Where do you Find Opportunities?

April 27, 2007 on 4:04 pm | In Marketing to the Government | Comments Off

One of the most common questions I am asked has to do with how to market to the government. It is important to understand that the government has some very stringent rules that make many normal commercial marketing activities illegal. For example you cannot buy government employees anything – even meals. You can give them advertising “trinkets” with the company name or logo of minimal value, but do not offer them sporting event tickets. People go to jail for that!

Marketing to the government is also different in the arena of “decision makers.” In traditional marketing classes you are always told to speak ONLY to the decision maker. If you are not talking to the person who can make the buying decision, you are told, you are just wasting everyone’s time. While that is good advice in the commercial arena, the decision maker in the government is a bit more complicated. In fact the checks and balances that surround our governmental systems create three separate decision makers that must be convinced that the sale should go forward. I describe this more fully in an article that appeared in Contract Managementmagazine in December 2006 entitled “Exactly who IS the Government Customer?” that you can read here. 

What I really wanted to talk about today was what you should do to locate opportunities. The key is to identify what you are selling and who in the government is buying what you are selling. There are three steps to the process, and a fourth if you want to stay on top of things!

First, you need to review the vast listing of NAICS codes. Those can be accessed at http://www.census.gov/epcd/naics02/. From this listing you can identify the codes that apply to the goods or services that you sell. Take these numbersto the Federal Business Opportunities website (often called FedBizOpps) at http://vsearch2.fbo.gov/servlet/SearchServlet where you can now enter those NAICS codes and conduct a search for all currently open solicitations for those goods or services. Once you have identified the opportunities you need to make a bid/no-bid decision based on whether your company could make a credible bid or proposal for what is being sought by the government. If so, then put your bid or proposal together and submit!

Oh, and that optional fourth step? Go to this site http://www2.fbo.gov/servlet/VendorReg and select the product codes that match your NAICS codes. This signs you up to receive email notices on a daily basis of EVERY opportunity that has been posted for those product codes.

Yes, this all sounds simple, and in some respects it is. That doesn’t mean that it is easy! We’ll talk more about what comes before and after these steps, as well explain these steps in more detail in later posts, but for now I hope this helps get you started in finding opportunities to sell what you have to the government!

World Congress

April 23, 2007 on 8:46 pm | In The Profession | Comments Off

So here I am in Dallas at the NCMA World Congress! There are over 1300 contracting professionals here for three full days or training, education, and networking. This is truly an event that every contract management professional should attend!

The presentations run the full spectrum of contracting issues from finance to basics; from contract law to logistics. It’s all here!

I’ve got three presentations to do this week – two on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. Tuesday I will do one on Negotiation Ethics before lunch and The Contract Manager’s Role in Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404 Certifications just after lunch. On Wednesday I will do the session before lunch on Six Things Contract Managers Need to Know about Six Sigma. If you missed thees sessions, the presentations are available at NCMAHQ.org or just shoot me an email and I will send you copies of the presentations.

I have been an NCMA member for over 20 years now and it is great to catch up with old friends. We are all a little greyer and pudgier, but we have worked hard to serve the profession and we are looking forward to passing the batons on to other members. But we are not retiring yet! There is still so much to learn, so much to teach, and so many to mentor. These are the values that make NCMA great and we continue to serve.

 Enough nostalgia! Tomorrow is a new day. Cant wait!

World Congress Convenes in Dallas

April 21, 2007 on 12:56 pm | In The Profession | Comments Off

This weekend marks the beginning of the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) World Congress. Governance and other meetings take place on Saturday and Sunday, and the Congress itself begins on Monday. Sessions, both plenary and break-out, run through Wednesday, April 25.

One hallmark of a professional is that they engage in continuous education in their field. The NCMA World Congress is the preeminent event of the year. It has the largest attendance, the greatest number of vendors, and the greatest diversity of topics and events. It is the one event each year that every contracting professional should attend.

 Certified Contracting Solutions, LLC supports the Congress both by attendance of its various problem solvers, and the presentation at three breakout sessions. These sessions include The Ethics in Negotiation, Six Things Contract Mangers Need to Know about Six Sigma, and The Role of the Contract Manager in Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404 Certifications.

It is important for professionals in the field of contract management to take advantage of these learning opportunities, as well as the opportunity to share their knowledge as a presenter. Writing an article for Contract Management magazine, or some other professional publication, also serves the same purpose.

Every contract management professional should strongly consider their participation in professional development activities. And if it doesn’t measure up – GO DO SOMETHING!! For those of you who will be attending World Congress, look me up and say Hi.

Even the Big Boys Mess Up

April 19, 2007 on 9:29 am | In Bids and Proposals | Comments Off

The “single” portal for accessing bid and proposal opportunities is FedBizOpps, but what some agencies do is maintain their own site. To meet legal requirements, they post only a notice on FedBizOpps that the real substance of the IFB or RFP can be found on that agency’s opportunity site. Some of them even require that you create an account there before you can access the information.

