Tag Archives: government contracting

First Time Fed Contractors With No Experience Or Competition Receive COVID-19 Supply Contracts

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Image: Getty Images

PROPUBLICA

BlackPoint Distribution is one of more than 445 first-time federal contractors awarded contracts during the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal contracting data.

These new contractors have received more than $2 billion in federal spending as of June 25, often without competitive bidding or direct experience in the areas they won deals in.

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“A company created by a former Pentagon official who describes himself as a White House volunteer for Vice President Mike Pence won a $2.4 million dollar contract in May — its first federal award — to supply the Bureau of Prisons with surgical gowns.

Mathew J. Konkler, who worked in the Department of Defense during the George W. Bush administration, formed BlackPoint Distribution Company LLC in August 2019 in Indiana, state records show, but had won no federal work until May 26. The Bureau of Prisons chose the company with limited competition for a contract to supply surgical gowns to its facilities.

It is at least the second contract awarded to a company formed by an individual who had worked in or volunteered for the Trump administration; a company formed by Zach Fuentes, a former White House deputy chief of staff, won a $3 million contract just days after forming to supply face masks to the Indian Health Service. The masks did not meet FDA standards for use in health care settings, and an IHS spokesman said this week that the agency is trying to return the masks to Fuentes. Members of Congress called for investigations into the contract, and the Government Accountability Office now plans to review the deal “in the coming few months, as staff become available,” spokesman Charles Young said last week.

A lawyer for Fuentes’ company said the firm fulfilled all of its obligations to IHS under the contract.

BlackPoint Distribution’s website does not mention Konkler but describes its work as “locating, verifying and successfully delivering vital products and equipment in the midst of extremely challenging environments.” The domain name was registered on April 9, 2020. In its incorporation documents, Konkler is listed as the CEO of BlackPoint Distribution. The only contact information on the site is a web form and an email address. Emails sent to it were returned as undeliverable, and Konkler did not return multiple phone calls and messages seeking comment.

On the website for BlackPoint Creative LLC, another Indiana firm where Konkler serves as managing partner, his bio says that “since 2018, Mr. Konkler has also served as a volunteer at the White House on the staff of the Vice President, Michael R. Pence.”

In a 2018 interview with an Indiana business publication, Konkler said that another of his companies, BlackPoint Strategies was a “full-service consulting firm offering a variety of other advisory services, which focus on strategic marketing, digital marketing and crisis communications,” but also assisted Indiana companies in selling products in international markets. A search of Indiana state contracts yielded no previous or current government contracts for BlackPoint Distribution or other firms that Konkler is involved in.

A spokesman for Pence said that Konkler previously had helped coordinate some of the vice president’s travel but was not currently a volunteer.

“Mr. Konkler is not nor ever has been a member of Vice President Pence’s staff,” said Devin O’Malley in an email. “Mr. Konkler has previously helped in a volunteer capacity doing advance on trips, but has not done so since June 2019. No one in the Office of the Vice President was aware of or had any role in Mr. Konkler receiving this contract.”

Researchers at American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic opposition research group, identified Konkler’s role.

White House volunteers are not uncommon, and typically they are involved in specific projects such as the correspondence office, which reads and answers messages sent to the administration, or in holiday decoration efforts.

Government ethics experts said that conflict of interest rules do apply to volunteers but depend on the kind of work being done. “I’m worried about conflicts of interest but also about someone who isn’t a government employee knowing the [vice president’s] travel plans,” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight. Konkler’s online biography states that he has held a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance.

“The Bureau of Prisons took a risk awarding a $2.5 million contract to a new company,” Amey said. “Let’s hope this ends up as a success story and not another example of a pop-up contractor trying to profit from an emergency situation.”

The contract itself was awarded under urgent circumstances. The Bureau of Prisons did not issue a request for proposals because the pandemic “resulted in the need to limit competition due to compelling urgency,” Justin Long, a spokesman for the bureau, wrote in an email. The contract originally stated June 3 as the date for gown delivery to six different federal prisons, but Long said in an email that the final shipment was delivered on June 25.

BlackPoint’s contract is the largest of all federal contracts that specifically mention “surgical gowns,” according to federal contracting data.

Records show that the agency received three offers and that the contract was awarded under what are known as “simplified acquisition procedures,” a process typically used for contracts involving smaller amounts of money. Because of the national emergency declared in response to the pandemic, the threshold for using simplified procedures was raised to $13 million when purchasing commercial items such as surgical gowns. BlackPoint Distribution’s bid was the lowest, Long said.

After declaring a national emergency on March 13, the federal government relaxed procurement rules to allow federal agencies to skip competitive bidding at times in favor of a more streamlined process that could deliver personal protective equipment and other products quickly. But in doing so, it also has made deals with vendors who were unable to fulfill orders or who have provided inadequate equipment.”

https://www.propublica.org/article/a-company-run-by-a-white-house-volunteer-with-no-experience-in-medical-supplies-got-2.4-million-from-the-feds-for-medical-supplies

Adaptive Acquisition Framework — Ready, Set, Contract?

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Image: Defense Acquisition University

NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINEBy Dr. William A. Schleckser

This new Adaptive Acquisition Framework displays a patent willingness to put substantial trust in program managers by moving decision-making authority as close to the program manager as possible.

For this new framework to prevail, there must be trust in contracting officers by moving authority for actions as close to the decision-maker — the contracting officer — as possible.

