Tag Archives: government contracting

GSA Weighing ‘Multiple Initiatives’ For Government 2019 Centers of Excellence (COE) Projects

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“FEDSCOOP”

“The USDA was selected to be the “lighthouse” agency for the rollout of all five CoE teams, but future projects could focus on agencies using individual teams.

Those teams are paired with contractors, as well as personnel at target agencies, to carry out IT modernization projects based on their skill sets.”

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“As the General Services Administration moves forward leading the White House’s Centers of Excellence program to modernize IT operations at the Department of Agriculture, agency officials at the agency’s Technology Transformation Service are already looking toward the next round of projects.

Joanne Collins-Smee, deputy commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service and TTS director, said Friday that the agency was already looking for what projects it could deploy the CoE teams to in fiscal 2019.

“That’s the vision, that we would have several agencies that the CoEs are in at one time,” she said at ACT-IAC’s Igniting Innovation event. “So, for the first substantiation, we all agreed it’s USDA and USDA alone. But as we look into 2019, we are looking at are there other agencies that we would bring on?”

The CoE program, announced in December, is built on five teams of IT talent specializing in cloud adoption, IT infrastructure optimization, customer experience, contact center services and service delivery analytics.

“So as we are evolving this model, the view is that it doesn’t have to be all five. We are going to be building up the teams also,” she said. “So our vision is that we are going to have similar tiger teams. Obviously, they have a very specific skill, but they would go into the next agency. So it’s not like the same team would do USDA and [another] agency.”

The ongoing USDA modernization project is currently in its assessment phase of what is projected to be a three-year overall project, with each team on a separate timeline.

USDA CIO Gary Washington said he expects the implementation phase to begin this fall after the agency assessment and game-planning by the CoE teams are complete.

“We have set ambitious, but realistic timeframes to accomplish this,” he said.

Collins-Smee added that GSA and USDA would be revealing some of that assessment information, as well as the timeline for the implementation phase, in an industry day next month.”

https://www.fedscoop.com/gsa-weighing-multiple-initiatives-next-coe-projects-2019/

 

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New 10th Edition GAO Guide for Preparing, Submitting And Adjudicating Bid Protests

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Bid Protest New Reg

“PNWC’s GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING UPDATE”

“GAO (Government Accountability Office) recently published its 10th Edition of its guide for preparing, submitting, and resolving bid protests. See Bid Protests at GAO: A Descriptive Guide.

When filing bid protests with the GAO, this is a great resource, whether you fly solo or retain professional help.”

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“The laws and regulations that apply to Federal Government contracting are designed to ensure that procurement is conducted fairly. On occasion, bidders or other interested in Government procurement may have reason to believe that a contract has been, or is about to be, awarded improperly or illegally, or that they have been unfairly denied a contract or an opportunity to compete for a contract.

One avenue of relief for those concerned about the propriety of a contract award has been the GAO. The GAO provides an objective, independent, and impartial forum for the resolution of disputes concerning the awards of Government contracts.

The new edition of GAO’s bid protest Guide incorporates administrative changes required by recent legislation – namely the requirement to establish an electronic filing system and charge protest filers a fee to cover the cost of that system. Clickhere for more information on the Electronic Protest Docketing System (EPDS).”

https://pacificnwc.blogspot.com/2018/05/gao-guide-for-preparing-and-submitting.html

 

Aiming To Speed Procurements, DoD Wants To Reduce Data Demands On Contractors

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Speed Up Acquisitoon

“FEDERAL NEWS RADIO”

“Defense acquisition officials have set a goal of reducing the acquisition process for major systems to a year, down from the current average of 2 1/2. First though, DoD says it needs Congress to provide some relief from the Truth in Negotiations Act.

Under that law, most acquisitions worth more than $2 million require contractors to submit certified data about their underlying costs and prices to help the government assess whether it’s getting a good deal.”

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“As part of a broader effort to speed up its acquisition of major weapons systems, the Pentagon says it wants vendors to take no more than two months to develop their final proposals. But to do that, officials say they need to reduce the volume of detailed, written pricing justifications they demand from those same firms.

It’s a paperwork-intensive process, and it takes time. Too much time, said Shay Assad, DoD’s director of procurement and acquisition policy.

“Presently, we have one major weapon system that’s taken 21 months to get to a proposal,” he said at a recent contracting conference hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army. “I don’t know how you can do anything quickly if it takes 21 months to get a proposal. So what we’ve asked Congress to allow us to do is to tailor the TINA requirement. What we want to be able to do is sit down with a company and say, ‘OK, let’s talk about whatever it is we’re buying. Tell me about the actual information or data that you have, the estimates that you have related to this particular product, and let’s agree on that data set as being the cost and pricing data that you’re going to have to certify.”

Assad said the government wants contractors to submit their entire proposals — complete with the agreed-upon cost and pricing data — within 30 to 60 days.

