As I write, 3000 air safety inspectors have had their positions deemed “non-essential.” The Center for Disease Control’s staff for tracking food borne illnesses has been cut by more than half. Bars in Washington, D.C. are expanding hours for idle workers. From these random government-shutdown events, we can conclude that that furloughed workers are being advised: don’t fly, don’t eat strange food, stay in town, and get drunk.
What about the rest of us?
As attractive as this advice is, it is not the best strategy for people who do business with the Federal government. How should Defense vendors and other providers deal with these shutdowns?
Notice the plural “shutdowns.” There is a very good chance that by the time you read this, the Federal government shutdown will be over. However, given the logjam that characterizes modern politics, an unwelcomed repeat performance is more than possible.
An inside view
I discussed the shutdown with Rob Culver, Director of Program Management for AMREL. Having had careers as an acquisition officer, and as a Defense vendor, he has an insider’s point-of view about the inner workings of the government. He also spent 23 years in the Army and still peppers his conversations with military jargon.
“It’s time to repack your rucksack,” Rob declared. “Count your ammo. Go to the range, and train.”
Translation: Rob is saying that the shutdown is no time to sit around and bemoan the incompetence of politicians. It’s time to get busy.
What is shut down?
The first thing to do is scope out the impact of the shutdown. Who is actually affected? One might assume that the Department of Defense (DoD) would emerge unscathed from the shutdown. After all, uniformed personnel are specifically excerpted from furloughs.
However, civilian contractors have doing more and more tasks that once were associated with uniformed servicemen. 400,000 DoD employees are expected to be furloughed. Expect Logistics as well as Research & Development to be heavily impacted.
One of the defining characteristics of the shutdown is its arbitrary nature. Some departments will be heavily affected; others will not be. There is no standard government-wide definition for what is considered “essential.” Once you determine how the various government departments are affected, it’s time to reach out.
Visiting a sick friend
As you can image, the capriciousness of who stays and who goes is extremely demoralizing. Government personnel, who have been pilloried for decades as parasitic narrow-minded bureaucrats, are actually quite dedicated. They take their duties very seriously, and are upset that they have become pawns in high-level political games.
This is the perfect time to contact key decision makers (i.e., “the people who write the checks”). For one thing, even though all the non-furloughed personnel claim that they are working harder, many may actually have time on their hands. Certain tasks cannot be performed now, because of the lack of workers and money. Bored, angry bureaucrats would appreciate a sympathetic phone call, or even a visit. Taking a depressed government worker to lunch is an excellent opportunity for a bonding experience.
Everything is temporary, even shutdowns
Cultivating key influencers is important for several reasons. Shutdowns don’t last forever. Once the money starts flowing again, they’ll remember those who were kind to them in the dark days.
Even more important is securing information. Find out what requirements the DoD and other government entities are looking for. Obviously, government employees can’t promise you special treatment, but they can give you a heads-up on future needs.
A slowdown should be your busiest time
Once you determine what upcoming specifications will be required, it’s time to take a good hard look at your own company. When the money spigot opens up again, is your organization ready? Are your internal capabilities lined up to what the DoD wants and the expected demands of the market
For example, if intelligence reveals that delivery time will be critical to getting a specific contract, and your manufacturing capability lacks adequate capacity or agility, this is a perfect opportunity to upgrade and retool. After all, it’s difficult to enlarge manufacturing capabilities when everyone is busy.
It may seem counterintuitive to expand capabilities during a slowdown. However, the vendors that do so in a smart fashion will have an advantage over those who laid off workers and decreased their ability to produce.
A slowdown is also a good time to do things that you normally don’t have time to do. You have been meaning to update your quality control system, but you have been too busy to do the paperwork. Do it now. Only one engineer on your team knows how to properly operate the CAD program, but he was too swamped with work to train others. Schedule training now.
Keep in mind, that putting downtime to good use is more than just sending out an email to employees and telling them to be productive. Goals have to be identified, tasks need to be assigned, schedules made, and checklists fulfilled.
Borrowing a phrase from his military days, Rob advises, “Motivate, communicate, supervised, and inspect.”
Properly managed, an organization should be extremely active during a business dry spell. When the shutdown ends, you’ll be ready to come roaring off the starting line, while your competitors are still tying their shoelaces.
There are still contracts out there
Even during a shutdown, some business goes on. The venerable FedBizOpps.com posts opportunities over $25,000. On the day after the shutdown (October 2), 450 contract awards/solicitations were posted. Smaller opportunities are listed on individual institutional websites. One goal of your intelligence gathering is to determine where to look.
During a government shutdown, Defense vendors and other providers should focus on:
1) Reaching out to key decision makers.
2) Gathering intelligence on future requirements.
3) Aligning your organization capabilities with future requirements.
4) Performing deep-cleaning and other tasks too difficult to do during busy times.
5) Looking for new opportunities.