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“Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord has called the Adaptive Acquisition Framework “the most transformational change to acquisition policy in decades.” Her statement is difficult to argue given the revolutionary nature of the framework’s alterations to acquisition policy and the lack of truly transformational changes seen in acquisition policy and statute over the past 25 years. 

For decades, Defense Department leaders have lamented the laborious, bureaucratic acquisition process and its hindrance to innovative breakthroughs within weapon systems programs.

Many defense technologies, once fielded, lose a non-trivial portion of their relevance due to acquisition delays, a concept identified by former Defense Secretary James Mattis in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. The document pointed to processes’ non-responsiveness and a department over-optimized for exceptional performance, both of which come at the expense of providing timely capability delivery to the warfighter.

In response, Lord rapidly pushed out sweeping new guidance in the form of a six-pathway framework — the Adaptive Acquisition Framework — which is designed to put authority and agility back in the hands of program managers. With this newfound ability, executives will transition between pathways in order to speed delivery of capabilities to the warfighter.

Still, acquisition is not a solo sport. Program managers must rely on their team of acquisition professionals to embrace this new paradigm of speed, agility and risk management for this “transformation” to result in real change in capability delivery. But increasing speed, agility and risk sends a measure of anxiety through the vertebrae of the many contracting professionals who have focused on delivering contracts that are protest-proof and rigidly built to withstand the assaults of indistinct scope and performance.

Nonetheless, for the framework to deliver capabilities at the speed of relevance, contracting professionals at all levels must be willing to embrace this revolutionary change.

This change comes with a prerequisite to develop not only new and inventive processes, but an expanded tool box of soft skills necessary to bring about innovation, active management of risk, and corporate synergy to the contracting community that will result in high-speed, low-drag contracting.

The “Contracting Professional’s Career Roadmap” is a nine-step list published by the Federal Acquisition Institute. It provides contracting professionals a succinct overview of gates through which a contracting professional must successfully pass in order to be effective. Curiously, the first stop on this path, “become familiar with the federal acquisition process,” is not a contract-centric element. The federal acquisition process is not contracting, but contracting is a major subset. The process is the overarching method encompassing all relevant skills and functions by which the federal government acquires products and services.

Ironically, the second stop on the roadmap is “understand your role as a contracting professional” within this process. It was not by chance these items are numbers one and two on the path. That is because federal acquisition is a team sport, of which contracting is one player among many. As with any team sport, each player must understand his or her place and responsibilities within the team framework, otherwise the team will fail. The first thing a youth football coach should do is line up new players in formation — both offense and defense — so they can gain an understanding of where their position is in relation to all the other players. A single player lining up incorrectly could result in a penalty or failure for the team to properly execute the play.

Understanding where a manager fits in the overall formation is just as important in the acquisition team. Taking it to another level, each player also needs to understand how his play impacts his teammates. Commentators often praise a great player for their “knowledge of the game.” It isn’t just their knowledge of their specific responsibilities as a player, but the interrelation of how their play improves the play of those around them.

In federal acquisition, each team member must perform with that level of understanding in order for this new transformation to be successful. This may be even more imperative for contracting team members as the contracting processes tend to consume a significant portion of time while they deliberate source selection and performance risk.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Kevin Fahey identified a need to develop a culture of innovation and creative compliance, and enable critical thinking. In order to be innovative, creatively compliant and critical thinkers, department leadership wants acquisition teams to take calculated risks. As Gen. George S. Patton said, taking risks “is quite different from being rash.”

One tool that transforms rash behavior to measured performance is risk management. To take calculated risks, contracting professionals will need to learn how to actively manage risks. Program managers routinely manage risks and, as a programmatic community, have become comfortable mitigating, accepting, transferring or avoiding risks within their programs.

Contracting professionals must learn and implement these skills as they execute contractual actions. No longer will the acquisition community idly await the perfect contract. Perfection late is perfection lost. Too often contract award timeliness was sacrificed in an effort to gain contractual perfection through overly cumbersome approval chains and non-value-added reviews.

Timeliness has also been assaulted by excessive “documentation,” which has been a watchword for the contracting community and for good reason. However, as with any good thing, it tends to be overdone. In some ways the acquisition community may have become overly obsessive and unreasonably compulsive with its documentation, and some streamlining may be in order.

Procedural changes to contracting are only a first step. The real gains may be seen in a closer coupling of the acquisition team functional communities. In today’s continuously changing environment, requirements can no longer be developed in a vacuum only to be thrown over the fence to the next team. Requirement generators, program managers and contracting officers must integrate early and intimately in the requirements process to develop requirements, discuss possible options, perform market research, consider acquisition plans and jointly produce acquisition timelines. Contracting professionals often enter or are invited late into the acquisition process. Contracting organizations do it to themselves when they demand customers only turn over a requirement once it has been fully detailed with the finalized work statement, funding documents and cost estimates.

In today’s rapidly changing environment, contracting professionals better serve customers by entering as early in the requirements generation process as possible. The team must come together so closely and early that it would be difficult for an outsider to identify where program management stops and contracting starts.

If the first time a contracting professional sees a requirement is when it has been fully documented in a formal work statement, an opportunity to bring value to the process has been lost. Additionally, synergies that come from synchronized market research and critical thinking amid the program manager, contracting officer and other acquisition team members are missed; and with it early considerations for competition, innovative contracting and/or small business participation because the requirement has been fixed making change too difficult or time consuming.