“It’s going to be a huge change in culture for these companies, because they’re going to have to take some risk, and they’re not used to taking risk,” he said. “They have to be risk-averse to a certain degree, because they’ve got to report their earnings to the penny on a quarterly basis. But we’re going to have to work together, because we want to radically change the way we’re doing business.”

Congress has already made some changes to the Truth in Negotiations Act in recent years.  In last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, lawmakers increased the threshold for procurements that require certified cost and pricing data from $750,000 to $2 million, and also gave DoD the discretion to waive the data requirements altogether on foreign military sales contracts if it believes it already has enough information to conclude that prices are fair and reasonable.

Another provision attempts to prod the Defense Contract Audit Agency into using more commercial standards and more private auditors in an effort to eliminate DCAA’s backlog of incurred cost audits by 2020.

DCAA is the same organization that audits vendors’ cost and pricing data, and Assad said accelerating that process is key to meeting DoD’s goal of faster contract awards.

“We’re going to commit to them: ‘You submit your proposal in 60 days, we’re going to get it audited in 60 days, and we’re going to get to the table quickly,’” he said. “We can’t be asking them to do things in 30 to 60 days and then take a year on our side.”

Also on the government side, Assad said the Pentagon is urging its acquisition workforce to add more options to their contracts that would allow the military services to extend them over multiple years, potentially eliminating the need to enter into new negotiations each time the military needs to buy more of the same equipment.

“We’re telling our contracting officers that we want them to negotiate the instant year’s buy, but then, if they think they have a pretty good deal, we want them to go negotiate options right then for the follow-on years, and oh by the way, to also put unspecified [foreign military sales] options in those contracts,” he said. “The Army has just done that on two different programs, and the same organization negotiated a multi-year in three days. It’s so it can be done, the tools are there to do it. But it takes program executive officers and program managers to have confidence in their teams.”

As one  demonstration of that confidence, Assad said PEOs and PMs need to be willing to dismiss vendors’ requests that they personally intervene in ongoing negotiations between their firms and contracting officers, when, for example, the contracting officer is taking  a negotiating position with which the company is unhappy.

“What I’m asking our senior procurement executives to do — when that phone rings from a senior industry person — is to simply say, ‘No, we’ve got a contracting officer. I don’t negotiate contracts, you can call him or her. They’re authorized to negotiate, and whatever they think is fair will be fine with us,’” he said. “And then there needs to be an alignment with the PEO and the program manager and that contracting officer, because ultimately it’s the PEO and program manager’s program. They need to be in on the business deal in terms of defining success or failure.”

https://federalnewsradio.com/defense-main/2018/05/aiming-to-speed-procurements-dod-wants-to-reduce-data-demands-on-contractors/

 

With 2018 Budget, Christmas Comes Early For Federal Contractors

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Early Christmas

“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY” By Mark Abel

“With a total increase in the fiscal 2018 budget of $143 Billion, $80 billion for defense and $63 billion for civilian, the challenge now for most agencies will be spending the massive influx of funds by the end of the current fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Prepare now for a fourth-quarter spending spree unlike any other.”

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“The federal government is flush with money, thanks to a $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 funding package. Contractors that take proactive steps now can benefit from this bonanza.

After five continuous resolutions and a government shutdown, it’s Christmas in April and the gifts are flowing. The biggest winners in the omnibus spending bill include the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Transportation, all of which saw increases of more than 10 percent over last year.

Even the EPA, the beleaguered agency that the White House wants to slash – remained flat. The State Department was the only major agency that had a cut, only 5.9 percent, less than the 8 percent requested in the President’s budget.

Army Secretary Mark Esper has said, “The increase is spectacular. But I probably won’t see those dollars until April, which only give us a few short months to spend them.”

In addition, there is talk by the White House about attempts to rescind funds, further delaying their release. Despite this possible scenario, the current funding situation still creates a unique opportunity for federal contractors. After many years of dealing with flat or declining budgets, federal agencies will see significant increases resulting in more contracting dollars dispersed into the marketplace.

Spending throughout the remainder of this fiscal year will be greater than normal. Federal spending historically rises in the fourth quarter, often called the year-end buying season or fourth quarter surge.

But this year, the surge in the fourth quarter will be much larger than any time in the recent past. Federal agencies will be working hard to allocate these funds as quickly as possible. And for contractors that proactively work to position to take advantage of this market force, it could be the best year in a decade or more.

But contractors beware, don’t just chase agencies with the biggest funding increases, but rather focus outreach efforts on agencies and capabilities where your company currently has an established foothold, or in places that are a logical extension of your core business.

With that in mind, as a contractor, do not delay and begin immediately to promote your solutions to customers. Start with existing customers, they already know and like your company. Also, with current customers there is already a contract in place to buy products or services from your company. It is easier for the contracting officers to allocate additional funds to existing contracts than to issue new ones.

Look for ways to offer expansion of the current scope – or additional tasks that are related to those services. For example, if you are providing network management, perhaps a new dashboard or software application could improve the efficiency of the network. Or if you are performing software development, perhaps you can propose an increase in staffing to work off the backlog of applications awaiting modifications or development.

