This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.
One of my fellow scholars from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program called me recently to inquire about the difference between the 8(a) Program versus GSA Schedule, and why BucknerMT recently elected to get a GSA Schedule instead of pursuing the 8(a) Program. Below is what I shared with her:
8(a) Program versus GSA Schedule
It is important to understand that the 8(a) Program and GSA Schedule serve two totally different purposes. The first is a business development program to assist in growing your business and the second is a negotiated contracting vehicle for the government to purchase their services.
Both are great tools to grow your business. In fact, the SBA encourages 8(a) contractors to consider participating in the GSA Schedules program to increase their sales.
As you determine the next step for your business, here are a few things for you to consider:
- The 8(a) Business Development Program is a business assistance program designed to assist small disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. It is a two-phased program over nine years – a four-year developmental stage and a five-year transition stage.
- 8(a) program participants are consistently encouraged to “ensure you build a pipeline prior to entering the program.” Meaning, it is to critical to build relationships with both potential clients who may use your services, as well as graduating 8(a) companies who are potential partners. The goal is to maximize your time in the program.
- Having a GSA Schedule contract simplifies the acquisitions process because terms and pricing are negotiated up front. That makes it the contracting officer’s vehicle of choice. Getting a GSA contract gives you that prestige of being an approved vendor.
- The greatest benefits of being a schedule holder are that there is less competition, access to exclusive eBuy opportunities, and the average award period is two weeks. As well, GSA Schedules can be negotiated for as many as 20 years with step increases in rates.
- As a GSA holder, you will receive a listing in GSA Advantage and GSA eLibrary. However, you must also actively market your schedule to potential buyers, i.e., put it on your Capability Statement and all of your company’s digital media, and notify current and potential clients, your peers, OSDBUs, etc. We also shared our news in a blog post.
Both the 8(a) program and a GSA Schedule are great tools to grow your business. We are positioning BucknerMT for the 8(a) program, however we made a business decision to pursue the GSA IT70 Schedule first. This decision allowed us to position ourselves for prime opportunities and, most importantly, it is the method by which our target clients purchase their services. In the meantime, we are focusing on building our pipeline to maximize our time once we are in the 8(a) program.
Lastly, it is critical to understand and remember that both the 8(a) program and the GSA Schedule give you a license to fish, but neither guarantee opportunities. Working with the government is complex, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it is also very rewarding.
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!
In February 2011, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) released a memo called “Myth-Busting: Addressing Misconceptions to Improve Communication with Industry During the Acquisition Process.”
They recognized that agencies were hesitating to meet with vendors out of fear of protests or because they just didn’t have effective strategies to manage these communications. Vendors, on the other hand, had fears of their own, such as inadvertently creating a conflict of interest that would keep them from competing on future requirements.
They held a series of sessions with representatives from all aspects of the acquisition process to get a better sense of everything that was getting in the way of clear communication between the federal agencies and their prospective vendors. Out of those talks, they pulled together the 10 misconceptions they heard most frequently, and gathered them in this myth-busting memo, along with the corresponding fact and a detailed explanation for each point.
You can read the full report in the White House Archives, but here is a summary of the 10 myths and facts, along with my comments. This document may be a few years old, but the myths are still around!
Misconception 1: We can’t meet on-on-one with a potential vendor.
Fact: Government officials can generally meet one-on-one with potential offerors as long as no vendor receives preferential treatment.
Note from Bill: Just be aware that anything government officials say to you, they might be obligated to publish.
Misconception 2: Since communication with contractors is like communication with registered lobbyists, and since contact with lobbyists must be disclosed, additional communication with contractors will involve a substantial additional disclosure burden, so we should avoid these meetings.
Fact: Disclosure is required only in certain circumstances, such as for meetings with registered lobbyists. Most contractors do not fall into this category, and even when disclosure is required, it is normally a minimal burden that should not prevent a useful meeting from taking place.
Note from Bill: Go ahead and meet. Don’t accept this excuse; push back and tell them you’re not a registered lobbyist, and that shouldn’t be a barrier.
Misconception 3: A protest is something to be avoided at all costs – even if it means the government limits conversations with industry.
Fact: Restricting communication won’t prevent a protest, and limiting communication might actually increase the chance of a protest – in addition to depriving the government of potentially useful information.
Note from Bill: This canard is very common, that they are afraid of Misconception #1 causing a protest from whomever they don’t meet with. Not true, as long as they discuss the same things with everyone.
Misconception 4: Conducting discussions/negotiations after receipt of proposals will add too much time to the schedule.
