Distinguishing Federal Business Development From Capture 

In the realm of federal contracting, the terms “business development” and “capture” are frequently used interchangeably, leading to confusion and misinterpretation. These two functions play distinct yet complementary roles in the pursuit of government contracts. Understanding the nuances between business development and capture is helpful for organizations aiming to navigate the complex landscape of federal procurement successfully. 

Business Development: Pioneering Growth Opportunities 

At its core, business development encompasses the strategic process of identifying and cultivating relationships with potential customers, partners, and stakeholders. In the federal context, business development focuses on exploring and creating opportunities within the government sector to expand an organization’s brand awareness, market presence, and revenue streams. 

Business development professionals engage in market research, analysis, and relationship-building activities to uncover pain points, emerging needs, trends, and opportunities within government agencies. They leverage networking events, industry conferences, and outreach initiatives to establish connections and position their organization as a trusted partner capable of delivering value-added solutions. 

The objective of business development is to lay the groundwork for future success by participating in the larger GovCon community, identifying potential leads, understanding customer requirements, and shaping acquisition strategies. It involves a proactive, long-term approach aimed at fostering strategic partnerships and positioning for competitive advantage in the federal marketplace. 

Capture for Contract Wins 

Capture management, on the other hand, is a focused and tactical approach aimed at pursuing specific government contracts identified through the business development process. While business development sets the stage, capture management is the orchestration of activities to win a particular contract. 

Capture professionals work closely with internal resources, such as the BD team, technical experts, proposal writers, finance and pricing, legal, and executive leadership, to develop comprehensive capture plans specific to each opportunity. A capture plan outlines the organization’s strategy for positioning, differentiation, pricing, and proposal development, with an eye on maximizing win probability. 

Key components of capture management include competitive analysis, customer engagement, solution development, teaming strategies, and proposal preparation. It requires a deep understanding of customer requirements, acquisition regulations, and competitive landscapes to craft compelling value propositions that resonate with government decision-makers. Unlike business development, capture management has a singular goal of securing a contract win.  

Why It Matters 

Understanding the difference between federal business development and capture is important for managing the growth function within a company and effectively pursuing and winning government contracts. Here’s why: 

  • Ensuring Focus: Organizations that do not have a strong capture process often fall victim to attempting to “boil the ocean,” which results in expending excessive resources, time, and effort pursuing opportunities that may not align with the organization’s capabilities or strategic objectives. To avoid stretching business development to thin, it’s necessary to focus efforts.  A common way to drive focus is implementing a structured capture process.  
  • Resource Allocation: Whereas business development is broad and involves activities such as opportunity identification and federal marketing, capture is opportunity specific and the activities are more resource-intensive, involving detailed proposal development, teaming arrangements, and solution design. By distinguishing between the two, organizations can appropriately articulate their objectives for BD and capture and better allocate the right resources maximize their chances of success. 
  • Risk Management: Effective capture management involves identifying and mitigating risks associated with pursuing a particular opportunity. This includes assessing factors such as competition, customer requirements, and budget constraints. The capture process builds in the ability for organizations to make informed decisions about which opportunities to pursue. 
  • Customer Relationship Management: Business development activities often involve building and maintaining relationships with federal agencies, prime contractors, and other stakeholders. Capture management involves engagement with specific customers and partners to position for specific contracts. By understanding the distinction between the two, organizations can tailor their approach to relationship management accordingly. 
  • Inadequate Solution Development: Without a systematic approach to solution development within the capture process, organizations may struggle to tailor their offerings to meet the specific needs and requirements of federal agencies. This can result in generic or poorly aligned proposals that fail to resonate with agency decision-makers. 
  • Proposal Development: Capture management culminates in the development of a detailed proposal in response to a specific opportunity. A dedicated capture process ensures that an organization’s proposal development efforts are aligned with the needs of the customer and the competitive landscape. 
  • Reputational Damage: Submitting subpar proposals, failing to deliver on commitments, or exhibiting unprofessional behavior during the procurement process can result in reputational harm. This can negatively impact future opportunities and relationships within the federal market. Proper proposal development, teaming agreements, and rigorous processes included in capture management help ensure rules of engagement and pursuit are developed and followed. 

Harmonizing Business Development and Capture 

While distinct, business development and capture are inherently connected and mutually reinforcing. Effective business development lays the groundwork by identifying potential opportunities and cultivating relationships, while capture management capitalizes on these connections and insights to pursue and win specific contracts. 

Successful organizations recognize the relationship between business development and capture, integrating both functions seamlessly within their overall growth strategy. They invest in robust processes, technology, and talent to align business development efforts with capture objectives, ensuring a cohesive and coordinated approach to federal contracting. 

While the terms “business development” and “capture” may often be used interchangeably, their roles and functions within the federal market are distinct but complementary. By understanding the nuances between business development and capture and harmonizing both functions effectively, organizations can maximize their competitiveness, drive sustainable growth, and capitalize on the vast opportunities offered by the federal marketplace. 

About the author:  

MJ Sivulich is a Senior Vice President and leads Jefferson’s business consulting practice.  MJ provides federal business development, capture, proposal, government affairs, and marketing support to industry clients.  To contact the author or learn more about Jefferson’s federal business development services, please email contact@jeffersonconsulting.com.  

Indirect Costs Charged as a Fixed Amount | The Misunderstood USAID Localization Tool 

March 21, 2024 

USAID’s August 2022 publication, “Localization at USAID: The Vision and Approach,” includes the following objective: “[To] Channel a larger portion of assistance directly to credible local partners while ensuring accountability for the appropriate use of funds and achievement of development and humanitarian results.” While there should be no debate about “ensuring accountability for the appropriate use of funds,” the devil is in the details, especially regarding the establishment of indirect cost pools and indirect cost rates. There is often a significant burden for USAID to manage and perform due diligence in administering awards to local organizations. There is especially a significant burden for nascent USAID local partners to not only understand but also to establish and maintain the systems required to successfully implement their first directly awarded USAID grant or cooperative agreement.  

However, a misunderstood but potentially effective tool in the Standard Provisions for Non-U.S. Nongovernmental Organizations can be used to achieve USAID localization objectives. This tool, Standard Provision RAA4. Indirect Costs – Charged as a Fixed Amount (Non-Profit) can offer an impactful approach for addressing USAID’s localization goals. While there is quite a bit of guidance and plenty of discussion on the pros and cons of using Standard Provision RAA5. Indirect Costs – De Minimis Rate, there has been little guidance or discussion on the use of RAA4.  

