Proposed Changes to SBA’s HUBZone Program – PilieroMazza Analysis

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This is a guest post by A. John Shoraka and Kathryn V. Flood of PilieroMazza.

H.R. 3294, the HUBZone Unification and Business Stability Act of 2017, proposes several changes to the HUBZone program that are intended to reduce certification timelines, stabilize the program, and collect and report on performance metrics designed to measure the success of the HUBZone program. While this is a step in the right direction, the proposed changes do not go far enough to provide a meaningful impact to the deficiencies in the program.

To analyze the positive impact the proposed bill may have on the HUBZone program, we believe it is important to understand the historical weaknesses of the program and why those weaknesses have inhibited the government from meeting the HUBZone set-aside goal. Having experiences interacting and engaging with users of the HUBZone program both inside and outside of the government, we would argue that the weaknesses of the program can be categorized as follows: 1) instability in the ever changing HUBZone designated areas, 2) uncertainty for contracting officers when awarding HUBZone contracts, and 3) the inability to quantify the impact of the HUBZone program.

Rather than get into the weeds with respect to formulations on how HUBZones are designated and when those designations change, generally speaking, the current methodology has created a system where HUBZone areas are tweaked and updated annually, if not more frequently, and are significantly changed when new census data becomes available. Furthermore, once an area falls out of designation, it is “grandfathered” into the program for only a period of three years. This constant and ever-changing landscape makes it difficult for a company to rely on and invest in its HUBZone status and its underlying infrastructure. As a result, fewer and fewer companies are willing to establish or relocate their companies in a HUBZone and invest in HUBZone employees and local communities. This results in the government having fewer and fewer qualified HUBZone companies to procure from in order to meet its 3% goal.

The HUBZone program is the only federal set-aside program that requires small businesses to meet program requirements twice during the procurement process; once at the time of offer, and again at the time of award. If anybody has done work for the federal government, you know that the time between offer and award can range from several weeks to several years. Now imagine trying to monitor and stay abreast of the ever-changing HUBZone designated areas, not only to insure that your principal office is located in a HUBZone, but to insure that 35% of your employees live in a HUBZone. That may be easy to do for a few weeks, but as your firm grows, your employees move and HUBZone areas get redesignated; it is highly unlikely that you remain in compliance once the contract is awarded. This can leave a contracting officer with not only a protest and the need to reissue the award, but it may require an entire new acquisition. This may be why contracting officers are more and more reluctant to use the program.

At its core, the HUBZone program is an economic development program. In order to support the existence of the program it is critical to document its impact on under-utilized communities. Unfortunately, it is not only incredibly difficult to correlate HUBZone contract awards to economic growth; there has never been any funding to support such analysis.

While the proposed bill (H.R. 3294) attempts to address the weaknesses identified above, we are concerned that it does not go far enough.

The proposed bill does attempt to create stability with respect to HUBZone designated areas by changing the calculation for non-metropolitan areas from the most recent data available to a five-year average. This should help to stabilize the volatile swings in economic data and the impact it has on designated areas; however, the bill does nothing to extend the “grandfathering period” beyond the current three years.

The bill also requires the SBA to “go live” with its new calculations on 1 January 2020, allowing firms that were certified into the program on or before the date of the enactment of the bill to retain their HUBZone certification until the new calculations are launched. Thereafter, updates for new HUBZone areas will occur every five years; however, redesignated HUBZones are to be removed immediately after the “grandfathering” period.

These provisions may stabilize the program, but they will also limit the number of HUBZone areas, which would in effect limit the number of HUBZone firms in SBA’s portfolio. What’s more, the proposed bill does nothing to address contracting officers’ concerns regarding the risks associated with HUBZone set-asides.

Finally, it is encouraging that the bill requires the SBA to maintain performance metrics on the impact of the HUBZone program and instructs that these metrics be collected and managed at the regional level. However, it will be extremely difficult for the SBA to meet this mandate without additional resources and upgraded information systems.

If you have any questions regarding the HUBZone program, or how these proposed changes might impact your business, please do not hesitate to contact John Shoraka or Katie Flood for more information.

This post was originally published on PilieroMazza at http://www.pilieromazza.com/do-the-proposed-changes-to-sbas-hubzone-program-go-far-enough and was reprinted with permission.

Katie Flood is counsel with PilieroMazza in the Government Contracts Group. John Shoraka is the Managing Director of PilieroMazza Advisory Services, LLC, an advisory company to help small businesses navigate in the federal marketplace by developing successful strategies to help businesses thrive. http://www.pilieromazza.com/


Small Versus Large – an HR Perspective

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Welcome back to TAPE’s Alexia Groszer, GPHR, senior human resources generalist. In a previous post, she answered some common questions about HR for small business. Today, we’re looking at size issues from an HR perspective.

