate POC in your office to handle this. As if the verbal dunce cap wasn’t enough of a lesson, the big boss also sent out several emails to everyone on the contract stating “Under no circumstances are you allowed to contact XYZ.” Have I now convinced you to be careful with who you reach out to? Good.
local security policies
When I got my company laptop and company email address on my first day, I reached out to the customer to let them know that I was all set up and ready to help! Whenever I wrote an email, I would proofread it then hit “send” without thinking that something wasn’t right, until one day, a man I didn’t know emailed me with my customer on CC to say that I must digitally sign all emails and the fact that I didn’t was against DoD security policy. Confused, I brought this up with my boss, who was very frustrated that I wasn’t doing this, and even more frustrated when she looked at my Outlook and saw that the certificates had not been automatically added to my account like everyone else’s. There was some back-and-forth with the company’s IT department to get the account set up correctly, but it finally got done and I started emailing securely and with confidence!
There you have it: just a few of the things someone brand new to being a contractor wouldn’t intuitively know. I hope this helps you as you start your career journey. If you have any amusing stories like mine, leave them below in the comments!