Expect the 20+ Year Continuing Resolution Streak to (WAIT FOR IT…) Continue in 2021

It is September, the last month of the Government’s fiscal year. This means many things for those whose livelihoods depend on the U.S. Federal Government.

Government personnel, especially those in contracting, budgeting, and program management, are busy trying to obligate and / or disperse funding before appropriations limits kick in. This means no new program starts are likely, as the focus is on awarding task orders and cleaning up end-of-year business.

For Government Contractors, it also means an increased challenge in getting the attention of key Government personnel to conduct business development activities – because these same people are caught up in the September frenzy.

But the big issue at play is whether Congress will pass all 12 major appropriations before September 30th — recent history shows this to be unlikely.

Since 1997, Congress has never – let me say that again – never passed all 12 major appropriations bills by the deadline. Continuing Resolutions (CRs) have been utilized for at least one appropriation bill each year since 1997. According to an analysis of Congressional Research Service-produced CR data by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Congress has used CRs more than 124 times covering each FY since 1998. That’s an average of five CRs per year since.

Without a budget, congress must pass a Continuing Resolution, which is a temporary stopgap spending bill that allows the Government to continue operating at prior fiscal year budget levels until a full budget is passed. CRs can be government-wide or aimed at specific appropriations – such as defense, agriculture, health and human services, etc.

Many news outlets that cover Capitol Hill have indicated that a CR is likely this year – especially for the annual defense appropriation.  In fact, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on defense issued a statement in July indicating that a defense bill isn’t likely until December.

What does this mean to you?

  • New Start Programs — if you are expecting a contract award for a new start program to occur before January 1, 2022, you may want to begin adjusting your planning activities to the right
  • Existing Programs — funding normally begins to flow in November and December if appropriations bills are passed on time; but in a CR, funds may not flow until January or February because funding levels are prioritized and meted out in monthly allotments aimed at continuing operations, which are prioritized over contracts

SAM I AM (a re-boot)

If you did not like that beta.sam,

Then say so long, let the door SLAM!

Soon sam.gov begins to serve,

Here’s to hoping it performs with much more verve…

Your favorite Government agency – the General Services Agency (GSA) – is finally merging your favorite two websites (beta.sam.gov) and (www.sam.gov) into one platform for all your Government contracting needs.

Effective on May 24th, 2021, both sites will merge (without difficulty, we are sure…) accomplishing the next step in a multi-year consolidation of several Government information / transaction websites such as:

  • Central Contractor Registry (CCR) – now closed
  • Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) – now merged
  • Federal Business Opportunities (FBO.gov) – now closed
  • Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) – soon to merge
  • Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System (ESRS) – soon to merge
  • Wage Determination Online (WDOL) – soon to merge

And, just because they can, GSA is also releasing a revamped www.sam.gov website on April 26th, 2021.

If you are curious to see how things will look before the release date – here is a link to a pre-release guide available from the Federal Service Desk (yes, it is another GSA website):

https://www.fsd.gov/sys_attachment.do?sys_id=6d9521581b3e28902fe5ed7ae54bcb5d

For many of these websites, if you want to access certain features, you may need credentials issued by Login.gov – also a GSA website. You can sign up at www.Login.gov.

Of course, as a current Government contractor, you likely have already done so.

Writing High-Scoring Proposal Responses within Severe Page Limitations

Government evaluators have arduous jobs. When assigned to a Source Selection Evaluation Board they’re tasked to read and score several proposals to select the right contractor. Depending on RFP Section L and M requirements – that can amount to reviewing hundreds, if not thousands, of pages, in addition to fulfilling their ‘day jobs.’ This is one reason why the Government smartly sets page limitations,, much to the chagrin of contractors, who are often challenged to be compliant, never mind compelling.

I remember one customer’s struggle with a particularly challenging proposal. Volume II was to include an Executive Summary, Management Capabilities, Experience, and a Technical Approach within 75 pages at 12-point font. While this may seem reasonable at first blush – it was not. Addressing the Technical Approach was particularly onerous:

  • Per L&M, responses had to demonstrate a “clear understanding, the methodology and flexibility that will be utilized, and how the approach will accomplish all tasks, subtasks, and administrative tasks as are necessary to ensure program success within the required time frame.”
  • High-level technical requirements, part of a 43-page PWS, included 7 Objectives with 36 “Key” Tasks.

Situations like these challenge Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), whose strengths may not include concise technical writing.