Let’s look first at things from an employee’s view. What are the pros and cons of being employed by a small business versus a large business?

Small business:

Pros: Employees at a small company typically wear more hats, thereby getting exposure to more business areas and skills. The owners and management know employees by name. Good ideas can be implemented quickly. The employee often sees a direct impact of the work they perform and may feel an essential part of a team.

Cons: Job growth is often dependent on the company’s growth. If the company grows rapidly, this could be a pro for the employee who rides the wave of prosperity with the company. Employees who were with Microsoft and AOL in the early days benefited greatly from the rapid growth. However, few small companies have exponential growth. If the company does not grow, the employee may be feel their only option for growth is to leave the company.

Large business:

Pros: A large company may offer more avenues for career development (types of jobs, levels of management, and more internal job opportunities). Employees may be able to move up or laterally while gaining years of service and benefits within the same organization. Large companies often have more structure. They have tried and true processes which provide excellent on the job training for those new in their careers.

Cons: Since large companies often do work on a large scale, employees at a large company often perform a high volume of work of more limited scope. This could mean limited learning/ growth within the job depending on the position they are in. Large companies can also be very bureaucratic. New ideas may take a long time to get implemented. Employees may not feel any direct impact of their work. They may even feel that they a just a number or not essential to the organization.

One person may prefer a smaller more personable environment where they know everyone by name and can make an immediate impact. Another may thrive working amongst many people at a large corporation with brand recognition and the security of a larger and more established pipeline of continued work. Choosing an employer, small or large, depends on many factors. Researching potential employers and comparing it to your own list of preferences is a good place to begin. 

As a small business grows, their HR needs grow and change with them. When should a small business have an in-house HR department versus outsourcing to an HR vendor?

Each company has different business needs, so there is no absolute answer. However, as companies grow they will likely have a bigger need for human resources support. Often they will move from outsourcing to in-house support due to cost.

For start-ups or small companies (5-25) employees, outsourcing HR may be a more cost-effective option, especially if their needs are mainly payroll/benefit administration with only an occasional compliance issue. Advantages of outsourcing include: the employer pays the vendor for support only when it is needed instead of paying for a fulltime employee, they have access to different HR disciplines/experts but only pay for a few hours of advice at time, and they can easily increase or reduce hours of support to match their business needs.

When a company gets bigger and begins using their vendor 40 hours per week or more, they may discover it is more cost-effective to hire their own HR staff. There are advantages to an in-house HR department, too. An internal staff will be more vested in the company’s culture and mission. They can customize policies and processes to fit the needs of that business. The HR staff can build a rapport with employees, providing better customer service and continuity.

This can be especially helpful when there is an employee relations issue or when a manager is seeking general guidance. All of these can create a more cohesive company culture and greater employee engagement.


HR for Small Business

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I thought it was time for us to illuminate some of the human resources myths and issues facing small business owners. I asked TAPE’s Alexia Groszer, GPHR, senior human resources generalist, to answer a few frequently asked questions.

1. What is a myth that you’ve heard about HR for small business?

One myth is that employment laws do not apply to small businesses so there is no need to worry about compliance. While some laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act only apply to employers with 50 or more employees, there are many more laws small companies need to be aware of to avoid potential fines or lawsuits.

To stay ahead of these issues, HR professionals can join a professional organization such as Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM). Their website has links to federal and state government websites, legal updates, certification programs, sample policies, webcasts from experts and much more. While many issues can be researched through SHRM and other sources, it is important to know when to contact an expert, such as an employment attorney, for additional advice.

2. What are the most common HR challenges facing small business owners?

The cost of providing insurance benefits is a common problem due to the rising costs of medical and prescription coverage. This is a balancing act because employers are not only expected to provide benefits but also keep them as affordable as possible. A comprehensive benefits package considers the whole employee.

Recently, Louisa Jaffe, TAPE’s CEO/President, wrote about the importance of providing a full benefits package in an article titled, “When An Employee Passes Away.” As she writes, “It is important to realize that there is a reason we offer HR benefits. Often among those are not only health care but also short-term and/or long-term disability, as well as life insurance. No one likes to think about the worst case scenarios in life but it is important for business owners to consider the impact of these benefits (or the lack of them) on the company and to the individual employee’s well-being should they need to use them.”

A skilled benefits broker can help a small business identify a variety of benefit plans that meet the organization’s goals and cost constraints. An attractive benefits program can help the company recruit and retain talented employees, thereby becoming an employer of choice in a competitive market.

3. Which recent legislative changes have had the biggest impact on HR in small business?

The hot topic in the news is affordable health care. Managing health care costs and ensuring compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is important to both small and large companies. Understanding what applies to your company requires some research. There are many resources available, including this helpful information from the IRS.