Failing to capture the synergistic effects of close coordination, contracting will struggle to regain any status as an innovation enabler, and may continue to be relegated to chasing acquisition timelines and contract perfection.

The Adaptive Acquisition Framework is an opportunity to inject innovation, creativity and critical thinking into the federal acquisition process by placing authority and agility into the hands of program managers. However, this transformational change to acquisitions will not create true transformation unless the players are willing to embrace the change. Program and product managers can only deliver capability as fast as their team supports.

Although the framework is program management focused, it also presents a challenge to — and opportunity for — the contracting community. As a critical component to the delivery of products and services, the contracting community must get on board with the new vision being promoted by leadership. It is a vision overdue given the speed at which technological capabilities are progressing.

More specifically, contracting professionals must understand that timeliness can no longer be held hostage by contractual perfection, overly cumbersome approval chains and non-value-added reviews. Perfection late is perfection lost. As a result, contracting professionals must become intimately integrated early into the acquisition process starting at the notion of the requirement. Otherwise, they risk being a deterrent to the innovation and creativity crucial in today’s fast-moving environment.”

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/5/29/adaptive-acquisition-framework-ready-set-contract

Dr. William A. Schleckser is a professor of contract management at the Defense Acquisition University. He is Defense Department Level III certified in contracting and program management.

Five Regulatory Changes For Government Contractors to Watch

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Image: Mastercontrol.com

“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY”

In recent years, both Congress and the Executive Branch have made it a key priority to mitigate risks across the industrial and innovation supply chains that provide hardware, software, and services to the U.S. government.

Five of these initiatives are likely to result in new regulations in 2020, each of which could have a fundamental impact on companies’ ability to sell Information, Communications, Technology and Services to the USG.

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“In recent years, both Congress and the Executive Branch have made it a key priority to mitigate risks across the industrial and innovation supply chains that provide hardware, software, and services to the U.S. government.

Five of these initiatives are likely to result in new regulations in 2020, each of which could have a fundamental impact on companies’ ability to sell Information, Communications, Technology and Services to the USG. As these requirements begin to take hold, federal contractors should be mindful of potential impacts and the actions that can be taken now to prepare for increased USG scrutiny of their supply chain security.

Section 889 of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act

As many USG contractors are now painfully aware, Section 889 of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act establishes two constraints on telecommunications supply chains. Subsection 889(a)(1)(A), effective as of August 13, 2019, prohibits USG agencies from acquiring certain telecommunications equipment or services from Huawei, ZTE, Hytera Communications Corporation, Hikvision, or Dahua, or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates.

Section 889(a)(1)(B), effective August 13, 2020, prohibits USG agencies from “enter[ing] into a contract (or extend[ing] or renew[ing] a contract) with an entity that uses any equipment, system, or service that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as part of any system.” As drafted, the statute is broad enough to apply in cases where a company uses such equipment or services solely in connection with its commercial sales outside of work the company does for the USG.

The interim rule for Section 889(a)(1)(A) was released last August and opened for comment. The FAR Council has indicated that it will provide feedback to those comments when it issues the proposed regulations for Section 889(a)(1)(B), which have not yet been released. This means that key terms, such as “entity”and “use” remain undefined. Accordingly, contractors, especially those with a mix of commercial and government business, must take educated guesses in preparing compliance programs to begin to address these requirements.

SECURE Technology Act

On December 21, 2018, the President signed into law the Strengthening and Enhancing Cyber-capabilities by Utilizing Risk Exposure Technology Act. The Act establishes the Federal Acquisition Security Council, which is charged with building greater cybersecurity resilience into federal procurement and acquisition rules.

The Act also gives the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of National Intelligence the authority to issue exclusion and removal orders for information technology products and/or companies that supply such products if the FASC determines that they represent a risk to the USG’s supply chain. The Act also permits federal agencies to exclude companies or products they deem to pose a supply chain risk from individual procurements.

Recent reports indicate that the FASC is nearing completion of a final interim rule that would specify the exclusion criteria and detail the appeal process from an exclusion order. Although the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community currently have the authority to exclude products in certain instances, this interim rule would apply government wide. Still to be seen is whether the exclusion determinations will be publicly available.

Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification

On January 31, 2020, DoD released Version 1.0 (since updated to Version 1.02) of its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification. CMMC is DoD’s upcoming framework for managing cybersecurity risks in the Defense supply chain. Under the current paradigm, contractors that handle “Covered Defense Information” must self-attest to providing “adequate security” to protect that information, but are allowed to work toward implementing 110 NIST SP 800-171 security controls over time so long as the plans for doing so are appropriately documented.

Not only does the new CMMC add additional security controls (depending on the level of sensitivity assigned to the procurement), contactors must be in full compliance with each control at the time that contract performance begins. Most importantly, contractors will no longer be able to self-certify compliance. Instead, compliance with a particular CMMC level must be externally validated by trained auditors.

DoD is in the process of promulgating an update to the current Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement cybersecurity clause to account for the shift to CMMC requirements and is planning on choosing a subset of procurements where CMMC can be applied by the end of this year. DoD’s goal is to fully implement CMMC certification requirements in all DoD awards by Fiscal Year 2026. DoD has indicated, however, that COVID-19 could delay release of the DFARS clause.

Executive Order on Securing the ICTS Supply Chain

On May 15, 2019, the President issued an EO declaring a national emergency with respect to threats against ICTS in the United States. The EO authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to prohibit, block, unwind, or mitigate any transaction involving ICTS that is “designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied, by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of a foreign adversary.” Reviews of transactions will be conducted on a case-by-case basis.