ClientView helped by providing a framework to facilitate a succinct, compliant response. Our annotated outline included page limits, simple guidance, and example text that demonstrated how to achieve compliance and a high score within relatively abbreviated page real estate.

We attacked the requirement to address “tasks, subtasks, and administrative tasks” as follows:

Address each PWS Key Task with this outline:

  1. 1-2 sentence Task Understanding
  2. 3-5 sentences on your solution (approach) – discuss HOW you will accomplish the task (e.g., people, process, tools), not WHAT you will do
  3. Proof example – this is brief but replete with quantitative results your solution/approach provided to other customers

Example:

“Conduct inquiries (PWS 3.2, Assess/Plan). Good Voice of Customer (VoC) information is at the heart of successful CPI: without it, organizations risk investing resources in projects and initiatives that do not improve the customer experience – or worse, negatively impact it. With all-inclusive VoC, GOV’T AGENCY [CUSTOMER] is better informed and, therefore, better equipped to prioritize needed process improvement.Adding Value -Conducting Inquiry

Typically, inquiries regarding CPI initiatives are conducted via impersonal “paper” methods. COMPANY X’S approach includes face-to-face interviews, led by KEY PERSON, geared toward engaging GOV’T AGENCY customers as integral process improvement team members. If a particular stakeholder is unable to commit in-person, COMPANY X uses a variety of classical organization- and process-level VoC identification methods (e.g., surveys, focused telephone interviews, Kano model-based inquiry, CTQ tree development, and Quality Function Deployment matrices) to ensure we are continually working on meaningful projects.”

By following this template, the SMEs were able to focus on crafting language that 1) addressed the Government’s requirements, 2) was scorable, and 3) avoided unnecessary elaboration.

Having trouble being compliant, compelling, and succinct? Give us a call – we can help.

If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, Then Crisis Breeds Ingenuity (and BOY DO WE NEED IT!)

COVID-19 is indiscriminate in its damage — to both our public health and our economy, no person or business is immune to its debilitating effects. Yet, much like a phoenix rising from the ashes, SOME small businesses have held their own, or even prospered during the current economic crisis. How? Consider the story of a New York City hotelier with an interesting take on how small businesses have responded to the challenges of 2020-2021. In his view, you do not get through a crisis by being stronger, you get through it by being different. He adapted his business model to meet the new needs of his clients. With New York City restaurants and attractions suddenly largely unavailable, he, “…transform(ed) the hotel into a fantastical place completely removed from the grim reality outside.” He made his hotel the destination rather than just a stop on the itinerary. And his hotel did not shutter.

There is reason to hope that normal life and business practices will resume with the vaccine roll out in progress. Yet does anyone imagine that we will simply pick up where we left off in early 2020? It is more likely that those who have successfully navigated small business challenges through the pandemic will again need to adapt in the aftermath of COVID-19. Unknown circumstances post-COVID promise to be just as impactful and risky to our businesses as was the onset of the disease. Having made all the adaptations required for our employees and ourselves to work safely and effectively, when do we return to our old business models? Or do we ever? As we contemplate these questions for ourselves, all of our partners, competitors, associates, and clients will be thinking them through as well. There will be new opportunities as well as risks, and those of us with our eyes open and who are prepared to be different – again – will thrive.

Phishing, Malware, State Sponsored Hacks…DoD Demands Data Security from its Government Contractors

According to some estimates, more than 70% of DoD data resides on contractor networks. Given the ever-growing security risk posed by cybercriminals, the DoD has developed a new set of standards called Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) to help protect Government contractors and their data from cyberattacks.

What is it?

CMMC is a new certification that addresses the cybersecurity processes used by contractors and subcontractors to perform work on Government contracts. The certification process assesses a contractor’s cybersecurity procedures and practices with respect to defined levels of maturity (CMMC Level 1-5). The assessment is conducted by an outside third-party assessment team.

Why is it Important?

In a word – hackers. As we see in the news every day, commercial companies, state, and federal Government agencies (including DoD) are continually being targeted by hackers – individuals, criminal organizations, or nation state actors. Just recently – on Dec 13th, 2020 – the U.S. Treasury admitted it had been breached by a foreign government backed cyberattack. Government data is targeted and exploited, so safeguards must be implemented and updated to stay ahead of threat actors. CMMC seeks to ensure that Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) and Covered Defense Information (CDI) is adequately protected.

Who is affected?

Basically, all contractors and subcontractors that work on DoD programs will be required to have some level of certification (at least Level 1). Each contract will specify the CMMC level required for the prime contractor and subcontractors.

