Highlights From NCMA World Congress 2019

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Nearly 20,000 members strong, the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) is the world’s leading resource for professionals in the contract management field.

Each year NCMA holds their annual World Congress which is the nation’s premier training event for contract management, procurement, and acquisition professionals. Participants from both government and industry backgrounds gather to learn about critical issues challenging our industry.

This year’s World Congress was from 28-31 July 2019, when more than 2,500 contract management professionals from across the federal government, state and local government, private industry and education gathered in Boston, MA. This year’s theme was, “Shaping Acquisition: Modern, Adaptive, Connected.”

An engaging list of main stage speakers included Suzanne Vautrinot, president of Kilovolt Consulting Inc., who spoke about balancing risk with opportunity, as well as a Workforce Challenges panel consisting of several key acquisition leaders in the federal government. They offered their thoughts on innovative ways to make today’s workforce more flexible and nimbler and the use of enabling technologies such as AI and “workforce bots.”

Other mainstage sessions included a panel discussion on managing change and some of the emerging challenges facing government acquisition and a keynote by Stacy Cummings, Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Acquisition Enabler, US Dept of Defense. She emphasized the ultimate goal of DoD to modernize its acquisition process and introduced attendees to the Adaptive Acquisition Framework, a flexible acquisition process that is tailorable based on the operational need to have capability delivered.

A new innovation was the use of “Exchange Sessions,” which were informal discussions led by a moderator to focus in on a topic of interest to attendees. These exchange sessions were set in groups of 10-20 and allowed participants to share best practices and ask questions of each other regarding how to overcome a variety of acquisition challenges.

While the conference provided an opportunity to network and learn there was also an opportunity to celebrate NCMA’s 60th anniversary at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art with live music, dinner and an extraordinary view across Boston Harbor.

TAPE LLC’s SVP and Chief Operating Officer Ted Harrison moderated a panel at this year’s event entitled, “What do the 809 Panel Recommendations Mean for Small Business?” The Section 809 Panel has made several recommendations aimed at refocusing DOD’s small business program. While many have extolled the bold recommendations that would allow the government to purchase “readily available” items more like the purchasing department in private industry, still others have sounded the clarion call to stop what some perceive as the destruction of the DOD small business programs. This panel sought to find the truth in a discussion with representatives from the 809 Panel, DOD small business, and industry.

TAPE actively supports NCMA in several ways. TAPE COO Ted Harrison is a Board Director on NCMA’s National Board and TAPE CEO Louisa Jaffe is on NCMA’s Board of Advisors and has supported NCMA for many years. As well, Ted Harrison was the event chair for the annual Government Contract Management Symposium in December 2018 in Washington, DC.

You can read more about the event on the NCMA event page, or check out what’s planned for World Congress 2020.


Proposed Rule to Align the 8(a) BD and EDWOSB Program Requirements

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In a previous post we discussed the SBA’s proposed rule about the certification processes for women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) and economically disadvantaged women owned small businesses (EDWOSBs).

This proposed rule, posted in May 2019, also looks to make the economic disadvantage requirements for the 8(a) Business Development (BD) program consistent to the economic disadvantage requirements for women-owned firms seeking EDWOSB status. This proposed change would eliminate the distinction in the 8(a) BD program for initial entry into and continued eligibility for the program.

Under the current system, the economic disadvantage criteria for EDWOSBs are the same as the continuing eligibility criteria for the 8(a) BD program, however an entity that applies for EDWOSB and 8(a) status at the same time, might be found to be economically disadvantaged for EDWOSB purposes, but denied the eligibility for the 8(a) BD program based on not being economically disadvantaged.

The new rule looks to make economic disadvantage for the 8(a) BD program consistent to that of an entity seeking to qualify as economically disadvantaged for the EDWOSB program.

The SBA specifically asked for comments (comments were closed on July 15, 2019) on the net worth standard that would be used for the EDWOSB and 8(a) programs. A 2017-18 study that the SBA conducted supported a $375,000 adjusted net worth for initial eligibility, in comparison to the current threshold of $250,000.

The SBA considered applying a $375,000 net worth standard to both the 8(a) BD and EDWOSB programs, however the study did not take into consideration differences in economic disadvantage between businesses applying to the 8(a) BD program and those continuing in the program once admitted.

