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.

Love ‘em or Hate ‘em, Color Reviews are Essential to Proposal Development

OK, I admit it.  I hate color reviews.  First, they force proposal preparation to pause while the review occurs costing valuable hours in what is usually a time-constrained process.  Secondly, comments, inputs, and direction from the reviewers often conflict with each other or, worse, would make the proposal non-compliant if implemented.  Then there is the part about having our work picked apart by non-proposal people that do not understand the fundamentals and, yes, the art that goes into a fine offering.  Oh, yes, I do hate color reviews. Continue reading

Seismic Shift in Defense Spending

Rumors have been floating for months – and now everyone knows they are true.

The Army is shifting $25B within its Science & Technology (Research) and Acquisition (Development and Procurement) accounts to fund its highest priority areas. This shift will coincide with the 2020 Budget and affect FY 2020 and the subsequent four years.

Given the Army’s 2019 budget for these two accounts was roughly $30B, it’s a significant realignment in resources. Continue reading

The Government is Shutdown – But What About Your Contract?

Imagine you receive a brief communication from your Government Contracts Team informing your firm to stop work due to the shutdown. Some of you may not need to imagine this … given that we are now deep into the longest shutdown in history.

Even though you have a valid contract, and even if you have been receiving positive feedback from the contracts team about your performance, you may be instructed to stand down due to a Government shutdown.  Now you must take a pause in performance. This may mean telling your employees they cannot report to work if their duty station is within a Government facility.

It is unlikely that your contract’s Terms and Conditions provide any guidance on what to do during a stop in performance during a Government shutdown.

So, then, what do you do? Continue reading

Delayed Solicitations: Playing the Hurry Up and Wait game requires more than patience – it takes planning

We’ve all been here before … your firm has been tracking a planned Request for Proposal (RFP) that meets your business development objectives and growth plans. The Government recently hosted an Industry Day and then released a Draft RFP (DRFP) for industry review and comment.

As Capture / Proposal Manager, after your final analysis, you made a pitch to your leadership to make a pre-release “GO” decision and they agreed for you to convene your proposal team early and start your proposal now to get ahead. Believing that the final RFP is imminent, your team begins its prep work and is actively working against the DRFP. Then, anywhere from weeks, to immediately prior to the anticipated release date, the Government issues a delay pushing back the final RFP more than 90 days.

What do you do?

Continue reading