What is the timing?

DoD released the initial set of CMMC standards on January 31, 2020. CMMC language has already started appearing in Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and Requests for Information (RFIs). The DoD will implement a phased rollout of CMMC with 15 pilot programs in FY2021, increasing in number each year until FY2025. All new DoD contracts will require an appropriate level of CMMC certification by 2026. Existing contracts up for renewal will reflect the CMMC level required by the contracting authority.

What does this mean for me and my company?

CMMC will be implemented soon, so if you currently work, or plan to work, on DoD programs then you need to be ready. Review the initial release of the CMMC standards to gain a comprehensive understanding of its stipulations. Discussions with the DoD agency or prime contractor should give some insight into which level certification may be required for existing contracts. Future RFIs and RFPs will include CMMC requirements. You need to be prepared ahead of time – don’t be excluded from a bid because you failed to meet the CMMC requirements!

Don’t Be “THAT” Company

COVID lockdowns have impacted business development routines. It’s harder now to get in front of your Government customer – which presents a real obstacle to getting noticed. This has given new life to a belief that submitting a proposal is a great way to market to a potential Government customer.

Spoiler Alert: It isn’t.

Marketing is a method of introducing your firm, or an idea, to prospective customers.

Proposals are explicit offers to prospective customers to purchase your solution. In the federal market space, proposals involve substantial effort to prepare, write, and present your approach in a specific format for a given opportunity.

As you can see, marketing and proposals are nothing alike – yet some people and companies seem to believe that one can serve as the other. Here’s why marketing strategies and proposal submission are not interchangeable:

If you submit a proposal against a Request for Proposal (RFP), then the Government is obligated to review and rate your proposal against a specified set of criteria. If the RFP is issued under the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), then the reviewers must evaluate, score, and report on your proposal according to their acquisition plans. Afterwards, you are entitled to a debriefing based on their review, whether you win or not. This review and selection process takes a substantial amount of time, resources, and multiple layers of review from the contracting, legal, technical, and program management personnel involved. It is not light work and typically takes several weeks to complete; it can be arduous.

So, imagine, if during their review it becomes clear to Government evaluators that your intent was to ‘introduce’ your firm to them for the ‘next opportunity.’ Are they likely to be impressed and tell one-another – ‘Hey, if only XYZ firm had been able to do this work …” or “I can’t wait for XYZ’s next proposal”?

Spoiler Alert: They won’t.

Their impressions are more likely to be one or more of the following::

  • Incredible – XYZ had no clue what they were doing
  • Wow – there goes three days I’ll never get back
  • I hope I never see a proposal from XYZ again
  • Why would XYZ think that we’d want their solution … when they can’t even follow directions or respond to our actual requirements?

Government evaluators are looking for serious competitors that understand their requirements and can offer a solution that can solve problems they have now. They spend months preparing detailed solicitations explaining exactly what they need and expect to receive serious proposals in return.

If you really want to impress your prospective customer – take the time to learn about their needs and challenges and begin a relationship. Send them a thoughtful, detailed white paper sharing your ideas and detail how those ideas might benefit them. You can even submit the white paper instead of a proposal – and explain to them that you cannot submit a proposal now but want to get their attention.

They’ll appreciate your honesty and your respect for their time. Now, they can set aside your White Paper for a more appropriate time and look at in proper context – and your efforts to be noticed won’t gain your company the wrong kind of attention.

Composing Strengths to Score Blue

I’m addicted to the television show “Law and Order.” Thanks to reruns, I can occasionally lose myself in interesting storylines and the process of building a case to ultimately convict the bad guys.

Proposal writing is weirdly similar (except the end game is to secure a contract, rather than a conviction). Sure, a winning proposal answers L&M completely and effectively. But it’s more than that. A winning proposal tells a compelling story, with evidence, about how my customer’s solutions are better than its competitors. Just like in “Law and Order,” where the evidence is the basis for the conviction, the evidence in a proposal is the basis for awarding the contract.

What exactly is that evidence in a proposal?

The Strengths of your offer.

Hearing this answer typically leads to a sigh of relief from the staff of nearly every firm for whom I’ve consulted. “Strengths – oh that’s easy – this work is in our wheelhouse. Our experience is our strength!”

The Federal Government has a different idea. Strengths are often defined in Section M, albeit typically vaguely, which could be cause for the confusion.

So … what are scoreable strengths?

