Comparing Commercial and DoD/Federal Market Sector Business Environments

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This is a guest post by R.J. Kolton, SVP of Data Systems Analysts (DSA), Inc. and VP of Mid-Tier Advocacy, Inc.

The 17-person 809 panel was tasked with finding ways to streamline and improve the defense acquisition process. I met with the 809 Panel in February 2017 and I found it important to speak about the challenges facing mid-tier companies.

Another question the panel asked me to address was what are the differences between contracting with the Department of Defense and a commercial sector.

New entrants, such as “Silicon Valley” companies, entering via OTAs and other mechanisms will eventually confront the same challenges as traditional players in the defense sector. This is particularly the case as they achieve success, become established, and play by the same rules as traditional government contractors.

These new entrants must prepare to operate in a defense contracting business environment. Described below are key differences between the commercial and DoD business environments, which impact directly on the business models companies operating in those environments adopt:

1) Commercial Environment:

  • Customer/company commercial contractual practices reflect the need to adhere to general legal contractual requirements as defined by local, State, and federal government and are far less complex and formal than the practices encountered when working with DoD and to comply with the FAR/DFAR.
  • Commercial marketplace involves rapid customer decision making and compressed timelines.
  • Commercial marketplace includes flexible contractual arrangements that foster rapid business deals.
  • In general, there is no requirement to meet specific socio-economic/small business targets in contracting.
  • Customers have more flexibility to develop and establish criteria for selecting venders.
  • Awarded work often involves rapid delivery of products and services.
  • Companies focus on rapidly closing deals, maintaining continuous cash flow, and minimizing peaks and valleys in revenue/profit streams.
  • Companies maintain robust sales and marketing capacity to continuously sustain and grow business.
  • Commercial companies offering products/services relevant to DoD market sector stress continuous R&D and product scaling and improvement in order to sustain competitive position.
  • Losing companies in commercial transactions have little recourse to protest customer’s decision.

2) DoD Contracting Environment:

  • Contractual practices are guided by FAR and DFAR, unless waived, such as OTAs; procedures are formal and time intensive.
  • Customer procurement strategies, criteria, and practices reflect guidelines provided by Executive Branch, Congress, DoD, and DoD agencies, which leads to complex customer requirements.
  • Customer decision making involves multiple layers of leaders; all must adhere to specified procedures, which is time intensive.
  • Contractual arrangements promote adherence to intent and letter of the law rather than focusing on rapid award of contracts.
  • DoD agencies must stress adherence to socio-economic/small business targets.
  • DoD agencies allocate significant time and resources to develop criteria, specifications, and requirements for contractual competitions; companies operating in the defense market space establish business model that are influenced by those government characteristics.
  • Companies focus on obtaining access to contract vehicles, winning task orders or full & open competitions, and protecting incumbent work.
  • Awarded work often involves multi-year contracts; this reduces the challenges associated with short duration commercial work.
  • Companies address continuous cash flow and minimizing peaks and valleys in revenue/profit streams by sustaining numerous concurrent contracts.
  • Successful defense-oriented companies maintain BD teams that focus on account management/business intelligence, capture, and proposal development.
  • While many defense companies by their nature focus on R&D and building new capacity to remain competitive, they are influenced in their investments by the need to invest in activities required to meet DoD certifications and requirements (e.g.,  financial and security compliance, ISO-standards, CMMI-standards, etc.).
  • DoD is generally unwilling to compensate companies for being innovative; viewed as a value-added trait.
  • Companies operating in the defense market sector must obtain and sustain key certifications to remain competitive, such as ISO 9001:2008/2015, ISO 20000, ISO 27001, CMMI-3 & 4, NIST compliance, etc. This involves major internal investments.
  • Losing companies in DoD transactions can protest large procurements; this impacts government procurement strategies and timelines.

Companies must design their organizations to optimize performance relative to the customers they serve, and as I’ve shown, the commercial market is very different form the Government market.

Given this, the DoD will be challenged in enticing non-traditional companies to enter the DoD market sector. While the DoD can offer short-term relief to the various barriers to entry, non-traditional players in that market sector will eventually have to adapt business models that support congressional and DoD policy requirements.

Randy J. (“RJ”) Kolton is VP of Mid-Tier Advocacy Group, and Senior Vice President (SVP), Business Development for Data Systems Analysts (DSA), Inc., a mid-sized, employee-owned company that is a leader in delivering business driven information technology and consulting solutions and services to the Federal Government and industry. Building on experience spanning more than five decades, DSA has deep expertise and comprehensive understanding of the operational, security, collaboration, and identity management challenges our customers must address.


