Federal Sales Tactics for the Stage and Screen

Speaker Giving a Talk at Business Meeting. Audience in the conference hall. Business and Entrepreneurship. Panoramic composition suitable for banners.

© kasto – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Judy Bradt of Summit Insight. Judy and I recently partnered up for the webinar, Insights from the Mid-Tier: More Federal Q4 Tactics. If you missed Part One, here are Judy’s first three federal sales tactics for Q4.

Webinars, podcasts and videos

YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. Do your competitors have a YouTube channel? You could be the first in your niche to have one!

After websites, federal buyers consider webinars to be a leading, trusted, source of information from vendors. In fact, federal buyers are far more interested in webinars than suppliers realize.

The webinars don’t even have to be an hour; try a half-hour. Thirty-minute podcasts are particularly popular, because that’s often someone’s drive time (okay, in the DC area, someone might listen to three of them in a single trip, but you get the idea).

Pick topics for your webinars and videos that center based on their biggest concerns. Did you know…? Simplify complex concepts. Share actionable ideas. Vary the format: Invite guests, include an active Q&A, chat with a moderator or industry expert, share your screen.

Close with a call to action. What would you like your listener to do? Visit your website? Sign up for your e-news? Invite a deeper relationship: what’s the next natural step? You’ll want to have a solid, permission-based promotion platform and make sure you’re capturing at least name, email address and phone number when people register. If your content is good enough, people are willing to share information like job title and name of organization, too.

Stand out tactics:

  • Be energetic, focused, and authentic. Have some fun!
  • Go shorter rather than longer. Did you know that the vast majority of YouTube how-to videos are just two minutes long? What could you teach someone in two minutes?
  • Focus on content that emphasizes your best values: things that are quantifiable, and objectively proven.
  • Be sure to include a healthy Q&A period. Invite some of your best contacts or even current clients to ask the first few questions.
  • Get to know how the features of your broadcast platform work. Experiment ahead of time, learn how to get good lighting and audio quality. There are often many options, and that can be another reason to invite a partner or moderator to share the broadcast with you.
  • Take advantage of the post-webinar survey features to get feedback.
  • Use the chat windows as well as the ability to selectively unmute people in order to let everyone hear diverse voices. Then it gets fun! Ask people where they’re calling from and what they do before you get to their question, and remember to thank them afterward. If your platform lets you include a webcam stream, don’t be shy.
  • Record your webinar! Once you have the recording, you can share it with those who participated. You can also share the link afterwards to those who missed your event, post it on your website and social media, and have the content transcribed into later blog posts or articles, just for starters.
  • Finally, be generous as well as confident! Share handouts or links to follow-up tools like short checklists or more in-depth insights from you, your co-presenters, and others.

Key: these online educational channels offer a no-risk way to get to know you and connect.

Speaking engagements

Speak up about innovation! Thought leaders get invited more. Share your expertise and insight. Keep the focus narrow. Inspire conversations! Share highlights of case studies – including but not limited to those involving your own clients. Not all gigs will be paid, but some will be; expect a mix of free and paid speaking opportunities.

Great speakers make complex things simple. You might not ever give a TED Talk, but you can draw on these masterful tips offered by Chris Anderson, the head of TED.

Stand out tactics:

  • Memorable speakers come early and stay late.
  • Share fresh, meaty data, but don’t fill slides with busy graphs and tons of tiny-font text. Let images be the backdrop for your story.
  • Involve your audience, with quick polls, questions, and even the chance to talk with each other.
  • Talk about their problems and leave them with hope and ideas for solutions. Offer actionable next steps – besides suggesting they hire you! Let that come naturally, when they understand they could do it themselves, but they’d love to have you do it for or with them.
  • Own the room: treat the occasion as if you were the host, and each attendee were your cherished guest.

Key: Be the friendly expert: generous, personable, accessible.

About the author: Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight, gives federal contractors the focus, skills and tools you need to transform your federal business and achieve the sales and partnerships you’ve always wanted. It’s easier than you ever imagined. Call her at 703-627-1074 or visit http://www.summitinsight.com and find out more.

