A government agency’s evaluation of your past performance can often be the difference between winning or losing your bid. In fact we are increasingly receiving RFPs in which the only written material supplied to the government are past performance references.
When we do a contract for the government, the agency is obligated to rate our performance in different areas from 5 to 1 (excellent, very good, satisfactory, marginal, or unacceptable). These reference ratings are then stored in a web-based application called the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS).
We recently did an RFP where they listed elements from their PWS (Performance Work Statement, which is essentially a list of work you’re supposed to do). We were required to take those PWS elements and map them to the information from the past performance reference that we were giving. Then they would go and consult CPARS, which means the contract in your reference had to have been in place for a year, and the CPARS entry already approved.
For example, one of the PWS elements was project management. We were required to give a written response that yes we do project management and we’ve done it on a past project. Then we had to go the contract documents for that past project, to the actual PDF of the signed contract documents, and put an electronic sticky note where the contract states we were required to do project management reports.
In the end, we submitted 400+ pages of old contract documents with electronic sticky notes on various pages, along with detailed notes in the RFP about where to refer to these pages in the past performance contract.
There is a lot more movement towards using past performance as the only award criteria, and so you really need to focus as a vendor on disputing your CPARS if they’re not appropriated, understanding your rating criteria, and working directly with your CORs and KOs to make sure everything gets into your past performance record.
For better or worse, agencies are given broad discretion in how they evaluate past performance. As such, it is critical that when working with the federal government that contractors understand not only what steps they should take to cultivate and utilize positive past performance, but also the steps they should take to defend their past performance from attacks. Here are some key items for your team to discuss:
- general rules governing past performance evaluations;
- ways in which a prime contractor can utilize different sources of past performance information;
- best practices for obtaining positive CPARS ratings; and
- how and when to challenge negative CPARS ratings.
Nearly 20,000 members strong, the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) is the world’s leading resource for professionals in the contract management field.
Each year NCMA holds their annual World Congress which is the nation’s premier training event for contract management, procurement, and acquisition professionals. Participants from both government and industry backgrounds gather to learn about critical issues challenging our industry.
This year’s World Congress was from 28-31 July 2019, when more than 2,500 contract management professionals from across the federal government, state and local government, private industry and education gathered in Boston, MA. This year’s theme was, “Shaping Acquisition: Modern, Adaptive, Connected.”
An engaging list of main stage speakers included Suzanne Vautrinot, president of Kilovolt Consulting Inc., who spoke about balancing risk with opportunity, as well as a Workforce Challenges panel consisting of several key acquisition leaders in the federal government. They offered their thoughts on innovative ways to make today’s workforce more flexible and nimbler and the use of enabling technologies such as AI and “workforce bots.”
Other mainstage sessions included a panel discussion on managing change and some of the emerging challenges facing government acquisition and a keynote by Stacy Cummings, Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Acquisition Enabler, US Dept of Defense. She emphasized the ultimate goal of DoD to modernize its acquisition process and introduced attendees to the Adaptive Acquisition Framework, a flexible acquisition process that is tailorable based on the operational need to have capability delivered.
A new innovation was the use of “Exchange Sessions,” which were informal discussions led by a moderator to focus in on a topic of interest to attendees. These exchange sessions were set in groups of 10-20 and allowed participants to share best practices and ask questions of each other regarding how to overcome a variety of acquisition challenges.
While the conference provided an opportunity to network and learn there was also an opportunity to celebrate NCMA’s 60th anniversary at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art with live music, dinner and an extraordinary view across Boston Harbor.
TAPE LLC’s SVP and Chief Operating Officer Ted Harrison moderated a panel at this year’s event entitled, “What do the 809 Panel Recommendations Mean for Small Business?” The Section 809 Panel has made several recommendations aimed at refocusing DOD’s small business program. While many have extolled the bold recommendations that would allow the government to purchase “readily available” items more like the purchasing department in private industry, still others have sounded the clarion call to stop what some perceive as the destruction of the DOD small business programs. This panel sought to find the truth in a discussion with representatives from the 809 Panel, DOD small business, and industry.
