How Louis Helps Companies WIN! A Contracting Officer's Life & Philosophy (Podcast Transcript)Jan 27, 2023
[00:01] Richard C. Howard: Hey, guys, Ricky here and just wanted to give a quick intro to this podcast. This is with Colonel Louis Orndorff I would refer to him as the Sensei of government contracting. He was a contracting officer, retired colonel. I worked with him quite a bit. I was a program manager, so I was managing contracts. He was the contracting officer, putting companies on contract, and then went on, as you'll hear the podcast, to have an amazing career multiple times. A commander in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel. We first met in Saudi well, I shouldn't say that we first met in Boston because we were both going out to Saudi Arabia to do a one year remote, which is one year you have to spend away from your family. And typically one year remotes aren't easy, and you can't bring your family with you. The payoff is typically you can pick your next military assignment. So I think we were both getting close to the point where we wanted to retire and kind of pick where we landed. That's certainly what I was doing. And we just had a fantastic time in Saudi Arabia, both managing and working in foreign military sales. We started a band, he played bass in my band, and it was just a great time. We had a lot of great work together, and then we went on after we were both retired to help small businesses in various capacities. You guys have heard Ken Vig, nausea, and some of the things that I work on, but pay attention to some of the tips that Colonel Orndorff gives you in this. He has helped many small businesses. A lot of clients of mine will come up against a contracting issue that you need an expert to help you resolve. There's no way to really understand all of the federal acquisitions regulations and all the things that come up when you're actually on contract working with the government. And if you have a problem like that, please feel free, reach out to me and we can talk about how Colonel Orndorff can work on that issue. Or if you just have a proposal that you want a contracting officer to review, he has been able to change some of the language. He understands the nuance of what Co has put into these RFPs. So we can read the RFP, read your proposal, and give you some advice on just to make you a little bit more competitive. Now our podcast. So, you know, we are designed to help you, the small business owner, sell products and services to the US military. We interview subject matter experts, we interview successful businesses. And I have DoD Contract Academy, which you can go to Dodcontract.com if you want, step by step guidance on how you can go through the process, from soup to nuts, from registering to advanced selling techniques. We have a monthly membership program where it includes training on most everything you can think of, plus group weekly coaching by me, you'll get to be with other companies and other sales professionals. They're trying to sell to the government. This is great for sales teams, business owners, people trying to understand the process and to get the subject matter experts that I bring on, like Colonel Orndorff myself. And there are others on the podcast and also in the academy that are designed to help you in your unique situation so you can start winning and continue winning those six, seven, eight figure contracts with the military, with other federal organizations. And right now, well, this is January 2023, so I can't promise this will be up forever. But right now, I do have an assessment that you can take if you haven't started, if you just have an idea that you're thinking about selling to the government, you can take our assessment. It's free to take the assessment, and there is a piece at the end. There's a few questions you can fill out. If you go to Dodcontract.com, click on you want to take the assessment. And while it's up, I will review your answers and send you a quick loom video on what we're seeing. As far as federal spending in the area that you're considering, what does competition look like?
[03:51] Richard C. Howard: It's not in depth. There is an option for you to do a paid consultation and review that will be a little bit more in depth, but you don't have to do that. So, again, while it's up, probably for the next couple of weeks, you could take that assessment. But now that I'm done with our initial commentary there, let's go on to the podcast and hear my interview with Louis Orndorff, which I know you're really going to love. All right, take care.
[04:16] Richard C. Howard: Thanks, everyone, for listening to DoD Contract Academy podcast today. I have a veteran, a veteran of the podcast and a veteran of the US. Air Force and someone that you have heard before if you've been listening to our episode. So retired Colonel Louis Orndorff how are you today, sir?
[04:35] Louis Orndorff: Doing great. How are you doing?
[04:37] Richard C. Howard: Doing awesome. So we've been chatting here for about a half hour before getting into this for everyone that doesn't know. So we served together, right? Saudi Arabia. We were in a band together, right? You played bass in our band.
[04:54] Louis Orndorff: You were teaching me how to play bass. Let's put a belly.
[04:57] Richard C. Howard: Well, you picked it up really quickly, so we had the best band in Riyadh, I can tell you that for sure. And so now we work together more. Now we're both retired and kind of consulting and doing our different businesses, but as it relates to public sector sales, and you have a very interesting history. So I wanted to let everyone get to know you before we get too into the weeds on contracts, federal contracting, the opportunity for both small and large businesses out there who's Louis Orndorff. I'm interested. Like, where did you grow up? Why did you join the air force?
[05:37] Louis Orndorff: Oh, wow, that is a question.