Federal Sales Tactics for Q4 – Getting Close and Personal

Business people shaking hands, finishing up a meeting

© yurolaitsalbert – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Judy Bradt of Summit Insight. Judy and I recently partnered up for the webinar, Insights from the Mid-Tier: More Federal Q4 Tactics.

Looking for marketing strategies to ramp up your fourth-quarter federal sales? These five ideas are important year-round. For now, focus on the ones you’re already using, and take a look at how you can move those into high gear. Save the others for your FY2017 plan!

  1. Personal contact and office calls

Time after time, companies say that these are the most effective marketing strategies, if you can get in the door! Looking to break down barriers? Remember to reconnect with something as simple as sending thank you notes to your federal contracting officers and end users, and writing their managers to let them know what a great job they do.

Office visits are easier to get in October through May. But whenever you can get there, make sure your briefing is short – less than 15 minutes – and isn’t a sales pitch or a standard capability briefing. Share highlights of your expertise, best practices, industry findings and case studies. Always say yes to a walk-about or site tour, and be sure to ask what they like best about the vendors they’re working with now. Explain, “We only want to team with the best!”

Stand out tactics:

  • Make sure the business owner attends. That reinforces that everybody in the company is not 100% billable; you’re established enough to have time and resources for business development.
  • Become the “go-to” resource. Say, “Make me your first call. Even if I don’t do that, I’ll find you someone who does. Call my mobile, nights, weekends, no problem. I’m here for you!” Show them you’re looking out for them!
  • Share links to articles or resources on things you know they care about. This is a personal, one-to-one email, not a campaign newsletter. While you might run across something about industry best practices, also keep a lookout for a great recipe if you remember he loves to cook, or maybe a local canine agility event if you noticed how much she likes dogs.

Key: Show you care about what matters to them. Become their first call.

  1. Association memberships

Show up! Participate regularly, not just once in a while. Have one or more members of your federal team become active, visible members. Show up in force at their meetings and events – that makes a big impact – and don’t all sit together. Reach out to individual members to follow up.

Stand out tactics:

  • Submit content to organization newsletter or magazine.
  • Make a commitment for a whole year.
  • Designate a senior member of the company, especially the owner or VP, as your flagship representative.
  • Volunteer for a couple of the group’s committees that relate to things you care about and enjoy, and benefit you and your company, personally and/or professionally. Golf tournament? STEM Scholarships? Use your creativity. Maybe you focus on something you think SHOULD happen and isn’t being done, or could be done better.

Key: Value comes not from paying your fees…but from paying your DUES.

  1. Assessment, white paper, or limited free product trial

Consistently offer a minimally-priced or possibly even free short assessment or product trial through drip email campaigns (a pre-written series of emails sent through an email service responder like MailChimp or Constant Contact). Be sure not to give away a service you normally sell! You can also offer a white paper, a reading list, or checklist.

An “assessment” can be a simple half-hour chat about needs. Be sure to make it a conversation; don’t turn it into a sales pitch. If, after the half-hour, someone wants to explore working with you, you can always book a follow-up call – ideally, including colleagues or managers.

If a custom, one-on-one, assessment is feasible and is a service during which you would share substantive professional expertise, pricing it below $3,500 will let your federal buyer engage you sole-source and pay you immediately. What’s not to like?

Stand-out tactics:

  • Offer a quick quote. Do a walk-through and some commentary (though remember to first validate what they’re already doing, then educate them on the latest and greatest). Maybe offer an informal design sketch of what an installation or project might look like.
  • Draft a short white paper outline – literally, a project description on white paper or a document with no author information listed in the document properties – that a buyer who really likes you and is hoping for fiscal year-end money can turn around into a fast statement of work and hire you in a hurry.
  • Put together something for the ‘Budget’ – a quick needs analysis/scope of work.

Key: Get something on file for Q4 “Wish List” proposals.