7 Ways that Mid-Tier Companies Are Being Squeezed Out of DoD Contracts

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This is a guest post by R.J. Kolton, SVP of Data Systems Analysts (DSA), Inc. and VP of Mid-Tier Advocacy, Inc.

The 17-person 809 panel, created in Section 809 of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), was tasked with finding ways to streamline and improve the defense acquisition process. The panel had two years to develop recommendations for changes in the regulation and associated statute to achieve those ends.

As part of its review, the Section 809 Panel reviewed the DoD small business program. The panel ultimately developed several specific recommendations designed to improve how the DoD small business program supports DoD initiatives. One of the major areas of interest was determining how to promote the entry of non-traditional DoD companies who offered advanced technology and innovative solutions to DoD challenges.

I met with the 809 Panel in February 2017. I found it important to note that mid-tier companies performing in the DoD market sector play a major role in generating jobs and enhancing overall economic growth for the Nation and that mid-tier companies, defined as companies earning $25M-$500M annually, are being squeezed by small businesses on one side and by large businesses on the other.

In that context, I offered seven points, which also generally apply to small businesses, innovating companies developing new technologies, and companies that are new entrants into the defense market space.

  1. First, mid-tier companies cannot grow effectively if they are primarily subcontractors to large businesses since subcontractors are unable to obtain significant workshare.  Large businesses have little motivation to offer mid-tier companies significant work since DoD acquisition policies encourage them to award subcontracts to small businesses. 
  2. Second, the primary pathway for growth for mid-tier companies is to win large multiple award, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts as primes so they can compete for agency task orders. However, to win these IDIQs, mid-tier companies must surmount major challenges:
    • Mid-tiers are often locked out of large multiple award IDIQs owing to significant past performance criteria.
    • The tendency of DoD agencies to consolidate contracts to reduce administrative burdens and costs, which favors large businesses. Such IDIQ consolidation reduces opportunities for mid-tier companies to penetrate and support customer agencies, which constrains future growth. Consolidation also poses risk to growth owing to long period of performance of awarded IDIQs; mid-tier companies often have to wait a decade before they can compete again as an IDIQ prime if they miss out on the near-term opportunity.
  3. Third, mid-tier companies must contend with ever rising costs that increase their indirect rates and make it more difficult to compete against large businesses. These cost increases are the result of several factors, chief among them are supporting employee benefits under newly enacted national healthcare polices, responding to current and emerging cyber security requirements, maintaining sophisticated auditable financial systems, and obtaining certifications and appraisals, such as ISO-9001:2008/20015, ISO 20000, ISO 27001 and CMMI-3/4, which DoD agencies increasingly require of companies seeking to pursue and perform work.
  4. Fourth, while mid-tier companies are capable of providing the same or better level of service and customer relations as large businesses, their competiveness is hampered by higher overhead costs relative to large businesses because they lack the scale to absorb those indirect costs. These higher costs, combined with the lowest price technically acceptable and low price competition environment we are experiencing in the defense sector, hinder mid-tier companies in achieving success as they compete against large business on full and open competitions. 
  5. Fifth, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes used to classify DoD work and define company size standards offer little support for mid-tier companies. While some NAICS codes, such as 541712/5, Research and Development, reflect a size standard of 1000 employees, up from 500 employees in Feb 2016, DoD agency contracting officials tend to strictly interpret the type of work performed and the size standard offers little benefit to mid-tier companies. Hence, there are no contracting tools to benefit or promote mid-tier company growth.
  6. Sixth, graduating small businesses confront major challenges as they evolve into mid-tier companies and must compete as newly minted large businesses. While seeking a merger or acquisition may represent a potential exit strategy, in many cases, successful small businesses owe their growth to small business contract awards, which are of little value to large business acquirers. Hence, the businesses are at great risk of failing shortly after graduating from small business status: they are too big to be small and too small to be effective as large businesses. While the Congress and DoD have done an excellent job in establishing policies that promote small business growth, particularly for socio-economic challenged groups, they have failed to establish an effective strategy to promote business health and growth across the total business life cycle, from start-up/small business through mid-tier to large business.
  7. Seventh, and my final point, small business officials in DoD agencies generally sympathize with the challenges mid-tier companies confront, however they state they can do little to help without congressional and/or department involvement and legislation. Their focus is on accomplishing their duties by promoting the various small business classifications.

The US lacks a strategic approach to promoting growth of US businesses supporting the DoD. The current government programs that promote the interests of small businesses fail to account for their eventual growth into being mid-tier companies. At that point, such companies must compete against small businesses, other mid-tier companies, and very large companies. This poses great challenges to rising small businesses. I believe Congress and DoD should seek avenues to promote the lifecycle growth of companies by accounting for those mid-tier company challenges.

