Thursday, September 30, 2010

PaleoWage is hiring!

PaleoWage--with offices all over the fucking place--is up to our ears in shitloads of work. We need shovelbums and we need em bad.  Per diem is provided for project locations more than 50 miles from PaleoWest offices, which of course you wont get cause we got fuckin offices everywhere. Well, if you do get per diem, it's cause your workin on remote projects that will be operated out of field camps, so no lodging for you. Bachelors degrees or better, field school completion, and prior experience are preferred for all positions. Service Contract Act wages do not apply. Please email interest, locations of availability, and resumes to

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

PaleoWage at it agin (NOT)

The boss man accidentally left an award notification breakdown on the mimeograph last week for a recent award on a survey job in the SW. Well, PaleoWage did not make the cut; it went to the next-lowest contractor -- EnviroMismanagment Inc. But, here's a few schnippets of what the agency had to say about PaleoWage. It's fitting, and about time a CO saw through the bullshit:

                                                           "Very Agressive Price"

                                    "Proposal provided little detail"

      "Price is so agressive as to seem dubious compared to other contractor's proposals"

                                                                                 "Price is by far the lowest of all vendors."

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Soluntion to Low-balling? Let's Get the Feds to shift CRM contrcats from Low-Bid (aka Best Value) to QBS

Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, congress anticipated that lowest cost isnt always best, that's why they created the Brooks Act of 1972. The act requires the feds to select based on a bidder's competency, qualifications and experience (Quality Based Selection). Price in negotiated only after qualified bidders are identified.

Read more about this at the wikipedia article, but here's the takeaway: "lowest cost is widely recognized as the poorest criterion for service selection when quality and professional creativity are sought. An apt analogy from outside of the construction arena often cited is in the area of medical care: Nobody willingly chooses a surgeon based upon a doctor's willingness to perform an operation most cheaply"

CRM contracts should be QBS, not low bid.

Now, how do we get the Feds to change?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Overhead, Fee, and Multipliers...

Ever hear the bosses discuss the "multiplier?" simply, its your base salary by hour multiplied by the overhead and fee rates. For instance, a 2.35 multiplier would be your wage (100%) with an additional overhead of 125% of your wage plus a fee (profit) of 10% of your wage.

How do they come up with that overhead multiplier anyway?


No, seriously, here are some things that can be considered overhead expenditures:

Fringe Benefits for employees, including payroll taxes, vacation, health insurance contribution, unemployment taxes, 401k contributions, oh and BONUSES and INCENTIVES (ever get those? corporate officers do, often it is their method of pay). Typically, these fringe benefits constitute 30-50% of overhead. Keep these low (like don't pay insurance or benefits) and your overhead will be really competitive.

The rest of overhead may include office administrative staff (oh, that includes salary for admin and often owners), rent, office supplies, motor pool and equipment, other capital purchases, company parties, client entertainment fees, consultant fees, memberships, professional organization fees, depreciation of assets, and other unreimbursed items like hotel rooms, miles driven, postage sent, etc. Keep these costs low and overhead can hover in the under-100% range. Keep the fringe and other overhead low? 50-60% overhead would not be out of the question.

Given today's lowballing environment (strike that...."best value"), an overhead of between 60% and 90% is the only way for a firm to be competitive.

Work for the lowballers? Then you know how they keep that overhead low. Like drive your own car or the dilapidated 1987 bronco? Ancient copiers? Work in an "old house" instead of a proper office? Or is the office falling apart? Shitty computers? No benefits? No sick time? No vacation?

shall I go on?

Paleowage Labs 2: How to pull of a $15/acre survey...

I heard recently that a large survey somewhere in the deserts of Southern Arizona was awarded to a firm for a cost of $15 per acre. Seems low to me...and fishy. Using the same fictitious company previously cited on the blog -- you know, the one with 90% overhead that pays service contract act wages and benefits -- here is a scenario where a company could actually pull off a $15/acre price, assuming a 2,000 acre survey with very low archaeological site density:

PI PD CC Tech Graphics Clerical
Hourly  $    29.00  $    21.00  $   17.00  $   15.00  $   21.00  $   12.00
Overhead 90.00% 90.00% 90.00% 90.00% 90.00% 90.00%
Fee 10.00% 10.00% 10.00% 10.00% 10.00% 10.00%
Billing Rate $60.61 $43.89 $35.53 $31.35 $43.89 $25.08

Administration (Permitting, Meetings) 2 4 0 0 0 0
Prefield Research 0 8 0 0 0 0
Fieldwork Travel 0 0 0 0 0 0
Fieldwork Survey 0 128 128 128 0 0
Fieldwork Recording 0 0 0 0 0 0
Document Preparation 4 128 0 0 0 0
Graphics 0 0 0 0 40 0
Compliance 0 0 40 0 0 0
Labor Hours 6 268 168 128 40 0
Labor Cost $23,863.62

