This is a guest post by Steven Koprince of SmallGovCon.
An offeror submitting a proposal under a solicitation designated with the Information Technology Value Added Resellers exception to NAICS code 541519 must qualify as a small business under a 150-employee size standard–even if the offeror is a nonmanufacturer.
In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims held that an ITVAR nonmanufacturer cannot qualify as small based solely on the ordinary 500-employee size standard under the nonmanufacturer rule, but instead must also qualify as small under the much smaller size standard associated with the ITVAR NAICS code exception.
By way of background, NAICS code 541519 (Other Computer Related Services) ordinarily carries an associated $27.5 million size standard. However, the SBA’s regulations and size standards table state that an ITVAR procurement is an exception to the typical size standard.
An ITVAR acquisition is one for a “total solution to information technology” including “multi-vendor hardware and software, along with significant value added services.” When a Contracting Officer classifies a solicitation with the ITVAR exception, a 150-employee size standard applies.
ITVAR acquisitions, like others under NAICS code 541419, were long deemed to be service contracts; the nonmanufacturer rule did not apply. But in a recent change to 13 C.F.R. 121.406, the SBA specified that the nonmanufacturer rule applies to the supply component of an ITVAR contract.
When is a nonmanufacturer small? The SBA’s rules are not entirely clear. 13 C.F.R. 121.402(b)(2) states that a company that “furnishes a product it did not itself manufacture or produce . . . is categorized as a nonmanufacturer and deemed small if it has 500 or fewer employees” and meets the other requirements of the nonmanufacturer rule. But 13 C.F.R. 121.402(a) also states that an offeror “must not exceed the size standard for the NAICS code specified in the solicitation.”
So, for an ITVAR acquisition, which size standard applies to a nonmanufacturer: 150 employees or 500? According to the Court, the answer is “both.”
York Telecom Corporation v. United States, No. 15-489C (2017) involved the solicitation for the NASA Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement V GWAC. The procurement was divided into several groups. The group at issue in this case (Category B, Group C) was a small business group. NASA designated the category with the ITVAR exception to NAICS code 541519.
The solicitation included FAR 52.212-1, which provided, in relevant part:
INSTRUCTIONS TO OFFERORS –
COMMERCIAL ITEMS (52.212-1) (JUL 2013)
(a) North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code and small business size standard. The NAICS code and small business size standard for this acquisition appear in Block 10 of the solicitation cover sheet (SF 1449). However, the small business size standard for a concern which submits an offer in its own name, but which proposes to furnish an item which it did not itself manufacture, is 500 employees.
York Telecom Company submitted an offer for Category B, Group C. After evaluating proposals, NASA awarded a contract to Yorktel. But NASA developed concerns about Yorktel’s size, and referred the matter to the SBA for a size determination.
In its size determination, the SBA Area Office concluded that the applicable size standard for the procurement was 150 employees. Because the SEWP V solicitation had been issued before the changes to 13 C.F.R. 121.406, the SBA Area Office concluded that the nonmanufacturer rule did not apply. The Area Office issued a decision finding Yorktel to be ineligible under the solicitation’s 150-employee size standard. The SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals upheld the SBA Area Office’s decision.
Yorktel took its case to the Court. Yorktel argued that it was a nonmanufacturer, and therefore, its size was governed by a 500-employee size standard–not the ordinary 150-employee ITVAR size standard.
After addressing various procedural issues such as jurisdiction and standing, the Court concluded that Yorktel’s protest was an untimely challenge to the terms of the solicitation. The Court dismissed Yorktel’s protest for this reason.
Interestingly, though, the Court didn’t stop there. It wrote that “even if Yorktel could pursue its challenge of the size standard for the SEWP V Contract in this litigation, this claim is unsupported by the terms of the RFP and the statutory nonmanufacturer rule.”
