This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.
Is the federal government moving away from Lowest Priced Technically Acceptable (LPTA) procurements? Contractors that are in the people business, like my company, can only hope so!
When I say “people” business, I mean providing the government with people who exceed expectations in delivering operations, technology and facilities management services. In LPTA procurements, competitions in which the government selects the lowest-priced proposal that meets a minimum set of technical requirements, contractors are not rewarded, or even encouraged, for exceeding these minimum standards. This approach is not compatible with a corporate philosophy that stresses excellence in service delivery by people who are best qualified to do the job.
On March 4, 2015, Mr. Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (AT&L), issued a memorandum detailing the role that LPTA procurements should play in the Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition process. According to the Kendall memorandum, use of LPTA is appropriate “only when there are well-defined requirements, the risk of unsuccessful contract performance is minimal, price is a significant factor in the source selection, and there is neither value, need, nor willingness to pay for higher performance.”
The Kendall memorandum states that LPTA has “a clear but limited place” in source selection. The memorandum warns that if LPTA is not used appropriately, DoD “can miss an opportunity to secure an innovative, cost-effective solution to meet Warfighter needs and to help maintain our technical advantage.”
I could not agree more. Yet we continue to see startling examples of LPTA being used in highly questionable circumstances. For example, we recently saw two LPTA procurements being solicited by a major military hospital in the Washington DC metro area for emergency room and oncology registered nurses (RNs).
What message does this send to our warfighters and their families who are going to the emergency room or who need cancer treatment? Would the acquisition specialist who wrote this procurement or the Contracting Officer who approved it want to be treated by lowest price, technically acceptable medical personnel? In this situation the risk of unsuccessful performance is certainly not minimal.
We have also seen another Defense agency, who is responsible for information superiority in defense of our nation, using LPTA to procure cybersecurity experts. These are professionals who must have the highest-level clearances for work that is mission-critical for the security of some of our nation’s most sensitive assets. It is another situation in which the LPTA approach clearly does not make sense.
The reality of LPTA procurements is that contractors are spending a lot of time and money to deliver high-quality technical proposals that may never be read. Here is how the process works in the real world of government acquisition:
Once all of the proposals are in, the government contracting officer opens the bids and looks at the price proposal only. He or she then puts the price proposals in order from lowest to highest price. The technical proposal of the lowest bidder is then opened and compared against a checklist of the solicitation’s technical requirements. If that lowest price proposal meets all of the requirements and it is considered technically acceptable, that contractor can be awarded the contract. The contracting officer does not even have to look at the other technical proposals.
Of course, this approach may be considered more efficient from the government’s standpoint. No need to put together full selection boards. Not as many meetings have to be held. But what about the contractors who make a good-faith effort to deliver a high-quality technical proposal??
For SAMS, I have made the executive decision that we will not submit bids when the evaluation factor is LPTA. We have no desire to get caught in the crossfire of price shootouts and the subsequent fallout of not meeting contractual performance standards that can result from the “race to the bottom” LPTA approach.
The LPTA method may work when the government is buying pens, toilet paper, or office supplies, but not when it comes to buying people and their skills. As Mr. Kendall affirmed in his memorandum, the LPTA approach should be used only when technical requirements are well defined. As is the case with many professional services procurements, requirements are very rarely well defined.
When the government is using LPTA, any proposal that exceeds the minimum is not rewarded. That makes it hard to motivate people who are committed to developing or delivering an excellent product or service. Moreover, if your company’s core value is people exceeding expectations, how do you convince employees that you care about them and their families when you are willing to gouge their salaries?
For companies in the people business, LPTA creates a death spiral. If your company is known for devaluing salaries, you cannot attract qualified people. You cannot motivate the people you do attract, because there is no incentive for them to perform at an exceptional level. Since there are no government rewards for exceeding expectations, employees cannot be rewarded. Ultimately, you cannot retain them.
A way forward?
