This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” – Max De Pree
Servant leaders not only have to focus on what’s happening today, but what is happening in the future. Yes, today’s problems must be solved, profits must be made and bills must be paid, but a great leader must focus on the future and transforming the culture. It is more than checking items off a checklist. A great leader has a vision and a roadmap to successfully get there. This requires being inspired to achieve it, communicating it, and guiding the company from where it is to where it needs to be!
The top spot is not the only leader. Every level has leaders, whether positive or negative. Doomsayers can be leaders, too. They challenge the vision with their need to combat. Eighty percent of a company’s problems comes from twenty percent of its people. People will rise or fall to the level you set for them. It is important to foster a culture of optimism and the desire to succeed. If not challenged or motivated people will fall.
The key to leadership is to be fair, firm and consistent. Discipline starts with the leader; people will follow the lead you set. To master leadership you need to know what you are doing, find your inner voice, be creative, enjoy the process, and share that joy with others. Successful leaders are selfless, put others first, and look for other people’s 15 minutes of fame – not their own.
A servant leader supports others. This requires praising them in public and critiquing in confidence, driving out fear, and learning from mistakes. Most importantly, as a great leader you make those you lead successful, and as a result you become successful.
Leadership is directly related to character. Character is determined by your behavior, which is reflective of the value system that is in place. When people perceive you as a strong leader, they will believe in you, even if they don’t agree with you.
Despite the myth, leaders are not born nor is leadership innate for everyone. The good news is there are various programs to assist in developing leadership skills. The key is finding the program that best suits your needs. For instance, there is the Women President Educational Organization (WPEO), which develops and mentors presidents of women-owned businesses, the Montgomery County’s Veterans Institute of Procurement (VIP), which assists veteran leaders to foster success as businesses and employers, and the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Program, which is aimed at business growth and job creation, just to name a few.
Servant leaders also understand the importance of mentorship. Mentors assist in navigating through the obstacles that are not taught in leadership programs. By sharing best practices and lessons learned, mentees are able to build on their experience and avoid pitfalls.
Lastly, the bottom line as a leader is to ask yourself, do my actions represent who I believe I am? Remember that it is not about the position, it is about your actions; thoughtful actions with leadership in mind, drive and sculpt companies to new heights.
BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. (BucknerMT, Inc.) is a verified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and woman-owned small business (WOSB). Since 2007, BucknerMT have supported the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) by providing services that include engineering, integrating, and sustaining critical military platforms and systems.
As we shared in a previous post, on July 14, 2017 the House passed H.R. 2810, the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
Focusing on small businesses, the NDAA is comprised primarily of two main pieces of legislation. We’ll cover one in this post, and follow up with a separate post about the other.
H.R. 1773, the Clarity for America’s Small Contractors Act of 2017
This act amends the Small Business Act to improve reporting on small business goals, achieve uniformity in procurement terminology, clarify the role of small business advocates, and for other purposes.
It modernizes the Small Business Act to ensure that the language used is clear and consistent across federal procurement programs. Heaven knows that the lingo used in legislation is designed for lawyers and lobbyists, and certainly not for the actual small businesses they are addressing.
It strengthens the small business advocates within the Small Business Administration (SBA), who routinely work with Department of Defense contracts by promoting competition and making sure laws are followed, including the NDAA. We know that some small business advocates are not as strong advocates, and legislation that empowers them can only improve things for everyone involved.
The bill implements common sense reforms to ensure transparency and accountability by requiring that important information be provided that clearly shows where taxpayer dollars are being spent on which small business programs. This has always been an issue – small business impact is not easy to track, and then you have complications like mid-tier businesses and sometimes active opposition from the large businesses. Again these are good things – not fixing legislative issues, but strengthening the processes.
Within H.R. 1773, the following bills are found:
- R.1597 – Commercial Market Representatives Clarification Act – This bill amends the Small Business Act to specify the principal duties of Commercial Market Representatives, government contracting staff stationed at area Small Business Administration (SBA) offices and reporting to specified senior SBA officers.
- R.1641 – To amend the Small Business Act to clarify the responsibilities of Business Opportunity Specialists, and for other purposes. – This bill amends the Small Business Act to declare that the exclusive duties of a Business Opportunity Specialist reporting to the senior official (or designee) appointed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) with certain SBA loan responsibilities, including the procurement program for small business concerns owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans and the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program, shall be to implement specified SBA loan programs, and complete other duties related to contracting programs.
- R. 1693 – Improving Contract Procurement for Small Businesses through More Accurate Reporting Act of 2017 – This bill amends the Small Business Act to require the Small Business Administration to report to the President and Congress an analysis of the number and dollar amount of prime contracts awarded by federal agencies each fiscal year to small business concerns.
- R.1640 – To amend the Small Business Act to ensure uniformity in procurement terminology, and for other purposes. While this might seem the least important, fixing definitions so everyone is on the same page is a big deal.
