Highlights From NCMA World Congress 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SBA Proposed Rule to Amend WOSB and EDWOSB Regulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


OMB Acquisition Reform Proposal 4 – Uniformity in Procurement Thresholds

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

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

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

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

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


OMB Acquisition Reform Proposal 3 – Increase Threshold for CAS

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

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

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

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

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


In SBA News – Updates from an Expert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OMB Acquisition Reform Proposal 2 – Repeal Defense CAS

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

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

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

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

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

But, we’ll keep working on it…


Beyond the Size Standards – Business Focused Breakfast, Jul 30, 2019

Mid-Tier Advocacy, Inc. presents the next Business Focused Breakfast on July 30, 2019 from 7:00-9:00 a.m. at the Tower Club – Tysons Corner, 8000 Towers Crescent Drive, Suite 1700, Vienna, Va.

Topic: “Beyond the Size Standards” – SBA to Increase Size Standards with Inflationary Adjustment

Featured Guest Speaker: Ms. Pamela Mazza, Managing Partner, PilieroMazza PLLC.

Click here to learn more and register now!


OMB Acquisition Reform Proposal 1 – Acquisition Test Programs

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The fundamental problem with acquisitions is that they take too long, by whatever standards people may be applying. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), who oversees the performance of federal agencies, has proposed six ways to help streamline the acquisition process and improve the acquisition environment – changes they intend to be part of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

In a series of posts, we’ll look at each of these six proposals. First up, is to establish acquisition test programs.

You may remember our discussion about other attempts to streamline acquisitions through other transactional authorities and consortia. What the OMB is saying here is let’s set up some innovation in procurement and acquisition and allow individual agencies to test stuff out and cultivate the kind of innovation you might see in Silicone Valley and other high-tech areas.

Someone will still need to approve you to try out your idea, but then you can do so even if it’s not entirely in compliance with the FAR. The idea is to test stuff out, see whether it works, and then that would result in recommendations for future actual changes.

This all fits into the concept of agile development that so many are people are into right now. One example is the Air Force Kessel Run program (for all you Star Wars fans). It’s essentially a place where they’re doing software development in small bits – what they call agile scrums – and they can literally run from requirements to testing, fielding, etc. in months rather than years.

Establishing acquisition test programs is a really good idea. It will fit within what the 809 panel was doing, and it will also fit the government’s move toward innovation.


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