Commerce received comments on a November 2019 proposed rule in January 2020. There has been no known use of the authority during the rulemaking process and an update is expected from Commerce soon.

Sections 1654 and 1655 of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act

Sections 1654 and 1655 of the FY19 NDAA generally require contractors to disclose whether they have allowed within the last five years a foreign government that poses a cybersecurity risk to USG defense and national security systems and infrastructure (or for non-commercial items, any foreign government) to review the source code of any product, system, or service that DoD is using or intends to use.

The law also requires contractors to disclose whether they are under an agreement to allow a foreign government or a foreign person to review the source code of a product, system, or service that DoD is using or intends to use. DoD will be able to condition contract awards on contractors’ mitigation of any risks that DoD identifies because of the foreign source code review.

The DFARS regulatory implementation of this requirement is currently on hold “pending resolution of technical issues,” and specific countries of concern have not been publicly identified, but regulations are still expected within the next year.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/06/26/insights-covington-regulatory-changes.aspx

3 Government Contract Marketing Tactics To Employ As The Fiscal Year Ends

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Image: KDJcommunications.com

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGYBy Mark Amtower

Each of these tactics works regardless of the Covid 19 crisis, but they are more important now that we do not currently have the face-to-face option of our normal end-of-fiscal year.

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“The Covid 19 crisis has forced Feds and contractors alike to a new level of “digital transformation,” a forced migration to tools we were aware of but not necessarily using often or well: online meetings, telework, and leveraging social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook more fully and more frequently.

With the physical re-opening of federal sites still in question, the need to adapt has never been greater. I have heard from different sources that federal offices will not return to any semblance of normal in this fiscal year, and possible not until calendar 2021.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas to win more business at the end of fiscal 2020 on Sept. 30.

First, relevant content, well written or produced, then properly deployed after production. Content can take many forms, from articles and blog posts, to videos and podcasts, from webinars to white papers, and much more. Studies from Market Connections, Inc, Hinge Marketing and others have not only demonstrated the value of content in the procurement process, but have shown it to be a critical factor when you are targeting specific contracts, going after business with a specific agency, or developing and showcasing an area of expertise.

Producing the content is step one, putting it where your target audience will find it is step two.

All content should be resident on your web site under a “Resources” button. After that, share it via social sharing and email. If you post it on LinkedIn, it automatically goes to your 1st degree connections via their “Home” page. If someone else shares it, it goes into their 1st degree network the same way.

Your content should be educational in nature and avoid any overt sales message. Just include contact info at the end and encourage readers and viewers to share.

Second, virtual events. By this time we should all be ZOOM-masters, right? I had been on ZOOM before Covid 19 sequestered us, but now I feel like I cannot live without it. ZOOM is massively more personal than a call.

Many events, even larger ones, have gone virtual with varying degrees of success. For those that didn’t quite make it, the problem may have been the tech backbone or the partner you chose to produce the event.

Vetting your virtual event provider and testing capacity is key, so start by asking your peers who they are using. If you attend an event that works, or that does not work so well, find out which platform was used.

If you are hosting an event for govies, make certain it is on a platform approved by their agency. If it is FedRAMP compliant, you should be OK. If not, rethink your platform.

Virtual events are here to stay.

Third, social selling. Social selling has been growing in importance over the last few years, but has now become critical. LinkedIn is the primary venue for this and the traffic on LinkedIn since the “stay at home” order has risen significantly.

Social selling is not traditional selling. It is the art and science of getting on the radar of a defined audience and staying on the radar in a non-intrusive way by leveraging social networks. It is not designed to replace traditional sales or business development, but to supplement and support them.

Sharing the content you develop is a social selling technique. Finding, liking and commenting on content shared by your prospects, is another technique. “Following” your prospects before reaching out is yet another. There are several easy-to-do social selling tactics.

Reaching out to connect with your prospect audience can be a social selling technique as long as you don’t send the LinkedIn connection “form letter.” Find a way to put the connection request in context of what the prospect does and what you bring to the table, but not a sales context.

Best of fortunes for your federal “busy season”!”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/06/17/insights-amtower-covid-fiscal-end-selling.aspx

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mark Amtower

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

Army Will Spend $1.5 Billion For 3rd Prototype Attempt -Bradley Vehicle Replacement

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Image: QRA Corporationhttps://qracorp.com/pentagon-wars-movie/

Editors Note:

The undersigned was on the staff of one of the design companies for the gun system of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle development program. I witnessed first hand one of the most costly weapons system development programs in history.

I cannot help but observe that we are undergoing a similar debacle for the Bradley’s replacement. The bottom line question: With Pandemic and civil unrest economic impact today, can we afford to embark on the equivalent of a re-release and update of the famous HBO Movie, “Pentagon Wars”?

Ken Larson

HBO”

TASK AND PURPOSE“:

“The Army will likely end up spending upwards of $1.57 billion to develop a replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle that’s served the U.S. military for nearly four decades, according to a new assessment from the Government Accountability Office — and that’s just for a fleet of prototypes.

As of January 2020, the service had doled out roughly $366.64 million in funding as part of a middle-tier acquisition program for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle Increment 1 the service initiated in September 2018, according to the GAO report.