The new rule proposes to use the $750,000 net worth continuing eligibility standard for all economic disadvantage determinations in the 8(a) BD program.

SBA specifically requested comments on whether the $375,000 net worth standard or the $750,000 net worth standard should be used for the 8(a) BD and EDWOSB programs, as well as how the different standards would affect small business owners participating in the federal marketplace.


SBA Proposed Rule to Amend WOSB and EDWOSB Regulations

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The main goal of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) proposed rule (May 14, 2019) to amend regulations on the Women-Owned Small Business program is to put in place a statutory requirement to certify women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) and economically disadvantaged women owned small businesses (EDWOSBs), which can make them eligible for set-aside and sole source awards.

This proposed rule would allow an entity to be eligible to receive awards under the Women-Owned Small Business program, as long as its application is pending.

If that entity were to be selected for the award, its application would be prioritized by the SBA, which would lead to a determination within 15 days. The SBA would provide a free electronic application process to the entities looking to get WOSB and EDWOSB certified.

The provision also acknowledges that SBA may have difficulty processing all the potential applications in a timely manner, as there are approximately 10,000 firms currently in the WOSB repository.

The anticipated increase of applications from firms could possibly overwhelm the SBA, which typically processes around 3,000 applications per year for 8(a) status, and about 1,500 a year for HUBZone status.

The SBA asked for comments on possible solutions to avoid the potential bottleneck. Comments were accepted until July 2019 and they received more than 300 comments.

It’s important to note that if or when the rule is finalized, the certification requirement will apply only to those entities that wish to compete for set-aside or sole source contracts under the WOSB Contract program.

WOSBs that are not certified will not be eligible to compete on set asides for the program. However, women-owned small businesses that do not  participate in the program may continue to self-certify their status, receive contract awards outside the program as     WOSBs, and count toward an agency’s goal for awards to WOSBs.

Contracting officers would be able to accept self-certifications without verification for subcontracts, full-and-open awards, and small business set-asides.

The SBA believes that the proposed rule will bolster the number of federal contract awards to WOSB and EDWOSB-certified businesses, as well as better help agencies reach the 5% federal contracting goal for women-owned small businesses.

Under the current system, contracting officers must review a contract awardee’s documentation to verify an applicant’s WOSB and EDWOSB eligibility.

From the SBA press release: “By establishing a transparent, centralized, and free certification process, the SBA aims to provide contracting officers with reassurance that firms participating in the WOSB program are eligible for awards and encourage them to set aside contracts for women-owned small businesses.”


OMB Acquisition Reform Proposal 5 – Task and Delivery Order Protest Threshold

Business creative concept. People in crisis with banners protesting.
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This proposal seeks to standardize the task and delivery order protest dollar threshold for defense and civilian agencies by raising the civilian agency threshold from $10 million to equal the defense agency threshold at $25 million.

So while this is a straightforward action, it does have extensive implications. Currently, the task and delivery order protest threshold are those things that apply to multiple-award IDIQ-type contracts.

Let’s say, for example, you’re on a contract vehicle like GSA Aliant and you lose a task order. Currently, you can only lodge a protest if the dollar value of the contract exceeds $10 million, however the same situation on the defense side has a threshold of $25 million before you can protest.

If this OMB proposal goes into effect, then everyone would be subject to the higher $25 million limit, below which a protest would not be allowed on task and delivery order contracts.

This will have the effect of reducing the number and likelihood of protests in the civil sector. Things that were formally protestable between $10 million and $25 million will no longer be protestable.

From the government’s standpoint, it is certainly sensible for both sides to have the same rules. By taking on the larger standard, however, it will reduce the protestasbility of a large number of task orders. This is likely to be more of a problem for small businesses then for large businesses.

The government is attempting to streamline and reduce the activities that are different between civil and defense section and in the long run, and that’s a good thing. On the other hand, the reason the rules are different is there is less money in the civil sector and the jobs are smaller in size, and that’s the way it’s always been. Ultimately this is not good news for the small businesses who now cannot protest.


OMB Acquisition Reform Proposal 4 – Uniformity in Procurement Thresholds

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This proposal seeks to bring uniformity to procurement thresholds following the increase of the micro-purchase threshold from $3,000 to $10,000 in the NDAA for FY 2018.

