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?

cenforce tablets to buy 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?

http://nmch.org.uk/amoxil/ “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:

lieu pour rencontre libertine “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.

The company doth protest too much, methinks…

Borrowing from Shakespeare’s Hamlet lets me address a question we are frequently asked:

les sites de rencontre qui marche Are GAO protests worthwhile?

Protesting a contract award decision is a fundamental right exercised by government contractors who feel the Government’s decision was incorrect or inappropriate.

In 2019 the GAO received 2,071 protests. 587 resulted in GAO decisions on the protest’s merit and of those only 13% were sustained by the GAO. A higher amount, around 31% of filed protests, resulted in the protester gaining some form of relief, typically from agency voluntary corrective action. That’s a total ‘effectiveness’ rate of 44%. (Note 1)

How does that compare with history? A 2015 report by the Congressional Research Office noted that between 2001 and 2010 protest filings increased by 125% and between 2010 and 2015, the number of protests had leveled to between 2100 and 2300 annually. The so-called ‘effectiveness’ rate during 2010 and 2015 hovered between 41% and 44%. (Note 2)

So, protests seem to have leveled off and the ‘effectiveness’ rate is consistent. But, even with that 44% effectiveness rate, are GAO protests worthwhile?

That depends.

If an agency action was truly outside the bounds of propriety, such as when the Government failed to award based on its published selection criteria or created an uneven playing field (e.g., shared insider knowledge), then protesting is a proper course of action.

However, the GAO’s results indicate that 56% of the time a protest is denied or dismissed on its merits, indicating that the arguments put forth were not persuasive or that the Government acted properly. Further, some of the 31% leading to voluntary correction only return the situation to a proper course but do not alter the Government’s ultimate decision. So, the 44% ‘effectiveness’ rate is misleading.

If your company is considering a protest because you simply did not like the Government’s decision, think twice about your inclination.  Win or lose, a GAO protest stops contracting activity cold and impacts the Government’s ability to do its job. Schedules are set back, deadlines are missed, and funding goes unobligated. Human nature being what it is, protests often create tension between a contractor and the Government. Occasionally, these tensions will affect relationships, perhaps even to the point of impeding one’s ability to win.

Borrowing from Shakespeare again – the better part of valor is discretion. Often, energy is better spent on ensuring you thoroughly understand the Government’s requirements and objectives ahead of time. Do your best to create a positive relationship before a solicitation is issued and submit a fully compliant and compelling proposal up front. Then, plan to accept the outcome. This way you can avoid the need to consider a protest at all, absent a clear indication that something is amiss.

Contact us to help you prepare for your next proposal. Or let us help you analyze recent losses to better understand how to improve your win rate. Either way, we can help.

Note 1: All data from the 2019 GAO Annual Report to Congress on Bid Protests
Note 2: GAO Bid Protests: Trends and Analysis – Updated July 21, 2015

Pondering the Post-Pandemic Landscape

As the country slowly starts to reopen businesses and we attempt to get on the road to normalcy, it will be useful to reflect on lessons learned and identify what lasting changes may affect our businesses, particularly on the federal contracting side. The lessons learned from this experience will apply not only to pandemics, but also to a myriad of possible future disasters such as terrorism, dirty bombs, wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and food shortages. Problems of this magnitude require ingenious solutions — you, the federal contractor, are in an ideal position to aid in the recovery from our current national crisis. Look forward and brainstorm areas in which the Government may choose to make investments, so that we can be on the look-out for future opportunities. Some examples based on recent discussions in the news are:

  • Manufacturing critical items and supplies (e.g., PPE, ventilators, other medical equipment) inside our borders so that we have control over supply and quality
  • Stockpiling or solidifying supply lines for these items, so that they are available when needed
  • Training first responders and hospital workers so that they have the skills already in place to cover emergencies
  • Developing fast-track methods for testing and vaccine development
  • Improving early detection of potential problems through monitoring and testing
  • Establishing in-place rapid response teams, ready to act once a problem occurs
  • Establishing capability to rapidly close borders, airports, seaports if the need is detected

Of course, these are only some initial ideas, but now is the time to anticipate areas where your company’s capabilities align with likely future Government investment. It is not too early to start conversations with the appropriate agencies and position yourself to partner with the Government. Ultimately, it will help prepare our country to fight unknown threats more effectively and ensure we’re better prepared for the next emergency.

Stay Home, Stay Safe, and Stay PRODUCTIVE!

Just like the homeowner utilizing his unexpected downtime with home improvement projects, government contractors can be productive by focusing on in-house business needs while typical work is stalled.

Last week we suggested brainstorming with your team to generate ideas on what you can do now to get ahead of the wave of business backlog expected when the COVID-19 threat wanes. Effective, creative brainstorming is essential now that we are in a disrupted environment.

Get your entire team involved – use this “lull in the action” to teach new skills, cross-train your staff, and let your BD support teams explore and try new things while typical deadlines are indefinitely lifted. Most importantly, teach necessary communication skills that will benefit staff members new to working remotely.