About the author: Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight, gives federal contractors the focus, skills and tools you need to transform your federal business and achieve the sales and partnerships you’ve always wanted. It’s easier than you ever imagined. Call her at 703-627-1074 or visit http://www.summitinsight.com and find out more.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this post, where Judy reveals two more federal sales tactics for Q4.

Proposed Legislation to Penalize Pentagon Contractors That Game the Bid Protest System

Young african man showing stop sign with hand isolated on the gray background

© vadymvdrobot – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Sandra I. Erwin of National Defense Magazine, originally printed on June 6, 2016.

One of the legislative proposals the Senate will debate this week would penalize Pentagon contractors that game the bid protest system.

The language adopted by the Senate Armed Services Committee in its version of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act reflects longstanding grievances about the impact of contractor protests on defense procurements. The reforms specifically take aim at frivolous contractor protests. They would punish incumbent contractors that challenge the government after losing a bid knowing that they can hold on to the job until the protest is settled. The provisions also would restack the deck in favor of small businesses, which for years have complained that the bid protest system is weighed in favor of companies that can afford to wait months or years for disputes to be resolved.

The issue could become contentious during the NDAA conference later this year when the Senate and House meet to iron out differences between their respective bills. The House chose to not immediately shake up the protest system, and instead requires the secretary of defense to do an in-depth review of the process and report back.

The current system that allows losing contractors to appeal decisions to the Government Accountability Office was intended to create a level playing field. But the Senate Armed Services Committee believes the system has been abused. As it has done in many other areas of policy, what Congress giveth, it also can taketh away.

It is widely recognized that the protest system has become counterproductive, said Arnold Punaro, CEO of The Punaro Group, retired Marine Corps major general and a former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We need to reform the protest process,” Punaro told National Defense. “The process stymies acquisition decisions. Like lots of other things, it was a good idea when it started.”

There are legitimate reasons to file protests, especially big-ticket weapon contracts that can make or break a company’s future, Punaro said. But protests today are so pervasive that they are used to stall even relatively small “task orders,” he said. “I know companies that have been in protests for three years. We need a course correction.”

When awards are protested and projects are put on hold, “it is very hard on small businesses,” said Punaro. “You win something and you may have to wait three years to find out if you won.” Oftentimes decisions to challenge awards are made by incumbent companies’ chief financial officers who may favor “dragging things out and get revenues” for however long the dispute goes on. The point of protests is to make sure the government makes a fair and objective decision, Punaro noted, but the system has spiraled out of control.

Contractors in the services sector are known to “protest for profits,” said Donald J. Wetekam, retired Air Force lieutenant general and senior vice president of AAR Corp. The company provides aviation maintenance services and logistics support. Contracts in this sector tend to be long-term deals so incumbents have a lot at stake every time the contract is recompeted, Wetekam said June 3 at a Lexington Institute forum on Capitol Hill. “What we see today is that the system incentivizes losing incumbents to protest,” he said. “You can extend your contract by a minimum of 100 days, more likely six months.”

Most companies do not protest frivolously, Wetekam cautioned. “There are, however, irresponsible contractors particularly in the services sector, and the system is structured to essentially support that.” The Senate Armed Services Committee’s language is a “small step in the right direction,” he said. “I’m happy to see that. We need more aggressive action. The system rewards bad behavior. It’s a problem.”

Section 821 of the SASC bill makes an incumbent contractor forfeit any profit or fee earned from a bridge contract awarded because of delays caused by the incumbent’s protest, if the protest is unsuccessful. Incumbents would “have all payments above incurred costs withheld on any bridge contracts or temporary contract extensions awarded to the contractor as a result of a delay in award resulting from the filing of such protest,” the bill stated.

The withholdings would be returned to the incumbent contractor only if the “subject of the protest is canceled and no subsequent request for proposal is released or planned for release,” or GAO “issues an opinion that upholds any of the protest grounds filed under the protest.” Otherwise, the withheld payments would go either to GAO or the contractor that was awarded the contract before the protest.