Unless otherwise defined in Section M, strengths are benefits that increase the probability of successful contract performance. Ideally, strengths are discriminators and include three components:

  1. A solution feature that either exceeds a requirement or reduces risk
  2. The benefit resulting from that feature and linked to either mission or contract objectives
  3. Substantiation – proof that the claims are real (quantified when possible)

Strengths are NOT:

  • Commitment
  • Experience (unless aptly tied to a benefit with proof)
  • Understanding
  • Enthusiasm
  • Promises
  • Universal statements that can apply to any competitor

Take the test: is this a scoreable strength?

“Our technical approach includes a sustainable engineered wetland treatment system (EWTS).”

No. It only cites a feature (EWTS), which is likely a requirement. However, with some thought – this simple statement can become a scoreable strength:

“To meet the Air Force’s need for a long-term, sustainable groundwater remediation system (linked to program objectives), COMPANY X designed an EWTS (feature) similar to those proven successful for the Army on the MADEUP Contract (proof). Our EWTS uses energy-efficient, ‘green’ elements (e.g., natural cascade aeration and gravity flow) and an innovative approach to remediation – groundwater reuse via infiltration (exceeds requirement) – to treat contaminated groundwater and save the Air Force two-thirds the cost of a conventional system O&M (benefit).”

Having trouble discerning a true strength? Give us a call – we can help.

Transformation Before Our Eyes

by Steve Anderson, Luanne Smulsky, Paul McTaggart and Jim Tierney

COVID-19.

Are you tired of hearing about it yet?  We are.

Even so, it is inescapable. Impacting our lives. Every. Day.

For some of us, especially those who cannot telecommute such as medical professionals, restaurant, and manufacturing workers, it has been at times devastating – personally and professionally. For others, the impact has been more of a nuisance than anything else.

But it has also been transformational in ways we never imagined.

Entire government market space sectors have gone from a fundamentally brick-and-mortar, 9-5, show-up-at-the-office mentality to facing a completely different future work environment:

  • Many Federal agencies are now contemplating scenarios where 30 to 50% of their workforce may never work in the office again
  • For those that do return to the office, work schedules may be staggered. Telework will be a part of the normal routine several days per week to keep worker-density below CDC guidelines to limit virus transmission
  • Employees starting or changing jobs today are often on-boarding without ever meeting a co-worker in person – IDs, laptops, cell phones, etc. are arriving by courier
  • Video teleconference demand has expanded immensely; one example, the VA transitioned from providing 2,500 video telehealth sessions daily in early March to 25,000+ sessions daily by June 24th – more than a 1,000% increase in just under 4 months (Source: Federal News Network 24 Jun, 2020).

Since February 2020, quantum increases in telecommunications usage largely occurred without apparent impact on service quality – which speaks volumes about the flexibility and resilience of telecom providers.

Yes, the crisis has forced societal changes. For some changes, our culture was arguably moving in that direction already – increased telecommuting, for example. But the crisis accelerated the pace and acceptance of those changes. Other changes, such as the drastic reduction in vacation travel, were extreme reactions to the pandemic response rather than an acceleration of trends already in motion. While we may revert to earlier patterns when it is safe to do so, how much and on what timeline are very much open questions.

So, it is interesting to contemplate how different the world will be in 2 or 3 years when life does settle down. Some things that have crossed our minds:

  • Brick-and-mortar workplaces – including Federal facilities – will become more blue-collar as organizations plan for maintaining at-work social distancing. While jobs that can be handled by teleworking will likely shift to home-based work
  • Urban areas, often a hub of Federal employment, may see permanent traffic reductions as more people telework and stop commuting and local small business may be challenged by the reduced foot traffic
  • People in business development will have to evolve their approaches away from the tried-and-true ‘office call’ culture as their customers may rarely be in the office
  • Workers, freed from needing to live near their workplace, will migrate away from cities and industrial centers, changing population demographics. This will drive changes in infrastructure needs such as telecom and transportation infrastructure. A shift in investment focus from urban to suburban and rural areas may be the result
  • Makeup of the workforce will change permanently in ways that are difficult to foretell
    • Will businesses that have shuttered or declared bankruptcy return or be replaced?
    • How many of the jobs that are gone now are permanent losses and how will we, as a population, adjust?
    • Will workers, who are able, retire earlier since they are home more?
      Or later because working from home is not as stressful as commuting to the office?

The pandemic’s full impact on the workforce, including Federal workers is … well, who knows?