Like other employers, TAPE had to review our benefit plans for compliance and provide Form 1095-C to each of our employees. Fortunately for us, our payroll vendor developed a new ACA Regulatory Management System and provided training to their customers. By educating ourselves and working diligently through each step of the process, we were able to complete the forms and submit them to the IRS on time. This was just another example of staying informed and managing compliance in the field of human resources, where learning is constant.

Thanks for this interesting glimpse into the world of HR, Alexia! Stay tuned for Alexia’s next post about small versus large business, from an HR perspective.


When An Employee Passes Away

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This is a guest post by TAPE CEO/President Louisa Jaffe.

This is a subject very much on my mind these days since we just lost a long-time employee who succumbed to bone cancer. Three years ago, we lost another long-time employee to another form of cancer. Such events are always devastating in our personal lives with family and friends, but as a business owner, there are other considerations.

To begin with, it is important to realize that there is a reason we offer HR benefits. Often among those are not only health care but also short-term and/or long-term disability, as well as life insurance. No one likes to think about the worst case scenarios in life but it is important for business owners to consider the impact of these benefits (or the lack of them) on the company and to the individual employee’s wellbeing should they need to use them.

Part of our responsibility as executives is to make sure that the pieces are in place to offer the best support possible within our planning constraints so that the professionals on the vendor side will be ready to step in and offer specific help to our employees and their families when the need arises. That way, as managers, we will not have to figure everything out at a time that likely we may be emotionally compromised ourselves.

Just as with the passing of a loved one in our private lives, the news that an employee has died, even if after a long illness, can feel shocking and unexpected. If we can be prepared as suggested above, then we can give in to the grieving process and deal with just that aspect of such a situation. And the “feelings” part of the whole thing is what this blog post is really all about. There are very important leadership actions that can greatly help your entire company if you set the example from the beginning.

My suggestion to executives is to prepare yourselves mentally in several ways. I am drawing on my military experience where the Service does things very well in terms of “taking care of their own.” If an employee becomes ill, we stay in touch with them personally to the extent we can. If possible, visit them and their families in the hospital or even at home, if the family welcomes it.

Going through an illness and death can be very lonely and alienating for an employee and their families. We go visit them, call them, and stay in touch with our personal support. It is both the least and the best that we can do. We can handwrite get well and sympathy cards with our own heartfelt and authentic sentiments.

Most importantly, when the person passes away, be sure to notify your entire company and subcontractors, where appropriate. Put out a message of farewell to the company, adding some interesting facts about the deceased for those who may be on a different project or live in a different place and do not know the employee. Announce the details of family plans, when known. We can attend memorial services and burials in person wherever feasible. It is the most powerful sign of respect for both the employee and the family to stand with them at the very difficult time of these “good-bye” ceremonies.

My own parents passed away many years ago. I well remember how much it helped my sorrow – how much it meant to me – that people came to both of their funerals and told me what my parents had meant to them. Before then, I might have been more inclined not to discuss with someone their loss of a loved one and to stay away from the process as much as possible, thinking I was respecting the mourners’ privacy. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

I have learned to reach out to the suffering people left behind, let them cry, let them reminisce, let them connect in whatever way they need to get through the otherwise saddest experience of their lives. It is a way to reach outside of ourselves to think of the needs of others. It is a way to do service. There are few things more empowering than giving service to those who have served you, in their time of need. When we do these things, we can feel proud to know we have conducted ourselves as leaders.

This post originally appeared on the TAPE blog at http://tape-llc.com/2017/06/employee-passes-away/ and was reprinted with permission.


Agencies Advised to Increase Use of Post-Award Debriefings

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This is a guest post by Anuj Vohra and Alex Hastings of Covington & Burling LLP.

On January 5, 2017, as part of its “myth-busting” series, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (“OFPP”) issued a memorandum encouraging federal agencies to improve their post-award debriefings to increase their “productive interactions with . . . industry partners.” Based on feedback from industry and federal agencies, the OFPP described the numerous benefits of effective debriefings, including affording unsuccessful offerors the opportunity to understand the weaknesses in their proposals and the areas for improvement in future competitions and offering agencies an opportunity to review and improve their evaluation processes. To encourage agencies to take such measures, OFPP recommended that agencies adopt a “debriefing guide” and to consider commonly-perceived myths regarding the debriefing process.

With respect to the debriefing guide, OFPP encouraged agencies to take measures to (1) allow agency personnel to provide an overall general ranking of the debriefed offerors, (2) prepare government personnel on topics that are appropriate (and not appropriate) for discussion during a debriefing, (3) offer template checklists and agendas for government personnel to use in preparing a debriefing, and (4) establish guidance for agency personnel to engage subject matter experts and general counsel in complex procurements.