A significant barrier is often the concepts of indirect costs and indirect cost pools. These are often foreign concepts for local organizations. The concept of Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDCs) which alters the base of an indirect cost calculation, is also US government specific. In addition, if a local organization has experience with receiving funds from other donors, any overhead rate limitations are often based on total direct costs (no amounts subtracted from the base of indirect cost calculation). This means the local organization would potentially need to have an entirely separate accounting system for each donor. While the capacity of any organization can be built with sufficient time and resources, the question is whether limited USAID staff and financial resources should be used to build and monitor such systems for local organizations.  Not only will such systems require the financial investment of the local organization (potentially billable to USAID), but they will also require a significant time investment of their finance and administrative staff, their program management staff and their organizational leadership. The establishment of such robust accounting systems can well take up to a year.  

Should the objective be to ensure local organizations have the same systems as US-based non-profit organizations or should the objective be to partner with local organizations and have them do what they do best? If the answer is the latter, then Standard Provision RAA4. Indirect Costs – Charged as a Fixed Amount (Non-Profit) can be an essential USAID tool for achieving this. 

The applicability for using this standard provision, requires all of the following: 

  1. The recipient has never received A Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreement (NICRA); 
  1. The recipient has chosen not to use the 10% de minimis rate authorized in 2 CFR 200.414(f)); and 
  1. The indirect costs are not included as other direct costs in the budget. 

Per the provision, a firm need not purchase and set up a costly ERP system and train staff on the establishment and use of indirect cost pools. Rather, the typical indirect costs such as salaries and expenses of executive officers, personnel administration, accounting and other facilities and administration costs that benefit more than one program or activity can be estimated and established as a fixed amount. In addition, the schedule for payment of the fixed amount can be established in the award. The only caveat is that the award would need to contain a description of the categories of costs that will not be allowed to be charged as a direct cost to the award.  Under this approach, although the organization will be required to track both direct costs and the costs that would normally be considered indirect costs with its existing accounting system, it would not have to invest in an expensive ERP system, develop indirect cost pools, or train staff in its use.  

A concern that I have heard expressed by USAID staff members is how do we prevent overpayment of indirect costs. Such concerns may be “a penny wise but a pound foolish.” While it is possible to overestimate the facilities and administration costs with USAID then having potentially to pay more than what an organization actually incurs (there is also the possibility to underestimate such costs), there is a proviso in the standard provision to allow for adjustments if there is a significant change of total costs (20 percent or more in the aggregate). However, such overpayments should be considered immaterial when weighed against the additional burden placed on USAID to administer an award with indirect costs or administer an award using the de minimis rate. If we are truly concerned about busting the burdens placed on our local partners, using the fixed amount approach would be a small investment to make for reducing the significant burden and risk placed on the local organization by eliminating the need to establish such systems and indirect cost pools.   

As a contractor supporting USAID’s goal of increasing awards to local organizations for more than a decade now, we have experienced the benefits and challenges that local organizations face. The use of RAA4 is a nuanced solution for addressing a complex issue. As part of Jefferson’s local capacity building services, we help USAID and local organizations navigate issues with this and other solutions needed to support localization efforts.  

About the author: 

Eric Bolstad is a Senior Vice President and Jefferson’s USAID Portfolio Lead. He has an MBA with a Concentration in Contract Management from Florida Tech and Bachelor of Arts degrees in International Relations and Spanish from California State University – Chico. With 30+ years in international development, his expertise in contracting and finance for international development projects makes him a sought-after expert in supporting the capacity building of USAID’s local partners. 

Advisory Down Select Best Practices for Government and Industry

Use of Advisory Down Select Coupled with On-The-Spot Orals as a Best Practice  

Having supported Federal agencies for years in the acquisition space I am quite comfortable saying I feel the Government’s pain in wading through numerous lengthy written proposals, along with the arduous process of documenting the evaluation, only to find oneself defending the award decision before the Government Accountability Office (GAO). For the record, industry does not much like writing what amounts to a tome for a proposal response or filing a protest—that costs money, takes time to prepare, and is a distraction from the company’s real goal of providing goods and services to the Government. The question is can we get to a better place. My friend Vern Edwards would maybe be a naysayer to this question, but I remain optimistic.  

The use of on-the-spot orals as part of the advisory down select process benefits both the Government and industry and has a better likelihood in the award of “real” best value procurements. The general proclamations of the benefits of these techniques are true: 

  • Reduces amount of documentation for the Government to review 
  • Removes non‐viable companies and leaves in only the strongest companies for the tradeoff decision 
  • Reduces cost and burden to industry 
  • Reduces number of protests 

With any process through, to get the benefit you must do it correctly. When advising our clients, I focus on key considerations: 

For Government 

Make Phase 1 Most Important.  Being an “advisory” down select means companies can choose to stay in the competition.  This could defeat the benefits of this technique for both the Government and companies if not done properly.  Making the first phase the most important evaluation factor does a couple of things. If a company receives a low confidence rating for the first phase, then realistically it is an uphill battle to win the procurement because all other phases are less important. This then becomes a company business decision as to whether it makes good business sense to pursue an opportunity that has a low probability of winning. If the company bows out at this phase, then any basis for a protest goes away as well.   

Develop Strong On-the-Spot Questions. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Do not waste it on things that can be recited from a written proposal.  What answers to questions would give you confidence that the offeror can successfully perform the work and therein meet the objectives of the procurement? Scenario-based questions are ideal because they place the team in a posture where they are required to critically think through a solution. In some instances, there may not be a clear solution but watching the team navigate the scenario can give the Government high confidence in the aptitude of the offeror’s team.    

For Industry 

Ask for a Debrief.  Even if not required by regulation, request a debrief. It can provide valuable information to learn and improve so next time there is an opportunity to bid on similar requirements you have a stronger chance of winning.  Note to Government, offerors want to know that they were treated fairly and how to make their next offer stronger. Providing the offeror information will go a long way in improving the overall acquisition process. 

Practice for the On-the-Spot Orals. While not having to prepare a lengthy written proposal reduces cost and burden to the company, a company must put time and effort into fully preparing for on-the-spot orals. These are not easy, and a company should not wing it. The best way to prepare for an oral on-the-spot is the same way that you would prepare for a written exam– be truly comfortable with your material. Also, and most significantly, know your team members. The team needs to convey to the Government that the team has the requisite subject matter expertise, that each team member understands their role, that each team member understands their teammates’ roles, and they know how to work together. The Government will see through if you have never worked with each other before. 