The Army is expected to spend another $1.2 billion to procure 14 prototype vehicles apiece from two separate defense contractors, an acquisition that, planned for this past March, fell apart when the service cancelled its solicitation in January in order to “revisit the requirements, acquisition strategy and schedule” prior to prototyping.

The cancellation was reportedly prompted by the fact that the service only received one bid, from General Dynamics Land Systems, for the OMFV prototyping competition, as Army leaders told Defense News at the time.

According to the GAO report, the Army had previously planned on handing out an initial production contract award in late fiscal year 2023 and fielding the initial replacement vehicle by some time in early fiscal year 2026, but those dates are now up in the air due to the January cancellation.

“Officials stated that Army leadership is still committed to moving forward with the program, but they will need to reassess the achievability of their requirements within the desired timeframe,” according to the GAO report.

As Task & Purpose previously reported, the OMFV — part of Army Futures Command’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) program — is just the latest attempt to replace the Bradley that has spanned nearly two decades.

In 1999, the Army adopted the Future Combat Systems (FSC) Manned Ground Vehicles (MGV) program was initiated as part of a broad effort to make the service’s legacy forces “lighter, more modular, and — most importantly — more deployable,” as the Army put it at the time.

That program was cancelled a decade later in 2009 and immediately replaced with the Ground Combat Vehicle program in 2010, which sought to replace the Bradley with the a Ground Combat Infantry Fighting Vehicle before being cancelled in 2014 amid rising costs and expanding requirements.”

https://taskandpurpose.com/military-tech/army-optionally-manned-fighting-vehicle-program-cost

GSA: “Pandemic Slowing ‘Beta.SAM’ Legacy Systems Shift”

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Image: GSA https://beta.sam.gov/help/new-to-sam

FCW

The General Services Administration has slowed its shift of legacy acquisition systems components to a new, more modern platform to avoid confusion and help users stay on top of contracting data.

As the pandemic advanced in the last few months, GSA has kept the old FPDS up, while porting some search functions to the beta site. The dual approach, said Zawatsky, allows critical purchasing data to remain available to contractors and agencies to generate reports.

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“Judith Zawatsky assistant commissioner in the Federal Acquisition Service’s Office of Systems Management at GSA explained at a May 28 AFCEA virtual event that rapid modernization of customer-facing systems isn’t necessarily a good thing.

GSA is in the process of moving 10 legacy systems, including FedBizOpps, its old Systems of Award Management (SAM) and Federal Data Procurement System (FPDS) to its beta.SAM portal, which will eventually become the agency’s hub for contracting and grant management capabilities.

“We hoped to shutter FPDS this spring,” she said, but she said that fall is looking more likely.

Even before the pandemic, the agency was readjusting its approach to the move earlier in the year, after it completed moving its old FedBizOpps contract opportunities system to beta.SAM. That move, completed last year, led to user complaints about loss of functionality and complications arising from two-factor authentication requirements.

Zawatsky said earlier this month that those difficulties had already tempered GSA’s approach to the move. She said the agency had learned it needed to give users a longer time to get used to new capabilities and the overall new environment that differed from the agency’s legacy systems.

The pandemic environment injected more uncertainty into all businesses, including GSA’s. Keeping procurement data in readily available form, whether in FPDS or FPDS on beta.SAM, can lessen already heightened anxiety among users, according to Zawasky.

“You have to give people a long tail” moving over from legacy systems, such as FPDS, she said. “We’re slowing decommission of legacy systems to allow people to get used to that new experience,” she said.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/05/29/rockwell-sam-dot-gov-schedule.aspx

Marketing By Whim Is Not Marketing

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WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY By Mark Amtower

The random approach taken by some is not marketing. It is wishful thinking, the misapplication of a valid and useful marketing tactic to satisfy the whim of a CEO desperate to create awareness for themselves or their company.

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“There are always new shiny objects littering the various avenues along web 2.0 (soon to be web 3.0?), tools that can be snarky or fun, tools employed in the realm of business to consumer, with Generation Zs or even with the Millennials. 

Then there are mainstream tools such as videos and podcasts, animation tools and others that, when used well, have legitimacy across markets: B2C, business to business, and GovCon, tools that help the company gain real traction toward a definable, measureable goal.

But when you have a neophyte in the role of marketer, a person with the power of making decisions for the company, you have the potential for disaster.

Too often in companies of a certain size, the role of marketing, by default, goes to the founder, president, CEO. This often results in marketing by whim, the result of seeing a shiny object used by others, becoming enamored of that shiny object, and wanting to get one of your own. “Did you see that YouTube interview of John Smith, the CEO of Small Company One, the one with the cartoons? That was so cool! We need one of those…”

I have had numerous conversations with the owners of small companies regarding shiny objects. Some of those conversations go something like this:

Owner: “Hey Mark, did you see that (video, podcast, blog post) from Small Company Two? They got 2,750 (views, likes) and they probably got a ton of business from that. Can you help me do that?”

Mark: “Maybe, but to drive that much traffic you need to share information that resonates with your audience and you need to develop a following (subscribers, followers on LinkedIn, etc). It takes time. You’ll need to set realistic goals for what you want out of this and set some metrics. Are you prepared to do that?”

Owner: Sure, let’s try it and see what happens.”

One month later…

Owner: “We did two (podcasts, videos, blog posts) and we only got 12 views. This doesn’t work.”

This reminds me of the numerous times I’ve heard “We did a white paper and nobody read it.” I wish I was exaggerating but these conversations have occurred for years, and they are recurrent.