If agencies actually implemented and followed the criteria in the Kendall memorandum, there is some potential for LPTA. The challenge is giving well-defined requirements and balancing the risk of unsuccessful performance. However the way the LPTA “game” is currently played, someone always has the potential to underbid. In many cases, this underbidding is unrealistic.
Because of this, the government needs to do a better job of determining fair market value. Unrealistically low prices should be declared non-responsive and thrown out of the competitive range. Otherwise, LPTA procurements could be putting the government, warfighters, and the public at risk.
In the long run, the government needs to do the necessary upfront work when acquisition staffers are working with the program office to determine contract requirements. This is the only way the government can clearly define technical requirements and, more importantly, delineate the standard of proof that bidders must show in order to be determined technically responsive.
The bottom line is that businesses these days have limited resources. These resources may be even more limited in small and medium-sized businesses. We cannot support the overhead cost to develop competitive proposals if we are expected to operate in a price shootout environment with little or no return. LPTA has its place in the federal government procurement cycle, let’s use it when it makes sense and not as a blanket procurement method for trying to reduce costs.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/lpta-procurements-lets-lose-sight-p-people-staci-redmon-pmp-mba and was reprinted with permission.
Staci L. Redmon is President and CEO of Strategy and Management Services, Inc. (SAMS), an award-winning and leading provider of innovative operations, management and technology solutions in a variety of public and private sector industries and markets. SAMS is based in Springfield, VA.
The best and brightest of your staff are the ones who will carry a company far into the future, and every time you promote someone, that act resonates through the entire organization.
This is one such of the “million stories in the Big City” – a Junior PM job opened up, and we promoted a billable supervisor to an overhead PM position. The following is a first-hand story about that transition, and what we as senior staff and managers can do to help the folks going through a similar transition.
Meet Ken Geary, retired Marine, and newest PM on the TAPE block.
What was the biggest change going from being a supervisor to being a project manager?
“I would have to say the scope of management. I went from directly supervising a relatively small team of five individuals performing a task that I was intimately familiar with, to managing a much larger group of people through delegation and direct communication.
Also management is no longer my sole responsibility. I work to not only provide exceptional service to our customers but also focus on business development, seeking to grow our current contracts as well as procure new ones.
I see this as a general trend, where business development is less one person’s specific role, and more rolled into all program management roles.”
A year later, what would you tell yourself when you were about to start?
“Keep better notes and to-do lists. When I first started in the program management role, I was assuming I could continue to just remember everything I needed to do, as I did when managing a smaller team and wasn’t being pulled in so many directions.
Now that I’m often switching from one project to another, I’ve found that writing everything down helps me to ensure that I complete all of my tasks. I can quickly see the current status and be reminded of the key points that are relevant when working with different contracts.”
What do you think are the most important traits of a good project manager?
“When I was in the Marine Corps we affectionately changed the slogan from semper fi (short for semper fidelis – Latin for “always faithful”) to semper gumby (“always flexible”) and I believe that holds true here.
As a program manager many things fall into your scope of work and you need to be ready to switch gears instantly, manage multiple things, and perform those tasks – proposal writing, performance reviews, and anything that comes along in day-to-day program management.”
What are the biggest benefits to having a project manager in place?
“One of the major benefits of putting a program manager in place is to provide a single point of contact for any issues. This is something that benefits our employees as well as the government points of contact by delivering to provide accurate information effectively and directly.
I can work with them to solve a problem directly, or find the answers for them without them having to get passed around. I know when I call up to get answers or solutions it can be frustrating to get passed around from one person to another.”
Is there anything else you would tell a new project manager?
“Ensure that you are asking questions daily. There is a lot of information to learn and if you don’t ask when you have questions people will assume that you know and understand the information and tasks that have been delegated to you.
If you’re not sure about acronyms or other shop talk, say so. Don’t be scared to ask questions, you need to make sure you understand everything.”