Vehicle Mileage 1 vehicle 2000 miles at $0.55 per mile =  $1,100.00
Lodging 12 nights 3 rooms at $60.00 night = $2,160.00
Per Diem 16 days 3 crew at $30.00 day = $1,440.00
Research Fees $35.00 /sq.mi 8 miles =

Compliance Fees 16 days 3 crew at $20.00 day = $960.00
Reproduction 2000 pages at $0.10 per page =

Other Costs $6,140.00

Total Cost $30,003.62

Cost Per Acre $15.00

At first glance, seems to check out. Notice a few things missing?

Like travel time? I assumed for this model that the project is about 3 hours away from the office, but I couldn't afford to pay it and keep the $15/acre. So, the 3-person crew gets no pay to drive to and from the project area. Unless, I lowered wages but that would be against the intent of the Service Contract Act..

What else? Site recording you say? Well, I assumed that there would be FEW (IF ANY) SITES (of course, what else would I assume?), so the industry standard 40 acres per person per day was all that was used to derive field effort. Of course, if there were any more than just a few sites, we would be heading for MOD TOWN!!!! PARTAY!

Is that 128 hours adequate for report writing? Another industry "standard," most often used by the Feds in estimating effort is that field director and write-up time are one-to-one. Ok, so if few sites were found, maybe I could pull this off...

As PI and part owner of this company, my profit is built into the fee and probably overhead too, so I'm only mildly worried about losing money (or, more accurately not making enough profit). But what if? Well, if I find too many sites I have an open pass for a Mod, since I've clearly indicated my assumptions with the bid offer (I did remember to do that, didn't I?). Maybe I should play it safe...keep that hotel and per diem money? Why not, it's nice this time of year, they can camp (oh, I hate camping, but they love it, wont mind a bit). Oh, I don't have to pay those research fees, I'll just use the on-line GIS thingamajiggy. No need to read those prior reports.

Oh, I can always pay them less...and no benefits! The Feds have no way of checking. Lets see what that would do to the bottom line. Eliminating just those things brings the bottom line to $20,532.10 or $10.27/acre. NICE! That's almost an extra $10,000 in my pocket. Woo Hoo.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

PaleoWage Labs #1 Dissection of a Contract

OK -- hypothetically speaking --a certain CRM firm actually pays Service Contract Act Wages previously reported on this blog. Here's how they may have arrived at their applicable GSA rates (taken from one contractor also previously reported):

          Wage      OH       Fee        Rate
        Salary       Profit         Overhead
$15.2189.00%10.00%$31.62   crew$30,420.00$5,749.38$27,073.80
$17.0090.00%10.00%$35.53   chief$34,000.00$6,460.00$30,600.00
$21.8296.00%10.00%$47.04    director$43,640.00$8,553.44$41,894.40
$29.0096.00%10.00%$62.52    PI$58,000.00$11,368.00$55,680.00

The OH is overhead -- the cost of doing business, paying for rent and equipment, benefits and insurance, oh, and corporate officer compensation. This firm checks out with an overhead rate hovering around 90%, so for every dollar paid in salary it costs 90 cents to keep the plant running. The fee is profit and 10% is a fairly standard expectation.

Think that PI actually only makes $58,000 a year? What if said PI was also an owner of the company? In that case, they would be entitled to officer compensations (a component of the overhead) as well as their cut of the profit. What would those numbers look like? Well, assuming a staff of 15 similar positions worked full time for one year, these would be the numbers:

Annual Billings : $5,301,585.30
Annual Overhead Billed: $2,328,723.00 (includes officer compensations, estimated here as 20% = $465,744.60 divided amongst 3 officers = $155,248.20 each)

Annual Profits Earned: $481,962.30 (again split amongst 3 officers = $160,654.10)

So, that PI/business partner earned an annual income of $373,902.30.

Not bad for Archaeology. Sad part is that this 6-figure salary was earned on the back of less-than-$50,000/year employees. This dissection doesn't take into account the quality of fieldwork...that's next time!

All about "BEST VALUE"

What the hell does "Best Value" mean and how is it different from "Low Bid?"

Well, the intention, when W changed the Feds focus from lowest cost to best value was to take quality into account. In other words, fed buyers (aka contracting officers) do not have to select the lowest price. It's also supposed to provide some assurance to the vendor that they can sell something without being low-balled.