Randy J. (“RJ”) Kolton is VP of Mid-Tier Advocacy Group, and Senior Vice President (SVP), Business Development for Data Systems Analysts (DSA), Inc., a mid-sized, employee-owned company that is a leader in delivering business driven information technology and consulting solutions and services to the Federal Government and industry. Building on experience spanning more than five decades, DSA has deep expertise and comprehensive understanding of the operational, security, collaboration, and identity management challenges our customers must address.


Benefits and Disadvantages of the GSA Schedule Program

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This is a guest post by Morgan Taylor of Winvale.

At Winvale, we are constantly challenged by organizations new to the federal market with questions around why a GSA Schedule contract is so valuable. Any savvy consultant should be prepared to adequately describe the benefits of a GSA Schedule contract program and even articulate drawbacks of having one in place.

Let’s focus first on this contract vehicle’s benefits.

What are the benefits of a GSA Schedule contract?

NO. 5: COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

FAR Subpart 8.002 and 8.004 describes the order of precedence for federal agencies considering sources in procuring goods and services. Federal agencies have a statutory obligation to consider mandatory sources of supply of goods and services, and the use of Federal Supply Schedules (i.e., GSA schedule contracts) are encouraged in advance of “commercial sources in the open market.”

This means that your organization will have a competitive advantage when compared to competitors who do not have a GSA Schedule contract. This is significant, because it puts you in an elite group of organizations who may receive preference (in most cases, chances are in your favor) when an agency is considering how to meet its needs.

Having a GSA Schedule is also a great asset to advertise on your company website and marketing materials. Having a GSA Schedule provides a great deal of visibility in the federal marketplace that can be used to win GSA bids and even Open Market bids.

NO. 4: A LONG-TERM PARTNERSHIP

GSA Schedule contracts can last up to 20 years, do not have a sales limit, and everyone in the federal government can use them. Specifically, GSA Schedule contracts have four five-year option terms. It is one of the most widely used government contacts available and they are recommended to anyone serious about selling to the federal government.

Of course, vendors will need to remain productive (generating at least $25,000 annually) and ensure they are properly administering their contract from a reporting and compliance standpoint, but the contract can help facilitate a long-term relationship with agency customers.

NO. 3: ENJOY EASIER AND FASTER PROCUREMENTS

Schedule orders do not require much of the extensive documentation and competitive analysis that is required when vetting commercial sources in the open market. This is why the GSA Schedule contract is so valuable. The contract pre-qualifies you to sell to federal buyers because the GSA has already negotiated fair and reasonable pricing for those federal buyers and made the requisite responsibility determination. This means it is significantly easier to win government business, as individual agencies do not have to go through the process of determining if your pricing is competitive in the market.

As can be seen under the FAR subpart 8.4 language, depending on the specifics, agencies can order directly from a GSA Schedule holder and do not need to make that public. By placing an order against a GSA Schedule contract, the government buyer has concluded that the order represents the “best value.” Less work makes contracting officers happy.

Another way GSA Schedule contracts lead to easier and faster procurements is through pre-vetted technical capabilities.When submitting a GSA proposal, offerors must provide technical narratives that capture a company’s experience in the field and specific expertise related to the proposed Special Item Numbers (SINs). In addition, offerors of SINs such as the Highly Adaptive Cyber Security (HACS) SIN 132-45, must undergo a verbal technical evaluation to ensure the main criteria is met.

While this can sometimes make for a lengthy proposal process, it allows agencies to buy from contractors with the assurance that the work performed will be satisfactory and meet all requirements. This can prevent GSA Schedule holders from having to submit separate technical narratives in each individual bid proposal.

NO. 2: ACCESS TO EXCLUSIVE OPPORTUNITIES

Once you have a GSA Schedule contract, you gain access to GSA sites that other companies do not. For example, GSA eBuy is a website that only contract holders and agency buyers may access. This acquisition tool is where agencies look to request information and quotes from GSA Schedule holders. GSA eBuy often houses high-dollar, high-profile contract opportunities not available anywhere else. GSA eBuy makes it easy to find business opportunities, respond to government requests and establish new business relationships. An impressive number of orders are transacted through this exclusive website.

…AND NO. 1: EXPAND YOUR CUSTOMER BASE

This is the absolute key for anyone pursuing a GSA Schedule contract. The vehicle widens your customer base and has great potential to lead to increased revenue over time. A GSA Schedule contract is also accessible by state and local markets. The Cooperative Purchasing Program under the GSA Schedule program allows state and local governments to purchase from Schedule 70 for information technology and Schedule 84 for law enforcement and security products and services, at any time, for any reason, using any funds available. Having access to this additional market is a key differentiator that again exhibits the value of having a GSA Schedule contract.