Whatever you propose, think about offering your solution as a “ready to go” project. This is similar to the “shovel ready projects” the Obama administration was seeking in 2009 to expediently approve funds under the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

A “ready to go” project means a complete package ready for approval – including a proposal with a scope of work, a timeline, deliverables, and pricing. Be sure to promote any existing IDIQ contract vehicles that you have as well. These contract vehicles make it easier for federal buyers can get to your company without having to issue a formal solicitation. With these things in hand, a contracting officer can issue a task order quickly and move on to the next. Make it as easy as possible for the CO to procure services from your company.

Once you have approached your current customers, it will be time to pursue potential new customers. Carefully researching the market will lead you to the most receptive and likely buyers for the services you sell. To begin, look at the spending patterns of the various buying offices of agencies and departments where your company has current or prior related experience. Next, evaluate the spending profile of these buying offices, based on NAICS Codes. At Castlemar, for example, we’ve been analyzing the buying offices slated for the biggest funding increases and using a data-driven approach to categorize them by the types of capabilities they’re likely to procure in the next six months. This allows us to quickly identify pockets of growth that are most aligned with a company’s offerings and relevant experience.

The next step is developing or tailoring the “ready to go” project that you can propose to the target organizations. Finally, identify the program staff and buyers in the target agencies and approach them with your offer.

Get started today. Buying organizations have internal deadlines that are coming up before July 1 to receive and process tasks and funds for the current fiscal year.

Remember these key points: (1) focus on your core capabilities; (2) Prioritize expansion of current clients; (3) Analyze market data to boost efficiency; and (4) get as many “read to go” proposals into potential customers’ hands as possible in the next 90 days.

Following these simple steps and focusing your outreach will improve the results of your efforts and pay dividends in the form of new task orders and new customers this year.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2018/04/18/insights-abel-fiscal-2018-buying.aspx

About the Author

Image result for Mark Abel is the founder and CEO of Castlemar Consulting,

Mark Abel is the founder and CEO of Castlemar Consluting, a marketing strategy firm that helps federal agencies with customer research and business development services. 

 

 

Understanding The Government Contracting Customer and Fueling Innovation

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Government Contractor Innovation

“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY” By John Marinaro

“The federal government reached its small business federal contracting goal for the fourth consecutive year, awarding 24 percent in federal contract dollars to small businesses totaling $99.96 billion, an increase of over $9 billion from the previous year.

Small and medium sized businesses should feel empowered by this trend and work to understand what the government needs.”

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“How do we truly begin the process of innovating the government? It’s an age-old question that seems to have no definitive answer.

For a small to mid-size government contractor, when you’re dealing with an entity as large as the federal government that’s been doing what they do for decades on end, it can feel almost impossible that you could effectively break through with innovation.

With an agency’s inability to sit down with each individual contract team to hold a tailored discussion around their specific challenges or pressures, it becomes exponentially more important for any contractor to independently take the steps necessary to become a better partner to the government.

After my time at NASA and now having transitioned to private industry, I’ve figured out a couple of focuses that can help with easing the government-contractor relationship.

EMPHASIZE INNOVATION

Government agencies are often torn by the fact that they want to modernize, but the logistics of doing so often prove difficult.

Contractors need to understand that the government is constantly torn between the evil they know– older contracting partners they’ve worked with for years– and the evil they don’t know– new and innovative solutions that would be procured through a brand new contract.

What can a contractor take away from this fact? An emphasis on innovation.

Whether it’s during a discussion in a quarterly meeting or inside RFP development, the government needs to come away understanding why a company’s solution and body of work is truly new and different. It can’t just marginally move the needle, it needs to generate massive returns that will make an agency feel like the results will be worth the cost of time and finances it will take to transition to something brand new.

It’s easier for the government to take the path of least resistance if the alternative doesn’t make more than a small splash.

PROVE YOUR AGILITY AND FLEXIBILITY

Another dilemma that the government faces in their pursuit of innovation is the fact that once they’ve made the decision to incorporate a new team, there’s a delay or stoppage in short term progress.

With a flattened budget, a contract team doesn’t have the time or financial allowance to do research as part of the contract, as this will often draw resources away from other work.

Contractors need to ensure that they can get up to speed quickly without hindering their agency partner. A partner that’s self-motivated to do external reading, research, or learning about a particular challenge provides much more value to a government-contractor relationship than simply waiting for someone to hopefully provide you with that information.

ALIGN YOUR MISSIONS

According to a recent Government Business Council survey, many agencies lack a mission-focused strategy. The survey shares that 1 in 3 respondents feel that their agency’s IT contractors lack an understanding of organization mission objectives. This is also likely results in the government’s difficulties in identifying new solutions to mission challenges.

As a contractor, it is your job to make sure that missions are aligned so that you and your government partner are working towards a long-term goal that positively affects both parties. Without a shared mission, it’s highly possible that miscommunication will occur and innovation will be prevented.

As a small business contractor, working with the government can seem daunting. However, following these suggestions will increase your chances for success.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2018/04/19/insights-marinaro-flexibility-innovation.aspx

About the Author

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John Marinaro is the vice president of the federal civilian division of KeyLogic Systems.