With respect to the myths surrounding debriefings, the memorandum includes a list of common misconceptions and OFPP responses, such as:

  • Myth: Debriefings result in a greater number of protests. OFPP explained that an effective debriefing that provides necessary information to disappointed offerors can “greatly reduce” the number of protests because protests are often driven by a desire to gather information about the agency’s evaluation process. In particular, agencies should offer “substantive insight into how the source selection officials assessed the proposal’s strengths and weaknesses.”
  • Myth: The presence of an offeror’s attorney at a debriefing signals a protest is imminent. OFPP explained that a disappointed offeror’s decision to bring an attorney to a debriefing does not indicate that a protest is imminent and should not prompt the agency to limit the information that is shared. OFPP noted that offerors may have internal policies that require the presence of an attorney, and that an attorney’s presence should not otherwise prevent the agency from providing “an informative and well planned debriefing.”
  • Myth: All debriefings should be conducted in writing. OFPP explained that “[i]n-person debriefings allow for an open, flexible space where the government and offeror are able to communicate in a productive manner.” Such an effective debriefing also allows for the contracting officials to have the opportunity to secure feedback regarding the solicitation and source selection process.
  • Myth: Companies do not use the information provided in debriefings. OFPP explained that industry “stressed the value” of the information they can derive from a debriefing in improving their future proposals. OFPP explained that understanding the government’s perceived strengths and weaknesses in past proposals helps industry make business decisions and submit more competitive proposals.

It remains to be seen whether agencies will heed OFPP’s urging to improve the quality of debriefings. But the guidance appears to be a positive development for government contractors, as improved debriefings have the potential to increase the effective use of contractor resources.

For instance, receiving more information about an agency’s source selection decision may allow a contractor to conclude an agency’s award decision was fair and consistent with the terms of the solicitation, alleviating the need for a protest. Additionally, an informative debriefing could allow contractors to better understand the needs of their government customers, allowing them to make business decisions that respond to their customers’ needs and develop more effective future proposals. Of course, these outcomes would also have a positive impact for agencies, resulting in fewer resources being devoted to responding to protests and receiving more competitive proposals.

This article was originally published on the Inside Government Contracts blog at https://www.insidegovernmentcontracts.com/2017/01/the-more-you-know-agencies-advised-to-increase-use-of-post-award-debriefings/ and was reprinted with permission.


Preparing for the Fiscal Year End in the Trump Era

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Judy Bradt of Summit Insight wrote a popular guest post for us back in 2015, with her expert tips for how to prepare for the fiscal year end. I asked her if she had any updates, and she had this to say:

These are all just as relevant today. I would add this:

While the White House has proposed spending cuts in every agency except DHS, DoD and VA, Congress is pushing back hard. That means federal buyers are uncertain about what FY18 will bring…and are eager to spend every last dollar they have in the current year’s budget! So get a jump start on Q4 with the tips in this article. If you haven’t started doing these things now, you can bet your competitors have!

Preparing for the fiscal year end (in the Trump era)

In a series of three blog posts, Judy Bradt of Summit Insight put together a list of things government contractors can do to prepare for the fiscal year end. Here is a snapshot of her points, along with my own thoughts that build on her recommendations.

Federal Fiscal Year End Ideas, Part 1

  1. Revisit your forecasting
  2. Ask for referrals from your best customers
  3. Stay top-of-mind

Bill says: These points go back to what Judy and I have always been preaching – success in federal contracting is about building long-term relationships.

Revisit your forecasting – that’s the FOCUS – see who you can really touch and make a part of your business. Referrals are what I’ve been calling “nearest neighbors” – friends of your customers’ friends.

And finally, this is a continuing process, so stay with these folks. See them on drop-bys and wherever they are. For example, if you notice they’re speaking at an event, show up – even if only to listen and say hello.

Federal Fiscal Year End Ideas, Part 2

  1. Give the golden leave-behind: gratitude
  2. Plan multiple touches, tactics, channels
  3. Update and share your capability statement

Bill says: TAPE leaves behind little chocolates branded with our logo, but the key here is to make sure you express gratitude to your customers for their business. Build those relationships (see above) with the multiple touches of being where your customers are.

Maintain your currency by keeping up with your customers’ hot buttons. Does your one-pager (description of your company’s capabilities) hit those hot buttons?

Federal Fiscal Year End Ideas, Part 3

  1. Refresh and maximize your online presence
  2. Leverage customer feedback and testimonials
  3. Expand thought leadership
  4. Be ready to sell the way they want to buy

Bill says: Maintaining and keeping your website fresh is critical. People look at that and if the visual picture doesn’t align with what you’ve told them, you can lose out. Include a prominent display of your CPARs (ratings in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System) – especially the really good comments, and your kudos letters. Leverage these positive testimonials in call-out boxes on your website as well.

The best road to thought leadership? Blogging! You can always think of something to say about your industry, and the problems you solve for your customers, even if once a month. Feature your best staffers as bloggers also – they’ll love the publicity.

