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Both my parents left lucrative careers with Shell to give their kids a stab at the American dream. My dad worked as a civil engineer at Shell for 17 years and before he resigned, he was an offshore installation manager and oversaw approximately 225,000 barrels of oil passing through his facility daily. He invested his retirement funds into an engineering startup that he built in response to the subpar hydraulic lube oil flushing (akin to a car oil change, but for huge ships and barges) techniques and operations he’d witnessed over the years. The patented equipment he designed and built was state of the art – it was efficient and effective and it got the work done in a fraction of the time, for a fraction of the price and with 10 times better results.
In October 2012, my dad’s startup, Commissioning Solutions Global, and another business were awarded a five-year (one year, plus four optional) $100,000,000 contract with the US Navy that was set aside for small businesses. The bid process took almost two years and it was grueling. I worked for my dad at that time and remember the immense pressure we were under to bid on this life-changing opportunity the Navy had sought us out for. (For anyone who’s ever done government contracting, it is daunting.)
I also vividly remember the anxiety as day after day, long past the award deadline, we waited for a decision. Those days were dreary; it was just my dad and I in the office, strategizing and keeping hope alive in anticipation of this contract that had the potential to revive the business and change our lives. It finally came and upon request from the Navy we moved to San Diego to be 50 miles from the Navy base — but the work never came.
We soon learned that the large corporations who had been doing the work prior to the contract balked at the thought of losing all that money. They lobbied to ensure they would keep pilfering money from taxpayers. (They charge exorbitant fees to the government for abysmal work, and tons of Navy ships end up in the graveyard due to mismanagement.) So, while the Navy couldn’t retract the contract, they maintained the status quo under the guise of “indefinite delivery indefinite quantity.”
To note, the implied meaning of this contract clause is, if there is no work you can’t hold them accountable to the stipulated contract amount, but they’ve used this to justify illegal contracting practices.
Many small business owners, especially minorities, are victims of these immoral acts, but their voices are stifled by time, lack of money and just plain frustration. Ours isn’t an anomaly. We’ve seen numerous waste, corruption, bribery and abuse charges brought against government officials, and we are looking to bring attention to our plight.
My dad, believes strongly in justice and right or wrong, and is willing to sacrifice everything for it. He has taken this all the way up to the Supreme Court on his own (he is remarkable in that sense), but as a minority and a one-man team, the odds are stacked against him.
The idea of giving up something so your children can realize the American dream is beautifully optimistic and simultaneously poignant; it evokes this idealism that becomes fragmented and deteriorates in degrees. It irks me when people are quick to point to corruption in other countries when I’ve witnessed similar tendencies right here in America. The only difference is, one is blatant and the other covert. I prefer the former. The latter promotes ignorance until you veer off the ascribed path and have a crash course with reality, while the former equips the individual to manage expectations. Don’t get me wrong: this is my home and I love this country, I just mourn the loss of innocence.
As minorities, it’s so tough to stay above the fray when you are continuously marginalized. And honestly, it can be exhausting. May we have the grace to maintain our dignity and fortitude to keep hope alive.