 

Is Federal Government System Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) Contracting for You?

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“SMALL TO FEDS”  By Ken Larson 

System Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) contracting may provide an avenue for the small business in gaining the momentum necessary for building a government contracting past performance record.   It does not require an off-the-shelf product or capital intensive facilities.”
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“The commercial, start up or growing entrepreneur may have specialized skills, products and services that could be marketable to the government but a window of opportunity or an entrance niche is sometimes difficult to locate in the very large and competitive federal contracting venue.

SETA contracting is often utilized by the government to enhance agency statistics requiring firms that hold small business designations and who can offer quality services in support of the internal agency facilities or operations.

Set Aside Designations

DEFINITIONS

FAR Sub-part 37.2 defines advisory and assistance services and provides that the use of such services is a legitimate way to improve the prospects for program or systems success:

Advisory and Assistance Services

FAR 16.505(c) provides that the ordering period of an advisory and assistance services task order contract, including all options or modifications, may not exceed five years unless a longer period is specifically authorized in a law that is applicable to such a contract:

DFARS Part 237.2 provides very important information applicable to advisory and assistance contracts:

The contracting officer and requiring activity must also be aware of FAR Subpart 9.5 when considering the potential for organizational and consultant conflicts of interest:

THE NATURE OF THE WORK 
 
Typical SETA efforts may involve long term contracts to perform acquisition assistance, project management, price or program analysis, independent estimates, administrative support, computer and data base operations, technical and security services, facilities maintenance functions or similar tasks. The typical SETA contractor rarely interacts with other government contractors and if interaction occurs it is only with other SETA contractors and subcontractors performing in similar roles at the same agency or in the presence of a government contracting officer/authorized representative. They are generally behind the scenes and cannot directly represent the US Government.
SETA contracting requires skilled management and labor resources capable of performing a scope of work for which the government has identified a need and for which outsourcing to an industry contractor has been selected as the means to fulfill that need. The venue demands strong human resources management and an enhanced business system to price, account and bill on a job cost basis under government service contracts.
  

INCUMBENT WORK FORCES

SETA contractors often target incumbent work forces where an agency plans to offer a small business the opportunity to assume an existing services program formerly run by a larger firm or a small business that has grown beyond the size limit designated for the procurement.

In these instances the winner will have solid plans for recruiting and retaining the existing work force executing a transition plan and insuring that the government does not encounter an interruption in services.Contingent hire agreements and sophisticated human resources processes are necessary to position the company during the proposal effort and as the contract proceeds. Contingent personnel are well aware of their market value among the SETA contractors competing for the work.

MARKETING APPROACH

As budgets become tighter, the government agencies will be looking for solid performance at the lowest possible price, stability in performance and contractors adept at learning government processes and systems as well as working with the agency to improve them.
Find opportunities well in advance of their being formally solicited on FEDBIZOPPS. Look for existing services and support contracts in their last year or self-market a services contract to an agency whose mission requires your expertise. 
 
Propose and price to win using the following guidance:

Proposal Preparation
UNDERSTAND ORGANIZATION CONFLICT OF INTEREST (OCI) RESTRICTION
 If you are considering becoming a SETA contractor, determine what portion of the market in your industry will be unavailable to you in that role with the agency to whom you contract. As a SETA contractor you will not be allowed to compete for the programs being procured by the agency other than the SETA support contacts. You knowledge of the inside workings of the government agency would be a conflict of interest in bidding other projects. 
You should target for SETA exploration only those agencies to which you do not intend to market other services. 
  
SUMMARY

 
Consider SETA contracting if your marketing plan contains elements of support and assistance that an agency may be willing to outsource. If you hold small business designations, seek marketing opportunities to foster government set aside procurements for the designations you hold and understand that SETA contract will be the only programs you will hold with that agency due to OCI restrictions. “

Forthcoming Changes to Federal Government Contract Bid Protest Regulations

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“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 includes some significant changes affecting contractors with regard to challenges to requests for proposals and contract awards, otherwise known as “bid protests.”

The introduction of a new pilot program under which large defense contractors will be required to pay the Defense Department’s costs where a protest is denied; and the enhancement of post-award debriefing rights.”

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“While Congress passed the former with the intent of reducing frivolous protests, it is likely the latter — which will give contractors greater insight into the rationale behind procurement decisions — that will have a greater impact on the number of protests filed.

Section 827 of the act requires that the department establish and implement a three-year pilot program under which “large” defense contractors will be required to reimburse the department for “costs incurred in processing covered protests” for protests “denied in an opinion” by the Government Accountability Office.

A large contractor is defined as one with revenues in excess of $250 million, and the pilot program will apply to protests filed at the GAO between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2022.

By limiting the scope of this loser-pays provision to those protests that are “denied in an opinion” by the GAO, this reimbursement provision will potentially only apply to a small number of protests. A recent study by the RAND Corp. examined defense protests at the GAO from fiscal years 2008 through 2016. This study found that less than 0.3 percent of such procurements are protested at the GAO, and that small business protests make up more than half of those.