The Department of the Interior does this and in a recent competition for legal research databases one of the competitors failed to follow up before submission and missed an amendment. The players here were Westlaw and LexisNexis, companies that you would assume to have pretty sophisticated proposal systems in place. But Lexis made two mistakes. First, they submitted a confusing proposal by including material in an appendix without explaining how that information addressed the requirements of the RFP. In reviewing the agency’s actions the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said:

In contrast, with respect to [certain RFP requirements], the protester asserts that the agency should have found various lists of information sources in the appendix to be comparable to the requirement in the RFP; the agency is under no such obligation to parse the protester’s proposal to try to determine whether the proposal offers comparable sources of information. Even assuming that the information offered in the proposal’s appendix is comparable to the required databases, by placing the information in the appendix and requiring the agency to piece together the proposal’s content, the protester failed in its responsibility to clearly demonstrate compliance with the RFP requirements.

Further, Lexis argued that the amendment was not properly posted. In response the GAO stated that, “The agency’s posting on the FedBizOpps website had a clearly identified hyperlink to additional information, including amendments. The agency has explained at length when and how it posted the amendment to both the DOI/NBC EC website and, through the hyperlink, to FedBizOpps.” GAO went on to also note that, “In this regard, we note that the awardee states that it found the amendment the day it was posted by ‘carefully monitor[ing] both FedBizOpps and the [DOI/NBC EC] website for any postings.’”

So the lessons here are quite clear. First – it is YOUR responsibility to make sure your proposal is clear to the evaluators. The use of an RFP Compliance Matrix can be quite useful in assuring that this is done. Second – it is YOUR responsibility to locate any amendments to the solicitation once it is posted. And it is irrelevant that some agencies play a bit of hide and seek both with their announcements and amendments by using their own sites to post the relevant information.  If you have questions about any of this – please ask!

Acquisition Workforce to Grow?

April 18, 2007 on 11:05 pm | In The Profession | Comments Off

One thing that everyone in our profession has realized is that the complexity and volume of procurement actions has steadily increased while the number of contracting professionals has dropped precipitously. Even GAO has made reference to that in several of its reports. But there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

The number of contracting officers is half the number it was in 2001, while the number of contracts has doubled, according to Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) who wants to increase the number of acquisition employees. This would be a refreshing change since Congress has seen fit to REDUCE the number of 1102′s in the government service for every year recently. Even after Katrina, Congress saw fit to increase the number of AUDITORS(!) rather than contracting professionals. Rather than trying to spend the money properly in the first instance, Congress just wants to catch the mistakes for a good press op. Cynical? Yes. Accurate? Also yes.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, has asked Moran to develop workforce provisions to be included in the fiscal 2008 Defense Department spending bill. The government must have more people to do the work intended for public employees, Moran said.

The average age of procurement professionals is going up by nearly a full year each year, suggesting that a mass retirement is potentially imminent. Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, estimates that 20 percent of the 28,000 federal contracting employees are already eligible for retirement.

“A good contracting officer is worth their weight in gold,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) during a speech at a recent conference. Procurement experts agree that the acquisition workforce needs to grow to handle a greater workload and fill the void from a potentially massive number of retirements.

As important as the total number of contracting professionals is the fact that more complex procurements demand more highly skilled professionals. In some cases people might claim 25 years of experience when in fact they have only one or two years of experience many times over. They know what they know and do it well, but that is all they know. Skill development is not keeping pace with the demands of the job. Paul Francis, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), said the composition of the workforce — what skills are necessary to match future needs — is as important as the quantity of workers.

“Numbers don’t tell the whole story,” he said.

We can only hope that Congress is serious this year about remedying this growing problem. With literally billions at stake, we need well trained, experienced, and trusted professionals in those positions. We can do more with less for just so long, and then the system fails. We can ill afford problems or scandals at any point in time, but at this critical point in our nation’s history such failures would be all the more devastating.

Contact your Congressman, and Rep. Moran. Tell them you support this initiative and encourage them to not allow it to find itself on the cutting room floor during committee work. It is just too important.

Portions of this information were gathered from www. fcw.com/article98238-04-16-07-Print, accessed 04/18/07.

