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Posted by on Oct 30, 2015

COR Competencies: The Art of Working Smarter, Not Harder for the Contracting Officer’s Representative

COR Competencies: The Art of Working Smarter, Not Harder for the Contracting Officer’s Representative

Mature lady in businessBeing a Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) is one of the hardest jobs in Federal government contracting. As a COR, you not only have to be knowledgeable of the technical aspects of the requirement – you also have to be able to interpret the language of the contract. Not only must you have a thorough understanding of the government’s requirements – you must also be able to discern whether the contractor’s performance will deliver those requirements.  Moreover, while you are often the most aware of everything going on with the contract, you typically don’t possess the authority to make decisions about anything regarding the contract.

As a COR, you may feel empowered, yet powerless at the same time, in a position that is often, let’s face it … an additional duty. In the face of such contradictions, the best solution is unfortunately an oft-used cliché: “Work smarter, not harder.”

I know. You’ve heard this phrase many times throughout your life. You’ve most likely even used it. Yet, did you know this phrase was coined in the 1930’s by an industrial engineer named Allan “Mogy” Mogensen?

Mogy was the father of work simplification, and he believed in empowering the overseers of processes. Those who ensure that the work required is being performed in the most efficient manner, and in accordance with the required specifications. He called such individuals the “treasured resources” in continuous improvement. Mogy believed in the power of what the government contracting community calls CORs!

As a COR, you are the treasured resource on the acquisition team. As the individual with the most knowledge of the actual requirement, an understanding of the contract language, and an awareness of the day-to-day situation, you are the most vital factor to the successful performance of the contract. For that reason, it is important that you are always improving your skills. By continuously improving your skills, you will be better equipped to determine the best way to work smarter, not harder. I like to think of it as developing COR competencies. Apparently, so does the Federal Acquisition Institute and the Department of Defense, as they have developed guidelines for the development of basic COR competencies based on a COR’s experience level and the type of project the COR is assigned to oversee.

So how do you develop these COR competencies?

To answer that question, we need only look to the contract lifecycle. There are three (3) phases in the contract lifecycle: (1) preaward; (2) award; and (3) postaward; and, at each phase, a different set of skills is required of the COR.

During preaward, it is important for the COR to understand how to: (1) conduct market research; (2) develop an independent government cost estimate; and (3) write performance work statements. Being proficient in these three areas will enable you to develop and draft requirements that require less oversight in the later stages. Preaward skills are the first step in working smarter, not harder!

As we progress along the contract lifecycle past preaward, we come to the award stage, where it is important for the COR to have an understanding of the following: (1) cost and price analysis; (2) source selections; and (3) best value tradeoffs. These skills allow you to assist the contracting officer in selecting the best contractor for your requirement. Having an awesome contractor can significantly decrease the amount of effort required of you after award!

Finally, once the award is made, you enter the postaward stage, where monitoring and compliance are crucial. This where the bulk of your duties as a COR come into play. Depending on the type of contracting you are working on, you may need to understand how to do one or more of the following: (1) administer cost-reimbursement contracts; (2) make changes to the contract; (3) process contract claims, or construction claims; (4) ensure compliance with Service Contract Labor Statutes; or (5) place task orders and delivery orders. But, most importantly, you must be able to evaluate the contractor’s performance. As the contracting officer’s eyes and ears on the ground, the success of the contract depends highly on your ability to ensure the contractor’s performance is in accordance with the contract requirements.

As a COR, you are the treasured resource on the acquisition team, and as such, it is important that you continuously develop your COR competencies. While his best known quote was the cliché we often hear, Mogy was also quoted as saying: “The person doing the job knows far more than anyone else as to the best way of doing that job, and therefore is the one person best fitted to improve it.”

No one knows the work of the COR better than you do. After all, it’s your job; and, it’s one of the hardest ones out there. But by improving yourself, you can simplify the entire contracting process, making your job, and everyone else’s, that much easier. That’s what Mogy meant back in the 1930s when he said to “work smarter, not harder.” And, it means as much for you as a COR today, as it did for Mogy’s workers back then!


  1. This is very timely and crucial. I appreciated this article very much. I was first a COR in 1993. I had no idea what I was doing. I’m sure I made countless mistakes. I performed COR duties for more than a year before I was formally trained and certified. It was during training I learned that I never should have been working on that procurement since I didn’t have a COR appointment letter. Half the class chimed in that they too didn’t have an appointment letter. The class included students from various agencies, so it appeared that it was a problem throughout the government.

    I eventually got my appointment letter, as I am sure the others did too, but its no wonder there were so many problems with government contracts through the years. Many CORs don’t (at least they didn’t then) get the proper training up front, and they don’t know what it is they don’t. The FAR is the COR bible, and I never heard of the FAR for a long time until after I began managing my first contract. They eventually got it right and only assigned certified employees on contracts, but only a handful of us were in my division, so we were overused.

    I haven’t been proactively involved in contract work in the last 10 years, but I guess things have gotten better, as indicated by this wonderful article. These are great core competencies. A fully trained and engaged COR is a consummate professional, and the skills and competencies match those of some of the greatest CEOs in my opinion.

    However, there is still a disconnect between the COR and his or her executive leadership. I vowed that if I became a senior executive, I’d keep this in mind. The work of a COR is so very essential yet thankless at the same time – a job that is a collateral duty and often becomes equally or more important than the job they were hired to perform.

    • Hi Will,
      Thank you for your response! Glad you enjoyed it! I’ve met many CORs who, like yourself, didn’t receive training until months after they had been on the job. In my opinion, the duties of the COR begin on Day 1 of the job, so training should be a prerequisite to being assigned the role.
      I also agree with you in that there needs to be better connection between the COR and the executive leadership/management in their “home office”. Being an additional duty, the role of the COR is likely to receive less attention from management than the primary duties contributing to the COR’s “home office” operations. I believe one way of bridging that divide would be for the COR to provide regular updates to the “home office” management. Keeping management abreast of major milestones in the contract would ensure that the first time they hear about it isn’t when something goes wrong. It would also keep the role of the COR and the impact of the contract to organization’s operations on top of their mind.

  2. What is a solid GS grade level for a COR level III with several multi-million dollar service contracts?

    • Thanks for the question, Will. Here’s a response from Vi Zenone, our Product Management Director for Acquisition & Contracting:

      The duties performed as a COR are in addition to an individual’s responsibilities at a particular GS level. While dollar value of contracts could contribute to the GS classification, more importantly, the complexity of contract should be considered. It is reasonable to estimate that CORs could be in the GS-11 to GS-14, or possibly GS-15, if the contract is complex and critical to the mission.

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