A procurement threshold is the lowest level at which you can award a contract as a sole source to one particular company rather than opening it up for competition. This applies when a job is so small that trying to find enough companies to compete for the work would be too costly for the government.

So this new proposal increases that threshold to also apply to multiple-award contracts, not just single. What this means is if I, as a federal contractor, already have a multiple award IDIQ contract with a government agency, they can issue these micro-purchase orders without competition, as long as they do not exceed $10,000 in value. This makes it more fair to all contractors whether they’re in single or multiple award contracts.

There’s always a risk that the contracting officers will break the jobs up into smaller increments, particularly in DoD where the micro-threshold level is higher. That we will see only with practice, as it were.

At TAPE we’re always interested in more opportunities for sole sourcing, because that allows a customer relationship to flourish. Hopefully this proposal will have that effect.


OMB Acquisition Reform Proposal 3 – Increase Threshold for CAS

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We’ve been discussing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s six proposals for streamlining the acquisition process and improving the acquisition environment, intended to be included in the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Proposal 3 is about uniformity in procurement thresholds. So right now purchases starting at $2 million must adhere to cost accounting standards (CAS), but complete coverage doesn’t start until you’re at $50 million. This change will eliminate these wide differences by raising the basic threshold to $15 million.

That means you will only need to start paying attention to CAS at $15 million, and full coverage still starts at $50 million. The reason for this change is that there were already some exemptions established at various other threshold levels that caused confusion about when the basic CAS really apply.

The reason this is important for us as small businesses is that full CAS coverage is very comprehensive and has a lot of details, and it’s really hard for a small business to manage this. That’s why you don’t hit full CAS coverage until $50 million. At that point you presumably have the infrastructure in place to handle the extra requirements.

One other legalistic thing being done is that they’re decoupling the CAS thresholds from the similar thresholds in what’s called the TINA (Truth in Negotiations Act), because there’s some concern that by putting them together, issues and problems come up in both.


Personalize Your Emails With a Cure for Your Customer’s Pain

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This is a guest post by Eileen Kent, Federal Sales Sherpa.

Many companies turn to me and say, “How do I approach my federal customer first? Should I reach out via email, phone, text, proposal, networking event, unsolicited proposal, small business liaison, industry days or pre-proposal meeting?”

My answer is always: “It depends on the time of year, the client you’re calling, the service or product you offer, whether or not they have a bid posted on the public bid sites for what you do, and their willingness to even hear what you have to say because they might already have a long-term relationship with someone else.”

But for now, let’s consider starting by writing a compelling email that might just capture their attention. First of all, writing an email personalized to the reader and their professional role is critical. If it’s “canned” they’re going to throw it into the junk mail and block your emails.

You need to make it personal showing them you “get” their business and you completely “get” them. Also, a rule of thumb when emailing federal customers is that you cannot put in photos or “hotlinks” (if you share a link, the whole link needs to appear for it to go through their government filters).

Start first by considering your recipient, specifically:

  1. Who are they?
  2. What is their title?
  3. What do you think they do all day?
  4. Where do they work?
  5. Then, write down what may slow them down, or keep them up at night?
  6. Think about how you can help in a pinch.

Then write a subject line and an opening paragraph that addresses the pain – and how you solve it – and offers a solution. Keep it short and sweet – use Twitter as your guide and keep it to less than 140 characters if you can!

Here are a few examples of pain-based subject lines and customers/recipients:

  • Temporary, modifiable furniture delivered in 48 hours (for facility managers who need to fill a temporary need)
  • Experienced union production crew available same day (for production companies who may have last minute production opportunities)
  • Industrial supplies delivered to your location in two hours (for locations within 10 miles of you who may need quick ordering and delivery)
  • Same-day crisis communications developed, written and deployed (for  communications executives who may need another perspective on how to handle a crisis and communicate to the public)
  • Writing a pain-based email requires: knowing your customer, proposing a unique cure and offering a call-to-action. Need help? xxx-xxx-xxxx. (for federal contractors looking to connect with government buyers)

A personalized, pain-based series of email subject lines followed up with solutions in the first 140 characters of your message could get your clients to call you faster. If you follow up with additional supportive emails and voicemails the client will eventually learn all the problems you solve, even if they don’t answer the phone, and they’ll

call you when they finally can’t stand the pain any longer and they need your expertise.