These provisions raise many red flags, noted contracting attorneys Patrick Stanton and Hunter Bennett, of the Washington, D.C. law firm Covington and Burling. It is not clear what happens, for example, when the incumbent is one of several competitors to file a protest.

“Additionally, if it is clear that a contracting agency is taking corrective action as a result of a flaw raised by the incumbent protest, why should the contractor forfeit the withheld payments simply because GAO did not have the opportunity to issue an opinion upholding the protest?” the lawyers ask. “This question is particularly relevant in light of GAO’s 2015 bid protest statistics indicating that, although GAO sustains just 12 percent of all protests, the bid protest effectiveness rate, which includes protests in which the agency takes voluntary corrective action, is a lofty 45 percent.”

Stanton and Bennett wonder whether these provisions “simply go too far. “Clearly aimed at curbing the practice of incumbent contractors filing meritless protests simply to extend performance through bridge contracts, the bill as written would almost certainly have a chilling effect on meritorious bid protests as well,” they write in a blogpost.

The House version of the NDAA has no such provisions. It only instructs the secretary of defense to conduct a review of defense contract bid protests, including an evaluation of protests filed by incumbents.

Congress formalized the role of the GAO as a protest forum in the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 although GAO has served in that role for 90 years and is the only administrative institution with the authority to hear protests across the federal government. The Court of Federal Claims is the only judicial forum for hearing protests.

Defense contractors have mixed opinions on the NDAA proposals. Large firms have argued that, as much as everyone dislikes the bid protest, it’s the only legal mechanism in place to ensure a fair contracting award process. In these times of fewer big-ticket weapon awards, shareholders expect companies to fight tooth and nail. Small businesses, for their part, would welcome the SASC reforms as a needed rebalancing of a system that penalizes contractors that don’t have the cash flow to stay afloat during protracted contract appeals.

Despite concerns about the impact of protests on Pentagon programs, contracting data does not reveal an epidemic of protesting. Congressional Research Service defense acquisition specialist Moshe Schwartz noted in a July 2015 report that protests have received increased congressional scrutiny. Both the House- and Senate-passed versions of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act called for a report on the bid protest process.

“Analysts believe that protests are sometimes the result of poor communication between government and industry, poorly written requirements, and agencies not adequately debriefing losing bidders after an award. When agencies do not adequately debrief bidders, companies may file a protest to determine why they lost a competition,” CRS said. “DoD contracts are less likely to be protested, and when protested, less likely to be sustained than civilian agency contracts. Protests against civilian agencies are also growing at a faster rate than protests against DoD.”

There is a strong chance that the full Senate will support the SASC provisions on contractor protests. Analysts won’t predict how the Senate and House would compromise on an issue where they are far apart. According to Punaro, “We can expect there will be negotiations.” Procurement measures in the NDAA will not be among the most contentious. The chambers are deeply at odds over bigger issues such as Pentagon topline spending levels and requiring women to register for the draft.

This article previously appeared in the National Defense Industrial Association’s National Defense Magazine at http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2209, and was reprinted with permission.

How to Present Your Case for a Certificate of Competency

Happy young businessman received diploma or certificate for successfully sales increase, for presentation themes design. Cartoon flat style

© anjich – Fotolia.com

In a recent post, I explained how government agencies use the Small Business Administration (SBA) Certificate of Competency program to mitigate their risk in working with a small business.

As a follow up, TAPE CEO and President Louisa Jaffe will expand on what small business owners need to emphasize when seeking a certificate of competency.

Ultimately, to present a case to the SBA you need to demonstrate financial viability, understanding of the proposed work and the ability to do it, and documentable, repeatable management processes.

To begin, prepare a binder where you will have copies of everything neatly organized. This binder must be able to speak for itself as to your competency.

There will be a standard list of things the SBA wants to see, such as your articles of incorporation, your operations plan, and your financials, but since a certificate is ordered for a particular project or award, you must also be prepared to be specific about why you can do that particular piece of work.