All told, these changes are mostly about the processes that govern our small business management, but truly do make incremental improvements that will make a difference.
Stay tuned for a separate post about the other important NDAA FY18 act that affects small businesses.
This is a guest post from Mark Amadeo, principal at Amadeo Law Firm, PLLC.
Last week the SBA published its semiannual Regulatory Agenda (the “Agenda”), which is a summary of current and projected regulatory actions and completed actions. The Agenda (which can be downloaded here) highlights several anticipated changes to regulations that impact small business government contractors, including women-owned small businesses (WOSB’s), service-disabled veteran owned small businesses (SDVOSB’s) and HUBZone small businesses. Below are several of the anticipated changes that government contractors should look out for in the very near future.
WOSB & EDWOSB certification procedures
As we wrote about in a prior edition of The GovCon Bulletin™ (here), the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (NDAA 2015) imposed several mandates on the SBA’s WOSB program, including a requirement that a firm be certified as a WOSB or economically-disadvantaged women owned small business (EDWOSB) under one of four options: By a federal agency, by a state government, by the SBA, or by a national certifying entity approved by the SBA.
The SBA subsequently issued an advanced notice of proposed rule-making on December 18, 2015, again described in the same edition of the The GovCon Bulletin,™ in which the SBA raised several pointed questions and sought public input on each of the four proposed certification options. The comment period ended on February 16, 2016 and now the SBA intends to issue a new rule that will propose certification standards and procedures.
In addition, the new rule will revise procedures for continuing eligibility, program examinations, protests and appeals. Although not much is known about the specific changes, the SBA did make clear that the new certification procedures will include an electronic WOSB and EDWOSB application and certification process.
NDAA 2016 & 2017 mandated rules
The Agenda also anticipates that in the near future the SBA will implement a variety of rule changes required under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (NDAA 2016) and National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA 2017), including requirements concerning SDVOSB ownership and control, a pilot program granting past performance ratings to subcontractors, and subcontracting report compliance.
1. SDVOSB ownership and control rules
The Agenda indicates that the SBA will issue a proposed rule establishing a uniform definition of a “small business concern owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans” that will be used for SDVOSB procurements by both the Veterans Administration (VA) and by non-VA agencies. Before NDAA 2017, the definition for purposes of VA SDVOSB procurements was contained in VA statutes under former 38 U.S.C. 8127(l), while a different definition for non-VA procurements was contained in SBA legislation under 15 U.S.C. 632(q)(2). Meanwhile, regulations fleshing out the SDVOSB definitions for purposes of VA procurements are under the VA’s regulations in 38 CFR Part 74 and, for purposes on non-VA procurements, under the SBA regulations in 13 CFR Part 125.
NDAA 2017, however, requires a government-wide uniform definition by amending 38 U.S.C. 8127 to refer back to 15 U.S.C. 632 for one controlling definition. Moreover, NDAA 2017 clears the way for the SBA to provide the sole and definitive guidance on what it means to be owned and controlled by a service-disabled veteran by prohibiting the VA from issuing regulations relating to either small business status or the ownership and control of a small business.
As for the new uniform definition of “small business concern owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans,” NDAA 2017 provides three categories of businesses that will meet the definition:
First, a small business concern (i) not less than 51 percent of which is owned by one or more service-disabled veterans or, in the case of any publicly owned business, not less than 51 percent of the stock (not including any stock owned by an ESOP) of which is owned by one or more service-disabled veterans; and (ii) the management and daily business operations of which are controlled by one or more service-disabled veterans or, in the case of a veteran with permanent and severe disability, the spouse or permanent caregiver of such veteran;
Second, a small business concern (i) not less than 51 percent of which is owned by one or more service-disabled veterans with a disability that is rated by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs as a permanent and total disability who are unable to manage the daily business operations of such concern; or (ii) in the case of a publicly owned business, not less than 51 percent of the stock (not including any stock owned by an ESOP) of which is owned by one or more such veterans; and
Third, a small business concern that met either of the two requirements described above immediately before the death of a service-disabled veteran who was the owner of the concern, the death of whom causes the concern to be less than 51 percent owned by one or more service-disabled veterans, if (i) the surviving spouse of the deceased veteran acquires such veteran’s ownership interest in such concern; (ii) the veteran had a service-connected disability rated as 100 percent disabling by the VA or such veteran died as a result of a service-connected disability; and (iii) immediately prior to the death of such veteran and during the period it is otherwise an SDVOSB the small business concern is included in the VA’s VetBiz database.
A surviving spouse in the third category can only continue to operate the SDVOSB until the tenth anniversary of the veteran’s death, the date he or she remarries, or the date he or she relinquishes ownership, whichever comes first. As for the small businesses in the first two categories, small business owners should take note of the exclusion of stock owned by an ESOP in the determination of whether ownership requirements are met for a publicly owned business.