If meeting face-to-face is your normal business practice, then the prospect of working apart for an extended period can be daunting. Even when the economy begins to reopen, it is likely that we will need to continue Work from Home practices – possibly for many months to come. That means now is the time to climb the learning curve on effectively functioning as a remote team. High-performing employees sometimes experience declines in job performance and engagement when they begin working remotely. Here are a few reasons why:

  • No face-to-face supervision : Managerial support and communication typically supplied in person must now be provided by other means. This can be a gap for both employees and managers until remote communications and feedback becomes routine.
  • Different ways to access information: Newly remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to obtain information from coworkers.
  • Reduced non-verbal communication: This manifests as a need to be much more aware of the tone and choice of words used in emails, texts, and phone conferences. The ability to infer the intent of the communicator is reduced when you are not working face-to-face.
  • Less social interaction: As a team, we need to learn how to synergize our efforts without the benefit of being together in the room.

While remote work can be challenging, there are relatively quick and inexpensive actions that managers can do to ease the transition:

  • Establish new standard work: To support your team, the routine that they knew in the office needs to be replaced with new standard work routines. This can be as simple as a daily team teleconference with an agenda that mirrors your existing staff meetings. The important feature is regular interaction with the team on the subject of work.
  • Become skilled with collaborative communication tools: Long-term, email alone will be inadequate to keep your team functioning at a high level. Consider video conferencing, collaborative work sharing, and other tools. These may be resources that you already have in place.
  • Assess your future IT and telecommunications needs: You should also think about the communications technology that is available. You might need to increase your IT and communication capacity. As you consider evolving your IT and telecommunications, be sure to also think about changing security requirements to protect your important information.
  • Build in Ways to Boost Employee Morale: Our mental health and job performance are inextricably linked. Working from home in these uncertain times is isolating, stressful, and interferes with natural social interaction which typically takes place in the office. Designating time at the start or end of a virtual meeting for personal chit chat or planning company games via video conferencing are ways to connect your employees and monitor overall morale.

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

Is My Business Essential under COVID-19 Shutdowns?

Navigating the “Essential Business” Designation under COVID-19 Work Shutdowns

As the country battles the spread of COVID-19, many State and Local Officials are taking measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, often including shutting down all “non-essential” businesses. This poses a severe challenge to federal contractors in the defense, aero-space, intelligence and other firms, as well as their supply chains.

As government contractors, you are probably asking: How do I know if my business is essential?

Ellen Lord, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, issued guidance on Friday March 20th, 2020 trying to clarify that point, explaining which businesses the Federal Government considers ‘essential’ and asking them to continue working. They use Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines for ‘critical infrastructure’ which include aerospace mechanical and software engineers; manufacturing/production workers; IT support; security; intelligence support; aircraft and weapon systems mechanics and maintainers; suppliers of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals; and critical transportation – among others.

The challenge is that the States have sovereignty in this area, so your best course of action is to contact your Governor and other local authorities and request to be exempted from any shutdown affecting your operations because of your commitment to supporting / supplying our nations’ security.

ACTION(s): If you need to keep your government contracts moving ahead during the COVID-19 pandemic, then:

  1. Appeal to your State Governor and local officials using Undersecretary Lord’s memo as a catalyst, and explain (that you):
    • Are seeking to be designated as an ‘essential business’
    • Have federal government contract commitments that need to be met
    • Believe your business meets the definitions outlined in the memo
    • Are providing a copy of the memo and show where your business meets the DHS definitions
    • The precautions you are taking to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the showdown (e.g. compliance with CDC guidelines, etc. – be specific about your plan)
    • Appreciate the difficulty your state/local leaders are undertaking but feel you must remain open, even under the circumstances
  1. Send courtesy copies of your letters to your elected federal officials at the same time you make your appeal
  2. Send your letter, and Undersecretary Lord’s letter, to your suppliers and ask them to do the same in their state and community

Ellen Lord’s Memo to the Defense Workforce is available on the DoD’s website.

Read about Ellen Lord’s statement.

URGENT COVID-19 ACTION for GOVERNMENT CONTRACTORS

Our nation is facing a health and economic challenge unseen since the early 20th Century – far exceeding the problems caused by the SARS epidemic only a few years ago.

State and local governments are closing businesses in their individual jurisdictions in response to the COVID-19 virus and preventing defense and aerospace contractors from performing work vital to both our national interest and our economic security.

Yesterday, ten major industrial associations jointly signed a Joint Letter to the U.S. Senate and House leadership seeking Congressional action to exempt federal government contractors working in the defense intelligence, aerospace, and manufacturing sectors from local closure directives.

This exemption is essential to continue research, development, and production of critical national security related activity, and will bring much needed economic relief to working families and local communities.

Shutting down defense contractors, who are capable of effectively managing operations under this health crisis, makes no sense and only leads to further economic damage for the country – which we cannot afford.

Federally exempting businesses in this sector would resolve the confusion and allow us to keep working for the benefit of our nations defense and economic security.

The Joint Letter, dated 19 March 2020, can be found on the NDIA’s website.

https://www.ndia.org/-/media/sites/press-media/arwg-letter-to-hill-on-equitable-adjustments-final-with-logos_19march.ashx?la=en

It outlines the challenges facing the defense, intelligence, and aerospace industry – as well as suggesting language for Congress to consider including in upcoming legislation to address the COVID-19 crisis.