About the Author: Karen O’Brien is a federal acquisition expert and published author. She is a Senior Vice President at Jefferson leading acquisition engagements for Jefferson’s federal agency clients. To contact the author or if you have questions, please email contact@jeffersonconsulting.com  

Commercial vs Federal: How are they different?

Pursuing business with the federal government is not like pursuing a commercial customer. Government contractors must navigate a complicated landscape of regulations and compliance requirements.  Most government purchases are subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and may involve government specific contract types and vehicles. One cannot simply have a meeting with a government program manager, take them golfing on the weekend, and win a “handshake” agreement. This type of activity could actually put your federal business pursuit at risk.  

When approaching the federal customer, it’s important to know that many internal and external stakeholders are often involved.  The person who controls the requirement may be different from the person with the money and is certainly different from the person who has contracting authority.  Navigating these stakeholders can take time, which is one of the reasons why the federal government typically has a much longer sales cycle, especially for services. It is not uncommon for large services opportunities to take more than two years to close.  

Once the contract is won, the challenge of implementation remains.  Compliance with government regulations, laws, and ethical norms are not for the faint of heart. Depending on your solution, the dollar value of contracts and other factors, federal contract compliance can be a significant cost.

So…why pursue the federal market?

  • The federal government is a significant buyer.  In FY2023, contract spend was $750B.
  • The government pays its invoices.
  • Wall Street has a favorable view of the federal government as a customer.

Jefferson can help your company grow in the federal space.  Our professionals have strong insights and connections across the federal government and contractor community.  We are are adept at incorporating this knowledge into business development, capture, and go-to-market strategies and tactics.  See more about our Solutions and feel free to connect with us today!

Eight Tips for Government to Improve the Oral Proposal Process

Our virtual work environment has significantly shifted oral proposals. No longer is industry memorizing sentences and traveling to a government conference room to deliver presentations. Industry now has the advantage of teleprompters and scripts on computer screens, retakes of video recordings, and the comfort of our familiar home or office surroundings in the pressure cooker that is orals.

As a “dual citizen” of the contractor community and the acquisition workforce, I am always happy to see the use of oral presentations. I have had the privilege of serving as an orals coach to industry, helping the federal government plan and execute orals as part of the procurement process, presenting for my company, and helping others in our company prepare for orals.

I recently had the pleasure of judging the college national finals in public speaking, something I try to do each year to give back to the community that, unbeknownst to me, would be my pathway into the acquisition workforce and contractor communities. In giving back to that speech community, it made me want to give back to my acquisition workforce community to improve the oral presentation process.

Based on multiple oral presentations since moving to a virtual environment, I wanted to share eight tips for my acquisition workforce colleagues that will help make orals more effective for both sides of the procurement.

1. Be Less Scripted and More Conversational – With industry sitting at their computers versus standing in front of you, the logical recommendation of an orals coach like me will be for presenters to be highly scripted, read from the script, but make it appear conversational and unrehearsed. No easy feat! Meanwhile, I know what it’s like being on the Government side and how bored they must be hearing such rehearsed presentations.

The Government can help reduce the boredom of watching someone read a script that you could read as a technical proposal by changing the orals presentation format. Rather than asking for offerors to discuss their technical and management approaches, separate the oral presentation into two segments: 1) industry’s answers to a set of published questions – this gives the company a chance to respond to the questions versus just the individual presenting; 2) and 3-5 “on-the-spot” technical and/or management questions to see how the Key Personnel/presenters respond and work together to answer the questions. This will give the Government a much better sense of who they will be working with in project execution versus listening to scripted technical and management responses. If the Government is using a two-phased approach of written proposals and then oral presentations, use this question or demonstration approach to receive new material instead of just having the written proposal summarized and presented to the evaluation team.

2. Keep the Questions Germane to the Scope and Roles and Responsibilities of the Presenters – On-the-spot questions and answers are great for seeing how the offeror’s team members react and work together, but the questions need to be germane to who is in the presentation and what the Government is specifying their role to be in the solicitation. Ensuring that the questions are germane will help limit protests later. In a procurement last year, the only Key Personnel position in the solicitation was an offsite manager whose focus for the work was recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retaining employees. No special technical knowledge was required and the position was not reviewing work products. We had the perfect candidate who had a background in Human Resources and had served as an offsite manager. Despite the solicitation not requiring that the offsite manager be an expert in the technical field of the agency, the Key Personnel was unfairly asked “What’s the current state of nanotechnology?” [Nanotechnology is fictitious to protect the identity of that agency.]

This is a perfect example of a protest-worthy question. If the Government didn’t require that person to be a nanotechnology expert and the person’s responsibilities were not technical, how is that a relevant question for purposes of the evaluation? In developing those on-the-spot questions, remember to think about who is presenting and what the Government is requiring of their role in the solicitation.

3. Allow for Presentation-Specific Questions between Written and Oral Submissions – If the Government is using a phased approach, industry will focus its questions on whatever is first, such as the written submission. Oftentimes, industry doesn’t know who they will have as presenters by the time that questions are due to the Government and those presenters will have questions. A company may not have engaged an orals coach by the time initial questions are due and the orals coach will most certainly have questions. Providing a window for questions on presentation-specific items that were not clear from the solicitation or the invitation to orals letter gives industry a chance to feel as comfortable as possible going into orals.

4. Specify the Platform Being Used – In the invitation letter to orals, specify what platform the Government will be using, such as Zoom, Teams, Google Meets, WebEx, etc. Each platform is a little different and knowing the platform in advance allows industry to practice using that platform, helping them be more comfortable during the orals session and hopefully reducing any technology challenges.

5. Be Gracious when Technology Mishaps Occur – We all know Murphy’s Law when it comes to these high-pressure moments. It’s not if, but when. The world’s transition to being virtual wasn’t without any technology mishaps along the way and it’s unrealistic to think they’re all behind us. I recently participated in two Government industry days where technology didn’t work in favor of the Government and the industry participants were waiting 10 minutes or longer for a return to normal. With presenters being at home, in offices, in different states, or even different countries, be as gracious as you are allowed to be in evaluating the oral presentation.

I know our teams try to prepare for those mishaps by having back-up presenters ready should someone lose connectivity. If someone’s connection falters and the Government is not able to hear them, stop the time and the presentation so that the offeror is aware and can correct it. Remember that as the Government, you are in control and industry is at your mercy in this moment. By the Government stopping the presentation, if the team is prepared, their back-up will be able to step in and take over if that issue can’t be resolved quickly. Whether time is given back to the Offeror or if that counts again them is the big concern to be prepared to address. Ensure that your structure gives you the flexibility to extend that grace when it is necessary for reasons outside of the control of the presenter.