Fact: Whether discussions should be conducted is a key decision for contracting officers to make. Avoiding discussions solely because of schedule concerns may be counter-productive, and may cause delays and other problems during contract performance.
Note from Bill: Well, it will add time, but it also improves the result and lowers the cost. It’s too bad more contracting officers don’t do this, because the result would be much better for the customer.
Misconception 5: If the government meets with vendors, that may cause them to submit an unsolicited proposal and that will delay the procurement process.
Fact: Submission of an unsolicited proposal should not affect the schedule. Generally, the unsolicited proposal process is separate from the process for a known agency requirement that can be acquired using competitive methods.
Note from Bill: Unsolicited proposals are very welcome and they often lead to contracts! Chase down that revenue – create a truly formatted correct unsolicited proposal, and submit away.
Let’s stop there for now, and we’ll cover the last five sets of myths and facts in another post.
Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. is the Chief Executive Officer at Buckner Management & Technology, BucknerMT and TAPE are teaming together to find new business for our two companies.
I asked Tonya to contribute some thoughts about life as a subcontractor:
Last week at a BrewtonMos Procurement Readiness luncheon, TAPE CEO/President Louisa Jaffe spoke on a panel and shared the following pearls of wisdom:
- Be passionate
- Have a clear vision and mission
- Clearly define your brand early
- Learn about contracting
- Master the proposal development process
- Start with vision
I just finished reading Three Feet from Gold by Sharon Lechter, a book about turning your obstacles into opportunities. The premise of the book is in line with what Mrs. Jaffe shared today:
- Have passion for what you do
- Find your own personal success formula
- Choose good counsel, and above all:
- Never give up
Although the above relates to entrepreneurs in general, I believe it is that entrepreneurship spirit that also allows you to be a successful subcontractor. For specific lessons about being a subcontractor, I’ll close with the “BucknerMT 20 Commandments,” which is a list we created based on our own experience as a subcontractor. We use them as internal guiding principles.
- Always remember when you are working with the client, you represent the prime so do everything in your power to make them shine.
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to stretch yourself past your comfort zone.
- Constantly look for value you can contribute to your teaming partners (e.g., participate in proposal efforts and/or bring new business opportunities).
- While subcontracting, strategically position yourself for prime opportunities.
- Focus on building your corporate reputation while building the past performance.
- Focus on providing high quality business solutions.
- Understand the culture, clients, leadership and systems.
- Be committed to excellence.
- Strive to foster and maintain positive relationships with each and every client (both internal and external).
- Equip yourself to succeed in business (develop/maintain a growth plan).
- Consistently seek innovative ways to assist your client in meeting goal.
- Make continual education/training a priority.
- Never compromise your principles.
- Set a corporate financial base in which you want to maintain. Try not to put all your eggs in one basket; the work is NOT guaranteed!
- Be flexible.
- Be ready.
- Be reliable.
- Be responsive.
- Be patient.
BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. (BucknerMT, Inc.) is a verified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and woman-owned small business (WOSB). From service strategy to continual service improvement, BucknerMT have deep domain knowledge and experience in information technology and supply chain management.
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.
This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.
Women entrepreneurs own 10.6 million businesses in the U.S., and employ 19.1 million people, who account for $2.5 trillion in sales. But according to the Kauffman Foundation, women represent only 35 percent of startup business owners, even though they represent about 46 percent of the workforce and more than 50 percent of college students.
So why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs?
One study, conducted by the University of North Carolina and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (and reported by National Public Radio) looked at 90,000 entrepreneurial projects launched on the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter. The study found that men are much more likely to be overconfident than women. When their project failed, they were much more likely to keep trying, while women tended to give up. Also, when women succeeded, they were more likely to feel that they just got lucky, while men feel that they are “geniuses.”
There is help for women entrepreneurs just starting out. The SBA set up its 8(a) Business Development Program to assist economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs) to compete for federal contracts in industries where women-owned small businesses are underrepresented. Women and minority-owned businesses can get access to specialized business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and high-level executive development. The SBA also offers guaranteed loans and bonding assistance for being involved in the program. SAMS has benefited from its SBA designation, and has also become part of the Mentor-Protégé Program which helps other women entrepreneurs through one-on-one mentorship.
Building a business is not easy, and many women cite the same characteristics as helping them to achieve their dream.
Gayle King of CBS news talks about persistence as a trait helped propel her to achieve her goal. She advises would-be entrepreneurs to “surround yourself with people that are better than you, because it forces you to up your game. Most importantly, never take no for an answer.”
When Staci Redmon founded SAMS, it was important to her to develop core values, which still remain at the heart of the company. These are commitment to employees, commitment to the client, and commitment to the community.