Getting traction from any marketing effort takes planning. Growing an audience takes time. With a little planning and guidance, many smaller businesses attract more attention.

These same founders/CEOs understand that winning business in this market takes time and planning.

They also need to understand that good marketing requires the same mindset.

Not that I have an opinion…”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/05/18/insights-amtower-marketing-whim.aspx

Mark Amtower
Mark Amtower

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower

Is Your Company Ready For Self-Scoring Government Contracts?

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Image: “Government Executive” https://www.govexec.com/management/2016/03/one-change-s-upending-federal-contracting-world/126674/

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY By Ab Vand

The new Self-Scoring Evaluation system that is becoming prevalent as a source selection process by many federal agencies for large multiple-award and GWAC contracts.

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“In this article, we look at the history of this type of evaluation, and the reasons behind it . We’ll also delve into the details of how this type of evaluation works. The second article provides a discussion of the pit-falls, where you might go wrong, and compliance issues. The third article will introduce tools to help speed up the proposal preparation, maximize your score, and prevent compliance issues.

Part I – Introduction to the Self-Scoring Evaluation Process

  1. HistoryThe U.S. contracting rules and regulations, FARs and DFARs, are based on the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) dating back to 1984 and with origins in the 19th Century. Agencies have been trying to find ways to circumvent this old system to conduct acquisitions for new kinds of requirements and to do business with ever-evolving industries and marketsIn 2013, the GSA finalized its new source selection technique to select contractors for its OASIS GWAC. After winning on a protest, GSA announced its intention to use it for future opportunities as well. This technique (the self-scoring system) kept GSA from having to read and evaluate hundreds of technical and management proposals. The focus on experience and past performance simplified the evaluation process. It aimed to put together pools of the most qualified contractors irrespective of the level of their prices. This moved the price competition to the task order level.  The table below lists the major GWACs and MA-IDIQs that have utilized the new Self-Scoring system:
  1. The Figure below shows the increase in the prevalence of the Self-Scoring Evaluation process in major multiple award bids:

2. Inside the Self-Scoring Evaluation System:

Government:

  • RFP Stage:
    • Spell out how they will score the Contractors’ experience and Past Performance
    • Spell out how they want the Contractor to prove its claims (that is how to substantiate)
  • Evaluation Stage:
    • Review proposals for compliance and remove all non-compliant proposals (Compliance: Government’s First Line of Defense)
    • Rank remaining proposals based on the score
    • Check substantiations
    • Picks the top companies with the highest score (based on the set number of awards)
    Contractor:
  • Assessment Stage:
    • Assess yourself and see if you have the minimum qualifications
    • Do a Gap Analysis on Experience and Past Performance
    • Find Partners if allowed
  • Proposal Preparation:
    • Assess yourself and fill out the self-scoring spreadsheet
    • Substantiate your claims through providing the needed documents correctly and with proper highlighting, etc.
  • Proposal Submission:
    • Submit through GSA Symphony or other means

Below is a sample scoring system set by the Government on Alliant II:

3. Benefits and Weaknesses of the Self-Scoring System:

Government:

  • Benefits:
    • Doesn’t have to evaluate hundreds of proposals, just the number to be awarded
    • Evaluation does not involve price evaluation, thus making it much easier
    • The process is much less prone to protests because there is a less subjective determination
  • Weaknesses:
    • Not many contracting offices understand the system and thus shy away from it
    • Must carefully define the scoring system otherwise the outcome won’t be the pool of contractors the Government wants (e.g., case of too much emphasis on PP evaluation)
    • Needs strong legal wording against protests

Contractor

  • Benefits:
    • Don’t need to write elaborative technical responses that could be subjectively put aside
    • Can leverage their experience and Past Performance
    • Can more clearly estimate their p-win
  • Weaknesses:
  • The burden of evaluation has been placed on the Contractor
  • Complex document management work
  • Need strong analytical intuition to work around the many variables and scenarios
  • Compliance issues are a killer
  • New process to many seasoned proposal managers.
  • Startups and those without proper experience/PP have no chance of success.

4. Conclusion:

Self-Scoring Systems are on the rise. You need to have a good grasp of this system to participate and win in some of the major upcoming bids, such as the CIO-SP4 or the GSA ASTRO opportunity. In the next articles, I will provide some lessons learned from previous exercises as well as the tools that can help you prepare a better, higher-scoring proposal for the upcoming bids.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/05/15/insights-vand-self-scoring-evaluations.aspx

New Frontier In “Challenge Procurement” At Veterans Administration

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Image: Shutterstock

FCW By Steve Kelman

The basic idea behind a procurement challenge is that the government announces a problem it seeks to have solved. Anyone may then submit their solution, and the government chooses a winner or winners. 

You don’t need to be an expert on government procurement to submit an entry. There is no proposal — it is a great example of the idea of “show, don’t tell” that should be more important in government procurement in general.

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“Many blog readers will be aware that I have over the years been a big fan of challenges (also known as prizes) as a procurement technique. 

When it announces a challenge, the government also specifies a monetary prize (hence the moniker “contest”) and further steps the government might take to support the winner or winners.

I first wrote enthusiastically about these way back in 2009, based on a DARPA contest for developing an all-terrain vehicle. Most recently I wrote about the Army using a challenge to develop a better and cheaper ventilator in the context of COVID-19. I have written, and continue to believe, that the use of challenges in procurement is the most significant procurement innovation of the last decade.