6. Be Less Prescriptive in Setting Time Limits within the Presentation: In recognizing that the Government is squarely in control of the event, also remember where giving up some control is beneficial. Specifying how time should be allotted is one area where the Government can be less prescriptive. For example, the solicitation will say that the offeror has 10 minutes for introductions, 40 minutes for the presentation, and then 10 minutes for follow-up questions and answer. Reduce that guidance to the offeror has 50 minutes for introductions and its presentation and 10 minutes for questions and answers. In a virtual environment, segmenting industry’s presentation time creates uncertainty and complications. Who from the Government is timing the first 10 minutes? Will that Government person come off mute and come on camera to stop the offeror if time exceeds 10 minutes? Does the offeror have to tell the Government when they’re done if they don’t take the full 10 minutes? If the offeror doesn’t use all 10 minutes, can they carry over that time into the presentation time allotment? Does the offeror start its presentation segment as soon as it finishes introductions or does the Offeror need to ask if the Government needs to reset its timer and then the Offeror begins with the presentation segment? I’m sure there are even more questions that others from industry have when time is artificially segmented. Bottom line, avoid it and just dictate to industry their presentation time and then the time for follow-up questions from the Government.

7. Allow Up Front Time for “Roll Call” Introductions – Speaking of introductions, this is likely the first thing that happens once everyone is in the meeting and is one of the most confusing moments. We all log into the meeting and it’s only natural that we all want to introduce ourselves and know who is in the meeting. Because introductions are often built into the presentation time and are more detailed than just name and title, clarify that you’re starting off with a roll call instead of calling it an introduction. The roll call then is name, title, and organization for government and industry. Using “roll call” instead of “introductions” will be clear that time has not begun and that industry does not need to give detailed information on each person, but just state who is in attendance for everyone’s knowledge and for the procurement record.

8. Be on Camera During Dialogue – In judging the college national finals in public speaking, it’s always interesting to see the difference in speeches when the room is empty versus when the room is full. During preliminaries, the campus has about 80 classrooms of speeches occurring at the same time, so the audience is few. In the “out rounds”, quarterfinals only have 16 classrooms of simultaneous competitions and that number continues to go down for semifinals and then finals. With the reduced number of simultaneous rooms of competitors, comes increased audiences. The energy exchange that occurs with a live audience creates a remarkable difference for the competitors.

Although energy exchange is limited in an online platform, it is much more rewarding to deliver remarks to other humans than a screen of black boxes with initials. In keeping the technical evaluators secret from the presenters, one agency I saw remained off camera and used “TEC Member 1” as their name instead. While I appreciate the effort to keep the technical evaluators secret, the purpose of oral presentations is to be able to interact, even if just online. If slides are being shared, keep your camera off, but if dialogue is occurring, turn the camera on and be part of the meeting. That doesn’t mean that the Contracting Officer loses control of the questions and answers, it just makes it feel a bit more natural for everyone involved.

Oral presentations are the best way for the Government to hear and interact with the people who may be supporting them. Continue to hold virtual oral presentations and make the most of these tips. I hope to be part of many more as a coach to the Government, a coach to our team, and as a participant. And finally, while Contracting Officers will encourage you as an evaluator to have no reactions and no emotions so as to not show preference to any offeror, flash your offerors a smile when you can. Just make sure everyone gets a smile from you so that you’re not showing a preference. The offerors on camera are the ones stressed; a smile might be what they need to feel a bit more at ease in the orals presentation pressure cooker.

Jeremy Arensdorf is an Executive Vice President with Jefferson Consulting Group. He leads Jefferson’s growth efforts and also provides federal acquisition expertise to agencies.

Jefferson Consulting Group CEO Janet Clement: Why We Support the Coalition for Racial & Ethnic Equity in Development (CREED)

“Throughout our industry, when colleagues ask me why Jefferson is so proud to support the Coalition for Racial & Ethnic Equity in Development (CREED), my answer is clear: Who you are matters. Your village, your community, and your identity matters. International development creates the greatest impact when programs reflect, celebrate, and promote racial and ethnic equity throughout each intervention.

“USAID Administrator Samantha Power’s endorsement of CREED emphasizes the critical importance of holding the Agency accountable to the communities with which USAID partners. True accountability in international development prioritizes local ownership of ideas, strategies, project design, and implementation. Jefferson joins Administrator Power in recognizing that racial and ethnic diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are fundamental to success when promoting democracies, developing economic opportunities, and delivering humanitarian assistance to peoples facing crisis and conflict.

“The CREED Pledge for Racial & Ethnic Equity (REE) shows our industry commitment to fair access, opportunity, and advancement for all individuals without bias or discrimination. I urge all of us within the international development community to embrace CREED’s mission and lend your support by signing our REE pledge.

“The principles within CREED’s Pledge for REE are the foundation for Jefferson’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Council. Through our DEIA Council, Jefferson dedicates our employees and resources to ensure that racial and ethnic equity is embodied in our policies, systems, and company culture. Jefferson continues to educate our industry about the importance of the REE Pledge and promote our broader mission advancing racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusion across the globe.”

 

 

DHS at Twenty

This month the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) turned twenty years old. The department would not exist if not for the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Thankfully, the United States has not had a large scale, coordinated terrorist attack in the past twenty years. In part, we owe this to the people of DHS who serve today, and all those who came before them, in their commitment to protecting our nation.

Despite the passage of time, multiple economic crises, and a pandemic, we must not forget the lessons of 9/11 and why the Department of Homeland Security was created. 441 days passed between 9/11 and signing of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 on November 25, 2002. Perhaps not surprisingly in today’s political environment, Senate Democrats and Republicans disagreed on the largest reorganization of the federal government since the Department of Defense was created after World War II. A look at the Congressional math:

  • In the Senate, the Act passed 90-9 (with Senator Murkowski not voting)
  • Of the nine voting no, none remain in the Senate.
  • Only eleven of the Senators that voted to create DHS are still in the Senate and two of those have announced their retirement at the end of this term (Feinstein and Stabenow).
  • Cardin and Markey are now Senators, bringing the Senate total to thirteen for now.
  • Another senator that voted yes is now President.

In the House, approximately 55 House members are still in Congress that were a member of the 107th. Not to be left out, the only Supreme Court Justice that remains from 2001 is Clarence Thomas. Thus, there has been tremendous turnover in the elected and appointed leadership since DHS was established. As newly elected and appointed leadership guide DHS, will these leaders see the original vision of DHS and build upon the foundation or seek to alter it and whack away at its parts to create something else?