Always sell what your customers want to buy – your people, your best product ideas and innovations, and keep it up. Never forget what you’re selling, and what your focus is, that’s how you’ll succeed.

Lastly, remember to keep your certifications and small business status handy – sole sources and simplified purchase opportunities can be leveraged handsomely.

Thanks to Judy Bradt of Summit Insight for pulling together these crucial points!


OFPP Dispels a Second Set of Agency-Vendor Communications Myths

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In our continued look at the most common myths about government-vendor communication, here is a reprint of Federal News Radio’s coverage of the OFPP’s second Mythbusters Memo. It was released in May 2012 and is just as relevant today.

This is a guest post by Jason Miller of Federal News Radio.

The solution to many of the problems with federal procurement comes down to communication between industry and government. So it’s to that end the Office of Federal Procurement Policy is taking a second turn at dispelling some of the most commonly held myths.

As Federal News Radio first reported, OFPP issued its Mythbusters 2 memo today detailing eight more fictional reasons why agencies and contractors can’t talk, and the real truths about why they can communicate freely. The administration issued the first Mythbusters memo in February 2011 with the goal of breaking down barriers in how contracting officers and program managers talk to vendors.

Mythbusters 2 continues that conversation, the difference is, these are misconceptions from industry’s perspective,” said Lesley Field, acting OFPP administrator, in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “We are hoping to help industry use the time with government to be productive and engage in good conversations. We have a few myths and misconceptions with facts that follow up on good and productive ways to engage with government.”

Field said OFPP developed these second round of myths from a series of meetings with industry, members of the Frontline Forum, senior procurement executives and others.

Vendors do have influence over market research

Misconception #1 – “The best way to present my company’s capabilities is by marketing directly to Contracting Officers and/or signing them up for my mailing list.”

Fact: Contracting officers and program managers are often inundated with general marketing material that doesn’t reach the right people at the right time. As an alternative, vendors can take advantage of the various outreach sessions that agencies hold for the purpose of connecting contracting officers and program managers with companies whose skills are needed.

Misconception #2 – “It is a good idea to bring only business development and marketing people to meetings with the agency’s technical staff.”

Fact: In meetings with government technical personnel, it’s far more valuable for you to bring subject matter experts to the meeting rather than focusing on the sales pitch.*

Joanie Newhart, OFPP’s associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs, said in the interview one of the most commonly held misconceptions is vendors have little influence over potential solicitations in the pre-request for proposal or market research phases.

“That is not so. We are finding agencies are engaging because industry has the critical knowledge that could help shape the acquisition strategy and outcome,” Newhart said. “So we are trying to bust that myth.”

OFPP wrote in the memo that vendors can provide comments or suggestions during the formal requirements development phase without trigging organization conflict of interest as long as the vendor is not hired to develop the requirements.

Misconception #3 – “Attending industry days and outreach events is not valuable because the agency doesn’t provide new information.”

Fact: Industry days and outreach events can be a valuable source of information for potential vendors and are increasingly being used to leverage scarce staff resources.

Misconception #4 – “Agencies generally have already determined their requirements and acquisition approach so our impact during the pre-RFP phase is limited.”

Fact: Early and specific industry input is valuable. Agencies generally spend a great deal of effort collecting and analyzing information about capabilities within the marketplace. The more specific you can be about what works, what doesn’t and how it can be improved, the better.*

“Suggesting detailed solutions to your concerns is even more valuable,” the memo states. “Additionally, FAR 15.201 encourages exchanges with all interested parties, beginning at the earliest identification of a requirement through receipt of proposals.”

In the memo, OFPP also says another myth is that industry days and pre-solicitation conference aren’t valuable, but that is not true as these widely attended meetings are good ways to understand what the agency’s goals are.

“Many times, agencies hold sessions designed to help new vendors do business with them,” the memo states. “In these sessions, agency personnel are on hand to answer any questions about how to do business with the agency. Gaining a better understanding of an agency will help you more effectively target your outreach, thereby saving valuable resources, and helping you respond to solicitations more effectively.”

Newhart said another common one is that vendors don’t need to tailor each proposal to the specific procurement and can just change a few words for similar solicitations. She said that’s absolutely not the case, and vendors should write the proposal so it meets the evaluation criteria laid out in the RFP.

Agencies can share pricing data

Field said another common myth is around the sharing of pricing information between agencies around similar buys.

Misconception #5 –“If I meet one-on-one with agency personnel, they may share my proprietary data with my competition.”

Fact: Agency personnel have a responsibility to protect proprietary information from disclosure outside the government and will not share it with other companies.

Misconception #6 –“Agencies have an obligation not to share information about their contracts, such as prices, with other agencies, similar to the obligation they have not to disclose proprietary information to the public.