Staci started SAMS out of sheer frustration. As a veteran and a civil servant, she watched as vital equipment for our warfighters was denied funding. She used her determination and commitment to service members to fuel her drive to create an organization with the vision to measure impact not by the bottom line, but by the difference it could make. Since its founding, SAMS has won numerous awards and has been hailed repeatedly as one of the fastest growing companies in Virginia.
Another entrepreneur, JK Rowling, also relied on persistence to overcome adversity. Her literary agency sent the book to 12 different publishers before it was accepted. Rowling says, “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into the only work that mattered to me. I was set free.”
As women entrepreneurs continue to pursue their dreams, the path to success, while never easy, becomes clearer and less uncertain by following in the footsteps of those who came before.
You can find more about SAMS and Staci’s 2020 Vision for the Future on our website http://www.getsamsnow.com.
This article originally appeared at http://getsamsnow.com/blog-post/whats-preventing-women-becoming-entrepreneurs/ and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
After publishing my article about sole source contracts for women-owned small businesses, I received the following comment on LinkedIn:
“Mr. Jaffe, isn’t it still very difficult for EDWOSB firms that provide services, i.e., program and project management, to receive sole source contracts due to the Rule of Two? The 8(a) program is different in that they can sole source to firms even if there are 100 other 8(a)s that can provide that service, whereas if a client wants a particular firm but there are others that provide the service then they can do a set aside, but can’t directly award a sole source contract to that EDWOSB.
Am I correct in this, or is the program changing so that the Rule of Two will not be a factor and EDWOSB’s are following the same sole source rules as 8(a)?”
When I followed up with Matthew to find out more about what was behind his question, he told me:
“Bugbee Consulting is an EDWOSB for years now and we were excited about the changes to the program, until they were implemented and the rules were more similar to other programs rather than the 8(a). Essentially, no contracting office will attempt a WOSB sole source to a service-oriented firm like Bugbee Consulting due to the Rule of Two.”
My team and I dug a little deeper, but unfortunately we didn’t have any better news for Matthew. Indeed, the Rule of Two applies to the WOSB program, as it does to all other set-aside programs. WOSB sole source requires you follow the same rules that you do for service-disabled veteran-owned small business or HUBZone sole source procurements.
Contracting officers can accept TPC (third-party contracting) when verifying an offeror’s eligibility for WOSB or EDWOSB set-aside contracts or sole source awards. As well, contracting officers can accept a WOSB’s or EDWOSB’s self-certification, as long as the contracting officer verifies that the required documentation has been uploaded to the WOSB Repository.
Contracting Officers’ roles and responsibilities in connection with the WOSB Program are discussed in FAR 19.15. If you have more questions, I’d suggest you contact your local Procurement Center Representative (PCR) for guidance on WOSB Program requirements.
Effective January 19, 2017, DoD, GSA, and NASA issued a final rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to implement a section of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. According to the Federal Register, “this statute requires contractors to notify the contracting officer, in writing, if the contractor pays a reduced price to a small business subcontractor or if the contractor’s payment to a small business subcontractor is more than 90 days past due.”
The new FAR clause 52.242-5 defines a reduced payment as a payment that is for less than the amount agreed upon in a subcontract in accordance with its terms and conditions, for supplies and services for which the Government has paid the prime contractor.
An untimely payment is defined as one that is more than 90 days past due under the terms and conditions of a subcontract, for supplies and services for which the Government has paid the prime contractor.
As I discussed in a previous post, these incidents then get reported into a system called FAPIIS, and a history of delayed payments in FAPIIS will affect a prime’s CPARS rating (Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System), which could affect eligibility for future contracts.
These new clearer definitions give this ruling some teeth. Since it’s possible to get dinged in a permanent accountable way that will be noticeable to prospective customers, it’s advantageous for primes to pay on time.
As I wrote earlier on this blog, “Business growth is something that should be celebrated, yet if you’re a small business whose customer is the federal government, your growth can have a noticeable downside.” Namely, being too big to qualify for small business set-asides.
If your business falls into the mid-tier category of being too big to be eligible for set-asides but too small to compete with industry giants, here are the most important changes from the 2017 NDAA (click the links to learn more about each item):
- Gives certain small subcontractors a new tool to request past performance ratings from the government. If the pilot program works as intended, it may ultimately improve those subcontractors’ competitiveness for prime contract bids, for which a documented history of past performance is often critical (learn more).