So there you have it – Ken’s story, a year later. Without blowing up his ego too much, he’s done a superb job. What he didn’t tell you is that several of our contracts were coming to a close and needed bridging, and his relationship skills with the customer saved TAPE a lot of problems that would or could have surfaced.
Well, the folks behind the Contracting Officer Podcast have definitely shown some real focus, by targeting the concept of targeting (bad pun is entirely mine). I introduced hosts Kevin Jans (Skyway Acquisition Solutions) and Paul Schauer (CACI’s National and Cyber Solutions) in a previous post about the true cost of proposals.
The real issue with the topic of targeting is the law of large numbers. For example, the folks at Skyway Acquisitions target companies and that means their reachable market is all 500,000 companies registered in the SAM database (the Federal Government’s System for Award Management).
If they pare that down to target privately owned companies with over $500,000 in annual revenue, with five or more employees, who have won at least one government prime or subcontract in the last three years, that would still be 250,000 companies! As my millennial friends would say, “OMG!” that’s a lot of companies. “That’s a lot of phone calls, man,” Kevin jokes.
He says to also consider your weight class, “the right size of an opportunity that you can afford to win or lose without derailing your company.” This goes back to one of the three critical questions we talked about in the previous post: Does your company have the capabilities to win this job? What resources do you have available to solicit and deliver this potential contract?
Now for TAPE and many of you, our market is the Federal Government. I don’t know how many total buyers there are, or buyers plus KOs and contract specialists, and lions and tigers and bears, oh my, but I know there are a lot.
So how do we narrow down the targeting? It’s really quite simple. Start with who you already know. Who’s doing things in areas you already know how to do? Instead of sending out 25,000 pieces of junk mail (heaven forbid), we need to focus on where we can get in the door.
We can contact our 25 closest friends in the business, and then in our follow-up, ask, “Who in your agency might be needing our ABC services?” If they have no direct need, or their contracts don’t come up for years, or if they like their current support, then what about one of their neighbors or sister agencies?
What I particularly loved in this podcast episode was their focus on having a mindset of abundance, which Kevin explains as being able to think, “There’s more opportunity for me than I could ever chase, so therefore this one that doesn’t fit, it’s okay to walk away from it and keep going.”
It is indeed an abundant universe. You have resources like this blog and the Contracting Officer Podcast, you have friends, you have people you did good work for in a different situation, and now’s the time to test that abundance. But target the things you know and can do, and leave the rest of the abundance for me and other of my readers!
In The True Cost of Proposals, we talked about the effect of ambiguity on the capture and proposal process, and how contractors shouldn’t waste time or money writing proposals unless they can clearly answer three questions:
- Does this customer have money allocated to solve this problem?
- Can your company solve this problem?
- Do you have the capabilities to win this job?
I asked Bo Nak, a sales engineer at TAPE, to talk about how TAPE navigates through this process.
How do you see these three questions fit into the capture and proposal process?
At TAPE, our capture process really begins after we’ve identified an opportunity – through a government proposal site, third-party analyst, word of mouth, etc. Our first step is talking to the customer, learning what kind of problem they’re trying to solve, what they’re trying to do.
This really goes back to building a relationship with that customer. No one wants to do business with people they don’t know. You can win business [with strangers], but it’s a lot more difficult. Building that relationship is probably most important thing you can do.
That leads into TAPE’s bid/no bid, gate review process. Our own self-critique of our odds of winning that opportunity. Answering those three questions is going to increase our PWin (“probability of winning”) percentage. Whatever we can do to increase that, we should.
If you don’t have a good PWin percentage, you probably won’t or shouldn’t get to the proposal writing stage.
To answer Bill’s second key question, “Can your company solve this problem?” take an honest look at yourself and your company. Is the potential work within your company’s capabilities and will it take you in the direction you want to be going?
The third question follows along the same lines and asks us to take a hard look at our own company and team. Do we have the manpower? Do we have the time to put forth the proper effort into the proposal?