Discussing FAR 52.212-1(a), the Court wrote:
When read in its entirety, the Court construes the above provision to require that a non-manufacturer first meet the 500 employees or less size standard to compete for the contract and to also impose the more restrictive size standard of 150 employees or less under the NAICS code in order for the non-manufacturer to be eligible for contract award. And so, to the extent that Yorktel qualifies as non-manufacturer under the statutory non-manufacturer rule, the RFP requires that Yorktel meet the more restrictive, 150-employee, size standard to be eligible for contract award.
The Court wrote that its interpretation was buttressed by the Small Business Act, which (in 15 U.S.C. 637(a)(17)), specifies that a nonmanufactuer must “be a small business concern under the numerical size standard . . . assigned to the contract solicitation on which the offer is being made.” The Court concluded that “the statutory non-manufacturer rule, thus, requires that an offeror seeking coverage under the rule satisfy the size standard imposed by the NAICS code for the relevant contract.”
The relationship between the nonmanufacturer rule’s 500-employee standard, on the one hand, and the size standard imposed by a solicitation, on the other, was previously a question merely of academic interest (and then, only to true government contracts law nerds like yours truly.) That’s because almost all of the size standards for manufacturing and supply contracts are 500 employees or greater; it would be no problem for a nonmanufacturer to satisfy the solicitation’s size standard.
In contrast, the ITVAR size standard is much lower than 500 employees. Now that the SBA has amended its regulations to specify that the nonmanufacturer rule applies to the supply component of ITVAR contracts, the Court’s decision in York Telecom Corporation may have major ramifications for other ITVAR nonmanufacturers.
A note from Bill: From our perspective, smaller is always better. We want big revenue numbers and small employee numbers. The important thing is that employee number standards allow you to have subcontractors, those employees don’t count against my employee limit, even though I still have the revenue. That helps us stay smaller, longer, and we like that.
This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/statutes-and-regulations/itvar-nonmanufacturer-subject-to-150-employee-size-standard-court-says/ and was reprinted with permission.
So we know that a contract is either unrestricted, which means anybody can bid, or it’s set aside for small businesses. A contract can be a generic small business set aside, or it can be specifically protected for one of the SBA’s socioeconomic small business programs, i.e., a woman-owned small business (WOSB), a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB), a HUBZone business in a historically underutilized business zones, or an 8(a) small business owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people or entities.
In the past, when a generic multiple-award contract (MAC) was set aside for any small business, it used to be that everyone within that winning pool could bid on all the task orders from that contract.
With this new rule that will be implemented by SBA and eventually populated down into the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), agencies will now be able to set aside task orders for a more specific group (WOSB, SDVOSB, etc.) under a multiple-award contract originally awarded as a general small business set-aside.
As Sam Finnerty points out in this PilieroMazza blog post about several SBA changes, in the past the SBA “was concerned that such a rule would unfairly deprive SBCs [small business concerns] of an opportunity to compete for orders issued under their MACs. In the Rule’s preamble, SBA explains that other actions it has taken in recent years have alleviated these concerns. However, SBA is requesting comments on whether it would impact the ability of SBCs to compete for and receive orders.”
Under this new rule, an agency would have a certain number of awards specified for generic small businesses, but would actually be allowed to go down another level. So even though you may have won the contract as a small business, you’re not guaranteed that every task order is available to you, as they would under the current rules of the road. Some orders may be further set aside and if you don’t qualify for that program, you couldn’t bid on the order.
So this change would restrict certain rights, but it gives the federal agency more room to make sure the right activity comes to the right vehicle, and will also help them keep their small business credits going.
As for small businesses, we want the agency to come to this vehicle and this change makes it attractive to them by allowing them to get additional credits, not just small business credits but credits for using specially certified businesses as well. This is particularly important at the end of the year when everything is done in a rush and they’re looking to get in their numbers.