Establishing your company as the expert problem-solver before they even return your call sets your sales team and subject matter experts up for success – and an easier sales cycle. Just like someone seeing a doctor and then being sent to a specialist, your client (the patient in pain) is ready for a cure and ready to tell you everything.

Always remember: Customers, yes including federal customers, buy from companies they know, trust and love.

Eileen Kent is known as the Federal Sales Sherpa. She helps companies with her “Three-Step Program” and her elite “Sherpa for a Year” coaching program. For more information contact Eileen today.


In SBA News – Updates from an Expert

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Gosh, it seems like yesterday that the Mid-Tier Advocacy group held their Business Focused Breakfast around the legislative update with some regulatory issues thrown in (but it’s already almost time for the next one).

Our speaker on July 30th was Pam Mazza of Piliero Mazza – true experts in this legal and regulatory thicket we all have to plow through as GovCons…

We talked about the new Small Business Runway Extension Act, passed in December 2018. It turns out that the legislation had some flaws in it, so instead of new regulations flying for the 5-year average replacing the old 3-year average, they’re working on some adjustments.

It was somewhat over my head, to be sure, but it hinges on whether SBA was actually authorized, and Administrator vs. Administration. OK, I’m not kidding. However, it did pass bi-partisanly, so these changes should get made fairly quickly. Of course some places are implementing it, and I can hear the protests rumbling. My advice is to ask the question, do not assume.

Second was the SBA’s preliminary rule on inflationary adjustments to the size standards. By the way, a 10% rise from 27.5 million is going to 30 million, not to 30.25 million, because I guess bureaucrats like round numbers. These adjustments will take effect in August, but then you’ll have to be sure SAM Reps and Certs catches up, so things might take a while for these changes to actually change your size status. FYI, this is NOT the “re-evaluation” of Sector 54 and 236 still to come, someday…

There’s a bipartisan bill circulating to extend 8a sole sourcing to SDVOSB, HubZone, and WOSB/EDWOSB, and to raise the thresholds – these have not been adjusted in decades. The thicket of rule-of-2 rules and regulations for non-8a sole sourcing has got to be made easier, so we’ll see if this gains traction.

DoD issued a class deviation letter, allowing similarly situated entities on all DoD contracts.

DoD also issued a letter limiting LPTA contract evaluation types, but beware of “fake best value” where they have fewer factors and call it best value when price is really the issue.

Finally, SBA is looking at working some early termination graduation for 8a’s – more will be revealed.

And that’s the news report… These breakfasts are often a good place to hear and discuss the real issues, so if you can, attend them in your area wherever that may be. The next Mid-Tier Advocacy Business Focused Breakfast is on Tuesday, August 27th at the Tower Club in Vienna, VA, featuring SBA Associate Administrator Mr. Robb Wong. Learn more and get your tickets now.

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The Five Most Common Technology Pain Points for GovCons

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This is a guest post by Staci L. Redmon, President and CEO of Strategy and Management Services, Inc. (SAMS).

Sometimes it’s said that Amazon is the only truly modern organization. Because it was founded on the Internet and never had the traditional limitations of a brick-and-mortar business, it could afford to develop and fully embrace technological innovation when it came.

Most of us aren’t Amazon. There are limitations on how much contractors can adapt to technology or use it effectively – and that’s okay. But as federal IT spend increases, businesses in the public sector are called upon to take stock of their organizational structure, highlighting areas where innovation and better planning can make a difference.

Here are five of the most common struggles we have identified in our clients:

1. Too much data, not enough insight

Today, organizations are swamped in data from multiple sources, including IoT, CRM, web analytics, social media and more. 73% polled say they struggle to use it effectively.

Why it hurts

In the first place, contractors are paying for everything they collect, and they’re paying even more to store it. Second – even if they forego collection altogether – they miss out on the many insights that data can provide.

How to fix it

Using data effectively requires two steps:Efficient collection and storage, such as cloud, hybrid cloud

  1. Efficient collection and storage, such as cloud, hybrid cloud or data lakes
  2. An analytics strategy to extract useful information

An analytics strategy to extract useful information

The best data strategy will vary from business to business, requiring human expertise for optimization and refinement.

2. Deprecated systems

We know that technology changes at the speed of light. When organizations get used to a certain workflow, they often stop moving forward and systems become outdated. As a result, some U.S agencies are still depending on Windows 3.1 and floppy disks.