If you don’t have the people or the time, do you have or do you know of other companies you could bring on to form a team? Obviously you want to find strong partners for your team to build the strongest response and proposal.
Note from Bill: Also consider whether your company should act as the prime or sub.
Sometimes we have a relationship with the customer, but no bandwidth to be the prime contractor, or the size standard (NAICS code) is too small for us to be the prime. So we seek partners, also those with whom we have a long-term relationship. Knowing how they will allocate staffing afterwards is a critical issue for choosing a prime contractor.
How does TAPE manage their proposal writing costs?
It’s true what they said in the podcast, that capture and proposal writing starts long before the RFP or RFI comes out. That’s really where your costs start to accumulate. As in most companies, our CFO and company leadership form annual budgets, and its our job to match our spending to that.
Obviously that means we can’t chase after every opportunity out there, so we make sure to put our time and effort into the proposals we have the best shot at winning, ones that match our company’s capabilities and direction and that we have a realistic chance of winning.
What did you think of the podcast about how much proposals cost?
A lot of the messages in the podcast and Bill’s post were things that seem like common sense, but that some contracting officers never calculate or see. There are a lot of costs attached to what we do as part of writing proposals that aren’t necessary considered by the government.
Ambiguity leading to mediocrity was a huge point that needs to be reiterated. And this goes back to one of the podcast hosts saying that questions aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
Industry wants to create a great proposal and put their best foot forward, that’s why we ask questions. Getting back answers in a timely manner and getting the answer sufficiently answered is highly important to us AND the government.
I can’t tell you how many times the same question was asked four, five or even six times in the Q&A section of an RFP, where the government gave a canned response, didn’t fully answer the question, or took forever to answer. This really puts a strain on our ability to write a good proposal.
Hopefully contracting officers in the future will be able to take that part of it more seriously and make more of an effort to help industry and contractors by giving them the answers that they need. It comes around full circle – the better answers you can give us, the better response we can give the government, saving taxpayers more money in the long run.
As they said in the podcast, putting an hour of effort in now can save many more hours on the backend. And that’s certainly something anyone would want to do.
Bo Nak is a sales engineer at Technical and Project Engineering, LLC (TAPE). A graduate from Virginia Tech with a BSE degree in industrial and systems engineering, he has worked as a sales engineer for over six years developing solutions and proposals for private, industry, and government customers. He focuses on developing credible solutions and proposals, building revenue, and driving organic growth opportunities.
I try to live by what I blog. This is a good thing, because I had a conversation with my staff people, and it seems as if they read my blog as well. After the posts about chasing squirrels and focusing our contracting efforts, they wanted to know what we were doing to chase fewer squirrels and narrow our focus.
Of course we do have a focus, and we talked a little about that. We also talked about how important it is to understand that your pipeline is more like a funnel than a pipeline, with a wide opening that’s full of squirrels. But not all of these are the irrelevant distractions Judy cautioned us against.
You see, if all of your capture management projects are sequential, one after another, then the inevitable delays that occur in government contracting are going to leave you with lengthy gaps when there’s nothing you’re actively working on.
Ideally the top of your funnel will be populated with enough potential opportunities that are far enough away for you to do the appropriate capture work and development, and then lower down in your funnel you’ll reduce those to the ones you’re actually developing.
The process by which you pare down those options is typically called a step review – where the business development people, the operations people, the technical solutions people, and maybe others all come together. “So we’ve got this squirrel,” they say, “Now how are we going to trap the dang thing?” Because that’s the key – we don’t want to be chasing after anything or anyone. We want to focus on getting the perfect customers to come to us.
The step review represents a moment in time when you make a decision about whether to keep attempting to trap a squirrel, or stop. As you let go of some of these squirrels, your funnel gets down to the narrowest point where you’re actually writing and responding to a manageable number of proposals. That’s when you apply the capture management and relationship building strategies we discuss on this blog.
