We read the statistics about the poor state of the economy and, unless it has impacted you directly, it is hard to grasp what is meant by article titles such as “America’s Fading Military-Industrial Base”. Well yesterday I received, in concrete ways I had not before been able to quantify, just what it means to be part of this fading part of the American economy.
My company manufactures metal parts, machines them from raw steel, aluminum and other materials for larger manufacturers in the Defense, Aerospace, and Medical industries. What most don’t realize perhaps is that the large Defense Manufacturers in this country do not actually manufacture most of what they supply to the government. They integrate sub-components, they design and specify, they assemble from parts made by, in most cases, literally thousands of small businesses like mine all over the country.
Business, of late has been terrible and, based on the trends shown in charts such as these, are not likely to improve in either the short or long term.
And so, in an effort to obtain more business I, like many others, have been looking for direct opportunities with the Government to bid on new business, the normal channels of business being moribund at best of late.
The facts are that the Navy, at a weapons systems laboratory in the western United States, had a requirement to machine and manufacture 30 pieces each of about a dozen different parts for a some prototype engineering project. A bid package consisting of engineering drawings and specifications was prepared and bids were solicited via the Government web site created for that purpose. Clever lads at the Government, indeed.
Seeing this opportunity I downloaded the package and, weary from the lack of business and having determined that we could actually make the parts, labored the better part of two days preparing a bid package. The parts were of moderate complexity, not so simple a Caveman could make them but not requiring Michelangelo-like talent either. After engaging in multiple phone calls with the contracting officer and, in turn, the actual engineer who had completed the drawings I decided to submit a bid even if one of the features on one of the parts would be nigh impossible to fashion. My thought being, after talking to the engineer, that he was open to modification of the part specifications seeing how he really didn’t realize that he was asking the, if not difficult, the impossible in what he had provided. An inexperienced in the ways of manufacturing, as most of them seem to be, mechanical engineer, married with a powerful Computer Aided Design program like Solidworks, can create masterpieces of design that, while wonderful to behold in 3D animation on a computer screen simply cannot be manufactured by mere mortals constrained to the physical world versus the virtual reality so enabled by such advanced technology.
Alas, I finalize my submission after certifying I, as owner of the company was or was not an Alaskan Native American Woman who was a Disabled Veteran and that my business was or was not located in a Historically Underutilized Business zone even as I was thinking, just give me enough time and this business zone will certainly qualify. That plus the usual certification I did not pollute the air, poison the streams, trade with terrorists, or fail to pay my taxes, on time, all the time, forever, amen.
Hitting send on the computer to upload my response I had the strange feeling that I was worried about this bid as, while hoping we won as we needed the business, also equally hoped we lost as it was not something with any follow on potential I could see, it was hard to convince myself we would actually make money should we win, and had a better than even up chance of losing our ass on the job.
After receiving email confirmation and a chirpy “thank you for submitting your bid” email from the Contacting Officer there was nothing to do but wait. A wait that can take days or, just about forever in these things without any rhyme or reason ever offered as to why. Its the Government after all and if you need further explanation – go the the Post Office and try to buy stamps – in a hurry. IT IS JUST NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Much like getting in the wrong line at McDonalds, unknowing the person in front is ordering for three kid’s soccer teams, when all you wanted was the sinful Cinnamon Roll and a cup of coffee on Saturday morning.
But in this case resolution came swiftly – well relatively – in that the answer was delivered, again via email, less than one week later.
Cheerfully, and I must hand it to this civil servant no surliness here, and again via email the results were announced. For this tiny, one shot job that in normal times I probably would not have even bothered with the effort to prepare a bid, the government received not three, not 10, not even 20 replies. No there were, from all corners of the USA, 50 separate bids.
In departure from normal practice, this Contracting Officer displaying her inexperience, lack of proper training, or failure to be assimilated by the enthusiasm killing blog that is the civil service, posted not only the number of bids received, the winning company name, and the winning amount but rather ALL the names of ALL the companies that bid and ALL the amounts they bid and furthermore had nicely arranged them in a spreadsheet sorted from lowest to highest with the the lowest on top and the name of company further accentuated by the nomenclature “the Winner!” as if this cheerful addition would somehow sooth the 49 losers who, having no doubt in large measure arrived at the same point I had with similar reservations and anxieties.
The facts being bare the error was compounded by the fact that, on emailing the results the poor lass had not been educated in the difference between blind copy and courtesy copy on the email distribution line and therefore the contact emails were available and visible to one and all.
Never mind – to the chase.
50 bids received
Average Bid Amount $35,623.04
Median Bid Amount $29,850.00
The Standard Deviation which those who paid attention in Statistics Class or are hopeless nerds will recall gives a measure of the spread of the range of bids was $21,242.24.
For bonus credit advanced students could develop a reasonable approximation of what the range was but since I already have the answer and, if you are still reading this just want to get to the damn point, I will.
Top Bid: $108,150.00
And the winner was: $9,011.20
Moral of the story. For nine grand I doubt if it is possible to make money and to deliver the parts. For $108K it would take tremendous effort not to be able to complete the job and not realize enough profit to spend six weeks on Tahiti in a 5 star resort (double occupancy, modified American plan, airfare included).
That fifty companies are so desperate to chase this thing? Evidence that, as the title of the article referenced previously declares: America’s Industrial Base is indeed fading and fading fast.
I’ll leave it to the reader to draw conclusions as to whether the jobs lost, and the capabilities lost perhaps for good, are something to be concerned about as Goldman Sachs reported the average year end bonus to all its employees will be in excess of $443,000 each.