- Will require the GAO to issue a report about the number and types of contracts the Department of Defense awarded to minority-owned and women-owned businesses during fiscal years 2010 to 2015. The GAO will be required to submit its report within one year of the statute’s enactment (learn more).
- Designed to help ensure that large prime contractors comply with the Small Business Act’s “good faith” requirement to meet their small business subcontracting goals (learn more).
- Establishes a new prototyping pilot program for small businesses and nontraditional defense contractors to develop new and innovative technologies (learn more).
- Will extend the life of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs (learn more).
We’ll keep digging into these topics and what they mean for your federal contracting success. Stay tuned!
In a webinar called “Wired! How can I do that?” Judy Bradt of Summit Insight painted a picture I’m sure many of you would find familiar. You saw something on www.fbo.gov that looked like the perfect opportunity – work you could do, that matched your experience, yet somebody else won the job.
How? They got the opportunity wired for them.
It was such a great topic I asked her to tell us more.
I’ve heard you say that proposals require “perfection on every page” – why?
Contracting officers can only consider offers that are full responsive. That means not only answering every question, but providing the correct information in the format and order required, to exactly the right person, by the right time, to the right place. Any ONE failure can disqualify your entire effort – often, an investment of THOUSANDS of dollars and weeks of time. That’s right: the contracting officer won’t even be able to look at it, no matter how great your price, and how perfect your experience.
Why is it important for a contractor to have a bid/no bid checklist in place?
It comes down to win rate. In a perfect world, you’d win every time. If you can’t win every time, you want to win as often as possible. Your company’s bid/no-bid checklist sums up the signs that you have a high probability of winning. An opportunity with all the winning signs is your top priority to bid. The income you get from the winning bid also has to cover the cost of all the losing bids. The fewer losers you write, the more money you get to keep!
What are three things our competitors are doing to win?
- They’re building relationships with all the decision makers inside the account.
- They’re only bidding projects where they have past performance that strongly resembles the kind of work the buyer needs done.
- They’ve been in there talking to the buying team a long time before the requirement hits the street, shaping the buyer’s idea of them as a low-risk supplier.
You have a 10-step scorecard to identify what a team needs to win more federal business. Can my readers get a copy?
The scorecard is part of the Government Contracts Made Easier: The Strategy Workbook. This is a 64-page fillable PDF that you can use and update again and again, and share within your company. The list price is $69.95, but if you contact me, I’ll send it to you with my compliments.
Thanks, Judy! To hear more of Judy’s excellent tips and strategies, join her for a complimentary webinar, Top Tactics to Meet Federal Buyers. It’s coming up soon on April 18th, so be sure to register now.
We’ve talked before about protests, and when and how to do them, risk factors and warnings, etc., as well as some of the issues and processes. The perception is that there are a lot of protests, and that if YOUR contract award is protested, that’s clearly one too many…
One area that has expanded lately is the use of Multiple-Award (MA) IDIQ contracts, and the task orders underneath them have often been quite large. Originally, you could only protest contracts, but the task orders were immune to protests. Then, the GAO Civilian Task and Delivery Order Protest Authority Act of 2016 (H.R. 5995) became law on December 14, 2016.
Now, a contractor can protest “the issuance or proposed issuance of a civilian federal agency’s task or delivery order contract,” if the value of that order exceeds $10 million.
According to GAO statistics, for FY 2012 there were 2,475 protests filed with the GAO (U.S. General Accountability Office). In 2016 that rose to 2,789, so up a little bit more than 10% over four years. In 2012, protests were sustained, that is to say the protest was accepted, about 18% of the time. In 2016, that was up to 22.5%.
The three most common reasons to protest an order are:
- Brand name solicitation – The order references a brand name instead of the generic equivalent (e.g., Pepsi instead of cola).
- Out of scope modification – The agency adds work or changes a particular solicitation in a way that is out of the scope of that function. If the winning contractor got more work out of the original task order, the losing contractors were essentially shut out of bidding for those additional tasks.
- New information – The third most common reason to protest is new information that leads you to believe that the evaluation was unfair and that the losing contractor was “done wrong” by the government agency for not choosing them.
That third point is a big part of what protests normally come down to, i.e., “I don’t think you evaluated me (and/or the winner) fairly.” That may refer to evaluating price, technical proposal, or past performance.
Two other elements of protests are size standards, i.e., “I think these guys are too big for that NAICS code, even though they won the job,” and OCI (organizational conflict of interest), i.e., “I think the other company won because they were too close to the customer and learned secret information that helped them win.”
Without getting into the weeds, protesting when the evaluation is truly egregious is definitely a risk-reward kind of calculation, as the risks and legal costs can be quite high.