Challenges have varied from very elementary and not very consequential (e.g. a contest to develop an agency logo) to much more mission-critical. For example, a few years ago the IRS conducted a challenge to design an online experience that more clearly and easily organizes and presents a person’s tax information, including ways to more easily use tax data to help people with other financial decisions, such as applying for a loan.

However, even more difficult and complex challenges have up to now been one-off efforts: the government publishes the challenge, bidders respond, and the government chooses winners. Now, though, the Department of Veterans Affairs has published an RFI for a challenge that will take this procurement tool where it has never been before. VA officials are seeking to develop approaches to reduce suicide among veterans

The agency is envisioning creation of a user-friendly platform where veterans (and possibly others in at-risk groups) can gain enhanced access to a range of suicide-prevention services, such as scheduling, assessments and mental health resources, while preserving their identities and privacy. The VA also hopes to personalize and customize services to directly meet veterans’ needs and recognize certain risks in users’ personal lives, information about care paths and more.

The VA’s vision is that the platform would involve automated learning to update information provided the user. Data analytics and AI would learn from the “user journey” through the VA ecosystem, adapting and responding to the individual user’s needs, fears and concerns. Over time, the information presented to that user would be increasingly curated for their specific needs. 

Not only is the topic of the challenge difficult and high-visibility — about as far from designing an agency logo as you can get — but the way the challenge will be organized will be far more ambitious than any the government has attempted in the past. The VA will be doing a procurement not for the challenge itself but to manage challenges that then would be put out for submissions.

As the VA puts it in their RFI, “the chosen partner would need to provide management support services necessary to help build the program from the ground up—and seamlessly execute the competition from beginning to end. The dedicated collaborator would support the delivery of everything from the timeline, scope and design of the complex challenge, to technical support, Though VA would provide some of those funds, said. in raising money for the prizes winners will receive. “the hope is the vendor would be able to facilitate outreach and increase fundraising for the prize purse, so that it’s not just taxpayer-funded money that goes to support this effort, but actually potentially private funds from companies and others who are interested in solving this problem,” the VA states.

This will be a complex and large enough activity that the VA doesn’t have the bandwidth to do it with in-house resources. So, to allow development of challenges at scale, it is actually seeking to let a contractor organize that effort.

This is a first, and an amazing innovation by the VA. The idea has been shepherded by the VA’s Chief Innovation Officer Michael Akinyele. It was in the works before COVID-19, but the explosion of unemployment will make the suicide problem worse and hence has prompted the VA to move the effort faster.

If this works, it will add an important new tool to the government’s contracting toolkit, available to others across government. VA, congratulations on a great idea, and good luck making it work.”

https://fcw.com/blogs/lectern/2020/05/kelman-va-challenge-at-scale.aspx

Other Transaction Agreements (OTA) Best Practices For Success

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NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE

The intent of OTAs is to leverage commercial technologies for military purposes, improve the nation’s industrial base and allow for more cost effective and affordable solutions without extreme bureaucracy.

Opportunities are available to traditional defense industry partners and nontraditional defense contractors, such as academia, non-profits and other small businesses.

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“Imagine this. The Defense Department had an urgent need for armored vehicles to protect warfighters from new threats during a time of war. By applying a unique and tailored acquisition approach with specific attention to time and similar solutions already available in the commercial marketplace, it successfully started fielding new vehicles only 18 months after identifying the warfighter need.

The program referenced here was the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle program, which began in 2006. Was the program a success? Absolutely. Was it a risk-free or perfect solution? No. Although the MRAP program was timely in helping mitigate the threat and associated warfighter casualties, there were challenges related to operating field conditions, training, sustainment, transportation and costs. The program, however, ultimately enabled the creation of other military vehicles that are still widely used today and supports how tailored acquisition approaches can produce successful outcomes.

A popular and continuously growing phenomenon within the department is the other transaction authority, or OTA. It permits Defense Department entities to award OTA agreements for research, prototyping and production efforts critical to national security. They are not an acquisition approach or strategy; however, they are flexible options that can support an acquisition approach or strategy.

Given leadership’s priorities for the increased application of adaptive acquisition methods, it is highly likely OTAs will be a key ingredient for success.

OTAs are binding agreements between Defense Department organizations and industry partners that are different than Federal Acquisition Regulation contracts, grants and cooperative agreements. While they are an innovative and flexible option that are not subject to all acquisition laws and regulations, they require vigorous program management.

Here are some points to remember:

OTAs are not new to the department. Although it received limited authority in 1989, the authority has significantly expanded since 2015. As a result, more agencies and industry partners are working together on the agreements. OTAs vastly differ from contracts because negotiations are not limited by FAR-based restrictions and allow for more robust terms between parties. This includes, but is not limited to, intellectual property rights, title to property, payment terms, project schedule or duration, cost or price analysis, financial and project status reporting, disputes, remedies and termination.

Congress specifically provided the authority to foster business flexibility for certain circumstances. Unfortunately, there is not a universal process or checklist for all parties to follow when planning or executing the agreements. This is intentional because universal processes across the department could hinder innovation and expanded industry participation.

Since OTAs will differ between agencies, these entities should individually create and maintain some form of standard business processes to support how to execute them from initial planning through completion. Examples of standard business processes include organizational policies, instructions, directives, guidebooks and standard operating procedures. These resources are foundational for success as they can provide tremendous assistance and value to not only the parties seeking to do business with the defense organization, but also the personnel leading or supporting the process.

