The Deadbeat Diaries
Unedited excerpts from the diaries of one small-business owner detailing his 23-month attempt to get final payments on a contract with the federal government
A small-business owner finishes a project for the federal government--and spends the next 23 months trying to get paid in full. Allen W. Shatto, founder of A&L Shatto, is shuffled from the "procuring contract officer" (PCO), who puts out the bids; to the "administering contract officer" (ACO), who checks invoices against original contracts; to the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), which audits the numbers; to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), which makes the final payment. Along the way he's in touch with the White House, the SBA's head, a congressman, and fund-raisers for Newt Gingrich. Here are unedited excerpts from his diaries.
4 Months Since Contract Completion. Small Business Owed $185,714 in Final Payments.
03 Feb 95 Left message on PCO contract specialist M. Wilkins's voice mail.
06 Feb 95 PCO C. Comaty calls. He will have to research. He asks me to send facts. (I fax details same day.) He will get back to me Thursday, 09 FEB 95. He suggests I also talk to Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization representative J. Rasmussen.
09 Feb 95 No call from Comaty.
10 Feb 95 I call Comaty. No answer. I call Wilkins and leave message on voice mail.
13 Feb 95 I call Comaty. No answer. I call Wilkins and leave voice mail. I call Rasmussen. No answer. I call Rasmussen later. Line busy.
14 Feb 95 I call Comaty. He will write letter to ACO recommending release. He commits to getting the letter out this week (by 17 FEB 95) and sending me a copy. I left message on Rasmussen's voice mail. I call ACO contract specialist Cheryl Thompson. She is no longer there. The contract has been transferred to Linda Hirsch. I ask to speak to Hirsch. She says Comaty should address letter to her. I call Comaty and leave Hirsch's address and phone number.
22 Feb 95 No letter is received. I call Comaty. No answer. I call Wilkins. He didn't write letter, so he has no knowledge on status. I call Rasmussen. Line busy. I call Rasmussen later. No answer. I call Hirsch to see if she has received a letter. She has not, but did have a phone call from someone at Aberdeen (the Army base that awarded the contract). She tells me she was wrong. She is not the ACO. So she told the person who called to address the letter to Gene Johnson. I ask to transfer to Johnson. He hasn't heard anything about this. I brief him. He will try to reach Comaty/Wilkins. I fax copies of the events to date to the PCO (Comaty), PCO's branch chief (R. Baker), and PCO director (J. Warrington). I get a call back from Baker. He will look into it and call me back. (No call.)
7 Months Since Contract Completion. Small Business Owed $185,714 in Final Payments.
26 Apr 95 I receive letter from Baker dated April 24, indicating he was told there was a meeting scheduled April 26 (the day the letter was received) between me, the Defense Contract Management Area Office (DCMAO), and DCAA to "resolve some areas of concern." No one on my staff knows anything about a meeting.
27 Apr 95 I call Baker to determine source of information on the meeting so I can follow up. He is not in. I begin to leave a message with secretary. He returns but says he's on his way to a meeting and will call back. (No call.) I fax a copy of letter to Johnson for him to read. I call Johnson. Line busy. I call Johnson later. No answer. I call Johnson at 2:45, and he is in but leaving for the day at 3:30. He says he read the letter and he never heard about a meeting either. He tries to call Wilkins while I'm on the line. The secretary tries to find Wilkins and return call. By 3:30 Johnson calls me back but has not heard from Wilkins, so he will try again "first thing in the morning" and call me back. I fax an update to Baker (PCO's branch chief) that the ACO never heard of the meeting in Baker's letter either. I suggest that I meet him in his office with Comaty (PCO) and Wilkins (PCO contract specialist) and we call Johnson (ACO) so that everyone can hear what's going on at the same time.
13 Months Since Contract Completion. Small Business Owed $185,714 in Final Payments.
06 Nov 95 First Commercial Bank tells us DFAS had erroneously electronically transferred our payment on three invoices to them despite our having checked and double-checked with DFAS to make sure payments would go to our account at NationsBank. First Commercial Bank rejected the invoices and returned them to DFAS.