TAPE actively supports NCMA in several ways. TAPE COO Ted Harrison is a Board Director on NCMA’s National Board and TAPE CEO Louisa Jaffe is on NCMA’s Board of Advisors and has supported NCMA for many years. As well, Ted Harrison was the event chair for the annual Government Contract Management Symposium in December 2018 in Washington, DC.
When you price a government contract, some of your costs are considered direct costs and others are considered indirect costs. The most basic direct cost is labor – specifically the cost of paying the employees who work directly on that contract. Those costs are billable to the government agency who hired your company.
You also have labor costs that aren’t billable to the government because those employees aren’t working directly on that contract. Some of these indirect costs include paying the salaries of your company president, your HR person, or your reception staff.
There are other indirect labor costs, known as fringe benefits, which are things like vacation pay and sick time. You are responsible for these costs as an employer but they are not directly billable to the government.
A cost pool is a calculation that combines these different but related types of indirect costs, and provides you with a percentage, e.g., 2X base salary, that you can include in your bid price to make sure those indirect costs are accounted for.
You would go through this same calculation for overhead costs, such as office space for billable versus non-billable employees, and direct versus indirect general and administrative costs.
I’m making this very simple (here’s a blog post that goes into more detail), but government cost accounting requires you to have these pools and rates established in order for your bid to have appropriate approval by a government cost analyst who might be evaluating the bid. Not to mention protecting yourself in case of an audit by the DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency – your processes could be also audited by the Defense Contract Management Agency).
As a small business in the federal contracting space, it’s important to understand cost accounting, cost analysis, indirect rates, cost pools, and all of these concepts in order to understand where you can cut costs and be more price competitive. You’ll still definitely want to consult legal and accounting experts, but educating yourself upfront will help save you time and money along the way.
This is a follow up post from one of TAPE’s “capture managers,” a member of our business development team.
It’s important to understand that there are different intelligence zones involved in capture management – customer, competitive intelligence, program, staffing, and pricing. Being able to define it in those chunks helps us understand the kind of solution that we need to write towards in our proposal. Each of those zones have some basic questions and KPIs (key performance indicators).
We looked at client relationships and competitive intelligence in Part 1. Today we’ll look at staffing, and how the TAPE team works together and decides what to bid on.
Staffing is one of the most important aspects of capture to get right because clients don’t buy products or companies; they buy people. Having the right people on your team is critical for success, but who are the right people?
It’s important to distinguish between the key personnel and the rest of the team. Your key personnel are usually the people who lead the program, and their resumes are usually required to be submitted with the proposal. If they’re not already on your payroll, letters of commitment are often required.
The right key personnel will have all the required certifications, training, and years of experience, are known to the customer and have a good reputation, and can help you write the proposal.
For non-key personnel (other team members), it is important to identify as many qualified candidates as possible before submitting a proposal. Staffing matrices are typically required, listing all of the positions and hours assigned to the project.
If the only names in the staffing matrix are those for the key personnel, the program looks unstaffed and therefore more risky to evaluators. That’s why it is important to identify as many qualified candidates as possible (those with all the required certifications, training, and years of experience) before submission.
TAPE’s capture team
Because TAPE is a small business, we often have to wear a lot of different hats. There is always a locus of intelligence in one area, for example our senior vice president, administration and our chief financial officer will certainly help with pricing, but so will others who can bring the customer intimacy and program knowledge – perhaps someone who’s been in government and knows the program or its people. That person may be on staff at TAPE, or we’ll hire subject matter experts who can provide us that information.
It’s a shared responsibility amongst the team to go out and find this information, and my role to coordinate all these efforts and all of these people. What’s most important is having a team you trust, because you can’t do everything. Trust is the biggest component – trust, good working relationships, and good communication.
Also important are positivity, a can-do attitude, and being able to see things from multiple perspectives to gather what’s really important and what can wait, as well as graciousness and thankfulness for everyone’s efforts. At TAPE we always put a high value on our working relationships and communication – things are just so much easier when everyone’s on the same page.
Some days there is bound to be confusion. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt can be difficult but at the end of the day it keeps us communicating and honest with each other.
Successful relationships require trust and credibility. So often we deal with teammates who are not a part of TAPE. When we’re not teaming, we’re competitors – it’s a friendly competition, but building and maintaining trust in those relationships is vital.
