The record snow that immobilized much of the East Coast during February was a reminder that suppliers must adapt to circumstances beyond their control, especially when satisfying the precise delivery requirements of the United States Government Printing Office (GPO). At the height of the storms, not only could some not make deliveries, communication with key contacts was limited.
"In these type situations, common sense should prevail because there are no specific GPO guidelines regarding deliveries during inclement weather," said Deborah Snider, senior vice president of e-LYNXX Corporation and its Government Print Management division. "GPO does acknowledge 'acts of God' as a plausible reason for a delivery delay. That's the only instance where a delay is acceptable. GPO does not accept equipment failure, a key employee being out or other operational setbacks as reasons to justify a delivery delay."
The best thing that a print supplier can do if a natural disaster makes it impossible to make a delivery is to make every effort to get in touch with the government contract administrator, whose job may be sitting in the print plant with four feet of snow outside and area highways closed. The contract administrator is the person with whom the supplier should be having routine communications after a GPO print job is awarded to your firm. This person coordinates the details with the winning print supplier. "Try to call the contract administrator," Snider advised. "You should have the administrator's office and cell phone numbers in your cell phone."
Do not leave anything to chance or just assume that because of inclement weather delaying a GOP shipment will be okay. GPO contract administrators keep careful track of each project's on-time delivery requirements and watch each printer's delivery compliance across all awarded projects. "If you cannot get in touch by phone, send an e-mail to explain the circumstances, to coordinate revised shipping plans and to document your circumstances," Snider said. "Also, alert and seek the support of government print management experts who have a history of successfully assisting their clients with resolving tough issues."
The supplier must take the initiative and keep trying to get in touch. It is incumbent upon the GPO print supplier to make sure government records are clear and accurate, especially where there is a change. The GPO assumes no responsibility to unilaterally update records unless properly documented by the print supplier or its representative print management firm. Keeping the GPO contract administrator informed is fundamental to establishing and maintaining a positive relationship. Proactive follow-through is essential to ensure that there are no misunderstandings and that no details were missed or incorrectly reported or recorded.
Once a revised schedule has been established, proof of delivery is an important aspect of recordkeeping. Not having appropriate proof of delivery can be a major stumbling block. All shipments made for GPO must be traceable, meaning that GPO requires documentation for the delivery of completed work. "Sounds simple enough, but as the saying goes the devil is in the details," noted Snider. "You have to know that if you send GPO work via the U. S. Postal Service, special forms must be completed that serve as your proof of delivery. Not all post offices understand this requirement or how to help you accomplish it. Also, if you are sending via FedEx, UPS or any other private sector small package carrier, proof of delivery always is required. If a job requires shipments to different destinations, each shipment must be traceable. Documentation is all important, and this is very different from invoicing for commercial accounts. In other words, when it comes to GPO, if you have no proof of shipment or delivery (depending on specification requirements), then you can expect no payment – regardless of whether you are certain in your heart of hearts that the government received the product."
The consequences of not following through, establishing clear communications and maintaining error-free records can be dire. While delaying a delivery because of weather conditions may be accommodated by GPO, there is no certainty, and this and other delays will go on the supplier's GPO permanent record, causing it to be labeled a non-compliant vendor. Being tagged by GPO as out-of-compliance is a major blemish and could result in the supplier not being awarded additional projects. All the while the commercial marketplace is ailing, and GPO awards $425 million in work annually to the private sector.