07 Nov 95 We submit partial-payment invoices to ACO for $10,763 for release of fee while PCO is determining allowable costs.
16 Nov 95 We submit final payment for the DCAA audited amount on all remaining invoices, totaling $147,580 (except for the two delivery orders during the final six months of the contract, which were not audited by DCAA).
20 Nov 95 We receive $2,240.27 on invoices in paper check through the mail.
21 Nov 95 DCMAO's Kathleen Jackson calls. She is sending the $10,763 in partial-payment invoices to DFAS for payment. She cannot process the other final invoices without action by the PCO.
29 Nov 95 I call Wilkins. He had no new information. Indicated that he personally had no involvement, that Comaty and "our lady downstairs who handles closeouts" were working on it. But he committed to ask and call me back. I asked if I should be calling the other lady, but he said to let him ask. I also asked about the delivery order being held up for determination of fee, and he didn't recall anything about the action. I summarized.
08 Dec 95 Payments of $9,998 sent to the wrong bank again despite all assurances that the problem had been corrected last time. Fortunately, we had called the bank and asked them to hold the payments if they showed up there again. Then we paid to have them wired to the correct bank.
14 Dec 95 Kathleen Jackson sends letter to PCO's boss, asking for a response on our fourth invoice by January 6, 1996. She signs the letter as ACO although we have not been informed and the contract hasn't been modified to say that ACO has been transferred from Johnson to her.
15 Dec 95 Payment of invoice of 07 NOV 95 for $752 received by electronic transfer at the correct bank. (Finally!)
16 1/2 Months Since Contract Completion. Small Business Owed $172,724 in Final Payments.
12 Feb 96 Sent letter to White House for help.
16 Feb 96 I call PCO. Voice mail. Left message to call back. I call B.J. Koehler at SBA. Voice mail. Left message to call back. I send letter to ACO, requesting her support in getting our last six months audited. Leslie McGee of National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) calls on behalf of Newt Gingrich for $250 donation to support business. I ask if they are willing to help me get paid by the administration. She refers me to Cindy Wofford at NRCC. I call Wofford. Voice mail. Left message. ($1,815.07 is electronically transferred to our bank account.)
20 Feb 96 Wofford calls. National Republican Congressional Committee can do nothing. They are only a fund-raising organization. She refers me to Congressman Robert Ehrlich's office. Koehler calls from SBA. She was out of the office all last week. She has contacted the Edgewood SBA rep, who says problem is getting prior-year funds. She will try to reach PCO Comaty. She says if they can't find funds in prior years, they will have to come up with the money elsewhere because they owe us the money.
23 Feb 96 I call Baker, PCO supervisor. Not in. Left message to call back.
26 Feb 96 Baker calls. PCO Comaty is out of the office on a special project. They have identified "pots of money" to get us paid, but money is difficult. Normal methods have been tried. He is meeting with Chemical Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM) comptroller and will make a personal plea to expedite payment.
06 Mar 96 I call PCO Comaty. Voice mail. Left message to call back. I call Baker. He's on another line. Left message to call back. Baker calls. They met with the CBDCOM comptroller 9 a.m. that morning. They laid out everything on each delivery order. They will process a "Mod" on each delivery order to get us paid as each is completed. Still no absolute guarantee but looks good for processing this month and possibly as early as this week.
11 Mar 96 Receive letter from head of SBA, Phil Lader, dated 5 MAR 96, assuring me that they "continue to work diligently to get the matter resolved." He notes in handwriting in the margin, "I believe this should happen soon."