Fact: There are no general limitations on the disclosure of information regarding existing contracts between agencies within the government. In fact, agencies are encouraged to share pricing information to ensure that we are getting the best value for our taxpayers.*

“We think the price visibility part of it, and I know there are lots of transactions every year, but making sure when a particular agency is buying something that another just purchased, we want to make sure contracting officers are sharing that information,” she said.

Field said OFPP is looking at a number of options and possibilities to help get better price visibility, but they don’t have a specific plan yet.

The memo states sharing of information between federal agencies is allowed and it’s not a disclosure of proprietary information.

“Therefore, while there might be occasional circumstances where an agency could benefit from signing an NDA that would restrict its sharing of information with another agency, agencies should generally avoid NDAs that prohibit sharing of information — particularly pricing information — within the government,” the memo states. “Price visibility is critical to ensuring that the government gets the best prices and that agencies are not paying more for the same products or services being bought under the same circumstances.”

Misconception #7 –“To develop my new proposal, I don’t really need to tailor my solution to the specific solicitation since the government won’t read my proposal that closely anyway.”

Fact: Offerors should tailor each proposal to the evaluation criteria, proposal instructions and specific requirements of the solicitation to which they are responding. Contracting officers and evaluation team members read proposals closely for compliance with the proposal instructions and must evaluate them against the evaluation factors and the statement of work in the solicitation.

Misconception #8 –“If I lose the competition, I shouldn’t bother to ask for a debriefing. The contracting officer won’t share any helpful information with me.

Fact: Unsuccessful offerors should ask for a debriefing to understand the award decision and to improve future proposals.*

* Source: “Myth-Busting 2”: Addressing Misconceptions and Further Improving Communication During the Acquisition Process

Another common myth, OFPP says, is vendors should bring business development staff to meet with agency technical staff.

“Vendors should bring their technical experts to meetings with agencies,” the memo states. “Their knowledge of advances in technology and your firm’s capabilities are much more helpful to agencies than generic sales presentations.”

Newhart said during her career as a contracting officer all of these myths came up at one time or another and continue today.

“The memo is targeted more for the vendors who are newer in working with the government,” she said. “This is to help them sort through the maze of working with us.”

Outreach and updates to communication plans

Newhart said OFPP is planning a lot of outreach to dispel the myths. She said agencies will update their Vendor Communications Plans, required in Mythbusters 1, to reflect these false ideas.

“It’s really a communication piece for government folks within the agencies to know how they should be incorporating this new vendor communication into their procurement and also for vendors so they know how agencies plan on handling this,” she said. “It also holds an agency official accountable for this.”

Field said there is new functionality on FedBizOpps.gov for small businesses and for vendor communication and collaborationthat will help dispel these myths. The vendor communication plans are posted on the portal.

Field said Mythbusters 1 helped open the door for contracting officers to talk with contractors more easily and comfortably and vice versa.

“I think pulling together the information and the opportunities and having agencies drill down into their communications plans and then posting them actually required agencies to reduce barriers to entry,” Field said. “The process itself, especially at the agency level, questioning what they could do better, what they differently and having someone assigned to it to have accountability so it’s an ongoing effort. We’ve heard from agencies they are feeling more comfortable having webinars or conference calls in the pre-RFP space. It has taken some time, but it seems to be a little bit of a catalyst to have better communication and ultimately better value.”

This article originally appeared on the Federal News Radio blog at https://federalnewsradio.com/federal-drive/2012/05/ofpp-dispels-8-more-agency-vendor-communications-myths/ and was reprinted with permission.


Another Big Win For Vets: SDVOSBs Trump AbilityOne At VA, Court Rules

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This is a guest post by Steven Koprince of SmallGovCon.

The VA cannot buy products or services using the AbilityOne List without first applying the “rule of two” and determining whether qualified SDVOSBs and VOSBs are available to bid.

Today’s decision [originally printed on May 30, 2017] of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in PDS Consultants, Inc. v. United States, No. 16-1063C (2017) resolves–in favor of veteran-owned businesses–an important question that has been lingering since Kingdomware was decided nearly one year ago. The Court’s decision in PDS Consultants makes clear that at VA, SDVOSBs and VOSBs trump AbilityOne.

The Court’s decision involved an apparent conflict between two statutes: the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, or JWOD, and the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006, or VBA.

As SmallGovCon readers know, the VBA states that (with very limited exceptions), the VA must procure goods and services from SDVOSBs and VOSBs when the Contracting Officer has a reasonable expectation of receiving offers from two or more qualified veteran-owned companies at fair market prices. Last year, the Supreme Court unanimously confirmed, in Kingdomware, that the statutory rule of two broadly applies.

The JWOD predates the VBA. It provides that government agencies, including the VA, must purpose certain products and services from designated non-profits that employ blind and otherwise severely disabled people. The products and services subject to the JWOD’s requirements appear on a list known as the “AbilityOne List.” An entity called the “AbilityOne Commission” is responsible for placing goods and services on the AbilityOne list.