2. Pilot program for qualified subcontractors to obtain past performance ratings
NDAA 2017 also authorized the SBA to establish a pilot program that would enable first tier small business subcontractors without any past performance rating to, nevertheless, obtain past performance ratings for work done as subcontractors.
Under the proposed pilot program a subcontractor must submit to a designated official an application for a past performance rating for work done under a government contract within either 270 days of the completion of the subcontractor’s work or 180 days after the completion of the prime contractor’s work, whichever is earlier.
The subcontractor is required to include with the application evidence of the past performance factors that it seeks to be rated on, as well as its own suggested past performance ratings. The designated official must then forward the application to the covered contract agency’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), as well as to the prime contractor. Thereafter, the OSBDU and the prime contractor must submit a response to the subcontractor’s application.
NDAA 2017 provides procedures if there is agreement or disagreement over proposed past performance ratings, as well as a procedure for a small business subcontractor to respond to any disagreements by the OSDBU or a prime contractor over proposed past performance ratings.
3. Failure to act in good faith in submitting timely subcontracting reports will be a material breach of the contract
NDAA 2017 also makes changes to the Small Business Act that makes a failure to act in good faith in providing timely subcontracting reports a material breach of a government contract. NDAA 2017 requires the SBA to provide examples of activities that would be considered a failure to make a good faith effort to comply with requirements.
Comprehensive changes to the HUBZone program
Lastly, the SBA Agenda anticipates significant changes to the SBA’s HUBZone program. Although short on any specifics, the Agenda indicates that “comprehensive” revisions will be made to the HUBZone program and regulations under Part 126 of the SBA’s regulations.
The SBA indicates that its focus will be to make it easier for participants to comply with program requirements and to maximize program benefits, to determine if regulations should be modified, streamlined, expanded or repealed to make the HUBZone program more effective and/or less burdensome on small business concerns, and to maintain a framework that identifies and reduces waste, fraud, and abuse in the program.
The SBA has invited the public to comment on any aspect of its Agenda. (Note from Bill: Look for contact information under each specific section of SBA’s Agenda summary.)
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sbas-agenda-anticipates-significant-rule-changes-wosb-mark-amadeo/ and was reprinted with permission.
Mark Amadeo has served as outside counsel to Fortune 200, medium, small, and non-profit companies, local government entities, and government contractors. A skilled advocate who has vigorously pursued and defended claims on behalf of clients in federal and state courts throughout the country, Mr. Amadeo offers a unique litigation perspective that helps government contracting clients avoid traps and pitfalls that can lead to time-consuming and expensive litigation. Sign up for the Amadeo Law Firm’s The GovCon Bulletin™ to receive new insights and announcements by email.
This is a guest post by A. John Shoraka and Kathryn V. Flood of PilieroMazza.
H.R. 3294, the HUBZone Unification and Business Stability Act of 2017, proposes several changes to the HUBZone program that are intended to reduce certification timelines, stabilize the program, and collect and report on performance metrics designed to measure the success of the HUBZone program. While this is a step in the right direction, the proposed changes do not go far enough to provide a meaningful impact to the deficiencies in the program.
To analyze the positive impact the proposed bill may have on the HUBZone program, we believe it is important to understand the historical weaknesses of the program and why those weaknesses have inhibited the government from meeting the HUBZone set-aside goal. Having experiences interacting and engaging with users of the HUBZone program both inside and outside of the government, we would argue that the weaknesses of the program can be categorized as follows: 1) instability in the ever changing HUBZone designated areas, 2) uncertainty for contracting officers when awarding HUBZone contracts, and 3) the inability to quantify the impact of the HUBZone program.
Rather than get into the weeds with respect to formulations on how HUBZones are designated and when those designations change, generally speaking, the current methodology has created a system where HUBZone areas are tweaked and updated annually, if not more frequently, and are significantly changed when new census data becomes available. Furthermore, once an area falls out of designation, it is “grandfathered” into the program for only a period of three years. This constant and ever-changing landscape makes it difficult for a company to rely on and invest in its HUBZone status and its underlying infrastructure. As a result, fewer and fewer companies are willing to establish or relocate their companies in a HUBZone and invest in HUBZone employees and local communities. This results in the government having fewer and fewer qualified HUBZone companies to procure from in order to meet its 3% goal.
The HUBZone program is the only federal set-aside program that requires small businesses to meet program requirements twice during the procurement process; once at the time of offer, and again at the time of award. If anybody has done work for the federal government, you know that the time between offer and award can range from several weeks to several years. Now imagine trying to monitor and stay abreast of the ever-changing HUBZone designated areas, not only to insure that your principal office is located in a HUBZone, but to insure that 35% of your employees live in a HUBZone. That may be easy to do for a few weeks, but as your firm grows, your employees move and HUBZone areas get redesignated; it is highly unlikely that you remain in compliance once the contract is awarded. This can leave a contracting officer with not only a protest and the need to reissue the award, but it may require an entire new acquisition. This may be why contracting officers are more and more reluctant to use the program.
