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AMERICAN SYSTEMS’ Joe Kopfman: Being compliant in 2009 is essential

Joe Kopfman is vice president of contracts and administration for AMERICAN SYSTEMS. Here’s his take on the current contracts environment:

ExecutiveBiz: Lots going on at AMERICAN SYSTEMS these days. What's next on the compliance front?

Joe Kopfman: A roll-out process is now underway; we will add a new community “” an ethics community “” to our intranet. That's where we'll post our compliance program. It's also where our employees will go to receive training, and where we'll track who's received that training. I'll tell you, you can have the right tone at the top and you can educate your executive management team fairly easily on the ethical culture you wish to maintain “” but reaching that single employee working offsite at a government facility, that's a challenge. These automated tools will allow us to reach everyone.

ExecutiveBiz: We're seeing a lot of discussion of inherently governmental. How is that discussion affecting your overall approach to new business strategy?

Joe Kopfman: I think the new push for insourcing is confusing. On one hand, it is very valid for the government to push to rebuild their critical skills; they definitely need to beef up their acquisition workforce. That's inherently governmental and the government should be hiring to improve and increase the size of their acquisition workforce. On the other hand, when the specific agency implementation guidance comes out, they seem to be based upon an arbitrary and inconsistent definition of inherently governmental. In fact, I am now seeing engineering being declared as inherently governmental by groups within the DOD.  Since when is systems engineering an inherently governmental function?

ExecutiveBiz: In the midst of this hazy definition how do you plan ahead?

Joe Kopfman: First of all, you have to stay informed of what's going on in the community. You have to be well-coordinated in-house, too.  For example, as soon as we learned how the DOD would implement insourcing, the Marine Corps, specifically, we shared the news in-house. We have a formal business development process; it's called a “step process.“ In that process, we debate everything about a new business opportunity, that's when issues like the potential for particular work to be insourced are laid on the table.

ExecutiveBiz: Turning to another hot button issue, price proposals. Any tips to navigate that process?

Joe Kopfman: Here's a tip I tell our team these days: We really need to have the pink, the red, the blue, and the gold team reviews on our price proposals — the same way we do on our technical proposals. That formal review cycle is just as crucial for cost proposals, and that's something we're now doing. We're seeing the benefit of that approach, too. Recently we bid a green initiative job. When we priced the work, I noticed during the price review, that we simply took a vendor's warranty and marked it up to what was going to be our price. Because we sat and discussed the warranty philosophy in great detail, we were able to offer a warranty price that was substantially lower.

ExecutiveBiz: What remains the most exciting part of your work as VP of Contracts and Administration?

Joe Kopfman: The administration part is where some of the more fun jobs are. For example I'm the head of our acquisition council; that's always been the favorite part of my job. I like the process of getting to know small companies and nurturing the relationship with an eye towards possibly merging at some point. I also enjoy weeding thorough the property put in play by the Investment Bankers.  I am a little frustrated we have not acquired a company this year but there are still four months remaining. We are doing pretty well with our organic growth this year; I would like to balance that out with an acquisition.

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