The hope of course is that they will continue to come back to that vehicle, and maybe some of those task orders will be ones that your small business does qualify for. Stuff escapes the system all the time and we’re trying to get to the point where they don’t have to go somewhere else. Ultimately we want them to meet all their requirements in this vehicle and to keep all the agency work together.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – The Art of War by Sun Tzu
When we talk about the goals of federal business development and capture management at our Bid & Proposal Academy training courses, we pragmatically reduce them to only five:
- Identify opportunities to bid on
- Eliminate competition
- Reduce competition if you can’t eliminate it
- Get the government customer excited about receiving your proposal
- Make it a goal to produce a usable proposal artifact at every step of the capture process, so that writing a winning proposal is a slam dunk.
Goal 2, Eliminate competition, refers to sole source awards. In their simplest form, sole source awards are modifications to add scope to your existing contracts. It works like this: the government has a problem and comes to you. Your technical and BD people meet with the government to discuss the solution and find a contract vehicle to route the work to.
The government issues the modification, and you’ve won new business won without a fight. Both the government and you save a headache and money while getting great value.
The more complex form of sole source awards is getting your firm under a new contract without competing. We‘ll discuss them below, as well as the pending rule changes that are about to make life a bit easier for socioeconomically disadvantaged small businesses.
When can you pursue a sole source award?
We’ve already talked about sole source awards at the end of the federal fiscal year. Sole source awards increase during that time. This allows government entities to make the most of their remaining budgets. This is the simplest and fastest way for the government to navigate through the “use it or lose it” budgetary conundrum.
You can also get sole source awards from your current government customers at any time of the year, provided that the conditions are right. Sole source awards have to fall under one of the seven authorities laid out in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
- There is only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy an agency’s requirements.
- Unusual and compelling urgency
- Industrial mobilization; engineering, developmental, or research capability; or expert services
- International agreement
- Authorized or required by statute
- National security
- Public interest
Many sole source opportunities are awarded under Authorities 1 and 2.
In Authority 1, your company is the only one who can provide a particular product or service, and full and open competition would just result in the contract being awarded to you anyway.
Authority 2 work results from an emergency situation such as a war effort, or a sudden natural disaster for which there is no multiple award contract vehicle that covers that specific scope of work.
What about 8(a), SDVOSB, HUBZone, and WOSB/EDWOSB sole source awards?
These awards fall under Authority 5 listed above. It states that some contracting awards are only available to small businesses who participate in the Small Business Administration’s contracting assistance programs.
Sole source awards have monetary limits. Currently, the limits for socioeconomically disadvantaged businesses such as 8(a) business are $4 million for services and $6.5 million for manufacturing. The exceptions to that are Alaskan Native Corporations (ANC) and Native American Tribal Entities (“super 8(a)s”). They can receive sole source awards for $22 million, and even higher with justification.
Changes may be coming to special sole source award thresholds in 2019
The House of Representatives recently passed a bill (H.R. 190) referred to as “Expanding Contracting Opportunities for Small Business Act of 2019”. On January 17, 2019, the Senate sent the bill to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The last roll call vote was 415-6 in the House, so there is clear bipartisan support.
The majority of these changes would impact 8(a)s, Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB), Women-Owned Small Businesses, and HUBZone businesses.
Specifically, H.R. 190 would change the award price calculation requirements. H.R. 190 removes the requirement for option years to be included in the award price. That means contracting officers could price the award at just the base period of the contract.
Let’s do the math. If the initial year of the contract is valued at $4 million for services, but the contract includes four 1-year options also valued at $4 million, the overall value of the awarded contract would be $20 million – much closer to the super-8(a) $22 million threshold.
It used to be that $4 million was the total value of the contract, and now it’s just the projected maximum award price for the initial year. Under the current law, a sole source award of this amount wouldn’t be possible. Let’s see if this is how this law will be implemented.
The bill would also increase the sole source manufacturing threshold from $6.5 million to $7 million for all socioeconomically disadvantaged small business types, along with other changes.
