You pride yourself on working well and getting along with everyone, at least professionally. However, there is an auditor that seems to get under your skin. What do you do? Well, although there may not be a “magic bullet” to all make it better. I propose the following to get you through the situation at hand:
Watch Your Emotions and Keep Them in Check
This may not be easy. In my career, I had “hardnosed” or “intense” auditors whom I worked with and who worked for me. It was even a desirable trait among some to “be tough to those you audited.” But letting your emotions take over may be something you later regret. For example, giving the auditor a piece of your mind and venting to the auditor all that is wrong with their audit or request for information may not go well with the contracting officer in either awarding your company a contract or during contract administration. The auditor and their audit generally are backed by the audit clause, FAR 52.215-2, Audit and Records-Negotiation, which provides for authorized representatives of the contracting officer… shall have the right to examine and audit all records and other evidence sufficient to reflect all costs properly claimed to have been incurred or anticipated to be incurred directly or indirectly in the performance of this contract….” When I was a new Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) audit supervisor, I attended one meeting where the auditee’s CFO pounded a large conference table to get his way. Now I do not recommend responding in kind and providing a similar response, and I would recommend taking a break before giving in to emotions and words that cannot be taken back.
This goes hand-in-hand with keeping your emotions in check. Always be professional with those you are in business with, especially your government client and its representatives. That does not mean you acquiesce with the auditor’s findings but remain in an unemotional state where you can make clear decisions even if you “agree to disagree” with the auditor’s findings. In the e-book, Dealing with Difficult People (Harvard Business Review Emotional Intelligence Series), The Secret to Dealing with Difficult People: It’s About You, Tony Schwartz states that using a reverse lens of viewing the world through the lens of the person triggering you. In this case, the auditor may view the situation differently than you and reference, “Where is my responsibility in all this?” In a way, it is empathy. As you do this, you may get a different response. If the relationship is not professional at some point, perhaps acknowledge that and try clearing the air by asking, “I know we may not have seen eye-to-eye on this audit, but putting that aside, how can we move forward? That may provide you both an opportunity to reset the professional working relationship.
Be Prepared and Do Your Homework
DCAA contract auditors have a defined audit scope in what they are testing and providing an audit opinion to the contracting officer for use in awarding, administering, and closing contracts. The master audit programs can be found here on the DCAA public website. I recommend obtaining the DCAA master audit program to gain background on what the auditor will request for information and why. The master audit program is a good source for understanding the purpose of the audit. It will provide references such as the federal acquisition regulation (FAR) and its supplements and what the auditor will consider in providing their audit opinion. On the first page, the DCAA master audit programs will state the audit purpose and scope with applicable contractual and FAR references. From this, you can obtain an understanding of the audit, and if the auditor gets off track, you can ask why the auditor is departing from the master audit program.
Focus on the Objective
The objective of an audit, like an initial proposal audit, is for the auditor to review and opine on the proposed costs for compliance with FAR Part 15 (Contracting by Negotiation) and FAR Part 31 (Contract Cost Principles and Procedures) so the contracting officer can award your company a contract or more business. So, keep your mind on the objective that the audit leads to more business for your company. The contracting officer has the responsibility to award a government contract at a “fair and reasonable” price in accordance with FAR Part 15.402 (Pricing Policy). Still, the objective is a good thing for you, more business for you and your company.
Know that the DCAA Auditor May Feel They are Virtuous
The auditor that may be getting under your skin may think that by doing that, they are doing a good job by “hitting heads” with you and having a contentious working relationship. They may have management that emphasizes audit findings as a measure of “how good an auditor they are.” So, with this in mind, they may be making a contentious working relationship and thinking this is good or productive and will lead to audit findings. I recommend that you may try your best to try to turn this thought process and improve the working relationship since the same auditor may do another audit at your company, and you may be seeing them again.
Again, look forward to the result: more business for you and your company. Audits are necessary for the life cycle of a contract which goes from contract pricing through contract administration and eventual contract closing. So, with that business comes the work of getting the contract through the conclusion of the contract, but the result is beneficial to both the Government in getting the goods and services they need and for you and your company through increased sales and profit.
Keeping these suggestions in mind may make the audit less stressful, less emotional, and better for you and the auditor. Note that this does not have to be a test of how well you work with others. But by overcoming the challenges of working with difficult situations, you will be better the next time, even when presented with what initially may look like an impossible situation, such as a difficult auditor.
Redstone GCI assists contractors throughout the U.S. and internationally with understanding the Government’s expectations and supporting contractors with establishing and revising provisional billing rates and preparing adjustment vouchers. We would be happy to be part of your team.