But which preference takes priority at VA? In other words, when a product or service is on the AbilityOne list, does the rule of two still apply? That’s where PDS Consultants, Inc. enters the picture.

The AbilityOne Commission added certain eyewear products and services for four Veterans Integrated Service Networks to the AbilityOne List. VISNs 2 and 7 had been added to the AbilityOne List before 2010. VISNs 2 and 8 were added to the AbilityOne list more recently.

PDS filed a bid protest at the Court, arguing that it was improper for the VA to obtain eyewear in all four VISNs without first applying the rule of two. The VA initially defended the protest by arguing that AbilityOne was a “mandatory source,” and that when items were on the AbilityOne List, the VA could (and should) buy them from AbilityOne non-profits instead of SDVOSBs and VOSBs.

But in February 2017, just two days before oral argument was to be held at the Court, the VA switched its position. The VA now stated that it would apply the rule of two before procuring an item from the AbilityOne list “if the item was added to the List on or after January 7, 2010,” the date the VA issued its initial regulations implementing the VBA. For items added to the AbilityOne List beforehand, however, no rule of two analysis would be performed.

(As an aside–the VA seems to be making a habit of switching its positions in these major cases).

The parties agreed that the VA’s new position mooted PDS’s challenges to VISNs 6 and 8, which would now be subject to the rule of two. But what about VISNs 2 and 7? PDS pushed forward, challenging the VA’s position that it could issue new contracts in those VISNs without performing a rule of two analysis. PDS argued, in effect, that nothing in the VBA allowed products added to the AbilityOne List before 2010 to somehow be “grandfathered” around the rule of two.

Judge Nancy Firestone agreed with PDS:

The court finds that the VBA requires the VA 19 to perform the Rule of Two analysis for all new procurements for eyewear, whether or not the product or service appears on the AbilityOne List, because the preference for veterans is the VA’s first priority. If the Rule of Two analysis does not demonstrate that there are two qualified veteran-owned small businesses willing to perform the contract, the VA is then required to use the AbilityOne List as a mandatory source.

Judge Firestone pointed out that under the VBA, “the VA must perform a Rule of Two inquiry that favors veteran-owned small businesses and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses ‘in all contracting before using competitive procedures’ and limit competition to veteran-owned small businesses when the Rule of Two is satisfied.”

Citing Kingdomware, Judge Firestone wrote that “like the [GSA Schedule], the VBA also does not contain an exception for obtaining goods and services under the AbilityOne program.” Judge Firestone concluded:

[T]he VA has a legal obligation to perform a Rule of Two analysis under the VBA when it seeks to procure eyewear in 2017 for VISNs 2 and 7 that have not gone through such analysis – even though the items were placed on the AbilityOne List before enactment of the VBA. The VA’s position that items added to the List prior to 2010 are forever excepted from the VBA’s requirements is contrary to the VBA statute no matter how many contracts are issued or renewed.

Judge Firestone granted PDS’s motion for judgment and ordered the VA not to enter into any new contracts for eyewear in VISNs 2 and 7 from the AbilityOne List “unless it first performs a Rule of Two analysis and determines that there are not two or more qualified veteran-owned small businesses capable of performing the contracts at a fair price.”

The apparent conflict between JWOD, on the one hand, and the VBA, on the other, was one of the major legal issues left unresolved by Kingdomware. Now, as we approach the one-year anniversary of that landmark decision, the Court of Federal Claims has delivered another big win for SDVOSBs and VOSBs.

This post originally appeared on the SmallGovCon blog at http://smallgovcon.com/service-disabled-veteran-owned-small-businesses/another-big-win-for-vets-sdvosbs-trump-abilityone-at-va-court-rules/#sthash.7trmkUf9.dpuf and was reprinted with permission.


Innovation – Act Now

Idea concept with row of light bulbs and glowing bulb

© chones – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Louisa Jaffe, CEO/President of TAPE, LLC.

Benjamin Franklin invented bi-focal glasses – do you know why? Because he said he wanted to be able to see his food and his dinner companions without changing glasses. Today I am encouraging you to channel your own inner Benjamin Franklin. That is to say, let your own innovative ideas out of your brain and into your business.

For many years, I have had an idea percolating about a training product and learning methodology. Recently, I asked myself how I could bring it into manifestation and now I am doing just that. It is still in the research and development stage so I will let you know more about it in the future. I only mention it to say do not think as I did for all of those years, “Somebody ought to invent something better.” If you have a better idea about how to do something, act now to create a new process or a new product or at least a new product concept.

