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.

What’s a Picture Worth to Your Proposal?

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes, but not if the image doesn’t convey your meaning. How do you ensure your artwork is impactful and memorable to the evaluator?

To start, give your Graphic Artists the critical information they need to generate artwork that conveys the meaning you intend.

Graphic Artists are rarely included in proposal solution planning meetings yet expected to create wiz-bang imagery that conveys an entire complex project approach. Often, they can support an entire proposal without the faintest idea of the proposal’s basic thrust. At times – seemingly basic information such as color pallets, font style and size requirements, page size limitations, and other essential parameters are often not conveyed up front to the artist.

Why does this matter?

Because Graphic Artists live in a visual world, they need to have some basic understanding of the entire situation to convey ideas through imagery. This includes knowing who the customer is (to present perspective), what is the problem that we are trying to solve (to provide context), and what is our proposed solution (to provide clarity).

Graphics make a huge difference in proposal effectiveness. Some reviewers have told me that they get first impressions only from the pictures, charts, and graphics, scattered among the proposal pages. If that’s true, then not providing your Graphic Artist with the essential information they need to do their best for you is working against your own interests.

There is another reason to convey critical info to your artist – it’s more cost effective.

Frequently, artwork is revised multiple times because ‘the artist didn’t get the point across’. But the Artist isn’t a mind reader and they can’t convey your intent if you don’t provide the information that they need up front.

So, spend the time necessary to make sure your Graphic Artist has all the info needed to do their best for your team. It will pay off in increased efficiency for your Graphic Artist and in more effective graphics for your proposal.

Can We Win?

How to Read an RFP to Find Out

Finally. You did your research. You identified future procurements of interest. You prepared your Capture Plan. You met with the Government PM/COR. You decided to Prime and have drafted subcontracting agreements. You conducted the Black Hat. Now, finally, you hold the RFP in your hands.

So, what will you read first? Maybe the SOW to be sure your scope predictions are accurate and your company’s capabilities are still a good match. Or maybe Section L to find out what they want for a proposal. Or the price requirements.

While these sections are important, and you certainly need to read them, the first thing you absolutely need to know is the answer to this question: “Can we win?” And that answer is found by reading and analyzing Section M, Evaluation Factors.

The point of reading Section M first is for you – the person that’s about to spend a great deal of your firm’s money and effort – to determine whether your firm has a clear path to winning the contract. And you can’t do that until you review each Evaluation Factor to be sure you can provide a clear, compelling reason that your firm is the right choice.

It’s not sufficient to brag about your capabilities. You need to see the procurement the way the Government sees it. Begin by critically assessing each Evaluation Factor, asking 1) why is this factor in the RFP? 2) what does the Government want to accomplish? and 3) what value will this factor deliver? Then articulate how your firm is better than the competition in helping the Government achieve its objectives. You must demonstrate strengths and discriminators to win.

Resist the temptation to glibly document “experience” as an answer. Your experience is not a sufficient answer to an Evaluation Factor unless that Factor explicitly calls for your “experience”. Nor is it a discriminator or a strength unless you can translate it into results that apply to Section M, such as exceeding performance requirements or delivering merit above and beyond PWS/SOW requirements. And it is also not a discriminator or a strength unless the Government evaluator can clearly develop a meaningful answer to that irksome question – “So What?”

Be aware of, and have a plan to address, two complexities in the way Evaluation Factors are typically presented.

1. The first is that the Government often presents an overview for several related evaluation factors. Such introductory paragraphs may speak of things like “risk reduction” or “timely performance” or “quality control” or other broad phrases that link two or more evaluation factors. The Government may be signaling a problem they have experienced with a contractor and want to fix, or introducing an internal performance improvement objective. It is not unusual for extremely well qualified firms to address each evaluation factor in detail but ignore the introductory paragraph.

2. Second, sometimes two or three aspects of an evaluation factor are included in a single sentence. ClientView has seen many draft proposals where all aspects are addressed in combination. This makes it harder for the Evaluator to score the proposal, inviting a low score in one or more of the aspects.

So … be smart in preparing your annotated outlines. Parse every sentence – forcing your writers to address all of the Government’s concerns, no matter where they show up. It may seem like overkill, but it’s a step in the path toward making sure your answer to “Can we win?” is “Yes … and we did.”

Can We Talk?

It likely will be worded differently (and with less humor) but contractors submitting proposals to the Government, should expect to hear this signature line from the late Joan Rivers. And, naturally, you should be prepared to respond, “Yes.”

While Government Request for Proposals state their intention to award without discussion, they also reserve the right to enter into discussions if necessary. The Government’s decision to engage in discussions may be based on factors such as concerns over the:

  • impact of the scope of work or performance work statement’s complexity
  • length of the proposed period of performance
  • locations where work will be performed (multiple locations with varying tasks/pricing)
  • number of offers received
  • whether or not sample task orders are required
  • Government’s desire to establish a competitive range

Discussions, if successful, will result in a request for you to submit a Best and Final Offer (BAFO).

Submitting a proposal without planning for discussions would be like completing a job application without preparing to be interviewed. You should expect to back up the written document with open dialog. Recognize the potential for discussions when planning and writing a proposal — do not wait until the requirement arises.

Discussion requires preparation well in advance.

A bid decision needs to include a plan for discussions, even if the buying activity has rarely exercised the option. Research the buying activity’s history and circumstances of requiring discussions, as well as its use of BAFOs. While many buying activities avoid discussions, every solicitation is a new effort and often circumstances drive different outcomes. Assessing the proposal’s Evaluation Guidance and Criteria will provide an early indication of the Government’s approach to discussions and may bring insight into the factors that may cause the Government to ultimately enter discussions.

Even though the intensity of writing, applying graphics, ensuring volume consistency, establishing pricing, and conducting reviews take priority in your proposal preparation, remember that each element of your proposal could prompt the Government to ask for further examination via discussions. This audience with Government representatives is an opportunity to be welcomed and utilized to your firm’s advantage — a chance to pitch your superior proposal in person.