While a protest sustain rate of 2.6 percent for fiscal years 2008 through 2016, or approximately 300 out of 11,459 protests, appears to suggest there is a great number of frivolous protests, deeper analysis of GAO’s statistics shows that is simply not the case. Approximately 21 percent of the bid protests filed were resolved by a decision on the merits. Of those 2,429 defense protests that reached the merits, nearly 300 were sustained. In other words, only 2,133, or approximately 20 percent of all the protests filed over eight years, were denied in an opinion.

With regard to the 79 percent of protests resolved without an opinion, a significant number — approximately 40 percent — were dismissed as a result of the government voluntarily correcting procurement errors noted in a bid protest. In addition, a number of protests were voluntarily withdrawn after protestor’s counsel had the opportunity to review the confidential record underlying the agency’s procurement decision.

In other words, this legislation will impact a relatively small number of protests. The 2,133 Defense Department bid protests denied in an opinion over an eight-year period equates to approximately 267 per year. Of those protests, the reimbursement provision will only affect protests filed by large contractors. If the percentage of protests filed by small businesses — over half — holds, even if adjusted to account for the lower effective rate of protests filed by small businesses reported by RAND, that number is likely under 200.

While this provision will impact a relatively small number of protests, the financial impact for those few may be significant. Congress did not define or elaborate on what costs are considered “incurred in processing covered protests” or how those costs will be quantified. Considering the amount of time legal and contract administration staff spend working on bid protests, these costs could easily exceed six figures.

But until the department issues guidance on how this provision will be implemented, it will be difficult for large defense contractors subject to this provision to evaluate the risks involved in filing a bid protest at GAO.

Finally, it is unclear how contractors will be determined to meet the large contractor threshold outlined in the new NDAA. The statutory definition: a contractor with revenues in excess of $250 million “during the previous year,” does not clarify whether this means the contractor’s fiscal year, government’s fiscal year or calendar year.

This also raises the question of whether contractors are expected to opt-in to be considered as a contractor to which this provision applies. Contractors will have to await department guidance as to whether they will be required to implement additional accounting measures to determine applicability or whether it will consider existing financial information, such as the revenues reported in the System for Award Management. Thankfully, the pilot program does not apply to protests filed before Oct. 1, 2019, so the department has time to issue regulations filling in these gaps.

Once the Defense Department has issued guidance on what costs will be included, large contractors may consider filing bid protests at the Court of Federal Claims instead of GAO, as this loser-pays provision does not apply to protests filed there. Once GAO implements its online filing system, a $350 filing fee will be required for bid protests. The court’s filing fee is currently $400; thus, the cost of filing is unlikely to influence a contractor’s decision where to file, particularly those large contractors affected by the provision. Although a bid protest filed at the court does not result in an automatic stay of performance of the protested contract pursuant to the Competition in Contracting Act, it does have the authority to issue an injunction, and the government often voluntarily stays performance pending the resolution of the protest.

One of Congress’ goals in implementing the loser-pays provision is to discourage the filing of frivolous GAO protests. However, most government contractors, particularly the large contractors affected by this provision, understand the protest process and engage experienced protest counsel. As a result, these government contractors are cognizant of the potential harm to their reputation by filing a frivolous protest and are reluctant to do so.

Further, GAO’s bid protest regulations provide for mechanisms to dismiss frivolous protests. Those that are deemed untimely or meritless are often resolved early in the protest process, prior to an agency incurring significant costs in processing these protests. It is likely that measures for the deterrence of frivolous protests will have a greater impact if implemented at this stage of the protest process, rather than this fee-shifting provision for protests denied in an opinion.

In addition, GAO already has authority to discipline contractors that file frivolous protests, recently holding that a contractor that “routinely and repeatedly” filed protests “that are not legally sound” had abused the GAO process, wasted tax-payer dollars and, as a result, would be suspended from filing protests at the GAO for two years. See Latvian Connection LLC – Reconsideration, B-415043.3, Nov. 29, 2017, where GAO also dismissed all pending protests filed by the contractor.

While Congress’ goal is admirable, the loser-pays provision is unlikely to have the desired effect. As noted above, this provision applies to the small percentage of bid protests that survive the GAO’s preliminary dismissal measures for frivolous protests or other resolution procedures. Even without the introduction of this loser-pays provision, approximately 21 percent of GAO bid protests of DoD procurements reach the merits.

When it is effective, protestors subject to the provision may well decide to voluntarily dismiss a higher percentage of protests after review of the record, further decreasing the percentage of GAO protests that are resolved by decision.

Finally, it should be noted that a bid protest that reaches the merits and is then denied by the GAO does not equate to a frivolous protest. Some issues are simply close calls. And for those cases, after the effective date of the pilot program contractors will have the ability to avoid the loser-pays provision by filing protests at the Court of Federal Claims.