At its core, the HUBZone program is an economic development program. In order to support the existence of the program it is critical to document its impact on under-utilized communities. Unfortunately, it is not only incredibly difficult to correlate HUBZone contract awards to economic growth; there has never been any funding to support such analysis.
While the proposed bill (H.R. 3294) attempts to address the weaknesses identified above, we are concerned that it does not go far enough.
The proposed bill does attempt to create stability with respect to HUBZone designated areas by changing the calculation for non-metropolitan areas from the most recent data available to a five-year average. This should help to stabilize the volatile swings in economic data and the impact it has on designated areas; however, the bill does nothing to extend the “grandfathering period” beyond the current three years.
The bill also requires the SBA to “go live” with its new calculations on 1 January 2020, allowing firms that were certified into the program on or before the date of the enactment of the bill to retain their HUBZone certification until the new calculations are launched. Thereafter, updates for new HUBZone areas will occur every five years; however, redesignated HUBZones are to be removed immediately after the “grandfathering” period.
These provisions may stabilize the program, but they will also limit the number of HUBZone areas, which would in effect limit the number of HUBZone firms in SBA’s portfolio. What’s more, the proposed bill does nothing to address contracting officers’ concerns regarding the risks associated with HUBZone set-asides.
Finally, it is encouraging that the bill requires the SBA to maintain performance metrics on the impact of the HUBZone program and instructs that these metrics be collected and managed at the regional level. However, it will be extremely difficult for the SBA to meet this mandate without additional resources and upgraded information systems.
This post was originally published on PilieroMazza at http://www.pilieromazza.com/do-the-proposed-changes-to-sbas-hubzone-program-go-far-enough and was reprinted with permission.
Katie Flood is counsel with PilieroMazza in the Government Contracts Group. John Shoraka is the Managing Director of PilieroMazza Advisory Services, LLC, an advisory company to help small businesses navigate in the federal marketplace by developing successful strategies to help businesses thrive. http://www.pilieromazza.com/
Welcome back to TAPE’s Alexia Groszer, GPHR, senior human resources generalist. In a previous post, she answered some common questions about HR for small business. Today, we’re looking at size issues from an HR perspective.
Let’s look first at things from an employee’s view. What are the pros and cons of being employed by a small business versus a large business?
Pros: Employees at a small company typically wear more hats, thereby getting exposure to more business areas and skills. The owners and management know employees by name. Good ideas can be implemented quickly. The employee often sees a direct impact of the work they perform and may feel an essential part of a team.
Cons: Job growth is often dependent on the company’s growth. If the company grows rapidly, this could be a pro for the employee who rides the wave of prosperity with the company. Employees who were with Microsoft and AOL in the early days benefited greatly from the rapid growth. However, few small companies have exponential growth. If the company does not grow, the employee may be feel their only option for growth is to leave the company.
Pros: A large company may offer more avenues for career development (types of jobs, levels of management, and more internal job opportunities). Employees may be able to move up or laterally while gaining years of service and benefits within the same organization. Large companies often have more structure. They have tried and true processes which provide excellent on the job training for those new in their careers.
Cons: Since large companies often do work on a large scale, employees at a large company often perform a high volume of work of more limited scope. This could mean limited learning/ growth within the job depending on the position they are in. Large companies can also be very bureaucratic. New ideas may take a long time to get implemented. Employees may not feel any direct impact of their work. They may even feel that they a just a number or not essential to the organization.
One person may prefer a smaller more personable environment where they know everyone by name and can make an immediate impact. Another may thrive working amongst many people at a large corporation with brand recognition and the security of a larger and more established pipeline of continued work. Choosing an employer, small or large, depends on many factors. Researching potential employers and comparing it to your own list of preferences is a good place to begin.
As a small business grows, their HR needs grow and change with them. When should a small business have an in-house HR department versus outsourcing to an HR vendor?
Each company has different business needs, so there is no absolute answer. However, as companies grow they will likely have a bigger need for human resources support. Often they will move from outsourcing to in-house support due to cost.
For start-ups or small companies (5-25) employees, outsourcing HR may be a more cost-effective option, especially if their needs are mainly payroll/benefit administration with only an occasional compliance issue. Advantages of outsourcing include: the employer pays the vendor for support only when it is needed instead of paying for a fulltime employee, they have access to different HR disciplines/experts but only pay for a few hours of advice at time, and they can easily increase or reduce hours of support to match their business needs.
When a company gets bigger and begins using their vendor 40 hours per week or more, they may discover it is more cost-effective to hire their own HR staff. There are advantages to an in-house HR department, too. An internal staff will be more vested in the company’s culture and mission. They can customize policies and processes to fit the needs of that business. The HR staff can build a rapport with employees, providing better customer service and continuity.
