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What do you do when you can’t get in touch with your government customer? It can be incredibly frustrating when federal IT contractors are not able to get an answer to a critical question. Unresolved issues stay unresolved. Time drags on and other priorities come knocking.

The issue of delays has come up a lot recently. First, everyone was off for Christmas and New Year’s. The feds were barely back in the office before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Soon after, much of the East Coast, including Washington D.C., was shut down due to a blizzard.

While circumstances vary, the best answer for federal contractors and solutions providers is to wait things out until the right people are available to give you the best answers. As frustrating as it might be, don’t guess at answers or at what your customer wants in terms of fulfillment. Don’t send any products, for example, to a government building unless you’re sure someone with authority is there to receive them and properly log-in that information.

Having too many people or even just one person acting outside of his or her authority can create a mess. Remember that people with specific government titles have specific authorities. That end-user customer who tells your people to come to work even if the agency is closed may not have the authority to grant you access. More than one federal contractor has had to call their people back, and pay the costs associated with that action, because the government person didn’t have the proper authority or knowledge to authorize that action in the first place.

Perhaps the best example, though, is the government contracting officer (CO). If the CO is out and the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR, previously COTR) asks you to start work on a previously unannounced “phase two” of your project, you must decline. Tape this phrase to your mirror and repeat as needed, “Only the contracting officer has the ability to change the scope of a contract.”

Yet, most federal contractors want to be seen as responsive, good business partners. If someone they’ve worked with every day says “go”, they will likely do just that. No company wants to risk getting a poor performance evaluation or miss a chance at legitimate follow-on work.

Be responsive without putting your firm at financial risk. Questions such as, “Can we run this by the CO before we start?” tell the customer that you want to be helpful, but also want to be sure you get paid. Acting without proper authorization, as in the above example, really means that you’ve just donated whatever time and equipment were involved in “phase two.”

As frustrating as delays might be, it’s a time-honored fact that most federal offices don’t operate with the same sense of urgency as the private sector, unless they have an urgent and compelling need to do so. Most of the time, though, what might seem like a time crisis for you probably doesn’t seem that way to your customer. This is just one of the many examples of how federal officials view things differently.

When delays do occur because of something the government did, though, make sure you get any changes in periods of performance, scope, or other variations to the original agreement in writing. While people understand in January that weather delays caused a longer period of performance, systems do not. Failure to get proper documentation for any change can make it more difficult to get paid in June or to get a positive evaluation in July.

While waiting for the right person to get back to you can be incredibly frustrating, it is nevertheless essential. Acting now for the sake of getting something done can create more problems in the future that no federal contractor wants to incur.