The U.S. government is the biggest buyer of goods and services in the world, and a GSA Schedule contract could mean new business relationships and major opportunities with a reliable customer and source of income during tough economic times. Any business should certainly take notice.

What are the disadvantages of a GSA Schedule contract?

PRICING RESTRICTIONS

GSA Schedule pricing is determined by establishing a company’s Most Favored Customer (MFC) and discounting from there. GSA is obligated to make sure that the government receives the best pricing possible, so maintaining the established discount relationship is an essential part of having a GSA Schedule. Once your ceiling GSA rates are awarded, you are required to charge at or below this rate to government buyers. You may never charge above the GSA established ceiling rate if you are selling through the Schedule. You must also maintain the discount relationship, meaning that you may never charge a commercial customer lower than your MFC rates, or you are required to revise your awarded Commercial Sales Practices (CSP).

These rules require that you monitor the amount you bill and the discount you provide to every customer class, which can sometimes cause unwanted administrative burden.  However, structuring pricing this way can help establish firm guidelines for sales desk and business development departments within your company.

COMPLIANCE AND MAINTENANCE

The GSA Schedule should change and grow with your company. Schedule holders should be monitoring the contract pricing and Terms and Conditions throughout the life of the contract to ensure that all changes made commercially are updated on the contract through a contract modification. To remain compliant, contractors are required to report all GSA sales, accept Schedule refreshes and keep the contract terms and conditions current, accurate and complete. Having a GSA Schedule does take some extra time and effort, but if maintained correctly, can be a valuable tool for your company’s continued growth in the federal marketplace.

The GSA Schedule has clear advantages but does require companies to take on additional compliance and maintenance concerns. Looking for compliance and maintenance assistance? Give us a call!

Morgan Taylor is a consultant for Winvale’s Professional Services Department where she provides GSA Schedule acquisition and maintenance support to her clients. Morgan is currently a member of the National Contract Management Association (NCMA).


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

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

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

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

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

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

Start first by considering your recipient, specifically:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Five Most Common Technology Pain Points for GovCons

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

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

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

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

1. Too much data, not enough insight

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

Why it hurts

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

How to fix it

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

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

An analytics strategy to extract useful information

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

2. Deprecated systems

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

Why it hurts

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

How to fix it

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

3. Technical debt

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

Why it hurts

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

How to fix it

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

4. Underutilized assets

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

Why it hurts

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

How to fix it

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

5. Lack of expertise

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

Why it hurts

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

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

How to fix it

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

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

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

Planning for Longevity

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

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

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


How the CCPA Will Affect Federal Contractors

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This is a guest post by Jonathan T. Williams and David T. Shafer of PilieroMazza PLLC.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) will go into effect on January 1, 2020. Similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), CCPA creates significant compliance challenges for government contractors and commercial businesses doing business in California, with several states following suit. Under CCPA, fines from the Attorney General for businesses that do not comply could be as high as $7,500 per violation, with CCPA also granting consumers the right to bring private action, exposing companies to actual and statutory damages.

Preparing for CCPA

To prepare for CCPA’s January 1, 2020 effective date, first determine if you fall within CCPA’s compliance criteria. Critically, the statutorily defined terms “consumer” and “personal information” are far broader than most statutes and regulations. The enlargement of these terms causes CCPA’s jurisdiction to be larger than it appears on the face of the statute. Below are certain high-level questions that can help a business determine if it meets certain threshold standards:

  • Do you, or any of your subsidiaries or affiliates, engage in business in California?
  • Do you do business with contacts or employees who reside in California?
  • Does your business have over $25 million in annual gross revenues?
  • Does your business buy, sell, or receive personal information?

If you fit certain initial criteria, we recommend identifying the type of personal information your business collects. As briefly mentioned above, CCPA broadly defines personal information as any information that directly or indirectly identifies, describes, or can be reasonably linked to a particular consumer.

Similar to GDPR, CCPA grants consumers significant rights to the use or their personal information, including general notice rights. It is here that companies can take proactive steps to prepare for CCPA’s implementation. More specifically, CCPA grants consumers the right to know what personal information a business collects, sells, or discloses about them. Additionally, several sections of CCPA require businesses to make affirmative disclosures to consumers by way of privacy policies and other notices.

In addition to the various privacy policies that are required under CCPA, other reasonable steps include conducting regular training programs for employees, crafting tailored intellectual property rights contracts, and instituting third-party commercial contracts to ensure that CCPA’s requirements are adhered to.