A note about sole source awards
Finally, your customer may not come to you when they have room in their budget and need the work done. It’s up to you to anticipate their needs and act. This is when being in tune with your customer’s requirements comes into play. You may have opportunities to suggest sole source contracts as solutions to your customer’s pressing needs. If you’ve trained your project personnel to report back with any needs your government customer has, you’ll be in a great position to take advantage of small (or not so small) opportunities like these.
If you need to sharpen your business development skills to grow your small federal contracting company, we recommend you attend our Foundations of Federal Business Development course or consider getting the Blueprint for Federal Business Development for self-paced study.
Olessia Smotrova, CF.APMP Fellow, is the president of OST Global Solutions, Inc., a federal business development consulting and training company. She has 21 years of experience in government business development, winning more than $20 billion in funded contracts. She is the author of How to Get Government Contracts: Have a Slice of $1 Trillion Pie. Prior to founding OST, she developed business for Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, and wrote for the Financial Times of London.
In the previous administration, one of the things that became popular in the drive to save the government money was the use of an evaluation process or technique called LPTA, or least price technically acceptable.
So what was different about this? Instead of doing a detailed review of the technical proposal, technical approach, management approach, past performance, etc., all those factors were lumped together and made into a pass/fail or technically acceptable criteria.
What further assisted the contracting officers and the government was that under an LPTA evaluation, you could start by evaluating the least priced proposal and if their technical approach was acceptable, then you didn’t need to even look at the rest of the proposals.
So if, for example, I got 10 proposals, and I started out with the very first one that was the lowest cost, and that proposal represented a technically acceptable approach, then I didn’t have to review the other nine proposals. Clearly this is an enormous saving of time and energy for the contracting officers and everyone else.
On the other hand, what eventually came to happen, was that people were awarded LPTA contracts and then were unable to perform because their rates were too low. So while the contracting officers were happy because they got more work done, the people in the program offices who had received these kinds of awards on their contracts were unhappy because the people couldn’t do the work at the price they’d bid.
So a new set of rules has been implemented, explained well by Jeff Kinney at WashingtonExec, which implement criteria from NDAA 2017 that make it harder to justify an LPTA approach. This will ensure that procurements that are solving more complex problems that require creative and innovative solutions will be evaluated under ‘best value’ criteria rather than LPTA.
As Kinney explains, the ‘best value’ approach “allows the government flexibility to determine the best mix of price and capability, rather than merely accepting the lowest bid that meets minimum criteria.”
Frankly, only time will tell whether it works out correctly.
As Sam Finnerty of PilieroMazza recounted in this blog post, in December 2018 the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”) issued a proposed rule to implement several provisions of NDAA 2016 and 2017, as well as the Recovery Improvements for Small Entities After Disaster Act of 2015 (“RISE Act”).
As we all know, there have been many major disasters like the fires in California, and hurricanes that happen every year. In these situations, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a process in place to have the President declare a national disaster and designate a disaster area. The SBA also has separate size standards for small businesses in a “major disaster or emergency area.”
The SBA’s new provisions are important for small business owners because they provide additional incentives and credits for using local small businesses in response to these disasters. As a point of fact, this rule applies to any contracting within the disaster area, not necessarily a contract associated with disaster recovery.
There are some limitations, for example you need to have your main operating office in the disaster area, plus they want 50% of your revenue generated there and 50% of your employees located there. However, the SBA will consider other factors if your business doesn’t quite meet those standards.
The fundamental issue is that firms within a disaster area now get extra benefit in the form of a small business credit awarded to the government agency issuing the contract. This is obviously good for small business because the more incentives people have to use small business, the better it is for those businesses.
As Sam Finnerty explained on the PilieroMazza blog, “On December 4, 2018, the U.S. Small Business Administration (‘SBA’) issued a proposed rule (‘Rule’) to implement several provisions of the National Defense Authorization Acts (‘NDAA’) of 2016 and 2017 and the Recovery Improvements for Small Entities After Disaster Act of 2015 (‘RISE Act’), as well as other clarifying amendments.”