This can be especially helpful when there is an employee relations issue or when a manager is seeking general guidance. All of these can create a more cohesive company culture and greater employee engagement.
I thought it was time for us to illuminate some of the human resources myths and issues facing small business owners. I asked TAPE’s Alexia Groszer, GPHR, senior human resources generalist, to answer a few frequently asked questions.
1. What is a myth that you’ve heard about HR for small business?
One myth is that employment laws do not apply to small businesses so there is no need to worry about compliance. While some laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act only apply to employers with 50 or more employees, there are many more laws small companies need to be aware of to avoid potential fines or lawsuits.
To stay ahead of these issues, HR professionals can join a professional organization such as Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM). Their website has links to federal and state government websites, legal updates, certification programs, sample policies, webcasts from experts and much more. While many issues can be researched through SHRM and other sources, it is important to know when to contact an expert, such as an employment attorney, for additional advice.
2. What are the most common HR challenges facing small business owners?
The cost of providing insurance benefits is a common problem due to the rising costs of medical and prescription coverage. This is a balancing act because employers are not only expected to provide benefits but also keep them as affordable as possible. A comprehensive benefits package considers the whole employee.
Recently, Louisa Jaffe, TAPE’s CEO/President, wrote about the importance of providing a full benefits package in an article titled, “When An Employee Passes Away.” As she writes, “It is important to realize that there is a reason we offer HR benefits. Often among those are not only health care but also short-term and/or long-term disability, as well as life insurance. No one likes to think about the worst case scenarios in life but it is important for business owners to consider the impact of these benefits (or the lack of them) on the company and to the individual employee’s well-being should they need to use them.”
A skilled benefits broker can help a small business identify a variety of benefit plans that meet the organization’s goals and cost constraints. An attractive benefits program can help the company recruit and retain talented employees, thereby becoming an employer of choice in a competitive market.
3. Which recent legislative changes have had the biggest impact on HR in small business?
The hot topic in the news is affordable health care. Managing health care costs and ensuring compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is important to both small and large companies. Understanding what applies to your company requires some research. There are many resources available, including this helpful information from the IRS.
Like other employers, TAPE had to review our benefit plans for compliance and provide Form 1095-C to each of our employees. Fortunately for us, our payroll vendor developed a new ACA Regulatory Management System and provided training to their customers. By educating ourselves and working diligently through each step of the process, we were able to complete the forms and submit them to the IRS on time. This was just another example of staying informed and managing compliance in the field of human resources, where learning is constant.
Thanks for this interesting glimpse into the world of HR, Alexia! Stay tuned for Alexia’s next post about small versus large business, from an HR perspective.
This is a guest post by TAPE CEO/President Louisa Jaffe.
This is a subject very much on my mind these days since we just lost a long-time employee who succumbed to bone cancer. Three years ago, we lost another long-time employee to another form of cancer. Such events are always devastating in our personal lives with family and friends, but as a business owner, there are other considerations.
To begin with, it is important to realize that there is a reason we offer HR benefits. Often among those are not only health care but also short-term and/or long-term disability, as well as life insurance. No one likes to think about the worst case scenarios in life but it is important for business owners to consider the impact of these benefits (or the lack of them) on the company and to the individual employee’s wellbeing should they need to use them.
Part of our responsibility as executives is to make sure that the pieces are in place to offer the best support possible within our planning constraints so that the professionals on the vendor side will be ready to step in and offer specific help to our employees and their families when the need arises. That way, as managers, we will not have to figure everything out at a time that likely we may be emotionally compromised ourselves.
Just as with the passing of a loved one in our private lives, the news that an employee has died, even if after a long illness, can feel shocking and unexpected. If we can be prepared as suggested above, then we can give in to the grieving process and deal with just that aspect of such a situation. And the “feelings” part of the whole thing is what this blog post is really all about. There are very important leadership actions that can greatly help your entire company if you set the example from the beginning.
My suggestion to executives is to prepare yourselves mentally in several ways. I am drawing on my military experience where the Service does things very well in terms of “taking care of their own.” If an employee becomes ill, we stay in touch with them personally to the extent we can. If possible, visit them and their families in the hospital or even at home, if the family welcomes it.
Going through an illness and death can be very lonely and alienating for an employee and their families. We go visit them, call them, and stay in touch with our personal support. It is both the least and the best that we can do. We can handwrite get well and sympathy cards with our own heartfelt and authentic sentiments.
Most importantly, when the person passes away, be sure to notify your entire company and subcontractors, where appropriate. Put out a message of farewell to the company, adding some interesting facts about the deceased for those who may be on a different project or live in a different place and do not know the employee. Announce the details of family plans, when known. We can attend memorial services and burials in person wherever feasible. It is the most powerful sign of respect for both the employee and the family to stand with them at the very difficult time of these “good-bye” ceremonies.