Looking to the future

CCPA was originally drafted as a ballot initiative before being transitioned into a statute in a relatively short timeframe. Because of this, CCPA has already been through a series of amendments, with many more amendments still before the California legislature.

More and more states are slated to follow California’s lead, including Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington. If these states decide to enact similar legislation, it will have a far-reaching effect on government contractors and commercial businesses that conduct business in those regions. In light of GDPR, CCPA, and these recent developments, the possibility of federal legislation being enacted is high. Businesses should prepare now to preempt the potential impact.

Attorneys in PilieroMazza’s Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Group are well-versed in this area of the law, and will continue to monitor CCPA developments, as well as the litany of other states that are in various stages of implementing additional privacy statutes and regulations. For more information concerning CCPA, click here to contact them directly.

This blog post originally appeared on the PilieroMazza blog at https://www.pilieromazza.com/impact-of-california-consumer-privacy-act-on-government-contractors-and-commercial-businesses and was reprinted with permission.


What are the Common Challenges Government Contractors Face with Proposal Writing?

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This is a guest post by Reena Bhatia of ProposalHelper.

If you have any business with the Government, you are all too familiar with the proposal writing process. If you treat a proposal like a mini project, the rules are the same – plan, implement, monitor, control, and close-out. Why then do so many businesses (large and small) struggle through the proposal process? Why do so many companies suddenly forget what they do for a living and stress out their entire organization? The answer lies in the well-known trifecta – people, process, and tools.

The most common challenge businesses face – people. More precisely, a shortage of skilled people who (a) are not generating revenue for the company; (b) understand how to write to an RFx, and (c) are willing to work 18×7. Managing and writing a proposal takes a team, not one person. When I meet with potential clients, one of the common questions I get is, “why don’t we just hire one proposal manager instead of outsourcing?”

Companies can’t seem to figure out the right balance or the correct type of people to assign to a proposal. They either have one person doing everything or too many people who don’t know anything about proposal writing trying to battle their way through. Regardless of how small you think the proposal is, the skills required to work on it are diverse. Form and assign the right team and contrary to popular belief, we recommend you keep the proposal team small. Throwing bodies on a project doesn’t necessarily mean success.

The second challenge companies face is with their process. Building and submitting a proposal is not a mystery; it’s a process that can be learned, implemented, learned again, and continuously improved. Often we see companies who pick some industry-defined processes out of a textbook and force it as their own without really understanding resource limitations. Companies who are successful have a clear and flexible process that fits their organization.

Having a proposal process is great but remember if you assign the same writer to three different proposals at the same time, the process and therefore the proposal will fail. Your process should take into account resource availability and be flexible to utilize best what you need to succeed, not just what you have. Companies who succeed are not afraid to adjust their process to fit the magnitude of the RFx – adding or reducing resources and steps as necessary. Rigid processes add to the frustration levels and contribute to burn out. They most certainly don’t contribute to an increase in win ratios.   

Finally, we get to technology. There is no silver bullet here, but one thing we are sure about, email and Google docs are not the best tools to use when it comes to managing proposals. There are some excellent platforms in the marketplace today that cater to the Government contracting and proposal industry. Whether you invest in a platform, build your own (because you can!), or stubbornly decide to continue emailing files, we advise that you define how the tool will be used, communicate your expectations with your proposal team, and then stick to it and most importantly, keep it simple.

Often companies start with all good intentions to use SharePoint or some other complicated platform but quickly break the pattern and begin emailing files because of the difficulty in using the tool and lack of control. As we have observed at ProposalHelper, senior executives are the biggest violators of process and use of selected tools because they cannot remember another URL or password and are too busy to bother with it. This sets the tone and culture of the proposal team, and very quickly we see others doing the same. This creates a lot of unnecessary confusion and adds to an already stressful situation. When it comes to tools for proposals, ProposalHelper says to KISS (Keep it Simple Silly!).

Companies need to start treating proposals like their revenue generating projects – assign the right team, implement the proper process that is fit for that proposal, and ensure consistent use of tools at every level – from the senior executive on down to the proposal team.

Reena is the Founder & CEO of ProposalHelper. The company started in 2010 with one employee and today has over 42 employees. She brings over 24 years of experience in global sales and US federal proposal management. Her background also includes planning and designing technical and management solutions, drafting technical proposal responses, and pricing strategy. Reena graduated with a Masters in Public Policy from University of Maryland, College Park and is currently pursuing her PhD in Information Systems.


SBA (Finally!) Proposes Regulation Extinguishing WOSB Self-Certification

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This is a guest post by Haley Claxton of Koprince Law LLC.