These changes will likely be implemented in March 2019. We’ll be taking a closer look at several of these, beginning with subcontracting plans. Finnerty writes:
“Consistent with the 2017 NDAA, the Rule states that it shall be a material breach of contract when a contractor or subcontractor fails to comply in good faith with its subcontracting plan requirements, including failing to provide reports and/or cooperate in studies or surveys to determine the extent of compliance. The Rule provides a number of examples of what constitutes a failure to make ‘good faith’ efforts, including, among others, (1) failing to timely submit subcontracting reports and (2) failing to pay small business subcontractors in accordance with the terms of the contract. The Rule also provides that failure to make a good faith effort may be considered in any past performance evaluation of the contractor.
With respect to subcontracting plans, the Rule also requires other than small prime contractors with commercial subcontracting plans to include indirect costs in their subcontracting goals. According to SBA, the burden imposed by this change would be de minimis, as approximately 95% of the firms with commercial subcontracting plans in 2017 already included indirect costs in their subcontracting goals.”
Normally, subcontracting plans are required for large businesses where the RFP requires a certain amount of small business participation. Unfortunately, most small businesses have experienced inconsistencies between what they thought they were going to get from their subcontract and what actually ends up happening.
So NDAA 2016 and 2017 contained changes that were designed to put some teeth into the potential penalties for non-compliance on the part of large businesses. First of all, the rule essentially creates the potential for a contracting officer to find the large business in breach of contract when they fail to comply. That is a much stronger penalty standard than the kind of scolding which was basically all they could do at present.
A few of the things that are required are one, as silly as it sounds, is to not only submit timely formal subcontracting reports, but also to cooperate when the SBA or any small business agency is doing a study or a survey. The second issue is to honor their payment terms with their small business subcontractors, who are highly dependent on their subcontract revenue coming in on time because of loans and other commitments. Too often a large business will withhold payment for some mythical time related to their accounting system that has nothing to do with whether the work had been completed.
The third issue is that subcontracting plans will include not just direct costs but what are called indirect costs. What this does is increase the accounting accountability of these issues.
Stay tuned for our continued look at these important small business issues.
The Small Business Runway Extension Act of 2018 (H.R. 6330), authored by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, passed on December 6th and has now been signed by the President.
As explained in this press release, this legislation (also know as the “5-year look back”) ensures that small business size standards are calculated using average annual receipts from the previous five years, instead of the previous three. This change will significantly reduce the impact of years wherein businesses experience unexpectedly rapid growth, often causing them to prematurely lose their small business status.
While Tonya pointed out that this bill doesn’t help most mid-tiers, it is an incremental start at addressing some of the problems that a growing firm faces as they begin to grow beyond small.
She also passed along a note of thanks from Barbara Ashe, Executive Vice President of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, who thanked MTA for our support as a Coalition Partner in the Midsize Initiative. Ms. Ashe wrote: “Not only does this legislative change open the door to other initiatives for companies bumping up against small business standards, we also successfully changed the term from ‘mid-tier’ to ‘midsize businesses’ in an effort to clarify the businesses we are seeking to assist.”
On January 24, 2018, a final General Services Acquisition Regulation (GSAR) rule was issued that incorporates order-level materials (OLMs) into the Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program. On selected schedules, agencies can now acquire not just the products and services they’ve come to rely on from GSA, but also the associated items required to make use of them at the order level.
From GSA: “OLMs are supplies and/or services acquired in direct support of an individual task or delivery order placed against a Schedule contract or BPA. OLM pricing is not established at the Schedule contract or BPA level, but at the order level. Since OLMs are identified and acquired at the order level, the ordering contracting officer (OCO) is responsible for making a fair and reasonable price determination for all OLMs.
OLMs are procured under a special ordering procedure that simplifies the process for acquiring supplies and services necessary to support individual task or delivery orders placed against a Schedule contract or BPA. Using this new procedure, ancillary supplies and services not known at the time of the Schedule award may be included and priced at the order level.”
So what are the new benefits of this policy, and why should you care?