[05:39] Richard C. Howard: I'm going back. You weren't expecting that, that's why I.
[05:41] Louis Orndorff: Didn't no, I wasn't expecting that.
[05:42] Richard C. Howard: I don't want to prep you.
[05:43] Louis Orndorff: I grew up in a little tiny town in Idaho and actually graduated from a very small town called Bliss, Idaho. And I went to the University of Idaho when I graduated from there and was studying physics and mathematics. So with my air force career starting by joining the guard, Idaho International Guard, I actually started out as a cold war era reconnaissance troop. We would do F four that would fly in low over the enemy territories, running cameras and film, and I would help develop the strike packages as a very brand new young airman. And then I ended up working on enjoying that so much that I decided when I graduated from college, I wanted to go active duty and threw my name in the hat to go and get selected for the officer training program. And the recruiter came back and said, well, with all this technical background you've got, your electronic warfare, all this physics and math, we'd like you to be a contracting officer. That doesn't make any sense to me at all.
[07:08] Richard C. Howard: It's amazing how they actually come up with what you're going to do. I don't think it really has anything to do with what your background is.
[07:15] Louis Orndorff: Well, it was needs of the air Force at the time, and so immediately my first thought was, oh, no way, no, I'm not interested. That's nothing but paperwork. I hate paperwork.
[07:26] Richard C. Howard: Right.
[07:26] Louis Orndorff: So I called a buddy of mine in the guard and he said, no, wait a minute, somebody is buying all that high tech stuff that the air force is playing with out there, so it may be worth going off and doing that. And then my thought was, okay, I'm going to go be a contracting officer and jump into another career field the first chance I get. So 30 years later, I retired as a contracting officer.
[07:51] Richard C. Howard: That is funny.
[07:53] Louis Orndorff: I actually ended up enjoying it quite a bit.
[07:56] Richard C. Howard: No, I know, you were always really passionate about it. What I was going to say is funny is I remember when I came in and of the air Force, they needed navigators, right? And I think they got rid of all the navigators when GPS came out during Desert Storm, they were using it and then they realized, well, GPS doesn't work quite as good as we think it does, especially when Ammo is involved or dropping troops somewhere. But as I came in, I'm like, well, you know, I wanted to fly, so I didn't care. I'm like, I don't think there's a lot of jobs for navigators outside of the air Force. And I was just asking recruiters and the flight training officer like, what jobs translate besides pilot, what translates into a job, like a civilian job, because you always hear about veterans that can't get jobs after they get out. They're like, if you want a high paying job where people are coming after you and you have a skill set that companies can use, you want to be in acquisitions, you want to be a contracting officer, a program manager, or an engineer. And I kind of thought the same thing you did. I'm like, yeah, that sounds like a lot of paperwork. But then eventually I got transitioned into that, and I really enjoyed it too. But I think it's interesting that just.
[09:03] Louis Orndorff: From that perspective, I'll tell you what worked well for me. I do hate paperwork. And so I took an approach of I do not like to repeat paperwork over and over again. So I decided I'm just going to really understand it. I'm going to understand what the requirement is. I want to do it one time and get out of here. So my bosses and program managers, as I was a young guy coming up through the they loved it. They loved it because I just got serious about it. I would blast through all these acquisition timelines. I was always on time because I didn't have to keep redoing the paperwork. Me hating paperwork and being lazy about it ultimately made me very good at it.
[09:48] Richard C. Howard: It paid off.
[09:49] Louis Orndorff: It paid off. Yeah, it did.
[09:52] Richard C. Howard: It's interesting because there's so many different pieces to the government acquisitions process. It's part of what I want to talk about a lot of people, but what people go to is the contracting officer. So if they know one position, it's the CEO, right? And whether it is, hey, I'm a small business doing business development, trying to find an opportunity. They see the contracting officer's name on something, or they want to learn more about a program like contracting officer. I mean, if you know where to find the published contracts and whatnot, you can usually find out who is involved. But like you mentioned, there's also program managers, there's engineers, there's finance people. There's a lot of different players involved in the contracting process. I have my own thoughts on this. But just from your experience, when is it a good time for a company to reach out to the contracting officer? When is it appropriate for them to try to talk to the program manager or another position?