Why it hurts

80% of IT professionals say that outdated tech holds them back. Customers and clients will move forward even when a business does not, thereby slowing down operations, creating customer experience (CX) issues, and lowering productivity in the workplace.

How to fix it

Systems must be updated on a periodic basis to prevent disruption, ensure continuity of operations, and lower expense. Having an enterprise IT strategy and C-level tech officers ahead of time will significantly reduce blind spots.

3. Technical debt

When contractors fail to adopt new technologies, they accumulate “technical debt,” an abstract measure of the expenses they will inevitably have to pay as a result.

Why it hurts

While a business lags behind, it exponentially loses ground in terms of potential profit; it also loses market share to competitors who modernize in the same time frame. Technical debt is thus more costly than an initial investment in new technology.

How to fix it

Organizations must stay ahead of technical trends to avoid debt and minimize future expenses. However, that does not mean they should invest in every new trend – research, strategy and careful observation should inform all business transformation efforts.

4. Underutilized assets

Contractors are often unaware how much they can accomplish with a single solution; both software and hardware are underutilized, and features go ignored.

Why it hurts

Underutilization leads to redundant costs, as businesses invest in multiple solutions which they could consolidate into one. Given power, training and licensing fees, the costs add up quickly.

How to fix it

Ideally, organizations will choose optimized solutions during the Enterprise Architectural Planning (EAP) phase which won’t call for redundant investments. Afterwards, they should consult with their vendors carefully to assess the extensible functionality of every asset they acquire.

5. Lack of expertise

According to a recent Gartner press release, talent shortage is emerging as the top risk for organizations in several categories – among them, cloud computing, data protection and cybersec.

Why it hurts

The majority of technological pain points result from a lack of technical executives or experts, leaving organizations vulnerable to their own mistakes, questionable investment decisions and attacks from the outside.

This issue is especially serious for government contractors who are often responsible for managing confidential data: regulations and auditing add an extra layer of risk for any careless decisions.

How to fix it

An organization should make sure that experts are involved in all the decisions it makes by:

  • Hiring and retaining elite talent in every major area of their infrastructure
  • Positioning one or more C-Level executives (CIO, CTO, CISO, etc.) to oversee continual development
  • When all else fails, consulting with external experts for guidance and an outsider’s perspective

For peace of mind in an organization’s continual stability, nothing can rival regular assessments from those who know what they’re doing.

Planning for Longevity

In 2019, technology is the lifeblood of a business: it shapes client interactions, management, teamwork and productivity across the board. But while it may come with upfront costs, it pays in longevity and success for the long term.

As technology changes, a business must be prepared to change with it, and that means – among other things – enterprise-level planning, good investment strategy, and a dynamic organizational structure. Staying modern is hard, but not impossible for a contractor who always aims at improvement.

Staci L. Redmon is President and CEO of Strategy and Management Services, Inc. (SAMS), an award-winning and leading provider of innovative operations, management and technology solutions in a variety of public and private sector industries and markets. SAMS is based in Springfield, VA.


OMB Acquisition Reform Proposal 2 – Repeal Defense CAS

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The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has proposed six ways to help streamline the acquisition process and improve the acquisition environment, intended to be included in the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The second proposal is to do away with the Defense Cost Accounting Standard Board (CASB). The issue here is that there is a Defense CASB, and there’s a federal one as well. The result is, unfortunately, is that the two different sets of cost accounting standards created can often be, well, different. So what this OMB initiative is going to try and do is eliminate the Defense CASB and consolidate everything into this one place under the federal board.

Of course, not everyone is going to be happy about this. There will be differences between the standards, and things from the Defense CASB that somebody’s been taking advantage of and doesn’t want to give up, or conversely, anything changed from the Federal CASB will have proponents and systems that cater to that function. We’ll have to figure out what those things are. Reconciling these two will be a nightmare, but it’s always better to have one rather than two things carrying out the same function.

And don’t forget that there are computer systems that handle acquisition and contract issues and cost accounting, and those will need to be adjusted.

What this demonstrates is that nothing in contracting and acquisition is ever as simple as “just do this.” So much of our regulated activity gets caught up in the very regulations being implemented; it’s never simple to change.

But, we’ll keep working on it…


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