In a step review, we ask ourselves three simple questions:
- Do we know the customer, the actual customer, the person with the money?
- Does the customer know us?
- Do we have a solution for the customer’s true problem?
A corollary fourth question might be: Is the customer willing to look at new solutions?
More information will be required as you get closer to the actual RFP, but if you can answer these questions in the affirmative, that’s a successful step review and you can move this squirrel down the funnel. The ultimate goal of the step review process is to leave with fewer total opportunities that we’re chasing.
Recently Judy Bradt wrote for us about the concept of chasing squirrels (opportunities). Let’s talk some more about how we decide to focus our efforts.
In the classic Shipley method of doing business development for contract award in the federal sector, we make a determination at the agency level how and what we’re going to go after. We must understand who we are as a company.
What are we selling? Information technology services? Cyber security services? Training? Leadership development? Logistics? Warehouse people? There is a whole host of possibilities. What exactly are the capabilities we’re selling?
Who are we selling it to? For example, a company might decide that they’re an Army contractor or a Navy contractor. But the Army and Navy are great big places. Be specific.
“OSDBU event! Veteran Business Owners Conference! Sources Sought! Vendor Outreach Session! HUBZone Day! Industry Day! Site Walk-through! Draft RFP! PTAC Briefing! SBA Matchmaker! Prime Vendor Meet-and-Greet! And there’s this guy you should meet, maybe they need a teaming partner like you. And, whoa, did I see an RFP deadline sail past? Where did that go?”
The fact of the matter is, often we’re too broad in estimating our capabilities. While we do want to stretch ourselves into new opportunities (that’s what marketing and business development is all about), it’s important to start where we are.
How can you turn something you’ve already done into something that you’d like to do? Who are the nearest neighbors to your existing customers and the function you’re performing?
For example, let’s say I’m supplying warehouse logistics people. Well, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to get into supplying the folks who assemble the components that will be stored in the warehouse.
If I’m working for the Navy’s SPAWAR warehouse in Charleston, maybe I should go talk to a nearby GSA warehouse. From there, maybe I’ll bid on a GSA warehouse in Virginia. It’s a different location, but I’ll have good GSA references.
The best new customers come as referrals from our best current customers. That’s why when we break down the work we do in our business, at the top of the list is taking care of current customers. We never want to lose that focus.
We may have a strategic plan that lays out our capabilities and target agencies, but what’s key is to build relationships that support that plan. Because it’s from those relationships that will come information about new opportunities, and new functions we can perform within our scope, whether that’s for existing customers, or their nearest neighbors.
This is a guest post by Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight LLC.
By the time federal small business contractors start to have some success, they’ve gained a certain amount of self-awareness. Which is to say, they often know what’s wrong, they just don’t know how to fix it.
“We need to stop chasing squirrels.”
That is the most common woe I’ve heard recently, from executives in industries that span professional engineering to facilities management. My response? Yes, you do!
What are the squirrels they are talking about? Why, opportunities, of course. And, boy, if there’s one thing the federal government has no shortage of, it’s opportunities.
OSDBU event! Veteran Business Owners Conference! Sources Sought! Vendor Outreach Session! HUBZone Day! Industry Day! Site Walk-through! Draft RFP! PTAC Briefing! SBA Matchmaker! Prime Vendor Meet-and-Greet! And there’s this guy you should meet, maybe they need a teaming partner like you. And, whoa, did I see an RFP deadline sail past? Where did that go?
On any given day, there may be no fewer than a dozen brand new top priorities landing in your inbox or delivered face to face. Of course this is on top of the priorities that came along the day before. And they’re all opportunities. Every one of them. For someone.
How can you tell which opportunities are really for you, without missing out?
First, relax. It’s time to accept a couple of simple truths.
Whether or not you run after everything, you’re probably going to miss some things.
The good news is that very few of these things are a once-in-a-lifetime federal contract opportunity that is gone forever.