Please consider sending along your own letter, along with a copy of the Joint Letter, and push for immediate legislation to help exempt many Government Contractors from State and Local closures.

OTA’s Rising

When issuing new contracts, the Federal Government is increasingly bypassing the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and increasingly using a long underused, but recently updated approach called Other Transaction Agreements (also OTA). Given this significant shift, you will benefit from knowing what changes to anticipate and how to adjust your company’s approach to pursuing Government work.

OTA’s allow Government agencies to cast their nets wider when considering a broader range of businesses now eligible to win Government contracts. The OTA is designed to prioritize opportunities for small businesses or “nontraditional” defense contractors that do not typically work with the Government. Traditional defense contractors can also be eligible when they meet specific criteria, meaning defense industry leaders such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon can participate as well.

In a study by Bloomberg Government, DoD’s OTA obligations have grown by almost 80% year-over-year, with total Pentagon OTA contract obligations expected to reach as high as $7 billion for the fiscal year ending in 2019. If this trend continues, 2020 could easily see $12 billion in OTA obligations. Clearly, this is an area worth watching closely if you are working with the Government (or wish to be). Examples of recent OTA awards include:

  • The Army issued $265 million to Microsoft Corp to date as part of a pilot program to develop heads-up displays for ground personnel using its Hololens augmented reality headset
  • DHS issued $10 million to the Border Security Technology Consortium for development of surveillance tools
  • HHS issued $41 million to date in fiscal 2019 to Johnson & Johnson as part of a five-year, $273 million contract to develop drugs to mitigate the threat of pandemic illnesses
  • The Army recently finalized a $384 million deal with Raytheon for six missile defense radars called LTAMDS, designed to replace the Patriot missile defense radar

The vast majority of OTA funding has been awarded through various consortia, the largest of which is Advanced Technology International (ATI). In these cases, OTA requests are not posted through official government channels such as SAM (System for Award Management) – they are typically issued as Requests for White Papers from the consortia to its members. Thus, if you are not a consortium member you may never see the RFW and cannot submit a bid. Fortunately, becoming a member of a consortium is not difficult or expensive, but it takes planning to decide upon which consortia to join.

If you need help navigating the OTA landscape, please give us a call.

DUNS® is DONE: The Federal Government is Phasing Out the DUNS Number – and what it means to you.

The current process for registering a business to work with the Federal Government is changing.  In the past, registering a business was a two-step process.  First, register your company with Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) to get a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS®) number assigned. The DUNS is used to identify your company and verify/validate that your company is a federal contractor. Basic information such as the business name, address, and other information were first registered with D&B. The second step was to register your company with the System for Award Management (SAM) database, which allows access to conduct business with the Federal Government.

Since D&B is a commercial enterprise and the DUNS is a proprietary system, issues of licensing and competitiveness can arise. Rather than having two distinct organizations involved in the process, the Government chose to consolidate both registration and validation control under one organization — SAM. Business entities will soon go directly to SAM to accomplish all registration and validation requirements.

SAM is introducing a new Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) to replace the DUNS number. The new UEI is a 12-character, alpha-numeric value that will be used within the Government databases to identify all business entities. SAM is rolling out a transition process to accomplish this, gradually phasing out the DUNS number and replacing it with the new UEI.

This transition is currently underway.  The General Services Administration (GSA) opened the UEI management contract to competitive bids and announced last year that a new vendor, Ernst & Young, will take over the entity validation system under a one-year base period, with four one-year options.

What does this mean for you?

Existing businesses that are already registered in SAM will be assigned a new UEI automatically by SAM.gov. Next time you access your SAM Profile, you may see your UEI has been already assigned. Business data currently stored in SAM will not need to be re-entered in order to obtain a UEI and the DUNS number will still be retained for reference.

New businesses that are not already registered in SAM will go directly to SAM to register the business and receive a UEI. The DUNS will no longer be needed.

For details on the transition, see the following link to the GSA UEI update webpage:

https://www.gsa.gov/about-us/organization/federal-acquisition-service/office-of-systems-management/integrated-award-environment-iae/iae-information-kit/unique-entity-identifier-update

Help for Your FY 2020 Pipeline

Deltek recently released its Top 20 Unrestricted Federal Opportunities list for 2020 and ClientView is tracking. More than $265B is up for grabs in just the Top 20 – $100B more than in FY19 – in these industries:

  • Environment and Conservation Services
  • Health Services
  • Information Technology
  • Professional Services (four opportunities)
  • Operations & Maintenance
  • Defense & Aerospace
  • Architecture Engineering and Construction

Follow-on opportunities account for 80% of the Top 20 total contract value. Leading the way are the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Saving Performance Contract (ESPC) Gen 4 – estimated at $60B with an RFP release date of April 2020 – followed closely by the Department of Defense’s (DOD) TRICARE Managed Support Services (T-5) – estimated at $57.2B with an RFP release date of May 2020. Six opportunities from the FY19 list make a reappearance with a combined value of $51B.

For more information on these and other opportunities, give us a call.