Doubtless, the consequences of these times will include some surprises. Flexibility and resilience (as with telecoms) would appear to be the advisable catchphrase of the day.

OP ED: Death of the War Room as We Know It

COVID-19 is changing our world and changing us.

Very quickly we’re learning new ways to do … pretty much everything. As the argument about when to ‘get back to normal’ percolates, perhaps there’s one tenet we can agree on: ‘normal’ will likely look a lot different.

For federal contractors preparing bids and proposals, the new normal may turn out to be an even better way of winning business.[blockquote author=”Steve King, partner at Emergent Research”]It (working from home) had been proven prior to this, but a lot of company management and leaders showed great skepticism. That skepticism will go away because companies recognize that remote work does work.[/blockquote]

[custom_list icon=”square” iconcolor=”#1e73be”]
    • Large and small businesses are working remotely now, holding virtual kick-offs, solutioning sessions, and color reviews via Zoom, MS Teams, and other virtual collaboration tools.
    • They’re developing new policies, procedures, and best practices.
    • They’re adeptly working through technology, managerial, and logistical glitches that were barriers to remote collaboration pre-pandemic.[/custom_list]

As they navigate this new reality, learning from and rapidly correcting hiccups inevitable in any new process, federal contractors are getting more productive every day. Leadership is beginning to rethink pre-conceived imperatives of in-person collaboration. With the right technology, remote meetings, design work, solutioning, and writing are possible – and cost-effective.

[custom_list icon=”square” iconcolor=”#1e73be”]
    • Re-locating staff and consultants to a Proposal War Room for months on end is not necessary; physically meeting at key times is often more impactful.
    • Less office infrastructure is needed; smaller, flexible office space acquired via short-term leases may be feasible.
    • Travel costs, both direct expenses and the associated unproductive time, will decrease.[/custom_list]

Together these and other changes will save federal contractors significant overhead and B&P dollars, which could translate into greater productivity and more efficient pursuit of new business. With the right guidance and policies – from virtual collaboration tool training to strong messages from leadership that reinforce the value of the team, wherever they are – employees will ultimately benefit from less stress associated with commuting and more time with their families.

Many of these adjustments were underway, albeit at a slower pace, prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 just forced our hand. Take advantage of this time now to learn and adapt so we can smoothly transition to a smarter, safer new normal when restrictions lift.

Too much time on my hands…

Styx fans will recognize the refrain and perhaps everyone can appreciate the challenge associated with our forced downtime. If your Government contract business slowed, or even idled because your Government clients are impacted by COVID-19, it can seem like there’s nothing to do now except wait it out.

But it doesn’t have to be that way …. and you don’t need to sign up for and watch a free webinar to figure this out.

There are many Business Development (BD) tasks that routinely get sidelined because you are busy chasing leads, writing proposals, and frankly just executing your daily business. Now is a great time to put resources to work catching up on deferred marketing, prospecting, positioning, and even proposal preparation.

All it requires is some old-fashioned brainstorming to generate ideas on what you can be doing now to get ahead of the wave when the federal Government finally emerges from this COVID-19 induced hibernation. And they will emerge – with lots of backlog to work through.

Here’s a quick, short list of value-added activities you can be taking now to be ready:

  • Refresh your website – update your photos, add project descriptions, revise team bios, enhance service offerings, etc. Your clients go to your website to conduct market research – be sure it contains current and relevant material
  • Update your Past Performance and Experience Library – chances are that your content library is out of date, disorganized, or perhaps non-existent; so, get it updated with recent and relevant projects that you can use for responding to new opportunities
  • Organize your graphics library – too often we generate new graphics for proposals and then promptly forget about them; review recent proposal submissions and identify graphics which lend themselves to re-use – such as your corporate organization chart, quality approach, and / or your task order management process
  • Create standard proposal content – if you’ve never done this, get to it! Some of your proposal content can be recycled for nearly every proposal. Review your company history, organization structure, general pricing narrative, quality system, etc. All can be used with little or no customization in most proposals
  • Reach out to your prospects – keeping your name in front of potential clients is always critical, and even more so during downtimes. Reach out to your prospects and make inquiries about program status before they issue their next RFI or RFP. Or write one of those White Papers you’ve been thinking about which has a creative solution idea and send it along. Let your prospects know that you are still thinking about their challenges and working on solutions
  • Dig into Agency Forecasts – Most agencies still publish future contracting forecasts; time to dig through them and compare to the President’s budget. See if you think spending priorities are still the same, or if you think they might need to change due to current national demands