A quick review of DHS over the years reads much like most U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO) reports: Progress made but work remains.

9/11 Commission Recommendations Incomplete

9/11 Commission chairmen, former New Jersey Republican Gov. Thomas Kean and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., have repeatedly noted two recommendations, consolidated DHS congressional oversight and REAL ID Act, are quite incomplete.

Consolidated DHS Congressional Oversight

Unlike the House and Senate Armed Services Committees who have primary jurisdiction of the Department of Defense and pass annual authorization bills, DHS has a panoply of splintered congressional stakeholders. Whether over 90 or over 100 committees and subcommittees, many agree it’s too many. In the Senate, the Government Affairs Committee added homeland security to become the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. With government-wide matters and post offices to name, there is often divided time with homeland security besides jurisdictional battles with other committees. In the House, the primary committee should be the Committee on Homeland Security. Divided jurisdiction makes Congress less influential compared to the executive branch. Committee Chairs from both parties have not been able to coordinate passage with only one successful attempt in the House. DHS has never had a comprehensive reauthorization like the Farm Bill for the Department of Agriculture, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), or let alone annual authorization bills like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is an established bipartisan national priority. DHS authorizing provisions are implicit or explicit in spending bills instead. Why is homeland security not an annual established bipartisan national priority?

REAL ID Act

The Real ID Act of 2005 enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The key identification document provisions were set to start in 2008, but implementation was repeatedly delayed because of refusal by many state governments to adopt it and widespread opposition by the general public. Grant programs were started to get states to make investments and yet the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) enforcement for identification to board flights is postponed currently until May 2025. Will REAL ID make a difference or is biometric technology the way to improve security and safety at airports?

New Missions

Despite the lack of a comprehensive reauthorization, there have been two notable specific authorizations in recent years.

From the Miscellaneous Directorate to CISA  

The National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) was formed in 2007 after the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-295) sent several headquarters preparedness functions to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). NPPD’s goal was to advance the Department’s national security mission by reducing and eliminating threats to U.S. critical physical and cyber infrastructure. In 2018, Congress created the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), as the civilian agency interface for federal cybersecurity and critical infrastructure resilience.

For the majority of NPPD and CISA’s existence, the focus has been about information sharing and voluntary actions by private sector companies. CISA often creates forums, toolkits such as a “series of best practices” on cybersecurity for boards and senior officials. CISA has stressed that “this isn’t intended to be ‘thou shalt,’ it’s much more of the ‘we’ve got to work together.’”

CISA’s recent call for security to be “rebalanced” away from tech users and toward the companies that write and ship code, is part of a new push for large technology providers to take on more responsibility for their products. CISA is mostly not a regulator, and the Biden administration may be hoping CISA can play good cop to other agencies’ bad cop. If CISA begins acting more like a regulator as the recent National Cybersecurity Strategy implies, the policy and political challenges will be plentiful.

Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD)

About ten years ago, some congressional voices and DHS sought to create a Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office. Among the dynamics was that other departments and agencies had one CWMD official where DHS would have to ask if this a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) terrorism matter and send multiple staff. In December 2017, DHS established the CWMD Office by consolidating the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and a majority of the Office of Health Affairs (OHA), as well as other DHS elements. CWMD was established in statute in December 2018, reorganizing functions of predecessor offices in DHS. About a year later, CWMD ranked last in a review of best places to work in government and implementation has been problematic.

Management Integration

Speaking of the workforce, Congress cannot legislate nor the Secretary mandate culture and morale.

At a recent all day DHS program, every speaker said something about the shortage of talent or the need for new, different talent. Like the private sector, the government is dealing with three years of the pandemic and seismic changes in the world of work. An industry report noted the tremendous work of the DHS workforce during the pandemic. DHS leadership has engaged and communicated with their employees like never before. Security clearance and suitability reciprocity among DHS components are still clunky.

Long-term leases with the General Services Administration (GSA) and safety concerns near the DHS St. Elizabeths campus compound workforce challenges. Thankfully, DHS celebrated twenty years with a confirmed Secretary and Deputy Secretary at their permanent headquarters along with President Biden and original plank holders. Secretary Ridge, the first DHS Secretary, provided recorded remarks.

After numerous attempts to consolidate them into one or two, many financial systems remain across DHS and are still being tweaked. Notably, just after ten years of existence, DHS achieved a clean audit opinion of their financial statements by an independent auditor.

Information Technology and procurement have stabilized but can always find room for improvement. DHS is better than most departments engaging with industry in a meaningful way and has a robust acquisition business forecast.

Various management integration measures over several Secretaries have helped achieve better results. Management Directive 102 helped establish program governance and Congress has attempted to enshrine this structure for over a decade to no avail. The DHS Program Accountability and Risk Management (PARM) made some strides. Unity of Effort initiatives under Secretary Johnson included the Deputy’s Management Action Group, Joint Requirements Council (JRC), and Joint Task Forces. The more integrated and efficient DHS component agencies are the more likely they can 1) focus more time/resources on mission outcomes, 2) use taxpayer dollars wisely, and 3) stay together, because it would be more difficult to break them apart.

It is noticed that DHS celebrates twenty years without a confirmed Under Secretary for Management. It has been nearly four years without one. Congress clearly designated the Under Secretary for Management (USM) as the #3 official in DHS, placing an emphasis on management integration. Several USMs have gone on to become a confirmed Deputy Secretary or Acting Secretary. However, the political dynamics of the then confirmed USM becoming Acting Secretary caused the removal of the last confirmed USM. It was a shame for DHS to lose a management focused official over politization and lack of other DHS leadership.

Politization and Weaponization

The politization of DHS is disheartening. External stakeholders especially in Congress are obsessed with immigration issues. It’s the Department of Homeland Security not the Immigration Department. For the first time since DHS was created, the previous administration held the official position (as a statement of administration policy) to send a component agency back to their pre-DHS department. As of this writing, there are efforts underway to impeach the DHS Secretary, not for “high crimes or misdemeanors,” but over basic policy differences. How sad.