[10:52] Louis Orndorff: Well, with everything, it depends. There's a thousand factors to take into account. But generically speaking, early on in an acquisition, when the program manager is doing fact finding and they just need to understand what's out there, what's the art of possible, what companies are doing, what's the capabilities available. Yeah, market research, it's appropriate at that time to talk directly to the program manager, and you can try to influence, but that's fine. But then there's a point where it becomes actually a funded acquisition or an acquisition that's going to go through the formal process. Once it becomes formal, then all of that interaction should be with the contracting team, the contract manager, negotiator, contracting, administrative side, because everything has to be collectively pulled together and that will drive all the programmatic or the acquisition documents, if you will. So at that point, it's very appropriate to work with the contracting officer. Once the contract is awarded, then it's very appropriate on a day to day basis to execute with the program manager. Now, the second you're talking about making any changes or doing something that will drive cost scope or performance or anything like that, you get the contracting officer back in the mix and the program managers should know that. And most of the time they are coming to a contracting officer way past the point where they've already worked the deal.
[12:28] Richard C. Howard: You're kidding me. It's not a perfectly oiled machine.
[12:32] Louis Orndorff: Well, you would hope, but no, in fact, I remember you doing that to me at least one time.
[12:37] Richard C. Howard: I probably did, probably did multiple times. I was just reading a little history of acquisitions, just going back to the revolutionary war, which is, I thought really?
[12:47] Louis Orndorff: Oh, nice.
[12:49] Richard C. Howard: But one of the I underlined this exasperating slowness is the hallmark of the military weapons acquisitions process. And then it goes on to explain why. But there is, I mean, there's so many people involved with government acquisitions that, like you said, you might have a PM that's going in late. Of course you also might have companies reaching out to the wrong people and not really understanding where to go. Have you ever heard of the contracting officer podcast?
[13:19] Louis Orndorff: I don't know if I have.
[13:21] Richard C. Howard: If you're not in the podcast, you probably have. But there's a podcast called the contracting officer podcast. It's actually really good. It's two former, I think, military contracting officers that are no longer active duty, but what they described like the relationship between the contracting officer and the program manager as a wedding in the business. Right. And they basically said, hey, the contracting officer is the priest at a wedding. Like, think of them as the priest. They have like the legal authority to marry the bride, which is the program manager, and the government to the groom, which is the business. Right. And the small business owner wants to marry, wants to get married. So the bride is kind of going on dates with all of these grooms here, maybe during the market research phase, but in the end, someone with legal authority has to be able to put them together. Right. That was their kind of simple explanation of, hey, so that's the contracting officer and then you got to spend the rest of your life with the bride until you get a divorce.
[14:22] Louis Orndorff: Yeah, I haven't heard that one, but I can appreciate that.
[14:26] Richard C. Howard: Yeah, I thought that was interesting, but I probably mentioned it on here before, too. So you grew up in the acquisitions world and how long did you spend in the military?
[14:36] Louis Orndorff: I was over 30 years all altogether. So I was six years in the guard doing F four stuff, and then probably 25 plus years active duty in the acquisition community. Now, I went in and out of acquisition. I did some command control stuff, like I said, and some political affairs as well. But I was a brand new lieutenant as a contract officer in Hanskin Air Force Base in Massachusetts, jumping into major weapons system acquisitions and got them. And I was involved in that in a couple of places. I was the contract officer, the financial management, the price analyst, and the program manager, all at the same time. I was working in environments where everything was very limited, so I had to do all of it. So I've been a program manager, I've been the finance guy, I've been the budget analyst, I've been the price analyst, I've been all the different pieces that you see in the acquisition machine.
[15:40] Richard C. Howard: Yeah, that's probably just with that and your desire not to have to do paperwork over and over again. So that led for people that aren't familiar with the military, your reward in the military for doing a good job is being given more work, more responsibility, more work, more responsibility, and eventually kind of the culmination of that is being given a command. Right. So you were a commander many times over?
[16:06] Louis Orndorff: I was a commander five times.
[16:08] Richard C. Howard: That's crazy.
[16:11] Louis Orndorff: It was crazy.
[16:14] Richard C. Howard: What does that mean for anyone listening?
[16:17] Louis Orndorff: Okay, so to be a commander means that you are the one responsible for the execution of that particular mission. So ultimately, that's what it boils down to, responsibility. And then you have people that work for you. And in the military environment, when you're a commander and you have military members appointed underneath you, you have really an amazing level of responsibility for their success and failures, and you can really have a lot of responsibility for their success in life as well. So there's quite a level of detail on the personnel management side of command, but the mission management side of command, I don't think people really understand that everything that a team does, the commanders are really ultimately watching or at the end of the day, totally responsible for the success or failure. And a lot of times in the military, when you see something has gone horribly wrong, you don't really see what happened to the soldiers, sailor, airmen and marines. You see what happens to the commanders.
[17:24] Richard C. Howard: Right?