19 Months Since Contract Completion. Small Business Owed $170,909 in Final Payments.
26 Apr 96 I connect my PC with the on-line Government Finance Systems (COINS), as we have done for four years, to track the status of vouchers. An error message appears: "Data file not found. Contact System Administrator, 1-800-756-4529." I call and get voice mail telling me to wait for the next available representative. Next the phone starts ringing, but no one answers. I call back and get voice mail again, telling me all available reps are busy, please hold. I hold for 5 minutes. Molly answers and tells me the 800 number-switching system is incorrectly routing calls to her. She tells me to call 614-692-3131. The gentleman who answers tells me he handles general DSLOG info and transfers me to 800-453-9381. A woman there asks me what is in Block 15 of our 1556 Invoice Form. We don't use a 1556 Form; we were told by the government to use a Standard Form 1034, which we have been doing for four years. I tell her I do have a Government Office symbol, which I describe to her. She says I need to speak to the Capitol Division, 800-851-2130. Capitol Division tells me I'm in the wrong group and sends me to Chesapeake Division. I get voice mail. All available reps are busy, please hold. A person picks up and transfers me to my "representative." She finds our contract on her system but no vouchers. She says we are in the wrong system and starts to transfer me to the Capitol Division. I tell her I've already been there, and they sent me to her. She asks me to hold while she walks to the Capitol Division. She returns and tells me to speak to Judy Warner at 800-952-9869. She tells me there are no active vouchers in the system but cannot answer the original question of why the error message is coming up in COINS. She sends me to Joann Schweigert at 614-693-5631. She is not in but her voice mail refers me to 614-693-8934, where a recording tells me that number has been changed to 800-756-4529, WHICH IS WHERE I BEGAN!
02 May 96 I receive letter from the ACO office directing us to submit final invoices on three delivery orders that we owe the government ($1,218.02).
03 May 96 I call the ACO office and tell them we submitted the vouchers on 26 APR 96 and that our letters apparently have crossed in the mail. I am told that they have received them, disregard the letter, and they have already sent us a bill for the $1,218.02! I ask if any of our vouchers for payment have been sent to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service office in Columbus for payment. I am told that all of our vouchers are still in the ACO office, being processed on a first-come basis. I ask when our vouchers might be processed, and I am told, "Probably the middle of next week."
07 May 96 We receive bill from ACO for $1,218.02 to be paid by 20 MAY 96.
08 May 96 I call ACO Jackson. She's in a meeting. I ask for Jennifer, the point of contact given on the ACO letter. She is also in a meeting. I ask for someone to call me. Jennifer calls me. The vouchers are still in their office. Later I drop off prepaid FedEx envelope for the ACO to send the vouchers to DFAS Columbus for payment.
1O May 96 I call ACO to find out if vouchers have gone out. Jackson is off. She gave them to Maureen, who is also off. No one in the office can tell me if the vouchers have been mailed.
13 May 96 I call Maureen. She is out sick. I ask if anyone can tell me if the vouchers have been mailed. Joyce tells me they are on Kathleen Jackson's desk for signature and should go out today. I get Delivery Order 6 Modification 3 in the mail, changing the number of Modification 1 to 2; also Delivery Order 11 Modification 4, which changes the number of Modification 2 to 3.
15 May 96 I was on travel. Our staff accountant called ACO's office at my request. She is told that of the 16 vouchers, 9 were sent FedEx to DFAS Columbus 5 OCT 96; one is on the ACO's desk for signature, 3 are being held because their computer system is down and they cannot enter the DO modifications for them, and 3 are being held because they believe we haven't been paid as much previously as we say we were paid, and therefore they owe us more than is shown on the final vouchers.***
Shatto received $72,831.33 in May and $82,218.06 in June. He had called Bill Bogar at the DCAA in February 1996 to get a date for the required DCAA audit of the final six months of the contract but was unsuccessful. In the same month, he wrote a letter to Kathleen Jackson, the administering contract officer, requesting the DCAA audit but got no reply. On July 9, 1996, he called Congressman Ehrlich's office. As a result of a call from Ehrlich's office, the senior administrator at the DCAA called Shatto to set up a final audit. The auditor arrived at A&L Shatto on July 22 to begin the audit. The final audit was expected to be completed in September 1996.
23 Months Since Contract Completion. Small Business Owed $15,859.61 in Final Payments.
And so it goes...