My own parents passed away many years ago. I well remember how much it helped my sorrow – how much it meant to me – that people came to both of their funerals and told me what my parents had meant to them. Before then, I might have been more inclined not to discuss with someone their loss of a loved one and to stay away from the process as much as possible, thinking I was respecting the mourners’ privacy. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
I have learned to reach out to the suffering people left behind, let them cry, let them reminisce, let them connect in whatever way they need to get through the otherwise saddest experience of their lives. It is a way to reach outside of ourselves to think of the needs of others. It is a way to do service. There are few things more empowering than giving service to those who have served you, in their time of need. When we do these things, we can feel proud to know we have conducted ourselves as leaders.
This post originally appeared on the TAPE blog at http://tape-llc.com/2017/06/employee-passes-away/ and was reprinted with permission.
This is a guest post by Anuj Vohra and Alex Hastings of Covington & Burling LLP.
On January 5, 2017, as part of its “myth-busting” series, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (“OFPP”) issued a memorandum encouraging federal agencies to improve their post-award debriefings to increase their “productive interactions with . . . industry partners.” Based on feedback from industry and federal agencies, the OFPP described the numerous benefits of effective debriefings, including affording unsuccessful offerors the opportunity to understand the weaknesses in their proposals and the areas for improvement in future competitions and offering agencies an opportunity to review and improve their evaluation processes. To encourage agencies to take such measures, OFPP recommended that agencies adopt a “debriefing guide” and to consider commonly-perceived myths regarding the debriefing process.
With respect to the debriefing guide, OFPP encouraged agencies to take measures to (1) allow agency personnel to provide an overall general ranking of the debriefed offerors, (2) prepare government personnel on topics that are appropriate (and not appropriate) for discussion during a debriefing, (3) offer template checklists and agendas for government personnel to use in preparing a debriefing, and (4) establish guidance for agency personnel to engage subject matter experts and general counsel in complex procurements.
With respect to the myths surrounding debriefings, the memorandum includes a list of common misconceptions and OFPP responses, such as:
- Myth: Debriefings result in a greater number of protests. OFPP explained that an effective debriefing that provides necessary information to disappointed offerors can “greatly reduce” the number of protests because protests are often driven by a desire to gather information about the agency’s evaluation process. In particular, agencies should offer “substantive insight into how the source selection officials assessed the proposal’s strengths and weaknesses.”
- Myth: The presence of an offeror’s attorney at a debriefing signals a protest is imminent. OFPP explained that a disappointed offeror’s decision to bring an attorney to a debriefing does not indicate that a protest is imminent and should not prompt the agency to limit the information that is shared. OFPP noted that offerors may have internal policies that require the presence of an attorney, and that an attorney’s presence should not otherwise prevent the agency from providing “an informative and well planned debriefing.”
- Myth: All debriefings should be conducted in writing. OFPP explained that “[i]n-person debriefings allow for an open, flexible space where the government and offeror are able to communicate in a productive manner.” Such an effective debriefing also allows for the contracting officials to have the opportunity to secure feedback regarding the solicitation and source selection process.
- Myth: Companies do not use the information provided in debriefings. OFPP explained that industry “stressed the value” of the information they can derive from a debriefing in improving their future proposals. OFPP explained that understanding the government’s perceived strengths and weaknesses in past proposals helps industry make business decisions and submit more competitive proposals.
It remains to be seen whether agencies will heed OFPP’s urging to improve the quality of debriefings. But the guidance appears to be a positive development for government contractors, as improved debriefings have the potential to increase the effective use of contractor resources.
For instance, receiving more information about an agency’s source selection decision may allow a contractor to conclude an agency’s award decision was fair and consistent with the terms of the solicitation, alleviating the need for a protest. Additionally, an informative debriefing could allow contractors to better understand the needs of their government customers, allowing them to make business decisions that respond to their customers’ needs and develop more effective future proposals. Of course, these outcomes would also have a positive impact for agencies, resulting in fewer resources being devoted to responding to protests and receiving more competitive proposals.
This article was originally published on the Inside Government Contracts blog at https://www.insidegovernmentcontracts.com/2017/01/the-more-you-know-agencies-advised-to-increase-use-of-post-award-debriefings/ and was reprinted with permission.
Judy Bradt of Summit Insight wrote a popular guest post for us back in 2015, with her expert tips for how to prepare for the fiscal year end. I asked her if she had any updates, and she had this to say:
These are all just as relevant today. I would add this:
While the White House has proposed spending cuts in every agency except DHS, DoD and VA, Congress is pushing back hard. That means federal buyers are uncertain about what FY18 will bring…and are eager to spend every last dollar they have in the current year’s budget! So get a jump start on Q4 with the tips in this article. If you haven’t started doing these things now, you can bet your competitors have!