According to FedMarket, the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs for short) give COs flexibility and considerable latitude in making a purchasing decision (they're some pretty powerful peeps). Under FAR, the term "best value" means the expected outcome of an acquisition provides the greatest overall benefit in response to the requirement. In short, the rules give contracting officers the latitude to go with a higher price based on best value considerations, with no restrictions on what best value considerations have to be. Anything can be considered a best value factor as long as it makes sense and has cost and performance implications. Of course, the government holds all of the cards and can do just about anything it wants in making an award as long as it appears to be cost effective and in the best interests of the taxpayer.

Best value procurements are supposed to announce that the technical evaluation factors, collectively, are more important than price. According to Michael Payne, the award to a higher priced proposal must balance cost against the best interest of the Government. “The perceived benefits of the higher priced proposal shall merit the additional cost" Sounds good? It's especially good for archeology, where shoddy work equals irrevocable loss of information. Not so fast...the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has held that price cannot be ignored simply because it is to be given less weight than the technical factors, and the Court has also stated an evaluation that fails to give price its due consideration is inconsistent with Federal contracting laws and cannot serve as a reasonable basis for an award. 

So much for "best value."

Instead, here's what we've wound up with:

"Best value will be determined by proposals that are deemed technically acceptable and present the lowest cost to the Government."

In action, what this means is the contracting officer sorts proposals by price, delivers the lowest priced one to the technical representative, and asks "is this proposal 'technically acceptable' or not." If it is, they get the award.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The more you know 3: The McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act

You can read all about the Fed's perception of fair wages at: Short story -- the Dept of Labor generates a Register of Wage Determinations that are contract specific and list the minimum wage that a worker has to be paid for certain contracted positions including Archaeologist. In a recent wage determination for Greenlee County the archaeological wage determinations are:

Archaeological Technician I - $15.21/hour
Archaeological Technician II - $17.00/hour
Archaeological Technician III - $21.82/hour

If you are a tech or crew chief, do you get paid that much?

On top of that, these occupations are to receive additional benefits: $606.67/month for health and welfare and a minimum of 10 paid holidays per year. Oh yeah, and overtime over 40 hours of work too.

Get that too?

So, here's the catch, the loophole if you will....

The 1965 law intended to set living wages for a broad list of occupations. This act, as well as the Fair Labor Standards Act, both viewed as fundamentally anti-business, were significantly weakened in the 80s and 90s. The most damaging to field archaeologists was the definition of an exempt employee. Adapted from DOL's website:

Professionally exempt work means work which is predominantly intellectual, requires specialized education, and involves the exercise of discretion and judgment. Professionally exempt workers must have education beyond high school, and usually beyond college, in fields that are distinguished from (more "academic" than) the mechanical arts or skilled trades. Advanced degrees are the most common measure of this, but are not absolutely necessary if an employee has attained a similar level of advanced education through other means (and perform essentially the same kind of work as similar employees who do have advanced degrees).

When was the last time you saw a job ad that didn't ask that you have a Bachelor's in Anthropology or similar? Guess what - AS AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIELD TECH YOU ARE EXEMPT FROM FEDERAL LABOR RULES!!!!

So the recent round of stimulus has tried to enforce these (toothless) laws. Some companies even advertise that they pay these higher-than-industry-standard rates for field projects, just to convince the Feds they are playing along. But, since contracts are exclusively best value (aka low bid) and firm-fixed price, the Gov't never knows if you are getting paid what the boss says you are.

How much do you get paid? Get benefits? Overtime? Days off? Minimum of $15.21 per hour?

In future posts we'll try to dissect some published hourly GSA rates to find out how much companies pay you, how much they spend on overhead costs, and how much they put in the bank... stay tuned

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

CRM Confidential: Published GSA Rates for Archaeological Contrcators in the Southwest

Ok, part 2 of the "more you know" series:

(Sorry y'all for the broken links. they should be fixed now)

Ever wonder what CRM companies charge the government for services? Ever wonder how much your company gets paid versus what they pay you? Some of this info is public information available for GSA registered contrcators at A few CRM firms and their rate catalogs:



Ecosystem Mgt:








Eco Plan:

Tierra RW:

Larger engineering-type corporations not included here. Peruse the GSA website and add your own to this list!

How much can you survey an acre of land for????

Ok Boys and Girls, about this time last year a bunch of Southwest Archaeology firms submitted proposals for an Indefinite Quality/Indefinite Quantity contract for Arch surveys throughout the Forest Service Region 3 -- AZ, NM, and a bunch of little schnippets of OK and TX. The 5 awards -- public info -- went to for the lowest prices:

PaleoWest: $19.33/acre
Northland Research: $26/acre
Envirosystems Research: $17.80/acre
4-Corners: $21.22/acre
and Dykeman-Roebuck: $23/acre

Can YOU survey anything for $17.80/acre? If so, do you get paid a living wage, travel time, per diem, lodging? Leave a comment...