[17:25] Louis Orndorff: This commander was removed because this thing happened underneath their command. So that responsibility is you're responsible for a lot of things you have no control over. So you have to create environments and in the acquisition you have to create this environment of an approach, like an attitude almost, about how people are going to behave and follow the rules and how they're going to perform. Within. That how they're going to take their responsibilities to their program managers, their customers, seriously and not be the typical government employee that everybody's got a good stereotype on.
[18:05] Richard C. Howard: Right.
[18:05] Louis Orndorff: I think that probably answers your question.
[18:08] Richard C. Howard: No, that's perfect. And driving your team to get what needs to get done quickly and have a positive attitude. I mean, you're right, everything kind of trickles downstream. But I want to give people that perspective of you because I guess I technically met you first at Hansom Air Force Base. So you were back there, and you were already a colonel then. We were out, and I was in Saudi managing FMS out there. But you actually had a much bigger portfolio than just one country. I don't know if you care to talk about that at all, but so now we're talking foreign military sales, right. So our government is selling to other countries or other governments.
[18:48] Louis Orndorff: Yeah. So anytime the US. Government is managing a defense contract for supplies, equipment, in some case services over certain thresholds, defense Contract Management Agency their job is to help administer those giant contracts anywhere in the world, because it really takes a pretty big effort to minister these really big contracts. So my job there was I was a commander for all defense contracts were being executed in the Middle East and Africa and some other countries in those areas. So we had a pretty broad area of responsibility. Not that there was tons of contracts across Africa, but we did have some the big ones were right there in the Middle East. So we would oversee the execution of some of these contracts in that location. The actual contracts were written by contracting activities back in the United States, and then they would assign the oversight, quality assurance, various other things on the production line to the DCMA men and women out there in the Middle East. So it was interesting. It was really fascinating to see how different countries and different companies would operate in different countries and how they were able to set the stage for their operations.
[20:16] Richard C. Howard: Yeah, no, it was definitely interesting work. You've seen basically it all right. I mean, you've seen a lot of the different well, there's a lot to see, but you spent a lot of time in procurement in the States with the military, from advanced weaponry to maybe more mundane things, and then for military sales. And you mentioned some diplomatic work, but now we're both retired. Right. So obviously you have an expertise. You probably have a few expertise. Right. But some of the things just for anyone listening that we'll talk to and I think my listeners know I help a lot of businesses sell to the government, and typically I'm focused on business development and strategy, getting started, getting to that point where you're consistently winning contracts. But the real work starts once you're on contracts. That's a thing I've heard over and over again. And it's true, right, that's when you're actually executing and delivering or producing whatever it is that the government has asked you for. And that's when I bring Colonel Orndorff in to troubleshoot for us and to help businesses, whether it is with the proposal process, if they needed something reviewed or just, hey, there's a problem set with the contract, how can we fix this? Termination for convenience is one that we worked on, maybe we could start there. What's termination for convenience and what should a company be thinking if it happens to them?
[21:45] Louis Orndorff: Well, termination for convenience is when the government decides for whatever reason we no longer need this supply service or whatever it is. So there's a lot of rules that go along with that. There's a lot of things that a company can actually come out financially ahead than where they were. It doesn't mean that you drop everything and you lose everything you've sunk into the effort. There's a lot of things you can do there. But the key is I'll kind of go back to what you said. You help people get to that point where there's contract award and I know you do that well, but inevitably there's going to be something that goes wrong. And this is where I like to think we've had some really good opportunities to help companies. Inevitably there's things that go wrong and it can be for any number of reasons that are your fault or not your fault. And that's where you quickly find yourself outside of any skill set that any reasonable person should even have. Right, so you want to find some allies in the journey on that one. And I think that's just like that, termination for convenience is one of those equitable adjustments. Your entire supply chain just went up massively in price. So how do you pass those costs and prices on to the government without you agreed to a certain price pandemic hits? Now you know you're going to have to charge more for 1000 reasons. How do you work through all those details again? Every section of the Federal Acquisition Regulation covers various aspects of things that can go wrong. There are guidelines that try to keep things from going wrong, but when they do, that's where most people have no idea whether or not that's their cybersecurity system. I didn't know I needed that. What do I do now? I didn't sign up for that. I didn't realize I signed up for that. I didn't account for the actual cost that that would impact my company, all kinds of things like that.
[23:54] Richard C. Howard: Yeah, no, you're right. I don't know how many times I've talked to a business where the RFP, to their credit, was kind of vague in some areas. And you've pointed out too, and we're not going to deep dive on the far here, but there are times I've had conversations with you many times where we talked about the nuance of the way on an RFP is written right? So sometimes the way a contracting officer is going to write an RFP or an RFQ, it could just be a file reference. It could be something else that they put in there which the layman and myself included.
