Survey U.S. Department of Defense contracts awarded by North Charleston's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic or to South Carolina companies over the past month (www.defense.gov/contracts, and a few trends pop off the screen.

Despite all the talk of sequestration and military budget cuts, the Pentagon is still spending a lot of money. According to a June 12 entry, three companies, including Fluor Intercontinental Inc. of Greenville, were awarded a $50 million “cost reimbursement/firm-fixed-price modification” to an existing billion-dollar contract for “civilian construction and related engineering and services to respond to natural disasters, humanitarian assistance, conflict or projects with similar characteristics.

Two days later, SPAWAR announced another contract awarded to three companies, including Mercom Inc. of Pawleys Island, that could be worth $820 million over the next five years. SPAWAR spokesman Lonnie Cowart said his agency is on track to spend about the same this fiscal year as last: $3.5 billion.

It can be difficult for a layperson to discern what the contracts are for. On one hand, a contract awarded to Greenville-based Lockheed Martin Logistic Services announced June 28 refers to engineering and manufacturing work for “presidential helicopter and executive transport programs.” But behold the murky scope of this contract awarded the same day to Science Applications International Corp. and Anderson-based Advanced Technology International: “The work to be performed provides for engineering services such as research, development, test and evaluation support, development of designs and concepts and prototypes, development of test plans, test data collection and analysis, project/program planning, project management, development and prototype of equipment/components with performance specifications and metrics for acquisition, preparation of technical reports and manuals, users training, requirement and acquisition documentation, administrative support, and assessment and analytical services.”

Cowart said individual task orders within a contract are more “definitized” but that those details are not public and may only be learned through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Most companies that bid for contracts — and the same big names show up often — seem to win at least a share of the work. Cowart explained that when multiple companies qualify for a contract, they compete again for each task order. But in many instances, there's only one or two companies in the competitor pool.

SAIC, one of those big-name frequent awardees, and Advanced Technology were the only two companies to bid on their $45 million contract. The aforementioned Lockheed contract was not competitively procured, and U.S. Foods of Lexington was the only bidder for a recently announced $64 million contract for “prime food and beverage support.”