Meanwhile, for the past five years, the Air Force has provided unsuccessful offerors an opportunity to request an “extended debriefing,” which permits the unsuccessful offeror’s outside counsel to review the agency’s redacted source selection documents and ask questions. This information is typically only provided to the protestor’s counsel under a protective order following the filing of a bid protest at the GAO. By allowing the protestor’s counsel to obtain as part of the debriefing more complete information about whether the Air Force made the correct procurement decision, the hope was to avoid protests filed in part to obtain the more complete record.

Wisely, in the new NDAA Congress chose to expand the Air Force’s innovative program. Section 818 enhances that existing pilot program for “extended debriefings” by requiring a revision of the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement to apply certain debriefing requirements across the department.

First, contractors are entitled to a debriefing for all contracts and task orders valued at $10 million or higher. Second, the agency is required to disclose its redacted source selection determination for contracts in excess of $100 million. Third, contractors are provided an opportunity to ask follow-up questions after a debriefing.

The deputy director of defense procurement and acquisition policy tasked the DFARS Contract Administration Committee to draft the proposed rule implementing Section 818. The report is due in March. Congress has provided a deadline of six months from the date of enactment to implement these changes.

Under the new rules, a debriefing — oral or written — is required for all awards in excess of $10 million, regardless of whether it was a negotiated procurement conducted under FAR Part 15. Not only does this affect contractors’ rights with respect to debriefing, but it also affects the deadline for filing a timely bid protest where debriefings were not previously required. Even if the information was known prior to the debriefing, a bid protest may only be filed after the debriefing, and no later than 10 days after the debriefing if filed at the GAO. But note that a protest must be filed within five days of the debriefing to trigger the Competition in Contracting Act’s automatic stay of performance.

The most significant change is the requirement to disclose a redacted source selection determination for awards in excess of $100 million.

In addition, small business contractors and nontraditional contractors are provided an option to request the same redacted disclosure for awards in excess of $10 million. The successful awardee is also entitled to the same debriefing and disclosure rights as the unsuccessful offerors.

Unsuccessful offerors are provided an opportunity to submit follow-up questions related to the debriefing within two business days following a post-award debriefing. The agency is then required to answer in writing within five business days after receipt of the follow-up questions. The debriefing is then considered complete when the agency responds to the unsuccessful offeror’s questions.

While these deadlines may appear short, it is in line with the deadline for filing a timely bid protest at GAO, which is 10 days after a required debriefing. Offerors will still have an opportunity to file a timely bid protest even after the post-debriefing Q&A process.

The ultimate impact of these changes will depend on the regulations issued to implement the NDAA provisions, so contractors should carefully monitor developments over the coming year.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2018/3/6/contractors-face-changes-to-bid-protest-strategies

 

Senate Report Details FEMA Disaster Response Contracting Failures

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“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

“The report details many shortcomings of the state of FEMA contracts for disaster response supplies. Before awarding a contract, federal agencies must assess contractor capabilities to deliver the required goods and services. For the most part, FEMA failed to do this. 

A $156 million FEMA contract with the Georgia-based consulting firm Tribute Contracting LLC was terminated “for cause,” having only delivered 50 thousand of the required 30 million meals.  Oddly, the firm, which had little experience in this level of disaster work, consisted of just one person, calling into question why it was tapped for such an important and massive contract. “

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“The 2018 hurricane season starts in just over a month. Considering the severity and impact of last year’s storms, the nation should ask if we are adequately prepared for the next major disaster. Unfortunately, the findings of a recent Congressional investigation raise serious concerns.

recent report from the staff of Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, calls into question an important aspect of disaster preparations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The report details many shortcomings of the state of FEMA contracts for disaster response supplies.

During the first few days after a major disaster, FEMA is called upon to provide vital supplies to the affected communities. FEMA relies on a network of large supply centersthat can quickly respond, delivering thousands of pallets of basic commodities such as water, food, blankets, plastic tarps for emergency shelter and repairs, electrical generators, and other supplies and equipment. For disasters the size of the 2017 hurricanes that struck the southeastern states and Caribbean, FEMA also has to quickly engage with the private sector to procure and deliver large additional amounts of these same basic commodities.

FEMA is supposed to have “prepositioned” contracts in place before a major disaster. While no one can predict all the needs for a specific disaster, the basic commodities that are needed in very large, easily deliverable quantities don’t change. To ensure that continued delivery is uninterrupted, FEMA should have contracts for these supplies already vetted and ready to act on. This strategy follows current law, which correctly requires that FEMA follow a “contracting strategy that maximizes the use of advance contracts to the extent practical and cost-effective.”

The McCaskill report details how FEMA did not adequately prepare for last year’s hurricane season with prepositioned contracts for at least some disaster commodities. For example, of the $206.9 million in plastic sheeting and tarps contracts for the 2017 hurricanes, only 3.5 percent was through prepositioned contracts. In fact, FEMA had only three prepositioned contracts for tarps and none for plastic sheeting before the start of the 2017 hurricane season. After the hurricane disasters struck the United States, FEMA needed to award eleven additional contracts for those basic commodities.