You must be able to present yourself, preferably in person, to the SBA, even if you have to travel to another city to do that. Be prepared to explain exactly why you can do the job that is required, and to back up that explanation with the documentation in your binder.

For your financial viability, that means evidence of a line of credit, whether it is a letter of credit from your financial institution or from another lender. You have got to show them not only that you are prepared to take on the work of this contract, but also to pay people – that you can financially handle this project.

Your personal interaction and communication skills are also very important. You want to present yourself very well, be dressed appropriately for business, and be able to tell your story. Practice talking about how you started your company, about your company values and business culture, and your plans for how you will take care of employees (such as benefits, and job descriptions with metrics that are written for success, not failure). The SBA puts great importance on best practices concerning employees.

Something that small businesses often overlook is the importance of detailing your executive structure and management practices. Even if your company is still very small and you do not have much structure, you need to demonstrate that you will know what to do with structure as your company grows, and how to manage a small business structure for success.

For example, you will want to discuss that you have a CFO – chief financial officer – in place, and a plan for handling the financial operations of the business. (There are reputable accounting firms who will serve as your CFO on a contract basis so the CFO does not have to be an employee of your company.)

Similarly, the certificate applicant will be required to demonstrate that there is someone to handle operations (running the project[s]), and someone to handle business development (acquiring new work).

Even if there are only one or two people collectively holding all of those positions right now, the SBA wants to see that you have provided for those key responsibilities, and that the business owner understands these three separate functions (financial, operations, development) with a plan for managing them.

As well, you need a specific plan that outlines your management practices for your own employee and for sub-contractors. You must be able to demonstrate to the SBA that you will be able to manage both large and small subcontractors with repeatable and documentable processes.

What the SBA does not want to see is a small business just appearing as a front for a large business. You must explain how you are your own business entity, how you will keep track of what is going on, and how you will handle accountability.

Depending on the size of project, this may include communication practices between the project manager and other leads, particularly if those leads are in another company (a subcontractor). You need to demonstrate how you will stay on top of what is going on in the project at all times, even if some or all of the work is happening in a different city from your own business.

Even if you are not ready to go through a formal quality management program certification such as the ISO 9001, you can create your own transparent plan that serves as an umbrella of all of your management systems; management systems are repeatable and documentable processes – key systems that keep you accountable for every aspect of your business.

If you have accountability and transparency, you will be golden. That way you can sit in front of the SBA and say here is our plan, here is how we will implement these processes, here is how we will document how well we do on these processes, and here is how we will upgrade these processes as we go, if we find we need to do something differently.

The SBA is not looking for someone who is perfect and never makes mistakes, but for someone who is agile enough to see when something needs to change, change it, and document that change.

With all of these documents and artifacts in hand, collected in a professional binder with your logo on the front, you will go in looking very organized and well put together, and you should have no problem getting your certificate.

By the way, when the time comes, this identical type binder of information will go a long way towards qualifying your company for a bank credit line. But that is a topic for another day.

Agency Migration to Small Business Preference

© samarttiw - Fotolia.com

© samarttiw – Fotolia.com

In a previous post, we looked at the Small Business Administration’s FY2015 Small Business Scorecard for how federal agencies did in meeting their goals to set aside a specific percentage of contracts and award them to small businesses.

So one of the things we can see is we’ve got five departments that achieved 40% or more: Agriculture has 50%, Interior 55%, Transportation 51%, State 44% and Commerce 43%. In addition there are several in the 30s.

Five years ago, none of that would have been the case – departments issuing 30-55% of their total acquisition for the year to small businesses was simply unheard of. Today there is a true migration towards more and more activity, including very robust contract sizes, being awarded to small businesses. This is clearly represented in the scorecard.