- OLMs increase the flexibility of contracts using the various GSA Schedules, especially the ones that focus on services, to provide a total solution to meet the actual customer requirements.
- OLMs reduce customer agency procurement/administrative costs and makes leveraging GSA Schedules that much easier – of course GSA likes this because they get the order through the MAS, along with any associated fees (the downside is that the company gets OLM “revenue,” which generally is just a pass-through fee, not a profit margin, and therefore is using up revenue).
- Contracting officers are happy because it reduces contract duplication by eliminating the need to set up new commercial IDIQs and/or open market procurements for ODCs (“Other Direct Costs”).
- OLMs potentially eliminate the need for Government Furnished Equipment (GFE), and anything that reduces the burden on the customer/contracting officer to track things is HIGHLY desirable.
- Contracting officers like the fact that MAS terms and conditions apply to OLMs, which ensures customer buys are compliant with FAR and other guidelines.
As a contractor, how do you include OLMs under a Schedule order?
The special ordering procedures are contained in General Services Administration Acquisition Regulation (GSAR) clause 552.538-82 Special Ordering Procedures for the Acquisition of Order-Level Materials, which may be incorporated into contracts under OLM-authorized Schedules. This clause, along with a dedicated Special Item Number (SIN) for Order-Level Materials, allows ordering activities to include OLMs in Schedule orders.
It is important to remember:
- Prices for OLMs are not established in the Schedule contract or BPA.
- OLMs are established and acquired at the order level, and the ordering activity contracting officer is responsible for making the determination that prices for all OLMs are fair and reasonable.
- OLM procedures may be used to purchase OLM products or services to support delivery orders (products) or task orders (services) under authorized GSA Schedules.
- OLMs may be added to any order-type, i.e. Firm Fixed-Price, Time & Materials (T&M), or Labor Hour. However, the OLM CLIN (contract line item number) must be T&M, but it can be the only T&M CLIN on the order. i.e., OLMs may be added to a Firm Fixed-Price order, but the OLM CLIN itself must be T&M.
Current Authorized OLM Schedules
- 00CORP – Professional Services Schedule
- 03FAC – Facilities Maintenance and Management
- 56 – Buildings And Building Materials / Industrial Services and Supplies
- 70 – Information Technology
- 71 – Furniture
- 84 – Security, Fire, & Law Enforcement
- 738X – Human Capital Management and Administrative Support Services
A GSA OLM Ordering Guide is coming soon. In the meantime, check out these resources:
- Training: Understanding Order-Level Materials (OLMs) [PDF – 248 KB]
- Training: Order-Level Materials – Vendor Webinar [PDF – 3 MB]
- Order-Level Materials SIN Description [PDF – 50 KB]
- Summary of Support Item Types for GSA Schedules Program Orders [PDF – 102 KB]
- Order-Level Materials FAQs #1 (April 25, 2018) [PDF – 120 KB]
- Order-Level Materials FAQs # 2 (August 8, 2018) [PDF – 112 KB]
- Download OLM training for federal agency customers and industry partners
This bill, which applies only to the Department of Defense, will amend section 3903 of title 31, United States Code, to establish accelerated payments applicable to contracts with certain small business concerns. This bill would require the government to establish a goal of paying all small business contractors within 15 days of receiving a proper invoice. The bill also establishes a similar goal for government contractors that have small business sub-contractors.
This bill is a win-win-win for small businesses, taxpayers, and the community.