Yes or no?
A big part of capture is about continually vetting and re-vetting opportunities to understand exactly what it is you’re investing in. So often there’s a huge disconnect or built-in conflict between the business development and capture proposal sides of the house. Business development wants to say yes to everything and capture proposal wants to say no to everything. It’s essential to build a bridge between the two because proposals often get seen as Dr. No and business development seen as snake oil salesmen.
When you do decide to qualify a bid and devote capture resources to it, you’re making an investment – though not all investments are equal. Sometimes you invest in a contract that will lose money so you can establish a relationship with a customer; other times you make a smaller investment by teaming with someone. But in all cases these are investments in time and resources, and you must understand exactly how that investment impacts your bottom line.
Thinking back to Lohfeld’s wise words that the best informed win, we can look to the data for this purpose. When discriminating what will remain in the pipeline and what we’ll invest more into, we need to know how much a proposal will cost. Do we have the necessary internal resources, or will we have to hire out? What will that cost?
Capture management means having a systematic way of reviewing an opportunity to determine your probability of win, and how that equates to what you’ll see in revenue and return on investment. Measuring those things and collecting that data in order to make an informed decision is an important component of what we do in capture.
This is a guest post by Jason Miller of Federal News Radio.
It’s been a year since the Office of Federal Procurement Policy released and accepted comments on its draft circular around category management.
With little-to-no activity on the draft circular over the past year, it seems OFPP is taking a less permanent route to further institutionalize this approach to buying.
Federal News Radio has learned OFPP sent a draft memo out for comment across the agencies earlier this summer, focusing on demand management and “best-in-class contracts.”
Several sources confirmed agencies submitted comments and OFPP is reviewing them.
Government sources familiar with the draft memo say OFPP wants agencies to set goals for using “best-in-class contracts,” and implement demand management by analyzing procurement data and making decisions on who to buy from and how to buy from those vendors.
One source said the draft memo would require agencies to negotiate with OFPP a percentage of work that would have to go through some of the currently 29 governmentwide, multiple-award contracts that have been designated “best-in-class.” These include several General Services Administration contracts, such as OASIS for professional services and Alliant for IT services, as well as the governmentwide acquisition contracts run by NASA and the National Institutes of Health.
“Each agency’s goal would be different because it would be based on what you buy and what you think you should be buying,” said the source, who requested anonymity in order to speak about the pre-decisional memo. “OFPP will look at what you bought in the past and determine what percentage should be bought through these contracts. You will then negotiate with OFPP, much the same way we do with small business goals.”
Multiple government sources say they have real concerns about the memo and have expressed them to OFPP.
Another government source familiar with the memo said they are not a fan of the “best-in-class” designation because it’s based too much on labor rates or categories, and not based on whether the vendor can do the work the agency needs.
“To be ‘best-in-class,’ you have to demonstrate that the vendor is best in class,” the source said. “I understand using it for some things, like delivery services, but for anything mission-related or more complicated, I’m not sure you can just look at the basic information and decide a contract is ‘best-in-class.’”
Lesley Field, the acting OFPP administrator — who, by the way, has been acting for more than a year— said at the Professional Services Council’s Vision Forecast Conference on Nov. 2 that agencies use rigorous criteria to determine “best-in-class.”
“We developed the requirements with a lot of government agencies in mind. It’s not just one agency, but there were customers at the table helping with the requirements,” Field said. “We want to take advantage of volume pricing. We want to have benchmarks for what industry is driving toward. We want to make sure is there data-driven demand and we have to validate our savings methodologies.”
But the criteria for “best-in-class,” according to GSA’s website, are much less rigorous than what Field described.
GSA says to be “best-in-class” a contract must:
- Allow acquisition experts to take advantage of pre-vetted, governmentwide contract solutions;
- Support a governmentwide migration to solutions that are mature and market-proven;
- Assist in the optimization of spend, within the governmentwide category management framework;
- Increase the transactional data available for agency level and governmentwide analysis of buying behavior.
Field said OFPP, GSA and other agencies look at those contracts to make sure they meet all these criteria as well as others, such as ensuring they support contracting with small businesses.
Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said his members and others in the federal community are concerned about the impact the “best-in-class” designation could have on the marketplace.