The better news is that if the opportunity is truly a good fit for you, you’ll have plenty of notice; the buyer who knows you, likes you, and really wants to see your offer when she’s ready to buy has also let you know what to watch for and when.
Next, you’ll get the most value from any federal outreach event when you’ve had time to research the host agency or prime contractor, find out what they buy, and given some thought to what problem your company’s products or services might solve for them.
If you haven’t had time to do your homework before attending one of those events, and are just so hungry for business that all you have time for is to cruise through and do some brute force networking, you’re not just wasting your time once. You’ll waste it twice: first by attending the event in the first place, and, second, by following up with dozens or even hundreds of people who aren’t any kind of prospect for you at all.
There is an easy antidote to a squirrel infestation. It’s called focus.
Do you know which three federal agencies represent your best prospects? Write those down. Then, when anything outside of those three agencies crosses your path, set it aside for a time when you can think clearly about how or why straying from your focus is justified.
Next, think about lead time and relationships. Just because you feel desperate for business and cash flow does not mean that the right answer is to go crazy writing proposals until something sticks. Exactly the opposite is true. If you’re feeling a cash flow crunch, then carefully marshaling your resources, including staff time that goes into bid and proposal, is absolutely critical for survival.
If the first time you find out about an opportunity is on an electronic noticeboard, it’s almost certainly too late. Paradoxically, these are some of the juiciest, biggest distractions. “We could throw in a proposal and maybe we’ll win,” is one of the biggest distractions of all.
Instead, ask yourself two questions:
- How well do I know this customer and this agency?
- How well do they know me?
If you are fitting into an agency where you don’t know the people, and they have never heard of you, your proposal looks to them like a great big ball of risk. Risk, in case you weren’t clear about that, is a bad thing, and certainly a disincentive to favorable consideration of your offer.
In short, pay attention to the “squirrel” instinct, but not perhaps for the reason you have been. Instead of thinking about that distraction as a reason to run off in a new direction, think of it as a warning sign to slow down, stop, and figure out why you are thinking that way, and what kind of response is best aligned with your focus and your goals.
This post originally appeared at http://www.summitinsight.com/blogs/got-squirrel-brain-get-fast-cure-federal-business-frenzy and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
Judy Bradt is the CEO of Summit Insight LLC and author of Government Contracts Made Easier. For 25 years, Judy has worked with her clients on business strategies to win government contracts. Judy blogs at http://www.summitinsight.com/blog.
A federal budget was passed during the lame duck session in mid-December, meaning that with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security (who are still on continuing resolution until the end of February), everybody else now has an official budget.
Under a continuing resolution, Congress authorizes that government agencies can continue their current activities, but cannot start anything new. They can renew old stuff, create a continuing contract (so there might be re-contracting competitions), but can’t do any new stuff.
We didn’t have a budget in 2014, because with the election no one wanted to commit to a budget. So they passed a continuing resolution. In the meantime, the world has changed. There has been action on things like immigration, cyber security, and homeland security.
So now what’s going to happen is that these budgets are going to filter down to the people who have requirements, which will then become contracting actions. We can expect that probably by February or March, people will be issuing new task orders, new contracts, etc.
At this point departments are dividing up their budgets to decide who gets what. Let’s say the Department of the Army got $50, but their original budget was $55. Now they have to split up that new figure amongst all the different sub-functions within their realm. Eventually the money all gets down to the people who are ready to work.
As contractors, now is the time – right now – to talk to your customers (existing and new potential ones). Because if they’re going to get money and commit to new things, you can start laying the groundwork for how they funnel that money.
As it always comes back to in our discussions, success in federal contracting is about building relationships. This is the point when you have to mine those relationships. You’ve got a customer, you have a solution, and they have money – if all these criteria are met, you’re good to go.
Whether at a brick-and-mortar location or an off-site venue, open house events are used throughout various industries to showcase a business’s products and services to current and potential customers. This is especially true when competing for a complex government contract, which often requires the formation of a team in order to maximize capabilities, past performance, and resources.