I think this trend will continue, and there are several things that growing and mid-sized small businesses need to understand to be ready. As it always comes back to on this blog, it’s all about relationships. Here are some specific relationships to think about:

  • Large business partners and bigger small business neighbors – When they are awarded some of these robust contracts, they are going to want to flip them to other small businesses. They’ll keep a share, of course, and though they can’t get more than a 49/51 split, this still gives them a piece of the revenue and can be a win-win-win for all sides (you as the small business, the bigger business, and the end customer).
  • Potential mentors and/or protégés – Another thing that we are tracking is the emerging regulations on extending mentor-protégé joint venture arrangements to all specially certified businesses as well as regular small business, where this was previously limited to 8(a) businesses.
  • Small business partners – It is important to build early and often good solid relationships with your competitors that are doing the same kind of work. In fact, if one of your partners already has previous relationship and experience with a customer, that will count towards your joint bid for new business with that customer.
  • Seemingly limited departments – Use the scorecard to focus on the departments that are clearly moving more and more work to small business. For example, Interior and Agriculture may have awarded small amounts compared to the giant amounts spent at DoD or Homeland Security, but when you look at the percentages these are no longer less desirable prospects. It is possible to design a robust portfolio and pipeline of opportunities from agencies you may have previously thought of as limited.

As you do your strategic planning, look at these entities and percentages and make some decisions – not just about who your prospects are but who your partners are. Consider whether you will build a true mentor-protégé partnership with bigger companies, and also whether you’re in a position to mentor another small business or mid-sized small business.

What the SBA FY2015 Small Business Scorecard Means for Your Business

Businessman knocking on a door to "Opportunity" office concept for aspirations, progress meeting or promotion

© Brian Jackson – Fotolia.com

The team at Set-Aside Alert™ recently published their FY2015 Federal Agency Small Business Goals Summary Report, and gave us permission to reprint their findings:


Interesting data. Here’s what I noticed:

  • Department of Energy missed every goal, and was given an A.
  • HubZone seems hard to hit – only 6 of 16 hit that goal.
  • Surprisingly, several missed the goal for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, which has been pretty consistent and over the mark. Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) missed it “by a mile.” If you’re a SDVO small business, you need to get out there and go after these folks!
  • Transportation got the only A+; they made every goal, and some by a decent amount over.
  • Only VA and HHS got B grades, which seems kind of surprising since they did well on most things. Obviously the VA did the best on SDVOSB – that just makes sense!
  • Finally, since Energy and Agency for International Development (AID) were the only ones to miss the overall small business goal of 23%, and yet the final total was only 25.75%, that tells you there’s some big missed opportunities at those agencies that we need to steer towards small businesses.

By the way, EVERY miss in this table is an opportunity to go in, talk to the small business officer, and make your case. They know they missed their goal, and would love to set it right in 2016. The buying season is coming, so give them a chance to select YOU.

Surviving a Change in Administration

© frender - Fotolia.com

© frender – Fotolia.com

Clearly there will be a change in administration after November 8, 2016. Even if the party does not change, many things still will. Let’s look at how that will impact you as a small business and federal contractor.

Knowing that some of the top people will change – cabinet-level secretaries and so forth – acquisition decision makers will become more tentative leading up to the event. They know that anything that does carry over into the next administration will potentially get a further review.

You could go through all the hoops for your program today – an RFP, proposals, approval, moving forward through the chain of command, etc. – and then all of a sudden it’s a new administration and the whole thing has to happen all over again. Especially if we’re looking at a new party.

New leaders will want to review all programs to make sure they’re in keeping with their politics, their situation, and the promises they made to voters.

So there are a couple of things you should do in self-defense. One is to expect that things are going to take longer, and there may be a substantial move to the right as the new admin, policies and practices take hold.

The second thing is that existing programs should be guarded zealously. Make sure that you’ve got the attention of your program’s government officials, and that they clearly understand why your program is in place and what it’s meant to do.

That’s because what almost always happens at the start of a new administration – particularly with a change of party – is that everything goes through zero-based justification. The onus is on you to defend why you are doing this, the policy and practice behind it, and show how you interact with the public and other allies (foreign affairs, military relationships, etc.).

