Being a contracting officer (CO) is a unique position. I’ve been asked over the years to describe what it’s like to be a CO. While this post is not going to align with every other CO’s perspective, of course, it’s my attempt to help people understand why I enjoyed it so much and why I’ve dedicated my post-government professional efforts to helping people better understand the role of the CO.

There are lots of adjectives to describe being a CO. I’ve answered this question many different ways over the years. It was fascinating, interesting, fulfilling, exciting, eye-opening, challenging, frustrating, infuriating, rewarding, ever-changing and chock full of opportunity (I could go on, but you get the idea).  Actually, when I finished my answer sometimes, the person would follow up with, “Why would you do that? It sounds exhausting.”

Well, as I prepared this blog post, I came up with a huge list of reasons that greatly outpaced the ‘blog-sized’ content I was targeting. So, I decided to focus on one reason at a time. You’ll see more posts on why I liked being a CO, but I’ll limit myself to one reason per post. Here’s my first one:

Reason 1: You get to solve puzzles

If you like solving puzzles (and I really do), then being a CO is for you. The sheer volume of options available to the CO is interesting all by itself. For example, if a CO needs to buy engineering support services, he/she can use a GSA schedule, a limited competition, a small business competition, a sole source contract (assuming it’s appropriate), simplified acquisition procedures, a sealed bid, a two-step sealed bid, a lowest price technically acceptable evaluation approach, a trade-off evaluation approach, compete a multiple award or single award IDIQ contract, or even award a Task Order against existing contracts such as a GWAC or another agency’s IDIQ contract under the Economy Act. Just for starters.

Then there are the external factors such as the size of the requirement, the length of the contract needed, the amount of competition, the customer’s budget, how urgent the requirement is, how much bandwidth the acquisition team has to manage the contract after award (i.e. Award Fee boards…), how many people will review it, and more.

Yup, that is a lot of variables. But that’s the point. The CO is looking for the path of least resistance to put all the ‘right’ variables together to execute the purchase for their customer. That is the puzzle they are putting together. On one hand, the CO may just do what they’ve always done to buy something they’ve always bought (why change what works?). On the other hand, the requirement may be totally new, or new enough that it requires the team to build the acquisition plan based on a ‘blank slate’. In my career I’ve had both extremes and I had lots of acquisitions that were somewhere in between.

Solving puzzles was one of the many reasons I enjoyed being a CO.

If you’re a CO reading this, please let me know what your reasons are. For more on this topic, check out the Contracting Officer Podcast ( In particular, you may find the episode on “What is a CO?” interesting.