Preparing for the fiscal year end (in the Trump era)
In a series of three blog posts, Judy Bradt of Summit Insight put together a list of things government contractors can do to prepare for the fiscal year end. Here is a snapshot of her points, along with my own thoughts that build on her recommendations.
- Revisit your forecasting
- Ask for referrals from your best customers
- Stay top-of-mind
Bill says: These points go back to what Judy and I have always been preaching – success in federal contracting is about building long-term relationships.
Revisit your forecasting – that’s the FOCUS – see who you can really touch and make a part of your business. Referrals are what I’ve been calling “nearest neighbors” – friends of your customers’ friends.
And finally, this is a continuing process, so stay with these folks. See them on drop-bys and wherever they are. For example, if you notice they’re speaking at an event, show up – even if only to listen and say hello.
- Give the golden leave-behind: gratitude
- Plan multiple touches, tactics, channels
- Update and share your capability statement
Bill says: TAPE leaves behind little chocolates branded with our logo, but the key here is to make sure you express gratitude to your customers for their business. Build those relationships (see above) with the multiple touches of being where your customers are.
Maintain your currency by keeping up with your customers’ hot buttons. Does your one-pager (description of your company’s capabilities) hit those hot buttons?
- Refresh and maximize your online presence
- Leverage customer feedback and testimonials
- Expand thought leadership
- Be ready to sell the way they want to buy
Bill says: Maintaining and keeping your website fresh is critical. People look at that and if the visual picture doesn’t align with what you’ve told them, you can lose out. Include a prominent display of your CPARs (ratings in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System) – especially the really good comments, and your kudos letters. Leverage these positive testimonials in call-out boxes on your website as well.
The best road to thought leadership? Blogging! You can always think of something to say about your industry, and the problems you solve for your customers, even if once a month. Feature your best staffers as bloggers also – they’ll love the publicity.
Always sell what your customers want to buy – your people, your best product ideas and innovations, and keep it up. Never forget what you’re selling, and what your focus is, that’s how you’ll succeed.
Lastly, remember to keep your certifications and small business status handy – sole sources and simplified purchase opportunities can be leveraged handsomely.
Thanks to Judy Bradt of Summit Insight for pulling together these crucial points!
In our continued look at the most common myths about government-vendor communication, here is a reprint of Federal News Radio’s coverage of the OFPP’s second Mythbusters Memo. It was released in May 2012 and is just as relevant today.
This is a guest post by Jason Miller of Federal News Radio.
The solution to many of the problems with federal procurement comes down to communication between industry and government. So it’s to that end the Office of Federal Procurement Policy is taking a second turn at dispelling some of the most commonly held myths.
As Federal News Radio first reported, OFPP issued its Mythbusters 2 memo today detailing eight more fictional reasons why agencies and contractors can’t talk, and the real truths about why they can communicate freely. The administration issued the first Mythbusters memo in February 2011 with the goal of breaking down barriers in how contracting officers and program managers talk to vendors.
Mythbusters 2 continues that conversation, the difference is, these are misconceptions from industry’s perspective,” said Lesley Field, acting OFPP administrator, in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “We are hoping to help industry use the time with government to be productive and engage in good conversations. We have a few myths and misconceptions with facts that follow up on good and productive ways to engage with government.”
Field said OFPP developed these second round of myths from a series of meetings with industry, members of the Frontline Forum, senior procurement executives and others.
Vendors do have influence over market research
Misconception #1 – “The best way to present my company’s capabilities is by marketing directly to Contracting Officers and/or signing them up for my mailing list.”
Fact: Contracting officers and program managers are often inundated with general marketing material that doesn’t reach the right people at the right time. As an alternative, vendors can take advantage of the various outreach sessions that agencies hold for the purpose of connecting contracting officers and program managers with companies whose skills are needed.
Misconception #2 – “It is a good idea to bring only business development and marketing people to meetings with the agency’s technical staff.”
Fact: In meetings with government technical personnel, it’s far more valuable for you to bring subject matter experts to the meeting rather than focusing on the sales pitch.*
Joanie Newhart, OFPP’s associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs, said in the interview one of the most commonly held misconceptions is vendors have little influence over potential solicitations in the pre-request for proposal or market research phases.
“That is not so. We are finding agencies are engaging because industry has the critical knowledge that could help shape the acquisition strategy and outcome,” Newhart said. “So we are trying to bust that myth.”
OFPP wrote in the memo that vendors can provide comments or suggestions during the formal requirements development phase without trigging organization conflict of interest as long as the vendor is not hired to develop the requirements.
Misconception #3 – “Attending industry days and outreach events is not valuable because the agency doesn’t provide new information.”
Fact: Industry days and outreach events can be a valuable source of information for potential vendors and are increasingly being used to leverage scarce staff resources.
Misconception #4 – “Agencies generally have already determined their requirements and acquisition approach so our impact during the pre-RFP phase is limited.”