“To the extent that ‘best-in-class’ contracts are selected, it’s like picking winners and losers. It could lead to less competition and higher prices in the long run,” Waldron said. “Industry also is scratching their collective heads about what criteria should be used, and even if it’s the right idea. Best-in-class predisposes that it’s the right way to go, but what if it’s a platform or new idea instead of just a contract?”
Waldron said the Federal Acquisition Regulations already tell agencies there are priority sources of supply, so if OFPP wants to hold agencies accountable for using these “best-in-class” contracts, what does it mean for the small business community?
“Is best-in-class establishing a different framework for priorities?” he said. “We don’t understand why OFPP isn’t going through a typical rulemaking process. The Obama administration put out the circular and asked for some comment on it. We submitted a series of comments and questions, and to date, we’ve received no response from the executive branch. I’m not sure how OFPP can implement category management and best-in-class without addressing industry questions and concerns. It doesn’t demonstrate a real partnership.”
Industry isn’t the only place where collaboration may be falling short.
The second government source said OFPP has talked — but not to the acquisition community — about category management and the use of “best-in-class” contracts.
“I’ve been told our comments will be addressed,” the source said. “This is a leftover initiative from the last administration and they are just keeping it going without taking a new look at the effort.”
Sources said OFPP should bring the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council together to discuss category management and what “best-in-class” really means before creating what some may view as a mandate to use these designated contracts.
Government and industry experts say OFPP should reconsider what “best-in-class” really means.
The government source said maybe it’s around acquisition practices and not contracts.
Waldron said maybe OFPP should consider identifying key characteristics of contracts to drive the best value.
“The only thing we have is criteria that were identified in the draft circular that are all process-driven, not outcome-driven,” he said. “Plus, the definition of best-in-class in government seems to be different than best-in-class in the private sector.”
Sources say one problem with the entire category management effort is it’s being driven by GSA and they stand to gain from the effort.
The first government source said OFPP needs to be more flexible in how it requires agencies to use these contracts. The source said they can’t understand how the GSA Schedules are considered “best-in-class,” given how many vendors there are and the fact that the prices aren’t great to start.
“The way GSA negotiates them means you are not getting the best price, because anyone can get on it as long as you are a legitimate company, you don’t have any failed past performance and can offer a decent price,” the source said. “To me, ‘best-in-class’ means you negotiated and are getting a good deal. Best-in-class should minimize my work and Schedule 70 doesn’t do that, and that’s where I get a little nervous because OFPP is going to an extreme. Best-in-class should be contracts that are products or services that are proven, efficient and cost-effective. You are after quality, timely delivery and cost-effective buying. Right now, the criteria is too loosely written.”
This post originally appeared on the Federal News Radio site at https://federalnewsradio.com/reporters-notebook-jason-miller/2017/11/ofpp-drafts-memo-to-replace-category-management-circular/ and was reprinted with permission. You can also click here to listen to Jason Miller discuss the topic on the Federal Drive podcast with Tom Temin.
Here’s a guest post from one of TAPE’s “capture managers,” a member of our business development team.
A large number of my family and friends live outside the “beltway.” So when I tell them I’m a capture manager, they give me a blank look – and you might, too. Unlike medical and legal professions, capture management is a profession that doesn’t get a lot of attention outside of the beltway. But today, we’re going to break it down and understand what capture is and how small businesses can use it to grow.
What is capture?
Selling to the Government is like a chess game with three phases:
- Opening – this is where businesses identify who they are, what they’re going to sell, and the clients they’re going to target. In essence, this is how businesses condition the marketplace to be successful.
- Middle – this is where businesses, focusing on specific accounts, manage the client relationship and develop opportunities. This middle game focuses on gathering information and then shaping the client’s perceptions. In essence, this stage of the game is all about conditioning the client.
- Endgame – this is where businesses write proposals, negotiate, and sign contracts. This endgame is where businesses condition the deal.
As in chess, when businesses wait until the end to try and win, they’re more likely to lose. Chess games and business contracts are won or lost a majority of the time in the middle game.
