Straight talk from the Marine Corps

The Marines not only shoot straight, they talk straight.

Wandering through the show floor during last week’s Sea Air Space conference, I stopped at the Marine Corps Systems Command, its acquisition arm. The Command’s Office of Small Business Programs hands out a 16-page brochure entitled, Doing Business with the Marine Corps. Flipping through it, my eyes stopped on a page entitled, “Power up your proposal.”

The dozen bullet points, no pun intended, comprise a master class in good government writing. I bring this up after my column last week in which I was tough on the convoluted writing of the Biden White House. The Systems Command writing ought to convince newbie offerors that they can get over the steep hill that guards federal contracting.

“Read the solicitation in its entirety multiple times,” states the first point. “Read and understand the instructions to Offerors, and comply with all of them.”

Hear the short, punchy sentences with good verbs, the lack of ambiguity? There’s more:

“Choose your competitions wisely. Target only those solicitations for products and services in your niche market so that you can increase your probability of success.

“Don’t submit quotes or proposals with teaming partners’ logos all over them. Your are the prime! Your proposal should reflect your work.

“Do not use acronyms without spelling them out first! Do not assume that the proposal evaluators are familiar with a particular acronym, unless the acronym was used within the solicitation. When in doubt, spell it out, and provide a definition and/or context for all acronyms.”

One item shows the Marines’ schoolmarm side: “Constantly review your proposal for grammatical errors. Have different people from diverse backgrounds read your technical proposal for clarity, comprehension, consistency and conciseness. It is important to submit a proposal that is completely free of errors.” The Marines might have added, “Make your bed and shine your shoes.”

Sometimes agencies have to shine a light into the murk of hasty policy. A case in point is guidance to contractors from the National Security Agency. It instructs contractors on how they should deal with the new vaccinate-or-test mandate for occupying federal offices. NSA conveniently marked it “unclassified.”

NSA has composed a reasonably understandable document. Contractors might not like the advice, such as, “For unvaccinated contractor personnel, time spent in denied access due to lack of a negative test result is NOT reimbursable under the CARES Act. Any costs associated with obtaining a COVID test are not billable as a direct charge to an NSA contract.” But at least they know what to do. To its credit, the guidance takes up only a single page.

Then there’s the bipartisan, so-called infrastructure bill under debate in the Senate. It required an 11-page table of contents to guide readers to its 2,700 pages. That’s 2,702 to be precise. Printing it would cost $200 in toner.

I said “readers.” Except no one will have read all of it. Bills generally contain detailed references to the earlier statues and codes they revise. For example, on page 562 you find, “(b) CLERICAL AMENDMENT. — The analysis for chapter 5 of title 23, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: ‘‘520. Transportation Resilience and Adaptation Centers of Excellence.’’

Yet much of the bill reads as narrative. For example, from page 1,124:

“There is established within the Office of the Secretary a center, to be known as the ‘Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center’…The purposes of the Center shall be ‘‘(A) to implement reforms to improve interagency coordination and expedite projects relating to the permitting and environmental review of major transportation infrastructure projects, including — ” and on it goes. Legalistic but understandable.

A note on infrastructure. Permitting does take a long time for any project more complicated than a sign replacement. So provision 25,009 might be a good thing. Infrastructure itself takes a long time too. I often use a little bridge over the Monocacy River in Frederick County, Maryland. A sturdy, if homely, bridge, it was built in 1931. It’s not even named after anybody. Rehab started in July of 2018, with a promised completion of “summer 2019.” Fat chance. This past Sunday, August 8, 2021, I was detoured again.

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