And the new contracts weren’t vetted through the appropriate process. Media outlets had previously reported on contracting failures for plastic sheeting and tarps. However, the McCaskill report described a broader context of contract failure by FEMA. While contracts can fail at times due to reasons beyond the control of an agency, the report gave examples of glaring problems in FEMA’s review process. For example, FEMA awarded $73 million in new contracts for plastic sheeting and tarps to companies that had formed just months earlier and had little or no experience with the product.

It is worth noting that there were other reported FEMA contracting failures beyond what was examined in the McCaskill report. Worse, in 2016, the Government Publishing Office (GPO) terminated “for default” an unrelated Tribute contract to make 3,000 tote bags, and excluded the company from receiving further contracts above $35,000 until January 7, 2019, unless “there is a compelling reason.” The GPO’s contract exclusion should have raised red flags for FEMA because the federal government’s own database clearly lists the Tribute contract prohibition.

Most importantly, the McCaskill report revealed that many of the problematic contracts resulted in delayed delivery of the commodities to those in need within affected communities.

During a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on April 11, FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long discussed the report, admitting that “I realize we got work.” He assured the panel that FEMA will address the contracting problems.

POGO will continue to press federal agencies to adequately prepare for the next major disaster. A good place to start would be to improve contracting procedures at FEMA in order to ensure that vital supplies and services reach those suffering in the aftermath of a disaster.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2018/04/senate-report-details-major-disaster-response-contracting-failures.html

 

For Defense Contractors New Qualification Cyber Rule Requires Auditable Plan Documents

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Internet security

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE’

“Making a system security plan and plan of actions and mitigations is crucial to winning new business and keeping existing contracts this year and moving forward.

Here are some tips on how to approach creating and utilizing these complex compliance documents.”

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“Contractors and their supply chain with active Defense Department contracts, or those that plan on doing business with it, must assure that any of their data systems that transmit, process or store controlled unclassified information are compliant with National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800-171 “Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Non-federal Information Systems and Organizations.”

It’s clear that meeting the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement 252.204-7012 mandate to comply to the special publication is a required priority for defense contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.

First of all, DFARS compliance includes safeguarding all controlled unclassified information and “covered defense information.” Contractors must report cyber-related incidents to the Defense Department and any deviations or gaps from NIST SP 800-171. They must show progress on a “plan of action with mitigations” and report and maintain a “system security plan.”

The plan of action with mitigations and system security plan are important artifacts to use to demonstrate your adherence to the NIST 800-171 guidance. Defense contractor or suppliers will need to submit these compliance documents to the department or a prime contractor, preferably sooner rather than later. Defense Department documentation calls these type of artifacts “critical inputs to an overall risk management decision to process, store or transmit” controlled unclassified information.

Contractors processing, storing or transmitting controlled unclassified information must meet these security standards at a minimum that were laid out in the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement. Those who decide to avoid it, unfortunately risk losing contracts this year and in years moving forward and even risk falling under the False Claims Act. Especially if a company has already received a questionnaire, it’s important that it submit its compliance status truthfully, and prepare compliance documents now if it wants to keep its customers.

Identifying the scope and target of valuation is important here. There are approximately 120 controls included in NIST SP 800-171 and assessing each of these controls for documents, for every component of a system, can be a massive undertaking for an organization. By identifying only those components that are either directly or indirectly in scope, a contractor can reduce the list of areas that need to be assessed.

Having these two documents proving each control status and plan for remediation allows an organization to address the DFARS 252.204-7012 requirement for 2018. The key is showing where the gaps are, a plan for remediation and progress according to that plan.

Here is the direct guidance from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense: “NIST SP 800-171 was revised (Revision 1) in December 2016 to enable non-federal organizations to demonstrate implementation or planned implementation of the security requirements with a “system security plan” and associated “plans of action.”

The security requirement 3.12.4 — system security plan, added by NIST SP 800-171, Revision 1 — requires the contractor to develop, document and periodically update system security plans that describe system boundaries, system environments of operation, how security requirements are implemented, and the relationships with or connections to other systems.
Security Requirement 3.12.2 — plans of action — requires the contractor to develop and implement plans of action designed to correct deficiencies and reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities in their systems.

The goal is to assess the target of evaluation defined in step one and the components identified in step two of the process against the controls. Both current and target scores should be recorded to enable a gap analysis that will feed the two documents.

A system security plan can be critical to fully documenting compliance. Revision 1 to NIST SP 800-171 added another control to the set that requires the creation of a plan to “describe[s] the boundary of [a contractor’s] information system; the operational environment for the system; how the security requirements are implemented; and the relationships with or connections to other systems.”

In addition to the plan of actions and mitigations, the system security plan “describes how and when any unimplemented security requirements will be met, how any planned mitigations will be implemented, and how and when they will correct deficiencies and reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities in the systems.”

That means that the documents must describe the requirements, how a contractor plans to remediate for each of the controls, and a timeline for remediation in the organization.

