In the 1970's, the US Navy operated a number of Data Processing Service Centers (DPSC) throughout the world. Each center provided computing expertise to the naval commands located in its immediate geographic area. Each center operated autonomously. As a result, each DPSC operated various hardware (IBM, Burroughs, Univac, National Cash Register Company (NCR), Control Data Corporation (CDC), and Honeywell, collectively named "IBM and the BUNCH"). Almost all of the programs, written for client commands, were written in COBOL.

In 1975, the Navy decided to standardize the hardware and software across all of the DPSCs. To that end, the Navy issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) to find a contractor to whom to award the work. The RFP was unusual in that it was issued as a preliminary RFP, soliciting contractor comments regarding the RFP's contents. Vendor comments would be evaluated and possibly included in a final RFP that would be used to make the award.

As with most, the company for whom I worked operated as a hierarchy, headed by the CEO with subordinate Group Presidents with, in turn, subordinate Division Presidents with, in turn, subordinate Center Directors. I was approached by the center director for the Washington DC Navy Operations Center (NOC) to assist in providing a response to the preliminary RFP. There were a couple of problems. First, the group president and the division president were one and the same person. He had a simple rule regarding a bid/no decision: three attempts to win a bid decision were all that were allowed. Unfortunately, the NOC had already used two attempts. The second problem was that the RFP stated that the decision regarding the target hardware had not yet been made. That, in itself, was problematic to both the the group/division president (hereafter "president") as well as to me.

I was asked to first get a bid decision.

I had been writing text parsers and was able to convince myself that if all COBOL programs were rewritten to target the Univac dialect of COBOL, then a parser could be written to convert the code to the Navy's final machine choice. The choice of Univac was deliberate. My employer had a long and successful history of teaming with Univac (starting in the early 1960's when the company's Vice President wrote a Univac operating system and the first successful Univac FORTRAN compiler). So I knew that the president would be intimately familiar with the Univac machine.

In the preliminary RFP, the Navy had proposed using a firm fixed price (FFP) scheme, lumping all of the COBOL programs together. Being an expert COBOL programmer, I knew that we could significantly reduce the number of lines of code that would fall under a FFP and increase the number of lines of code that would fall under a time and material (T&M) price scheme. The trick was to specify that programs that contained certain statements (COMPUTE, ENTER, etc.) would move from FFP to T&M. I prepared a candidate list, adding certain statements (like GOTO) that I knew the president would remove. I believed that by participating by removing such statements, he would be more amenable to making a bid decision.

I prepared a number of slides. The bid/no bid decision meeting came to order with the president presiding. After some preliminary discussions, the NOC Director introduced me. I explained the rationale for coding to the Univac machine and then converting to the Navy's machine choice. I also described the concept of proposing to the Navy that certain statements would move a program from FFP to T&M and estimated that about 75% of the programs would so move. When I presented my list, the president objected to including the GOTO in the list. Most of the others he accepted.

We were three quarters of the way through my presentation when I realized that the president was nodding. I rapidly concluded and sat down. The NOC Director asked the president his decision. Snapping out of his lethargy, he replied "bid."

I was then tasked to respond to the Navy's request to provide input to the RFP.

I drafted a letter for the president to sign that presented the list of COBOL statements that would cause a program to move from FFP to T&M. The Navy accepted the list and modified the final RFP to reflect the list.

My company won the work. Better yet, the Navy decided on Univac equipment.

What the Navy had estimated to be a $6 million award turned out to be a $19 million project. I think that the reason was the number of programs that moved from FFP to T&M pricing.