Know that if a program is relatively more popular with one party than another and there’s a chance of change to a new party, it’s time to really begin contingency and risk planning because something may change dramatically.

We see these effects every eight years. Generally it starts right about now, in the buying season before the election, and then continues somewhat into the buying season after the election (2017).

Policies change when leadership changes. Will you be ready?

How DoD is Better Defining What Lowest Price Means in Contracts

This is red vector illustration background lowest price

© Michal Hubka – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Scott Maucione of Federal News Radio.

The Defense Department is implementing a major change to the way it awards contracts to companies.

An April 1 memo from Claire Grady, DoD’s director of defense procurement and acquisition policy lessens the onus on source selection officials to justify paying more for their requirements than just lowest cost technically acceptable (LPTA). It also adds some transparency to how the department prices its requirements.

The policy change is part of the Better Buying Power acquisition reforms, which stated the LPTA requirements sometimes ended up costing DoD more money in the long run. A 2013 Market Connections and Centurion Research Solutions study found 65 percent of contractors and 43 percent of government workers thought LPTA hurt long term value for short term savings. Some critics said DoD places too much emphasis on LPTA contracts.

DoD now will try to make clearer the worth of delivering a capability above “technically acceptable” or the minimum requirement when awarding contracts.

“What that would allow the source selector to do is then say, ‘Because the other offer came in that’s more expensive than the lowest price one, but it has this additional capability, I can put a price on that and quantify the value to the government of that additional capability,’” said Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in an interview with Federal News Radio. “This opens up a better way of doing best value selection that’s more defendable when it comes to protests.”

Over the past few years, LPTA has become more widely used, whether or not it was specifically called out in the contract requirements

That caused some problems for DoD. Industry has long complained that “technically acceptable” is not well defined. Some companies would lowball their bids to win contracts and then could not follow through on their promises. The government would then have to go through the contracting process again.

Also, as DoD bought some systems on the cheap, they would end up costing more money to sustain than if the government had invested more money into the original contract.

If the source selector wanted to go with a vendor that cost more during a LPTA competition, the contracting officer would then have to go through a process to justify spending the extra money.

Clark said that process was “very subjective.”

Now with the issuance of the memo, DoD will outline in its request for proposals how much it is willing to pay extra for something better than minimally required.

“You could say I need this thing to go this fast, but if it can go faster we would be willing to pay X number of dollars per additional mile per hour of speed,” Clark said.

The memo asks source selectors to prioritize the most important capabilities that DoD should pay extra for.

Roger Waldron, president of The Coalition for Government Procurement, said the change is beneficial for industry.

Waldron said the policy will provide a clearer statement to potential competitors as to how DoD values certain capabilities so it can get its pricing right and avoid the lowball scenarios.

Waldron said as a competitor it’s hard to get a sense of what the government values in certain items. When the government explains how much it is willing to pay for something it will help industry in how they price their contracts. Industry also can decide what risks it is willing to take investing in certain technologies.

DoD hinted it was looking into the methodology of its LPTA source selection back in late 2014.

The department made it clear that it was not embarking on a full review of LPTA.

“It’s just not something that we see as a problem. We’re not going to apologize for making price important, but we think there’s enough evidence to dispel the myth that we’re demanding that our people use LPTA techniques when they shouldn’t be. The data just doesn’t say we’re doing what some people say we’re doing,” Shay Assad, the director of defense pricing said last year.

This post originally appeared on Federal News Radio at http://federalnewsradio.com/defense/2016/04/dod-tweaks-lpta-methods-save-money-help-industry/ and was reprinted with permission.

The Need for Acquisition Reform

Businessman need help under a lot of white paper, flat design

© jabkitticha – Fotolia.com

It’s no secret that many of the procurements in federal contracting take a really long time. Collectively, we’ve built some very big and complex processes around the rules and so forth, and now we’re reaping the result of having to get through all these gates. At the end the contractors and the Government are not clear if we’re left with anything better (although the gates make sure certain elements of fairness are covered), but what we are sure of is that the process took an extra year or more.