That is just the bare bones, as there is much more information that can be included for compliance such as team members in charge of controls, deadlines and technology that will be adopted in remediation steps.

A great deal of company resources will have to be allotted to getting these documents ready if requested. Regardless of the method, these documents are key for saving contracts if not yet fully compliant, and will put a company in good standing for primes or contracts against the competition.

In 2018, contractors need to ensure they are working on becoming compliant using these documents, and that they can demonstrate competitiveness and adherence to the regulations if the business relies on defense-related revenue.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2018/3/30/new-cyber-rule-requires-critical-documents

7 Keys To Successfully Proposing Government Contracting Solutions

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Successful solutioning - effectivemanagementleadershipdotcom

Image: effectivemanagementleadership.com

“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY”  From “7 Keys to Successful Solutioning” 

By Lisa  Pafe

“A compelling solution speaks directly to what the customer values.

It details your discriminating value proposition: how your solution exceeds customer expectations for quality, timeliness, cost-effectiveness, compliance, mission success, and/or risk mitigation.”

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“The emphasis is on the how: in what specific ways your offering will accomplish contract performance objectives resulting in specific proven benefits that the customer values.

The how is exactly how many of our proposals fail. Here are seven keys to successful solutioning that will improve your win probability.

#1: Begin earlier.

Once you’ve qualified an opportunity, immediately begin the process of defining the how (people, processes, technology). Understand that solutioning is an iterative, time-consuming, evolving process.

You will not arrive at your solution in one or two sessions. Once your team identifies an initial solution, capture professionals (and the project team on the ground in the case of a re-compete), must vet this solution.

What solution elements (features, benefits, and proofs) does the customer most value? Do you have features with proven benefits that exceed requirements (strengths) that the customer wants? The customer includes all the potential proposal evaluators, their stakeholders, and their influencers.

As more information is gathered, the solution evolves.

#2 Let history help guide you

Part of the evolution of your solution is reviewing the history of the customer and the acquisition.

Who is the current incumbent, and why did they win? If this is new work, how has the customer acquired similar work in the past?

If you have bid similar work to this same customer, what does the debrief reveal? What strengths did you bid, and what strengths did evaluators find? Were some strengths scored as weaknesses? A deep dive into past debriefs can be quite revealing and help guide your solutioning.

#3: Go bottom up

Often we are tempted to solution our overall concept of operations (CONOPS) or framework first. Beginning with an overarching framework means we may skip details. Instead, begin by identifying all the requirements mapped to each evaluation factor, and then systematically detail how your offer will meet or exceed each one.

How includes people, processes, technology, tools, templates, and more. Exceeding means that your solution has strengths—features with proven benefits that exceed requirements and/or significantly reduce risk in a manner the customer values.

With all requirements solutioned, you can also define any gaps as well as the overarching framework that ties it all together.

#4: Identify the benefits as outcomes

Every feature of your offer must benefit the customer. More specifically, howyou will solve the customer’s problems and meet or exceed requirements results in a benefit. If there is no benefit, then you need to reengineer the how.

The benefit is the outcome of your feature, such as reduced time, cost, or errors and/or increased quality, mission success, compliance, or customer satisfaction.

Once you’ve identified benefits, then play devil’s advocate. Are these benefits that the customer(s) values? Which elements resonate most? For example, is the customer more focused on saving money, or are they very risk adverse? Perhaps you can re-imagine some of the benefits in a way that better resonates.

#5: Question the benefits

Often, we confuse features and benefits. For example, the customer has a constrained budget. We solve their problem by offering a hybrid car and state the benefit as “the car gets 40 miles per gallon.” The 40 miles per gallon is not a benefit; it is another feature or if backed by evidence, it is a proof point.

The true benefit is that the car saves the customer money, thus helping them meet or exceed budget goals. Once you’ve defined the benefit, circle back, and ask yourself, is this a benefit the customer values? You will only know this if you know the voice of the customer based on effective capture and trusted relationships.

#6 Question the proofs

Remember that not all proofs resonate with all customers. Some customers will require quantitative third-party data. Others will be influenced by word of mouth, social media, and/or qualitative data such as customer quotes. Knowing your customer will help determine the best proof points and the best ways to present them.

#7 Map the strengths properly

Your solutioning efforts are not complete until you have clearly articulated and mapped the strengths. Many proposals fail due to improper handoff from solutioning to writing. The annotated outline or content plan should include clear articulation of features, benefits, and proofs and, where these exceed requirements, strengths.

All this information must map not only to requirements but also to the instructions and evaluation factors/sub-factors. Proposal writers will then begin with a clear roadmap and definition of the solution and its value proposition.

Next Steps

These seven keys require three things—time, customer access, and effort. Begin early, work every avenue to get to know the customer, and put in the work to define a solution that details a how that the customer values.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2018/04/12/insights-pafe-successful-solutioning.aspx

About the Author

Lisa Pafe

Lisa Pafe is a capture strategy and proposal development consultant and is vice president of Lohfeld Consulting. She can be reached at LPafe@LohfeldConsulting.com