Talking Trash About Customers

April 16, 2007 on 6:30 pm | In Customer Service | Comments Off

Why would you ever say anything bad about your customer? I have advocated in the past that there are customers you should fire because they absorb too much of your overhead and do not contribute positively to the bottom line. This article appeared in Contract Management magazine and can be found here. But today I’m talking about going public with criticism of your customer. Suppose you have sued them, a matter of public record. Can they then retaliate against you and deny you a contract because you are “litigation happy” or have spoken to the press negatively about them? In the usual commercial setting, buyers can make commercial contracting decisions based on anything they deem important. Many companies will tell you that they will avoid doing business with any party they think likes trips to the courthouse too much. And there isn’t much you can do about that except improve your relationship with that buyer.
In the public sector, however, stringent rules require that decisions be based only on appropriate criteria. In a recent Texas case a city selected a contractor who was NOT the low bid solely on the basis that the low bidder had sued another city over a contract dispute. Although the state court initially sided with the city the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed. So long as the actions by the contractor were matters of public concern, the court held, free speech of a party can outweigh the city’s interest in promoting efficiency. (Case No. 05-10836, August 31, 2006).
So what is the lesson here? Generally the less said the better, but in matters of public procurement speaking out about the process and especially perceived errors or bias in decision-making causes the speech generally to be considered a matter of public concern and will be protected. This doesn’t mean that a company can’t get a bad reputation as a complainer, and contracting officers are human – challenge them too often and they will remember you negatively. But given the rules for government contracting, their ability to retaliate is very limited. Commercial companies, on the other hand, if they see you complaining too much, will develop their own opinions of you – and they can exclude you any time they want for any (or no) reason at all.
Balance what you have to say. Sometimes it is important to speak out and identify flaws in the system. Other times – keeping silent can be the best long-term approach. Whenever you speak, however, make sure you have your facts straight. Speaking out when you do not know what you are talking about will definitely give you a bad reputation!

Late is Late – darn few exceptions!

April 2, 2007 on 12:18 pm | In Bids and Proposals | Comments Off

For the novice, let me first explain that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a branch of the legislative arm or our government. When a participant in any federal procurement believes that it may have been treated unfairly, it has a right to complain to GAO for review of the agency’s actions. This action is called a “protest.” Thus a large body of law related to how procurements are supposed to be conducted revolves around GAO decisions. What I want to discuss today involves a GAO decision.

An incumbent transportation contractor submitted its proposal to one of two addresses listed in the original RFP which happened to be where it had submitted its proposals previously. Upon delivery, a clerk in that room acknowledged that it was the proper location for delivery of the proposal, and provided a receipt evidencing timely receipt of the proposal. Prior to this date, the agency had issued a modification correcting one of the two addresses for receipt, but not clarifying which was correct. The purchasing contracting officer (PCO) was unaware a proposal from this entity until the protest was filed.

The protestor argued that it had made timely delivery or alternatively that the late receipt was due to government mishandling after receipt, one of the very few exceptions that permits the acceptance of a late proposal. In response, the GAO said:

It is an offeror’s responsibility to deliver its proposal to the proper place by the proper time, and late delivery generally requires rejection of the proposal. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) § 15.208; The Staubach Co., B-276486, May 19, 1997, 97-1 CPD ¶ 190 at 3. However, a hand-carried proposal that arrives late may be considered if improper government action was the paramount cause for the late submission, and where consideration of the proposal would not compromise the integrity of the competitive procurement process. Caddell Constr. Co., Inc., B-280405, Aug. 24, 1998, 98-2 CPD ¶ 50 at 6. Improper government action in this context is affirmative action that makes it impossible for the offeror to deliver the proposal on time.

Id.

In reviewing the facts, the GAO further stated:  Whatever the protester may have done to satisfy proposal delivery requirements in prior procurements does not excuse the protester from its burden to ensure timely delivery of its proposal at the location specified in the solicitation. See Schmid & Kalhert GmBH & Co. KG, B-233467, Feb. 13, 1989, 89-1 CPD ¶ 148 at 3. In short, there is nothing in the record showing that any affirmative government action deprived the protester of the ability to make proper delivery of its proposal.  In a footnote GAO also addressed the standard rule concerning the timeliness of proposals complaining of defects in the RFP must be filed PRIOR to proposal submission. Specifically:
To the extent the protester challenges the delivery instructions themselves, this ground of protest is untimely. Here, any alleged flaws in the delivery instructions constituted a defect in the solicitation that was apparent prior to the time for submitting proposals and had to be protested prior to that time, which [the protestor] did not do here. See Bid Protest Regulations, 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(a)(1) (2006). 

In conclusion GAO held that “we find no basis to conclude that improper government action caused the late submission of [the protestor’s] proposal.”

What is the lesson to be learned? It is YOUR job to get the proposal or bid to the right office before the due date. Only in very rare situations will an exception be made. Placing the package in the mail, entrusting it to a FedEx or UPS-type of carrier, or having someone deliver it personally still places the full burden on you. Late is late.

This is a significant deviation from many commercial standard practices, so it is important to recognize that all of your work of preparing a proposal can be lost in the wind over this simple logistic matter. Don’t take such risks. If there is confusion – contact the CO; if there is an ambiguity in the RFP, request clarification or file a protest prior to the due date; but whatever you do – get it to the right office on time!

Shirlington Limousine & Transportation, Inc., B-299241.2 , March 30, 2007.

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