The world has never been more starving than it is now for new ways to do things. And with technology, the possibilities are infinitely greater than ever before. America is a great place to manifest innovative thinking. The United States Patent and Trademark Office is the only Federal agency created in the Constitution. It may be tempting to think that the young generations coming up understand technology (and therefore innovation) better than those who have been here longer. But technology is a tool and not inherently innovative by itself.

Innovation requires perspiration

So much information is available to us at the click of a keyboard that sometimes we forget to access our most valuable knowledge base of all, our own imagination. Thomas Edison, the most patented inventor in the history of the US Patent office famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.” Flipping that around, imagination and a good idea are the one percent of genius. We should not tell ourselves that if we have a good idea that probably someone else has it too just because it came to our minds very easily, perhaps effortlessly. No one may have ever thought of our good idea or ideas before.

But don’t forget that 99% of genius is perspiration. That means that we also have to go through the mundane and, at times, difficult part of bringing the good idea into manifestation. That part can seem to stop us – it can be very challenging and, at times, seemingly impossible.

Walt Disney was a pioneer and innovator in the cartoon/film/entertainment industry. The story is that he was virtually penniless and had sunk his family’s fortune into making the first full-length feature cartoon film, Snow White. When released, it became a financial success and launched Disney’s business and his own “fairy tale” of a career, with Snow White becoming the first fantasy character to get her own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and the movie winning an Academy Award. If he had given up in despair, deciding success was too elusive, just too difficult and too expensive, then the world would not have the entertainment giant that has made us all smile.

Innovation is up to us

We all have creativity. We all have good ideas. We were willing to put in the perspiration to start and develop our businesses. Let’s not stop there. Let’s look around our world and ask what would make things better and create the way forward? What steps would we have to take, what funds would we have to raise to manifest that idea?

When I was growing up, there was a single frame cartoon in the newspaper called, There Oughta Be a Law! Well if any of us have ever thought, “They ought to do this process a different way,” or “someone should invent something that could do this or that,” we might want to stop and ask ourselves, what exactly it should be that “someone else” should invent. “There ought to be an invention!” could be our new rally cry. We may never become as famous as Thomas Edison but if we can use our creativity to invent even one small new way of doing things, it is a start that could lead to a whole new line of revenue. Nurture that idea. It might become worth a fortune someday.

This post was originally published on the TAPE blog at http://tape-llc.com/2017/05/innovation-act-now/and was reprinted with permission.


8(a) Program Versus GSA Schedule – What’s a Small Business To Do?

A pretty african american business woman at her company

© Stephen Coburn – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. 

One of my fellow scholars from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program called me recently to inquire about the difference between the 8(a) Program versus GSA Schedule, and why BucknerMT recently elected to get a GSA Schedule instead of pursuing the 8(a) Program. Below is what I shared with her:

8(a) Program versus GSA Schedule

It is important to understand that the 8(a) Program and GSA Schedule serve two totally different purposes. The first is a business development program to assist in growing your business and the second is a negotiated contracting vehicle for the government to purchase their services.

Both are great tools to grow your business. In fact, the SBA encourages 8(a) contractors to consider participating in the GSA Schedules program to increase their sales.

As you determine the next step for your business, here are a few things for you to consider:

  • The 8(a) Business Development Program is a business assistance program designed to assist small disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. It is a two-phased program over nine years – a four-year developmental stage and a five-year transition stage.
  • 8(a) program participants are consistently encouraged to “ensure you build a pipeline prior to entering the program.” Meaning, it is to critical to build relationships with both potential clients who may use your services, as well as graduating 8(a) companies who are potential partners. The goal is to maximize your time in the program.
  • Having a GSA Schedule contract simplifies the acquisitions process because terms and pricing are negotiated up front. That makes it the contracting officer’s vehicle of choice. Getting a GSA contract gives you that prestige of being an approved vendor.
  • The greatest benefits of being a schedule holder are that there is less competition, access to exclusive eBuy opportunities, and the average award period is two weeks. As well, GSA Schedules can be negotiated for as many as 20 years with step increases in rates.
  • As a GSA holder, you will receive a listing in GSA Advantage and GSA eLibrary. However, you must also actively market your schedule to potential buyers, i.e., put it on your Capability Statement and all of your company’s digital media, and notify current and potential clients, your peers, OSDBUs, etc. We also shared our news in a blog post.

Both the 8(a) program and a GSA Schedule are great tools to grow your business. We are positioning BucknerMT for the 8(a) program, however we made a business decision to pursue the GSA IT70 Schedule first. This decision allowed us to position ourselves for prime opportunities and, most importantly, it is the method by which our target clients purchase their services. In the meantime, we are focusing on building our pipeline to maximize our time once we are in the 8(a) program.

Lastly, it is critical to understand and remember that both the 8(a) program and the GSA Schedule give you a license to fish, but neither guarantee opportunities. Working with the government is complex, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it is also very rewarding.


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