[24:36] Richard C. Howard: Right.
[24:36] Richard C. Howard: I might read that from a PM hat on and not get exactly what the contracting officer was getting at there. Or if I go back to being in, I might have asked the contracting officer, hey, this is kind of the intent or this is what we're getting after. We have a requirement, but the CEO knows they have to put some language in there, legal language, to really get what the government needs. And that's where, again, like you reviewing some of those things, it's a helpful advantage for a business to get that advice and get that perspective as they're writing their proposal and trying to land that contract initially.
[25:16] Louis Orndorff: Yeah. And this is again, you can read what a reasonable person would read and answer in a reasonable way, but you miss all sorts of decades of those nuances that come from both the program side and the contract side and some other areas within the public sector acquisitions. So it's nice to have somebody look at it before you get into trouble. That's my favorite thing is try to get way ahead of stepping into some of those landmines. But once you do step on one of those landmines, calling up Richard Howard and Associates and saying, hey, help us out, that's where you really need somebody who's been there and navigated a few of those problems. I'll say this one thing about being the commander for DCA. I was a commander for DCA three different times. One implant for a major manufacturer in the United States and one in the war zone over in Afghanistan. I was the commander for DCMA, southern Afghanistan and then the one we talked about in the Middle East. What you do from an administrative perspective is really all you do is solve the problems that when the contracting team and the company put together the contract, they didn't foresee everything. Ultimately, the government has to solve problems with the contractor. So I spent a lot of time as a commander making sure that we were putting really good solutions on the table and finding ways to go forward and keep minimize impact to the mission at the end of the day. So I've seen a lot of how things don't work and hopefully found a lot of ways to help them get back on track.
[27:03] Richard C. Howard: I'll tell you, the person I call when I don't know the answer is you. So just a couple of weeks ago at a conference, I'm like, hey, we're trying to do this. So I think our listeners know that I do some selling for one of our clients too. Great advice and thanks for coming on the podcast today. This has been an awesome conversation. If anybody is on contract and has questions if anybody wants a contracting officer, a former contracting officer, to review a proposal they're putting together, absolutely. You can reach out to me through DoD contract Academy or [email protected], and I'll put you with Colonel Louis Orndorff will talk about what your situation is and see what the project looks like. But again, Colonel, thanks for coming on here. Do you have any parting thoughts for the maths before we end the podcast today?
[28:00] Louis Orndorff: I would say it's really fascinating to work in the government space, in the public sector space, but with it comes something you mentioned earlier, that those timelines, as you go through and you are doing your business planning and your strategies, one thing, just build in extra time for everything. Extra time for getting your payments made, extra time for completing milestones, just building that factor to begin with. Not every government team is going to be super proactive and try to reduce those timelines. I know a lot of government teams are like, hey, this is the timeline and this is how much time we have and this is how much item is going to take. And I'm not in any hurry. And so one of the things from a business perspective is if you just acknowledge that and say, okay, this is most likely case scenario, let's build that. And then best case scenarios, we can reduce that. If you want to understand where some of that is, obviously reach out, we can help you with that. But that time frame is the problem that has been struggled with.
[29:21] Richard C. Howard: It goes back to the Revolutionary War. I'm looking at it right now, way.
[29:24] Louis Orndorff: Past the Revolutionary War. You can go back a lot further than that. I think you can go back to the beginning of the first concept of a contract. Why is this taking so long? And in some cases there's a good reason, but in a lot of cases you manage what you can manage. But we can help you figure some of that out. That's just a final thought. I mean, contracting is complicated, acquisition is lucrative, and there's some really good things to do out there. But the train doesn't necessarily roll on your time frame. So if you can wrap your brain around that, then it's actually a pretty interesting environment to operate in. That's all I've got.
[30:04] Richard C. Howard: Well, I'm sure that's not all you've got, but that's all the time we've got for today. All right, well, hey, thanks again for coming on. For everyone listening, thank you. Please subscribe to the podcast, leave a review, and head over to Dodcontract.com, see some of the programs we have available. I can hook you up with Lou if we have something for you, and then we'll see you next time.
If you enjoyed this episode, you can also check out With Great Data comes with Great Responsibility where I discussed how important data is to the DoD, a few of the programs that are using it and some things to be aware of if you want to connect your solution to a US government network.
The DoD Contract Academy has helped hundreds of small businesses and account executives achieve their defense contracting goals.
If you want to learn more about how products and services are REALLY sold to the US military check out our membership area!
Stay connected with news and updates!
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.