In this situation, quickly branding the team is critical. An open house allows you to showcase your team’s potential to the customer, the competition, and future employees. Time is always the critical variable – it’s short and just gets shorter! Digital communication is the proven trend but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes you need to get close and personal.
In planning an open house, you’ll want to consider the following questions:
- How will you promote your open house (e.g., social media, mailed invitations, phone calls)?
- Why would someone want to come to your open house (what’s in it for them)?
- Where is the best venue for your open house (proximity to desired audience, parking, catering options, room size)?
- What will you include in your program (e.g., formal speeches, ribbon cutting ceremony, demonstrations, educational presentations)?
- What is the best time of day for your event (lunch crowd, after work crowd, or both)?
- What refreshments will you serve?
- How will you follow up with the people who attend your open house (e.g., registration table to capture contact information)?
For Team Strong Point Research | Division of TAPE (Team SPR/TAPE), our upcoming open house event provides an excellent opportunity to introduce our team: AMTIS, Inc.; ASI Government; CGI Federal; Project XYZ; and SIGMATECH, Inc. to the Orlando, FL community.
Our “Results Driven” team is engaged in a full spectrum of professional, managerial and technical services with specialized expertise and capabilities in modeling, simulation, and training. As a team, we offer the government the lowest risk solution with the highest level of commitment.
Team SPR/TAPE cordially invites you to attend our open house to learn more our team and upcoming opportunities. Enjoy refreshments while networking with our company representatives as well as the other attendees. Come and explore our company’s values and cultures. We look forward to meeting you and establishing a continuous connection!
Team Strong Point Research | Division of TAPE (Team SPR/TAPE) Open House
When: Thursday, November 6, 11:00-18:00
Where: Radisson Orlando – UCF, 1724 Alafaya Trail, Orlando, FL 32826
More information: 407-545-3366 or Team.SPR-TAPE@tape-llc.com
When contractors are responding to a federal RFP (Request for Proposal), there will be specific requirements for the staff who will be involved in the contract. These may be a level of education, e.g., college degree or post-graduate degree; certification, e.g., Microsoft certification for certain kinds of networking equipment; or experience with similar tasks in a similar environment.
A person can have no education and no certification, but be experienced enough to do a good job. Increasingly, however, RFPs require education and certification. This affects the federal contractor in two ways:
First, this situation will tend to favor the incumbent who already has people doing the job. Second, it tends to be more costly because you’ve had to invest in both education and certification for your people, rather than just time on the job getting experience. Someone with more education will also demand a higher salary.
Most companies in the industry do provide some kind of educational reimbursement, and a cost-offset for taking one of these certification tests. In order to be reimbursed, TAPE and most other companies require people to pass the certification or to get a particular level of grade with their educational degree. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Sometimes RFPs allow for a trade-off between education and experience. For example, if a college degree is required, an associate’s degree would be acceptable if coupled with two or four years of experience. For someone with six or eight years of experience, the entire educational requirement might be waived.
(Note that it’s far more rare for there to be a trade-off for certification. Presumably because it should be easy – though costly – for someone with experience to pass a certification test.)
Personally, if I were looking for the safest path, I’d want someone who was certified and had experience. The certification tells me an independent authority has tested them on the knowledge base required for the job, and the experience tells me they can handle situations that no one can predict.
I wish I could say I have some vast solution for this problem, but I don’t. There is an offset – a clear trade off between education, certification and experience. I know we’ll continue to wrestle with this topic with RFPs and otherwise.
One thing you may want to point out to a contracting officer is that if there are no trade-offs for experience, and if the certification and educational requirements are very specific, it can have potential anti-competitive effects.
Is it fair, for example, for an agency to require only agency-specific air traffic management certification and education? Wouldn’t FAA certification be sufficient, and possibly identical?