Capture is the middle game. It comes after making contact with a prospective client, and before an RFP is released. My colleagues and other industry veterans will tell you that a prospective client’s buying decision is typically 40-80% complete before proposals are even submitted. This means that the middle game constitutes as much as 70% of a company’s probability of win.
Considering these statistics, it is no wonder that large government contractors (LGCs) have dedicated capture teams. In addition to their capture personnel, though, LGCs have also developed a capture discipline, or set of processes, by which they organize, monitor, and evaluate their capture efforts.
Many small businesses cannot afford the cost of a dedicated capture team, but none can afford to neglect building a capture discipline. The question, then, is how can small businesses go about developing a capture discipline?
Developing a capture discipline
One way to begin developing a capture discipline is to define the activities and outcomes that reliably predict success. Since capture is all about conditioning the client to prefer your solution, at TAPE we use the following five characteristics to predict success:
- Strong client relationships
- Client-centered solutions
- Robust competitive intelligence
- Secure staffing
- Competitive pricing
When clients know you by name, when you’ve collaborated with them to develop their solution, when you’ve used your knowledge of the competition’s strengths and weaknesses to refine your solution, when you’ve identified staff in your solution that the client knows and trusts, and when you’ve priced it competitively you have effectively positioned yourself to win the contract.
Accomplishing all of these goals takes time and persistence. It also helps to have a shared understanding of the steps one takes to achieve these goals.
Building strong client relationships
Before I moved to the DC area, friends here told me that it’s not what you know, but who you know. While this is probably true everywhere, it is especially true for DC. Knowing the right people – and being known to the right people – is critical for success. To ensure that we’re building strong client relationships, we ask ourselves the following questions:
- Does the client know your name?
- Does the client understand your company’s capabilities?
- Has the client met with you to understand and/or develop their requirements?
- Does the client trust you?
If the answer to any of those questions is no, our team meets to devise a plan that changes those answers to yes. We assign tasks and record our progress so that our team operates from the same page. This data helps us measure our progress and make key decisions,
Developing client-centric solutions
This is the heart of capture, and doing it well requires that you know the customer’s needs, issues, and hot buttons. Client-centric solutions come down to four key steps:
- Meeting the needs of the customer
- Understanding the needs versus the wants
- Understanding the risks
- Developing a solution that meets the needs
Knowledge is power, and what you don’t know can hurt you. My mantra for capture comes from industry titan Bob Lohfeld, whose book of collected articles is titled Best Informed Wins. The whole idea for capture is that we gain as much intelligence as possible to win bids.
That includes intelligence on the customer and customer intimacy, e.g., do we know who the program manager and contracting manager are, have we had conversations with them, are they comfortable calling us by name, do they know who we are, either as TAPE or individuals?
What are their problems, what do they see as possible solutions, and how do we help them solve those problems? Knowing all of that gives us customer intimacy, and the intelligence that comes along with that.
Then there’s market intelligence, e.g., who are our competitors, what have they done recently, and what are their significant strengths and weaknesses? Do we have everything it takes to provide solutions or do we need to team? Do we have the right people, who are of interest to the program office, that they know and trust? Are we able to get people quickly?
There’s also financial intelligence, i.e., knowing the costs, how much the government has to spend and wants to spend. Is cost their biggest priority or is it having the right people?
The more informed we are, the better proposal we are able to write, so capture management is a process of strategically uncovering all the information we need to make the win.
We’ll address the fourth and fifth characteristics of successful capture (secure staffing and competitive pricing) in a future post, along with some of the other elements that affect TAPE’s capture process.
This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.
Every day we find ourselves in situations that require us to negotiate. Whether it is for business or personal reasons, it is critical to understand that there is more to negotiation than just simply winning. In preparation for negotiations with our clients, team members, partners, or even friends or acquaintances, the key criteria to determine is “How do we bring value together?” The mindset has to be on finding a way to innovate and create.
It is important to understand that when someone says “no” we don’t need to feel alarmed; it is just the beginning of the conversation. It is critical to remember that negotiation is problem-solving. The only way to solve problems is to have key information. The exchange of information allows us to get there together.
Further, it is vital to understand that value and quality don’t always align with cost. When we focus on the bottom-line and cost, we may lose quality. For example, many government contracts are based on “Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA).” This leaves little room for creativity or innovation. Contracting officers are governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), which in most cases focuses on lowest cost, but often the FAR fails to consider that it costs to add value.
