contractingBy Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth, Program Director, Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University

Remember the yellow, No. 2, FaberCastell pencil? It was the American standard for decades of K-12 schools and colleges and could also be found inside the gray, government-issued desks, along with the black ballpoint pens that said “US Government.”

I have with 20 FaberCastell pencils on my desk, all sharpened and ready to write, and I use them. I had to purchase two full packs of 10 for $20 from an antique dealer in Ohio.  Pencils, like rotary phones, are now museum pieces.

But, that pencil holds a secret about the job of acquisition manager for the government, as a project manager for a defense contractor, or a warehouse foreman on the loading dock.  Most of us go about our careers in quiet oblivion of the complexity that surrounds us. Most of us focus on the tasks for which we are responsible and pay little attention to the larger context of what we are doing.

The reality is that it takes over one million people to help produce a simple pencil. (Learn about this in “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read, ” a classic read in MBA and all economics programs.) There is no single person in charge of its production orchestrating them. Many of these people are producing chemicals and clay and metal materials who do not know their hard labor is going into the making of that yellow cedar plank of a pencil.

The story of the pencil is the story of millions of people who are working at the crossroads of thousands of links, like a spider web crossing the globe. Millions of people doing their jobs: mining ore, cutting down trees, driving a truck, collecting coffee beans for the truck driver’s morning cup, etc. You get the picture.

Now, take a different look at your job as a government contract manager. Do you perform cost analysis or pricing of a product to be built by a contractor? Are you the contracting officer or the project manager? Do you know how far your reach extends when you change the requirements for a new weapon system or cyber security system?

Each decision you make impacts the tree of people who are directly linked to that product or project. But your role also impacts millions of people indirectly. All our jobs in government contracting impact many other people’s lives and businesses.

It is important to keep in mind that your daily, routine work impacts many people that you will never meet. We need to be mindful that the reach of our work in government and in supporting government is vast and make the best decisions to produce the best product – the best pencil – that we can offer to the world.

About the Author: Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is the program director for Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management and Transportation and Logistics Management. Prior to joining APU, Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, RFID Metrics, was published in 2007 by CRC Press and is in revision.

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