In a move bringing to mind Etta James’ most popular refrain, SBA has proposed an amendment to its regulations which will require Woman-Owned Small Business program participants to be certified by the SBA or an SBA approved third-party certifier.

As we’ve talked about extensively on SmallGovCon (hereherehere, and here, to name a few), Congress and GAO have requested the SBA eliminate Woman-Owned Small Business program participant self-certification over and over again for the past few years. Most recently, GAO issued a report last month detailing ongoing issues with the SBA’s management of the WOSB program, due in part to SBA’s failure to eliminate WOSB self-certification in compliance with Congress’ 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. With these proposed amendments, SBA appears to have listened.

The proposed amendments are complex, so we’re focusing on the proposed initial certification processes for WOSBs in this post. Importantly, the proposed amendments outline two approved methods of WOSB certification: an entirely new Certification by SBA and a modified Certification by Third Party.

Certification by SBA

Certification by the SBA under the proposed amendments appears similar to the certification requirements of the 8(a) Business Development program, as well as Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business certification through the VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation. Importantly, application is free! A woman-owned business may apply for SBA certification by accessing certify.sba.gov and submitting:

  • information requested by the SBA under the amended regulation (and as required to demonstrate compliance with 13 C.F.R. subpart B) similar to that currently listed in 13 CFR § 127.300;
  • if applicable, evidence demonstrating that it is a woman-owned business which is already a certified 8(a) participant, CVE-approved SDVOSB, or Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (authorized by the Department of Transportation); or
  • if applicable, evidence that it has been certified as a WOSB by an approved Third Party Certifier (as discussed below).

After applicants submit an application, the proposed amendment requires the SBA to notify applicants whether their application is complete enough for evaluation within 15 days, and if not, indicate any additional information or clarification it needs to proceed. The proposed amendment also requires SBA to make its final determination within 90 days “whenever practicable.”

Whether the SBA approves or denies an application, it must notify the applicant in writing. If it denies an application, it must provide specific reasons for denial as well. Denied applicants may file a request for reconsideration within 30 days of the SBA’s denial decision and provide additional information countering the reasons the SBA provided for denial. The SBA may either approve the application in light of additional information, or deny it again on the same grounds or new grounds. The decision on reconsideration is SBA’s final decision, meaning there is no further appeal through SBA.

Certification by Third Party

Due to ongoing WOSB third-party certification practices, the SBA’s proposed amendments would still allow the SBA to approve third-party certifiers, either for-profit or non-profit entities, to certify WOSBs. Unlike SBA Certification, third-party certifiers would be permitted to “charge a reasonable fee” for certification, but only if certifiers also notify applicants that the SBA will certify for free. SBA plans to list approved third-party certifiers on its website, as before.

Under the amendment, to become a third-party certifier an entity will be required to submit a proposal to the SBA, which “will periodically hold open solicitations.” If the SBA determines that an entity’s proposal meets its criteria, “the SBA will enter into an agreement and designate the entity as an approved third party certifier.” This agreement will contain the minimum certification standards for the third-party certifier, which, for the most part, mirror the standards for SBA certification. Much of the proposed process for becoming a third -part certifier is similar to the current system, but includes more detail and mechanisms allowing the SBA to make sure certifiers keep coloring inside the lines.

To ensure that third-party certifiers continue to comply with requirements set by the SBA, the SBA’s proposed amendment would require third-party certifiers to submit quarterly reports to the SBA and allow the SBA to periodically review certifier compliance. If the SBA determines that a third-party certifier isn’t keeping up their end of the bargain, SBA may revoke its approval of the certifier.  

Notably, unlike SBA’s various timelines for taking action on WOSB certification matters, the proposed amendment doesn’t include many regulations holding third-party certifiers to similar timelines (but that isn’t to say using a third-party certifier won’t be a speedier process than through SBA).

SBA is accepting public comments on the proposed amendment through July 15 of this year. After receiving public comments, SBA will hopefully move toward publishing a final rule quickly, at which time, WOSB self-certification will become a thing of the past.

This post originally appeared at SmallGovCon at http://smallgovcon.com/statutes-and-regulations/breaking-news-sba-finally-proposes-regulation-extinguishing-wosb-self-certification/ and was reprinted with permission.


Exciting Changes Afoot at SmallGovCon

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This a guest post by Shane McCall, attorney at Koprince Law LLC and editor of SmallGovCon.

As readers of this blog may know, we at SmallGovCon have been contributing to and reading Bill’s blog for a number of years. We wanted to inform you of some changes at our firm and our blog. Steven Koprince, the founder of Koprince Law LLC and SmallGovCon, has recently decided to move on from actively practicing law and he’ll also be stepping down as editor of our blog. For more information about the exciting things Steve has cooked up for his future plans (which will include working in the federal contracting sphere and slowing down a little), please read his post. We’ll definitely miss him, but he’ll continue to provide insight and guidance for the firm and SmallGovCon.