Items for Congressional Consideration/Action

  1. Comprehensive Immigration Reform – Broad agreement exists that the immigration system is broken, but what to do about it is at both extremes and everywhere in between. A frequently overlooked bottleneck for immigration is not within DHS, but the Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review. Find and fund a fix under the current construct or consider moving EOIR to DHS to give DHS control over the full lifecycle of immigration.
  2. Stafford Act Reform – FEMA is being asked to do more. The number of disaster declarations under the Stafford Act is much higher than when the law was passed. Some new thinking here is needed. Various proposals abound.
  3. Customer Experience – As of this writing, the idea to establish the CX Directorate stems from recommendations approved by the Homeland Security Advisory Council in December. Four DHS component agencies are designated as “high-impact service providers” by the Office of Management and Budget due to the number of individuals they interact with on a daily basis: Customs and Border Protection (CBP), FEMA, TSA, & U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  4. Reduce the Number of Political Appointees – Republicans and Democrats have run DHS for approximately the same number of years. It’s time to examine what leadership roles need to be political vs. career, which political roles need more enumerated qualification requirements, which roles like TSA are for a set term beyond the term of the President, and capping the number of non-career SES and Schedule C appointees.
  5. Acquisition Tools – DHS has many of the highly desired acquisition tools that DoD and GSA has such as Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs), Commercial Solutions Opening Pilots (CSOPs), and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR). Challenges and prize competitions can also be used. Congress should make these DHS authorities permanent instead of renewing them in spending bills.
  6. Funds – DHS is funded through a mix of mandatory funding, discretionary appropriations, user fees and multiple year funding. A more predictable funding structure would allow for better planning and better outcomes.
  7. Regular reauthorization – Congress needs to find a way to reauthorize DHS on a regular basis. Do it as a stand-alone bill, move it with the NDAA, but do it.

A good day at DHS is preparing and preventing something bad from happening. Routinely DHS stops something bad from happening or mitigates the impact and it often no longer makes the news. The DHS people who serve today, everyday do remarkable work that is seemingly unremarkable with the passing of time. The longevity of the unremarkable days over the past twenty years is truly remarkable.

Those who were not born yet on September 11, 2001 can vote and purchase alcohol. It’s important that we remind ourselves of what life was like before 9/11, the days that followed, and to teach the next generation about what happened that day. They need to understand how the United States came together after 9/11, pushing politics aside, and found common ground for a common cause. Oral histories from those in key roles that day and the 9/11 Memorial can help future generations comprehend how the world changed. After the events of recent years, will we ever see Congress together on the Capitol steps singing God Bless America again?

In twenty years, the nation has not had another “9/11” and we should be thankful for DHS. Let all of us constructively work together with elected and appointed leadership to make DHS a bipartisan national priority for the next twenty years.

Martin Mackes is the Chief Delivery Officer at Jefferson Consulting Group. He is the incoming Chair of the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council (HSDBC) Board of Directors.

Bradley Saull is a Vice President at Jefferson Business Consulting. He was Deputy White House Liaison at DHS and professional staff for the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Six Takeaways from the DHS Strategic Industry Conversation

Plus Five Industry Recommendations

On Wednesday, February 8, 2023, the Department of Homeland Security held their eighth DHS Strategic Industry Conversation. The Strategic Industry Conversation (SIC) is DHS’s largest annual industry event that provides an opportunity for industry to hear directly from the Department’s senior leadership on its priorities, challenges, and key areas of focus. The SIC is not an industry day event that is tied to any specific procurement actions.

While there were many nuggets of information, six themes stood out.

Programs Have Money

Many of the speakers said some version of: “I would certainly love to have more money, but I am focused on using the funding we have wisely to help make the case to stakeholders that we responsibly used what we were given and can make the business case for more money in the future.”

The focus on program execution and implementation is a great opportunity for professional services contractors. The market opportunity is persuading government clients to spend the money they have with your company.

Help Wanted – Government Talent Shortage

Nearly every speaker said something about the shortage of talent or the need for new, different talent.

Like the private sector, the government is dealing with three years of the pandemic and the seismic changes in the world of work. This dynamic is layered on top of the trend of a rapidly aging federal workforce. For those that do choose to join the government, the long lead times for talent acquisition and security vetting discourage some candidates as well as minimize the impact of new hires coinciding with budget cycles.

As funding levels change, contractors are an excellent source of talent to scale up and scale down as appropriate.

Notably, some DHS component agencies such as CBP have long resisted the authorization for additional Border Patrol Officers. CBP has often struggled to keep up with attrition and keep the people that they have trained. Historically, CBP has asked for better technology to support the people they already have.

Technology is Beginning to Catch Up with Mission Policy

DHS Chief Information Officer Eric Hysen discussed several initiatives to hire, train, and support the IT workforce including job offers to candidates for the DHS Cybersecurity Service. He also shared as part of his Operational Cohesion priority that CBP and ICE can share electric A-Files, records of any active case of a person not yet naturalized as they pass through the United States immigration and inspection process. He wants an approach to technology that is interoperable by default.

Most interestingly, he discussed Uniting for Ukraine, which provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens and their immediate family members who are outside the United States to come to the United States and stay temporarily in a 2 year period of parole. The technology team was able to quickly establish the technology processes and transition that capability to other Central American countries in recent months. For once, the processes and technology were able to get ahead of the policy decisions instead of IT significantly lagging policy decisions.

Authorities – Procurement Tools

In addition to traditional FAR-based contracts, DHS has many alternative acquisition authorities including Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs), Commercial Solutions Opening Pilots (CSOPs), and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR). Challenges and prize competitions can also be used.

Different tools often equal different partners. Given the importance of the DHS mission, these acquisition authorities provide many ways for non-governmental entities to help protect the homeland.

Category Management is Waning and DHS Specific Vehicles are Coming

Category management practices have been a source of much industry frustration for many years. Recent research indicates that category management practices in civilian agencies may be waning and a fireside chat at the event appeared to put that issue in plain view for all to hear.

Some DHS vehicles are in the works which sounded like DHS specific multiple award IDIQs that would have been largely unthinkable five years ago. A reference to the switch to an Air Force contract that did not see the vendors they wanted compete for task orders appeared to be a lesson learned from using GSA OASIS more broadly. DHS “may” use OASIS+ in the future, but the event expressed flexibility for contract vehicles outside the stated DHS suite of contract vehicles.

DHS is clearly watching NITAAC CIO-SP4, OASIS+, and Alliant 3. Panelists noted the trends towards “highest technically rated with a fair and reasonable price” evaluation and self-scorecards. DHS indicated a concern for a dynamic that is inequitable for small businesses.

DHS appears to be tracking contract vehicle usage in ways unknown until recently and digging deeper into why a certain contract vehicle mandatory for consideration was not used. Why are there so many waivers? Is there a gap in requirements?