We must dig deep, be honest with ourselves, and decide what we really want. Every situation requires its own strategy. It is imperative that we play to our strengths. The more passionate we are about our own goals but also the more clear we are about our limits, the more clarity and enthusiasm we will have to negotiate until the best possible agreement that can be reached, has been reached.
It is also important to understand what drives us and what got us to the table. While our goal or target should never change, the interest is never money for its own sake and the financial gain is just the path.
Ultimately, the conversation should be centered on adding value. We must see the bigger picture beyond the dollars and the technical baseline. Once we do that creatively, we can enter a world of much greater possibilities. There are many paths to success. By observing sober limits decided upon in advance, we can be clear enough to calmly walk away from a bad deal but also be open enough to negotiate good deals (even if they require more time and complexity).
Additionally, it is dangerous to get caught up in our own interest or our egos. This is the difference between a deal and no deal. There is the interest (our underlying motivation), and the position (the what, in this case financial gain). Negotiation is never about winning just for winning’s sake.
Lastly, the goal is to maintain a good relationship with your client. Creating a win/win situation for both parties results in a long-term relationship and the possibility of more contracts. So don’t lose sight, the end result should be value on both sides!
This post was originally published on the TAPE blog at http://tape-llc.com/2017/07/winning-fulfilling-interest/ 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.
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.
We’ve been digging up some myths and facts about government-industry communications during the acquisition process. This document from the OFPP has been around for several years, and so have these myths.
The first myth-busting memo from 2011 (there have been two more since then) identified the 10 most common misconceptions shared in a series of meetings with various stakeholders in the acquisitions process. I covered the first five in a previous post, and now here are the rest.
Misconception 6: When the government awards a task or delivery order using the Federal Supply Schedules, debriefing the offerors isn’t required so it shouldn’t be done.
Fact: Providing feedback is important, both for offerors and the government, so agencies should generally provide feedback whenever possible.
Note from Bill: Yes, yes, yes! Feedback is amazingly necessary to learn the next steps for small businesses. What did we do wrong, and what can we do better? Help us succeed the next time; that’s not going to create protests.
Misconception 7: Industry days and similar events attended by multiple vendors are of low value to industry and the government because industry won’t provide useful information in front of competitors, and the government doesn’t release new information.
Fact: Well-organized industry days, as well as pre-solicitation and pre-proposal conferences, are valuable opportunities for the government and for potential vendors – both prime contractors and subcontractors, many of whom are small businesses.
Note from Bill: Industry days rock! More communication, in a controlled environment, that’s always the ticket.
Misconception 8: The program manager already talked to industry to develop the technical requirements, so the contracting officer doesn’t need to do anything else before issuing the RFP.
Fact: The technical requirements are only part of the acquisition; getting feedback on terms and conditions, pricing structure, performance metrics, evaluation criteria, and contract administration matters will improve the award and implementation process.
Note from Bill: Draft RFPs also rock – just because you’ve written many of these before doesn’t mean industry won’t find the logistical problems and special needs for this procurement. Publish a draft and encourage feedback, please!
Misconception 9: Giving industry only a few days to respond to an RFP is OK since the government has been talking to industry about this procurement for over a year.
Fact: Providing only short response times may result in the government receiving fewer proposals and the ones received may not be as well-developed – which can lead to a flawed contract. This approach signals that the government isn’t really interested in competition.
Note from Bill: Procurements with only a few days notice usually means someone lost track of the time, or that they were completely and irrevocably wired for a specific vendor.
Misconception 10: Getting broad participation by many different vendors is too difficult; we’re better off dealing with the established companies we know.
Fact: The government loses when we limit ourselves to the companies we already work with. Instead, we need to look for opportunities to increase competition and ensure that all vendors, including small businesses, get fair consideration.
Note from Bill: Absolutely – new blood is often good. Of course TAPE just won a job for the 3rd consecutive time, but we’re doing a good job as seen in our CPARs and customer comments. Get fair competition and everyone will benefit.
The OFPP released two other sets of myths and facts, and we’ll be delving into those in future blog posts. Stay tuned!