Rest assured, we will continue to be contributing important posts to Federalsmallbizsavvy.com on into the future. At SmallGovCon, we’ll continue to provide timely legal updates, easy-to-understand explanations, and lively commentary on the federal contracting realm. So, who’ll be taking over Steve’s duties as blog editor? Why, that would be me, Shane McCall. I’ve been practicing law since 2010, and I’ve really enjoyed the chance to flex my non-legal writing muscles some at SmallGovCon since joining Koprince Law. I’m looking forward to taking over the blog editing reins from Steve over the next month.

The other attorney-authors and I at SmallGovCon will continue to provide the latest and greatest in useful, easy-to-follow government contracting updates, with an emphasis on items important for small business contractors.

With that in mind, here are some things that we’ve commented on, but we’ll be watching closely and writing about more at SmallGovCon in 2019. Stay on the lookout for updates and commentary on these matters and many others.

  1. Small Business Runway Extension Act. Will Congress listen to the drumbeat of displeasure and amend the Act to remove the negative impact on those businesses that have had declining revenues by allowing businesses and SBA to run the numbers under both three-year and five-year look-back periods? Will the SBA listen to Congress and enforce the five-year lookback period for size-based receipts standards?
  2. Section 809 Panel’s Recommendations. We’ve written a lot and grumbled some about the Section 809 Panel’s advice, which, among many other things, ranges from eliminating most small business set-asides for DoD acquisitions to changing the “once 8(a), always 8(a)” rule. We also know that the Section 809’s panels advice has worked on some issues (read my update on changes to $1 coin regulations to maintain currency with the rules in this area). But it’s unclear how much sway the Panel will have over more substantial DOD procurement matters.
  3. Limitations on Subcontracting Updates. The limitations on subcontracting will undergo some major revisions in 2019, including a newly-effective DoD class deviation and the FAR Council’s long-awaited proposal for a comprehensive overhaul. These changes will clear up some of the confusion resulting from having different sets of rules for limitations on subcontracting found in the FAR and in the Small Business Administration’s regulations. But surely questions will remain.

We’ve enjoyed appearing as guest authors on Bill’s blog, and we’re glad to continue to do so. Please head over to SmallGovCon for updates on these hot-button issue for 2019, as well as many other topics.

Shane McCall is an attorney at Koprince Law LLC. He assists small businesses in navigating the federal government contracting world by advising on FAR and SBA issues. He regularly litigates bid protests, as well as size and status protests before the SBA. He assists with contract administration issues, including claims. Shane also drafts agreements including joint ventures, and subcontracts. Shane’s writing can be found at SmallGovCon, and he’s appeared in Contract Management magazine.


Court of Federal Claims Decision Lends Support to VA’s SDVOSB Tiered Evaluation Scheme

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This is a guest post by John Mattox of SmallGovCon.

In late 2017, we wrote that the VA was considering using tiered evaluations to simultaneously 1) comply with the VA’s statutory Rule of Two (and Kingdomware), and 2) address situations in which SDVOSBs and VOSBs might not offer “fair and reasonable” pricing.

Since then, the VA has instituted the tiered evaluation process for certain solicitations, using one of three approaches:

  1. Tiered Evaluation for SDVOSBs and VOSBs only: Offers made by SDVOSBs are first evaluated. If no SDVOSB submits an offer, or none would result in a award at a fair and reasonable price, then the VA evaluates offers made by VOSBs. If none are submitted, or none would result in a fair and reasonable price, the solicitation is cancelled and resolicited.
  2. Tiered Evaluation for SDVOSBs, VOSBs, and small business concerns: This approach first evaluates SDVOSB and VOSB offers as described above. But if no SDVOSB or VOSB submits an offer (on none are submitted at a fair and reasonable price), then the VA evaluates proposals from other small businesses, with 8(a) participants and then HUBZone small business concerns being given priority over other small business concerns as required by 38 U.S.C. 8127(i). If none are submitted by these types of entities, then the solicitation is cancelled and then resolicited as an unrestricted procurement.
  3. Tiered Evaluation for SDVOSBs, VOSBs, small business concerns, and large business concerns: This approach first evaluates SDVOSBs, VOSBs, and small businesses as described above. But if no SDVOSB, VOSB, or small business submits an offer (or none would result in a fair and reasonable price), then the VA evaluates offers from large business concerns. If none are submitted, then solicitation is cancelled and additional market research is conducted to inform a follow-on acquisition strategy.