There can also be immense benefits for industry partners who have not previously done business with the department. It currently has an “OT Guide” published in November 2018 available to the public; however, it is very broad and not unique to individual DoD organizations. Creating and maintaining standard processes can enable consistent and efficient operations, prevent miscommunication, minimize noncompliance with laws and assist organizations during evaluations or audits.

Since there is not a one-size-fits-all option to execute OTAs, defense authorities and industry partners should be aware of the various options available. Specific to prototype OTs, the most widely used type of OT, there are primarily four options for execution. Figure 1 provides helpful information associated with each option.

Agencies should carefully evaluate all options prior to option selection, depending on the specific need or the entity’s experience with OTAs. Evaluation can be done by market research and other means to effectively support the strategy and objectives. For example, if an organization is seeking a prototype that could be created by start-up companies or existing commercial firms, it may be in the best interest to award an OTA on its own, through the Defense Innovation Unit, or to a consortium.

Alternatively, if an agency is seeking a prototype similar to one another government agency is concurrently seeking through its own prototype OTA, it may be in the best interest — and the most economical option — for it to leverage the other government agency’s agreement. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2019 that the majority of funding for prototype OTAs between fiscal year 2016 and fiscal year 2018 was awarded to consortiums.

Further, the GAO reported that the department — in response to congressional direction — is improving its reports on OTA usage to provide more data and transparency. Given the options available for executing OTAs, it is critical that both defense organizations and interested industry partners are cognizant of the options and their individual characteristics.

Another factor for success is sound planning and identification of technical performance parameters.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Since parties can negotiate and tailor many OTA elements, it is critical for all parties involved to complete sound planning efforts prior to execution. Also, because they promote “outside the box” business practices, risk management is not a choice, but the backbone of the effort from cradle to grave. Agencies should start planning with a clear needs statement or defined problem supporting a capability gap.

Next, the entity must perform adequate market research and requirements analysis to determine if solutions already exist or whether the capability is possible among industry partners. Adequate market research efforts must consider existing commercial products and practices, technological stability and current similar Defense Department or federal government efforts.

Entities must ensure OTAs will comply with codes, depending on the effort’s characteristics. The agency must collectively and clearly articulate what success looks like and how success or performance will be measured. Is the end game a report as a result of extensive research? Or is the end game follow-on production if the prototype OTA successfully meets the capability gap?

The government shall give full consideration to key areas related to cost, schedule and performance throughout the project’s life since OTAs do not eliminate the need for effective program management. Thus, consideration shall be given to vital technical characteristics or performance parameters, such as cybersecurity, intellectual property, technology transfer, testing, integration, interoperability and life cycle sustainment/supportability. Parties involved should continually ascertain when to continue or terminate the effort based on cost-benefit analysis.

Planning efforts should also encompass the means by which the government will publicize and solicit OTAs. Publicizing activities should target relevant and capable industry partners identified from market research. Solicitation activities must be creative, through fair and reasonable methods, to foster maximum competition. Methods include white papers, commercial solutions openings, requests for proposals, panel pitches, industry days, LinkedIn and Twitter.

OTAs require critical thinking and can be incredibly complex. Besides the many aspects of cost, schedule and performance to be considered and evaluated, they have minimum predefined requirements and are accompanied with unique negotiations requiring advanced levels of business acumen from various perspectives. OTAs are a team sport and should have diverse participation by technical and non-technical personnel.

Standardized OTA training or credential programs are not widely available to Defense Department or industry personnel. Personnel should seek to complete some form of OTA training. Nontraditional contractors should also complete training on the electronic invoicing system that will be used to submit invoices for work performed on OTAs. Invoicing the department can be cumbersome, especially for smaller firms with operations largely dependent on timely cash flows.

OTAs also require sufficient documentation since they have more flexibility and fewer internal controls when compared to other business options. Documentation is also vital to support OTA-related actions were fair, reasonable, transparent and legal. The need for sufficient documentation applies to both government and industry partners.

Appropriate documentation assists organizations in establishing beneficial continuous feedback loop mechanisms to replicate best practices and learn from shortcomings. Documentation also allows independent or unbiased individuals to follow OTA-related business decisions and funding. Documentation is even more meaningful as defense organizations spend greater amounts of taxpayer funds on OTAs and Congress seeks additional details on their usage.

Also, the law requires that all prototype OTs above $5 million include a clause that provides the GAO full access to records. As a result, all parties involved need to make documentation efforts a priority throughout the life of every OTA. Lack of existent or appropriate documentation could cause all the parties to receive undesired scrutiny from

Congress and defense leadership. Congress could also reduce or eliminate the authority if parties do not create or maintain sufficient OTA documentation.

The ability for the nation to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage and efficiently leverage adaptive acquisition methods depends on OTAs. It is all but certain they will continue to grow in popularity.

Although they are a bright and shiny object drawing significant attention from expanded usage, the department, its agencies and industry partners must carefully plan and execute OTAs from cradle to grave.

While they are flexible alternatives, they are accompanied by risks, not appropriate for every situation, and do not have a universal pathway for guaranteed success. OTAs must be treated as a privilege rather than an authority that will remain indefinitely.

Appropriate use in accordance with Congress’ intent could produce tremendous value for the Defense Department and industry partners. Alternatively, inappropriate use could result in inefficient use of taxpayer resources and Congress limiting or eliminating the modernized authority.”

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/4/15/other-transactions-best-practices-to-enable-success