For small businesses: “Small business contractors rely on a consistent and reliable flow of income in order to keep their operations running smoothly. The Accelerated Payments for Small Businesses Act will help ensure these businesses receive their payments in a timely and accountable manner. This consistency will enable businesses to focus on improving their services and expanding production.” – Representative Steve Knight (R-CA)
“The Accelerated Payments for Small Businesses Act [will] ensure that all transactions among small business contractors are treated with the respect and equity they deserve. Making this commitment will yield a tremendous return further incorporating small businesses including those that are women-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, and HUBZone contractors.” – Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY)
For the taxpayers: “[This bill means that] small business prime contractors and prime contractors that subcontract with small businesses can continue to do business and not pass on any unnecessary costs to the taxpayer” – House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot (R-OH)
For the community: “For small companies, payment delays can mean cash flow problems, constraining their expansion and slowing job growth. By accelerating payments to small companies, this legislation will help small contractors meet payroll, reinvest in their operations and create good paying jobs along the way.” – House Small Business Committee Ranking Member Nydia Velázquez (D-NY)
It also affects a company having the resources in time to pay subcontractors and even our 1099 consultants and SMEs, increasingly used in this rapidly innovating economy. We’ve talked in other venues about financing options, but anything which reduces the cost of credit and makes payments better, also saves money for the contractor.
This is a guest post by Cy Alba of PilieroMazza PLLC.
With proposals costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and many IDIQs having 50 or more awardees, it can easily happen that some contractors who win a spot on a contract are unable to capitalize on it and simply stop trying to capture task orders. Whether it was because the initial win was based on sheer luck or perhaps because of a tragic, unforeseeable change in circumstances, making it impossible to bid or even keep the company doors open, a contractor may find itself with a shiny new license to hunt, but without the proper tools to successfully compete for and win the actual task orders.
After failing to win any work for usually a year or more, contractors in situations like this may just be looking to recoup the bid and proposal costs or salvage the win. Often, they look to sell their zombie contracts to a more viable candidate. In the past, this was not too difficult, but in recent years, even months, it has become a harder and harder “sell.”
First, it has always been true, yet not fully understood by many, that the sale of a federal contract is prohibited. However, this has always been more of a technical or legal truth than reality. Now, however, agencies have started to question more and more transactions during the novation process, especially in cases where IDIQ contracts without ongoing task orders are sold to other contractors. At some agencies, but particularly GSA, contracting officers are questioning whether a transaction truly includes “all assets needed to perform the contract,” as required by FAR Part 42, or whether transactions are an improper sale of a federal contract.
Many contractors come back with something along the lines of “this is a services contract, there are no assets, just people.” However there are two issues with that statement: (1) it inaccurately admits the improper sale of a federal contract and (2) it ignores the fact that many tangible and intangible assets exist, even when a “naked” IDIQ contract is transferred. Despite what some inside and outside of the government may believe, assets such as proposals, bid strategies, and marketing plans all have real value. Indeed, the proposals themselves for these contracts may have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to prepare.
Given these facts and recent experience, we recommend that contractors carefully review all possible tangible and intangible assets that are part of a transaction, value each item, and then include them on at least the buyer’s post-transaction balance sheets, if not the seller’s pre-transaction balance sheets when possible, to show the agency the factual reality that there are valuable assets changing hands.
Lastly, we have also seen agencies use purchase terms against contractors. Particularly, terms whereby the seller retains workshare have been used as evidence that (1) the buyer is not capable of performing the work and that (2) not all assets needed to perform the work were transferred. While the existence of a workshare guarantee is evidence of neither, it has not stopped contracting officers from making such conclusions. Thus, given these new interpretations coming out of various agencies, we recommend carefully crafting such provisions going forward and giving full explanations in the novation package cover letter.
While the government enjoys a broad level of discretion when reviewing novations so they are never guaranteed, focusing on these and similar issues can help resolve the government’s concerns as to improper sales of federal contracts. In the past year or so, we have seen a major paradigm shift amongst a number of federal agencies. Thus, if you are buying or selling “naked” IDIQ vehicles, be prepared for a fight on the novation front, regardless of how well crafted the purchase agreement—some agencies will use the smallest excuse to reject a novation as not being in the best interests of the government when, by any reasonable account, it absolutely is.
This post originally appeared on the PilieroMazza blog at https://www.pilieromazza.com/avoiding-flat-tires-when-acquiring-idiq-contract-vehicles and was reprinted with permission.