Here is just one example: At TAPE, we had started to respond to an RFP. We had asked a bunch of questions and been through several RFP Q&A responses and RFP iterations. One of our questions had to do with RDT&E (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation) activities. Like other respondents, we were trying to get more information in order to successfully respond to that portion of the RFP.

Now, any official change to an RFP that goes out – including answers to questions – are reviewed by the Government’s lawyers. In this case, the lawyers said that since RDT&E money comes from a different part of the budgeting process (different “colors of money”) than operations and maintenance, these activities should not be mixed into the same RFP or contract.

And just like that, we were done. Two days before it was due, the Government pulled (cancelled) the RFP and estimated a six-month to one-year delay before it would be re-opened, while they worked on a way to split up these functions in some fashion.

As you can imagine, everybody went a little bit crazy. We had done all this work, talked to the customer, got our capture information, etc. When we talked to the agency’s small business people, all they could say was that they’d needed to reframe the RFP. True, but why couldn’t they have caught that in one of the iterations? This wouldn’t have necessarily saved us and our cohorts from the ultimate disappointment, but would have certainly saved some of our efforts.

For it to take six months to pull out section of an RFP, rejig it, and put it back on the street, seems an absurd length of time. We’re not talking about a complicated weapons system here, but something in the services realm.

Shortening the acquisition timeline is one goal of reform, and other is to address the “ginormous” amount of overruns – when the acquisition takes more time and money than planned or available.

In any RFP, the government tries to give you detailed specs to build what they want, ranging from a mousetrap to a huge missile. They try to gather a huge number of details – performance measures, trail of spares, logistics, necessities to maintain it, etc.

In one case with procurement of defenses against the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war effort was over before the outcomes and results of the acquisition process were finished.

The more detailed the specs need to be, the longer the process will take. And when things take longer they cost more. This is how a $10 screwdriver ends up costing $1,000 – because you’ve given somebody 100 pages about the exact screwdriver you want. That’s what we need to fix.

This is an ongoing movement, and the pendulum is swinging both ways.

2017 NDAA Markup Makes Subcontract Plan Compliance Failure a Material Breach

Dog standing in the corner. Chastened puppy. punishment

© Tatyana Gladskih – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Paul Murphy,which I spotted in the Mid-Tier Advocacy Group’s MTA Alert email. Sign up now for all the latest news on public policy and Capital Hill.

Congress is finally getting serious about the woefully inadequate subcontract reporting contained in the federal government’s Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System (ESRS).

Section 1821 of the just-passed Chairman’s Mark of H.R. 4909, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act contains a potentially game-changing procurement reform innocently called, “Good Faith in Subcontracting.” It states: “. . . failure to provide contractual documentation showing compliance with a subcontracting plan is a material contract breach, just as existing law states that failing to comply with a subcontracting plan is a material breach.” In other words, any vendor found not to be compliant with their announced subcontracting plans could face breach of contract charges from their agency client. This is huuuge.

Breach of contract is one of the most serious charges federal prosecutors can bring against a vendor. If a vendor is found to have negotiated a contract in bad faith, or if they committed to subcontract plans they had no capability to fulfill, a material breach could lead to corrective action, fines or worse punishment.

Tens of thousands of vendors, hundreds of thousands of contracts and billions of dollars are potentially impacted by this one, simple sentence in HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry’s new bill. The markup, which just passed out of committee in the wee hours of April 28th, will likely come to the House floor within two weeks, followed by a trip over to the Senate before final reconciliation and approval. Clearly, the new subcontracting language has the Chairman’s support.

About the author: Paul Murphy is a senior data analyst at Bloomberg Government. BGOV’s Congress Tracker team aggressively monitors the progress of the NDAA and other major bills daily, in real time. BGOV’s data team ingests all the latest subcontract data as it is released and dynamically links it to the prime contract data. If you need to monitor the latest defense legislation or insure your company is compliant with subcontract reporting, contact BGOV at http://about.bgov.com/. They can help.