Fact: Early and specific industry input is valuable. Agencies generally spend a great deal of effort collecting and analyzing information about capabilities within the marketplace. The more specific you can be about what works, what doesn’t and how it can be improved, the better.*
“Suggesting detailed solutions to your concerns is even more valuable,” the memo states. “Additionally, FAR 15.201 encourages exchanges with all interested parties, beginning at the earliest identification of a requirement through receipt of proposals.”
In the memo, OFPP also says another myth is that industry days and pre-solicitation conference aren’t valuable, but that is not true as these widely attended meetings are good ways to understand what the agency’s goals are.
“Many times, agencies hold sessions designed to help new vendors do business with them,” the memo states. “In these sessions, agency personnel are on hand to answer any questions about how to do business with the agency. Gaining a better understanding of an agency will help you more effectively target your outreach, thereby saving valuable resources, and helping you respond to solicitations more effectively.”
Newhart said another common one is that vendors don’t need to tailor each proposal to the specific procurement and can just change a few words for similar solicitations. She said that’s absolutely not the case, and vendors should write the proposal so it meets the evaluation criteria laid out in the RFP.
Agencies can share pricing data
Field said another common myth is around the sharing of pricing information between agencies around similar buys.
Misconception #5 –“If I meet one-on-one with agency personnel, they may share my proprietary data with my competition.”
Fact: Agency personnel have a responsibility to protect proprietary information from disclosure outside the government and will not share it with other companies.
Misconception #6 –“Agencies have an obligation not to share information about their contracts, such as prices, with other agencies, similar to the obligation they have not to disclose proprietary information to the public.
Fact: There are no general limitations on the disclosure of information regarding existing contracts between agencies within the government. In fact, agencies are encouraged to share pricing information to ensure that we are getting the best value for our taxpayers.*
“We think the price visibility part of it, and I know there are lots of transactions every year, but making sure when a particular agency is buying something that another just purchased, we want to make sure contracting officers are sharing that information,” she said.
Field said OFPP is looking at a number of options and possibilities to help get better price visibility, but they don’t have a specific plan yet.
The memo states sharing of information between federal agencies is allowed and it’s not a disclosure of proprietary information.
“Therefore, while there might be occasional circumstances where an agency could benefit from signing an NDA that would restrict its sharing of information with another agency, agencies should generally avoid NDAs that prohibit sharing of information — particularly pricing information — within the government,” the memo states. “Price visibility is critical to ensuring that the government gets the best prices and that agencies are not paying more for the same products or services being bought under the same circumstances.”
Misconception #7 –“To develop my new proposal, I don’t really need to tailor my solution to the specific solicitation since the government won’t read my proposal that closely anyway.”
Fact: Offerors should tailor each proposal to the evaluation criteria, proposal instructions and specific requirements of the solicitation to which they are responding. Contracting officers and evaluation team members read proposals closely for compliance with the proposal instructions and must evaluate them against the evaluation factors and the statement of work in the solicitation.
Misconception #8 –“If I lose the competition, I shouldn’t bother to ask for a debriefing. The contracting officer won’t share any helpful information with me.
Fact: Unsuccessful offerors should ask for a debriefing to understand the award decision and to improve future proposals.*
* Source: “Myth-Busting 2”: Addressing Misconceptions and Further Improving Communication During the Acquisition Process
Another common myth, OFPP says, is vendors should bring business development staff to meet with agency technical staff.
Newhart said during her career as a contracting officer all of these myths came up at one time or another and continue today.
“The memo is targeted more for the vendors who are newer in working with the government,” she said. “This is to help them sort through the maze of working with us.”
Outreach and updates to communication plans
Newhart said OFPP is planning a lot of outreach to dispel the myths. She said agencies will update their Vendor Communications Plans, required in Mythbusters 1, to reflect these false ideas.
“It’s really a communication piece for government folks within the agencies to know how they should be incorporating this new vendor communication into their procurement and also for vendors so they know how agencies plan on handling this,” she said. “It also holds an agency official accountable for this.”
Field said there is new functionality on FedBizOpps.gov for small businesses and for vendor communication and collaborationthat will help dispel these myths. The vendor communication plans are posted on the portal.
Field said Mythbusters 1 helped open the door for contracting officers to talk with contractors more easily and comfortably and vice versa.
“I think pulling together the information and the opportunities and having agencies drill down into their communications plans and then posting them actually required agencies to reduce barriers to entry,” Field said. “The process itself, especially at the agency level, questioning what they could do better, what they differently and having someone assigned to it to have accountability so it’s an ongoing effort. We’ve heard from agencies they are feeling more comfortable having webinars or conference calls in the pre-RFP space. It has taken some time, but it seems to be a little bit of a catalyst to have better communication and ultimately better value.”
This article originally appeared on the Federal News Radio blog at https://federalnewsradio.com/federal-drive/2012/05/ofpp-dispels-8-more-agency-vendor-communications-myths/ and was reprinted with permission.