DHS is Better Communicating with Industry Than Most Departments

DHS is better than most departments communicating and engaging with industry in a meaningful way. The Strategic Industry Conversation (SIC) and other industry communication mechanisms have continued under the leadership of DHS Chief Procurement Officer Paul Courtney.

DHS also has a robust acquisition business forecast. Without prompting, most Component Acquisition Executives or Heads of Contracting Activity mentioned the emphasis on the DHS Acquisition Planning Forecast System (APFS) as the department-wide tool to forecast anticipated contract actions. Many policies and resources for doing business with DHS are on the DHS public website.

Like the OMB MythBuster memos from over a decade ago, DHS plans to issue a two-page updated guidance on industry communications within a few weeks.

The event featured blocks of time for industry to meet with the DHS industry liaisons across the various component agencies and offices.

Recommendations for Industry:

1.    Help DHS make the business case for the approach necessary to reach stated goals especially with new requirements for sustainability and climate.

2.    The market opportunity is persuading government clients to spend FY23 money with your company.

3.    Many routes to market exist – choose the routes that work for you; not necessarily all of them.

4.    Use research to align the category management dynamics to the capabilities of your business. Chasing every GWAC is no longer the fear for some civilian focused businesses.

5.    Take another look at DHS if you have not done so for some time. 3,000 companies received their first DHS contract in FY22. Make sure that you understand the customer’s mission challenges before engaging them.

Ahead of the Department’s 20th anniversary next month, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas updated the twelve cross-functional priorities to guide DHS’s strategic focus for the coming year and beyond. Like the DHS mission mantra, if you see something, say something; the same approach is desired when interacting with DHS acquisition officials. DHS acquisition officials encouraged feedback multiple times throughout the program. Raise issues that you see in the marketplace to DHS directly or indirectly through various industry associations.

With honor and integrity, go help DHS safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.

Beyond Winners & Losers, the Reality of the Budget Debate: Billions Are Expiring Unobligated

As the deadline approaches for another continuing resolution (CR) and top-line funding levels in a potential deal among congressional leaders are discussed, most of the media coverage is that XYZ program funding is reduced/increased by so much money which is a win for this party and a loss for that party. The winners and losers coverage is “inside the beltway” chatter for the next election cycle, but one must not forget the programmatic impacts of those funding levels on the citizens, the federal employees, and contractors. A review of funding level increases against the main expenditures indicate that perhaps billions of dollars are left on the table.

While the funding levels are important and interesting, what is the workforce’s capacity to spend the money? The main expenditures for government are personnel, facilities, contracts, and grants. As such, when under a CR, most agencies are reluctant to obligate funding when the final funding level for the year is unknown. Depending on when funding levels are enacted, some civilian agencies in recent years have faced the dynamic of having half the year to spend more funding than they ever had. Publicly available data shows that some civilian agencies in recent years have obligated half of their total contract obligations in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year (July through September). With the government acquisition workforce, the capacity to run the procurement with the necessary market research, prepare the solicitation, conduct the evaluation, and obligate the funding for the contract is often the limiting factor. There are only so many hours in the day and so many contracting officers authorized to obligate contracts. The government acquisition workforce is to be commended for their efforts in recent years; however, contract obligations with other expenses do not appear to add up to total budgeted funding levels.

In addition to the funding level and the capacity to obligate the money, what is the agencies desire to spend the money? During the prior administration, Congress appropriated large civilian agency funding increases, but the number of federal employees did not grow while grants and contracts did not increase in proportion to the funding increases. What happened to all that money? Depending on the “color of money” or period of availability, unobligated balances return to the U.S. Treasury when the funds expire. Typically, the efficiency and effectiveness of this endeavor is getting the agency internal government stakeholders in alignment across the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Procurement Officer (CPO), programmatic offices etc. with other senior leaders such as the agency head or the Deputy Secretary. During fiscal years 2021 and 2022, civilian agency contract obligations increased only 4% despite civilian agency funding increases approaching 15%.

In summary, there are likely tens of billions of dollars a year expiring unobligated in federal civilian agencies. The tremendous market opportunity is persuading government clients to spend the money.

Recommendations for Industry:

  1. Talk with your clients and potential clients. Find out what is happening around them. Talk with your contracting officers, heads of contracting activity, industry liaisons, small business advocates, etc. What are they hearing from their CFO and their team? Is there a deadline that program offices need to send procurement or the CFO about their needs/requirements?
  2. Find additional contract ceiling on existing contract scope. Each CR prevents “new starts.” Find ways to describe additional benefits that are within an already established scope or program framework. Provide language that program managers and contracting officials can take directly to the CFO.
  3. If there is an increased likelihood of a government shutdown, who is the main contracting point of contact for industry when other contracting officers are unable to work? Have you submitted all the possible invoices for payment for work already completed ahead of the deadline so they can be processed before the deadline?
  4. If your company is big enough to have a government relations or congressional affairs team, have them alert the appropriate congressional committees that contract obligations are falling behind. Have committee staff ask agency leaders such as the CFO how they are doing on budget execution against their funding levels especially as it relates to contract spend.
  5. If your company does not have a government relations or congressional affairs team, reach out to an industry association such as the Professional Services Council (PSC) or the Coalition for Government Procurement (CGP) to raise your concerns that are likely observed by other companies.

Fiscal year 2023 is the first budget that the Biden administration gets to shape the entire budget lifecycle (develop, defend, and execute). Can the current administration pivot from their legislative achievements to focus on execution and implementation of their funding and policy priorities?

As funding levels change, contractors are an excellent source of talent to scale up and scale down as appropriate. Whether it is going to the moon, protecting the environment, or finding tomorrow’s cures, civilian agencies have needs and they have the funding. With full year 2023 funding enacted, go help agencies implement and execute their mission priorities.

Bradley Saull is a Vice President at Jefferson Business Consulting. He was the first Vice President at the Professional Services Council (PSC), an association of more than 400 government contractors.

GWACs: The Beginning of the End or The End of the Beginning?

On December 8, 2022, the Professional Services Council (PSC)’s Vision Federal Market Forecast team of acquisition professionals found that agency-specific blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) and indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts are coming back. Have we reached the highwater mark for best-in-class contract vehicles? Perhaps so, perhaps not.

The federal acquisition system is a mechanism for the government to obtain the goods and services needed from the private sector at a fair and reasonable price. Over time, however, the impact of the government’s purchasing power has injected other public policy objectives imposed through the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Examples of a few of these include many of the set-aside programs, prohibitions on county of origin, prohibitions on forced labor, wage limitations, and incentives for workforce diversity/inclusion. Admirable objectives when properly implemented.

Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) are designed as pre-competed IDIQ contracts leveraging the government’s buying power to lower cost and speed up time to award by standardizing purchasing processes. GWACs work well for products with part and serial numbers, but services are much more complex and harder to standardize/commoditize. Many of the more successful GWACs for services are on their third or fourth iteration and are under evaluation or set for re-competition in the next few years.

GSA Alliant 2, a major technology services GWAC, was recompeted a few years ago, but the small business pool was shot down by the Court of Federal Claims. Thus, the small business track was canceled and became Polaris, GSA’s new small-business-focused GWAC. GSA released the Small Business and Woman-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) RFPs earlier this year. Proposals for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB) and Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) pools were due earlier.

Small business policy changes and related case law is a topic for a separate discussion, but is a clear challenge for the timely re-competition of these GWACs – both in the government releasing a solicitation without frequent amendment and for industry to invest in preparing for the acquisition strategy. Does the company invest in certifications and/or compliance systems? Should a company form a joint venture with another company? Does the current joint venture likely meet what the new GWAC is going to want in past performance?

A glaring example of frequent amendment and subsequent industry whiplash was NIH’s CIO-SP4 GWAC for health IT solutions – approximately twenty amendments from the original final RFP release and proposal re-submission. I wrote extensively about CIO-SP4 the past two years. As of this writing, NIH plans corrective action. NIH relied on self-scoring assessments in a phased down selection process to narrow the field of competitors. Companies that did not meet a certain score were eliminated. The companies that filed protests objected to being eliminated and questioned the score cutoff mark.

Alliant 3 and OASIS+, two of GSA’s flagship contract programs, will be re-competed next year. Like what remained of the earlier Alliant 2, Alliant 3 is an unrestricted contract that provides comprehensive and flexible IT solutions worldwide. The Alliant 3 draft RFP was released on October 19, 2022 and GSA is taking industry feedback until January.

OASIS+ builds on the success of GSA’s OASIS contract for non-IT integrated service requirements including the professional services of the original OASIS as well as HCaTS and other services requirements. The re-competition of OASIS is notable as several professional services MACs saw the similar scope and success of OASIS and decided to not recompete the MACs but moved future work to OASIS. For example, DHS decided to use OASIS instead of re-competing TABSS. In November, GSA released the OASIS+ first draft RFP and plans to release a second draft RFP in the second quarter of fiscal year 2023. GSA is taking industry feedback until January 2023. To GSA’s credit, they have engaged in years of industry engagement in advance of Alliant 3 and OASIS+.

Many of these GWACs continue to use self-scoring methods. Although the self-scoring technique is meant to reduce time and alleviate administrative burdens, it could hinder new entrants into the public marketplace. Thus, some in industry say that this is the beginning of the end of these GWACs becoming a dominant force in the marketplace. Indeed, the Vision Forecast indicates that some contract duplication might be coming back as BPAs and other procurement innovation techniques are tested in “labs” at various civilian agencies. Some small business leaders are rejecting the impact self-scorecard improving tactics may have on the culture of their company that they and their employees have built. These companies have decided that a joint-venture or other complex teaming arrangements to achieve the highest possible self-scorecard are not for them.

Still for many companies doing business with civilian agencies, a prime spot on a GWAC determines the companies’ fate. As such the quest for maximum self-scorecard points leads to companies building strategies to be in “as many winner circles as possible” with the company involved in the writing or submitting of three or more proposals based on their teaming and joint venture relationships. For both government and industry, more proposals exacerbate the administrative burden self-scoring methods intend to alleviate. Yesterday’s solutions appear to have become today’s problems. However, acquisition innovation to meet government’s evolving needs should and must continue. There are often no simple, easy answers in the government contracting marketplace. If a balloon is squeezed, the air is moved, but does not disappear. One must be mindful that today’s solutions could become tomorrow’s problems too.

Recommendations for Government:

  1. Let the acquisition outcome desired drive the acquisition strategy – Use evaluation criteria for post-award execution; not merely to minimize competition or the likelihood of a pre-award protest. Do not be afraid to take the road less traveled.
  2. Agencies (beyond GSA and assisted acquisition offices) be as transparent as possible about how much you plan to use GWACs, the GSA MAS, your own vehicles, BPAs, etc. If your agency has made a “commitment” to use a GWAC to help support the business case for the GWAC to receive OMB executive agent approval, share any forecasted spend on the vehicle with industry.
  3. As much as possible, coordinate among the interagency stakeholders (especially the Small Business Administration) so that the government speaks with one voice prior to the draft RFP, but especially prior to the final RFP. The final RFP should not contain any major surprises.
  4. Leverage associations – Associations are a great place to go to one place to reach many companies. Associations can filter out the self-interest of single company input and provide a summarized viewpoint of how proposed acquisition strategies will impact the market more broadly. Associations like ACT-IAC, Professional Services Council (PSC), Coalition for Government Procurement (CGP) are some to consider. They can help identify unintended consequences of decision-making.

Recommendations for Industry:

  1. If you want to do any type of services in civilian agencies, take a serious look at the future of these GWACs set for re-competition in the next few years.
  2. Assess where your key clients are going to buy in the future. Is it through their own vehicles? GSA MAS? Or the GWACs? Can you carve out a niche without GWACs or are they an existential requirement to remain in business? Agencies such as FAA and NOAA do not use GWACs as often as other agencies.
  3. Think about how partnerships, teaming, joint ventures impact the culture of your company. Is the added venue/headcount going to change your company in a desirable or undesirable way? Financial risk? Reputation risk?
  4. Investments in compliance vs. on new solutions. While it is not mutually exclusive, will the investments in certifications, compliance on the GWACs take too much away from your ability to innovate and create new solutions?
  5. Leverage associations – Associations are a great place for the government to go to one place to reach many companies. Through committees and working groups, companies can learn from similarly-situated entities to compare notes and build coalitions to amplify troubling market impacts of potential acquisition strategies.

Growth and opportunity can be found in today’s market, but what are you willing to do to seize it? A 360-degree results-driven, disciplined approach to today’s marketplace is essential to guide the answer to those questions for your business. The future is informed by the past, but not beholden to it. As the character Doc Brown from the movie Back to the Future, Part III said at the end of the series, “Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”

Bradley Saull is a Vice President at Jefferson Business Consulting. He was the first Vice President at the Professional Services Council (PSC), an association of more than 400 government contractors.