The VA justifies these tiered evaluation approaches because they may prevent procurement delays. For example, if VA uses a tiered evaluation approach that includes SDVOSBs, VOSBs, small business concerns, and large business concerns, the VA doesn’t have to reissue another solicitation if no SDVOSB or VOSB submits a reasonable offer.

Of course, the practice remains controversial because the tiered evaluation approach isn’t a true set-aside for SDVOSBs. Some argue, for example, that the VA could simply rule out SDVOSB or VOSB offers as not fair and reasonable based on more advantageous pricing offered by non-SBVOSB/VOSB small business concerns (or perhaps even large business concerns) for the same solicitation.

In addition, whether the tiered approach complies with the Supreme Court’s decision in Kingdomware has been an open question–until now. Indeed, a recent case from the Court of Federal Claims supports VA’s use of a tiered evaluation scheme for procurements.

In Land Shark Shredding, No. 18-1568C (Fed. Cl. Mar. 21, 2019), the VA issued a solicitation for a firm, fixed-price FSS contract for on-site document shredding and pill bottle destruction for VA facilities in Florida. The solicitation noted that it was “a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB) set-aside with Small Business Set-aside using a tiered or cascading order of preference.” The tiers of preference were as follows: SDVOSBs, then VOSBs, then all other small businesses, then all other businesses. (In essence, it followed the third approach described above.)

Three offerors submitted proposals: Land Shark (an SDVOSB), a non-SDVOSB small business, and a large business. The SDVOSB’s price was $2.8 million, while the small business’s price was $474,000 (the large business’s price was somewhere in between the two). The small business’s price was closest to the VA’s independent government cost estimate of $490,000. Ultimately, the small business was awarded the contract.

In its protest, Land Shark raised several arguments. Here we’ll focus solely on protester’s two arguments relating to the VA’s tiered evaluation scheme.

First, Land Shark argued that the VA erred by comparing its price to other non-SDVOSB offerors. In Land Shark’s view, this process violated the holding in Kingdomware. In response, the VA argued that because the comparison of quotes was a methodology established by the solicitation, Land Shark should have raised the issue in a pre-award protest.

The Court did not decide whether the protest was untimely, but went right to the merits. In doing so, the Court found that the Kingdomware doesn’t address price comparisons or instruct the VA how it should determine that an SDVOSBs price is fair and reasonable. Specifically, the Court held:

The court agrees with the government that plaintiff has not cited any authority which supports its position. Kingdomware does not address price comparisons, in general, or the specific question of how the VA should determine that a SDVOSB’s prices are fair and reasonable. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) provision cited by plaintiff is a policy statement that does not regulate procedures for the price evaluation of proposals in procurements such as this one. In sum, plaintiff objects to the price comparison conducted by the VA here because it does not do enough, in plaintiff’s view, to secure government contracts for SDVOSBs. That is a policy argument, unmoored from statute or regulation. Without more, that policy argument is an insufficient ground for this court to invalidate a procurement decision of a federal agency.

Second, Land Shark attacked the use of tiered evaluation process head on. In part, it argued that the process violated the Rule of Two and Kingdomware.

But again, the Court was unconvinced and found that the VA did not violate the Rule of Two:

The VA in this procurement conducted a Rule of Two analysis, as required by Kingdomware, but the VA did not find that this procurement could be entirely set aside for veteran-owned businesses. . . . As defendant notes, the solicitation clearly indicated that, in addition to veteran-owned small businesses and SDVOSBs, small businesses and large businesses were welcome to apply. . . . The court sees no violation of Kingdomware in the agency’s Rule of Two analysis, its use of a cascading system of preferences placing SDVOSBs in the first tier, or in the selection of [the small business] as contract awardee.

While this decision certainly lends support to the VA’s use of a tiered evaluation procurements, it isn’t a wholesale endorsement. The analysis may have been different if Land Shark had, say, offered a fair and reasonable price (the Court found that its price was not fair and reasonable) or, perhaps, if Land Shark had leveled a better-advocated attack against the practice in the context of a pre-award protest (which would have concentrated purely on the legal validity of the tiered evaluation process without the distracting factual issue of fair and reasonable prices).

That said, the decision overall favors the VA. Another challenge–hopefully one that is better planned and executed–will likely arise later. But for now, the VA is unlikely to change course. So expect to see the VA’s continued use of the tiered evaluation scheme in, at least, the near future. If anything changes, we’ll be sure to let you know.

This post originally appeared at http://smallgovcon.com/service-disabled-veteran-owned-small-businesses/court-of-federal-claims-decision-lends-support-to-vas-sdvosb-tiered-evaluation-scheme/ and was reprinted with permission.


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