The Consequences of An Inconsistent Acquisition Strategy

Dear Contracting Officer,

When you release an RFP solicitation notice that includes a timeline, competition type (e.g., 8(a), Full and Open, Woman-Owned Small Business, etc.), contract vehicle (e.g., GSA Schedule, MOBIS, etc.), requirements and other critical information, industry initiates a process called capture management.

This process involves understanding your requirements; identifying capability gaps; developing a teaming strategy; identifying teaming partners; negotiating and executing teaming agreements; identifying (and sometimes hiring) key personnel; investing in R&D to develop a solution to your requirements; developing and launching marketing campaigns; etc.

All these activities consume valuable time and resources with the aim of winning your business and delivering the best possible solution. If you run the acquisition fairly and consistently, you can expect a favorable contractual outcome. When you run it inconsistently, however, such as changing the socioeconomic status two weeks before the RFP is released or pushing the timeline four months to the right, lower your expectations that the contract will succeed to the satisfaction of your customer. How come?

Take the teaming activities, for example. Depending on the size and complexity of the bid, it can take an interested vendor months to vet teammates with the right capabilities and insights to meet your requirements. Teaming partners don’t magically bond at some industry speed dating event two days before the RFP is released. Teaming requires research, interviews, meetings, travel and legal and financial checks. If you change the socioeconomic status, from full and open to woman-owned, for example, chances are the teams that industry forged will split apart because the competitive dynamics are completely different, there isn’t enough time to form new teams or they think you wired it for a specific vendor. The upshot is that you miss out on receiving proposals from great teams. Sure, you’ll get proposals, but they will be from industry teams cobbled together with paper mache and chewed gum.

Take key personnel, as yet another example. Every industry vendor worth their name wants to offer you the best talent. If the vendor is serious about winning your business, it will line up that “20-year SME” who could run your CIO shop with two hands tied behind her back. If you push the RFP four months to the right, for example, that SME can’t be sitting around, eating up corporate profits — she’ll be committed to another opportunity or seek employment elsewhere.

Now, you may be saying to yourself that all these industry disruptions are out of your control or are not your problem. “Too bad industry, that is just the cost of doing federal business.” But that mentality doesn’t do your customer or public stakeholders any good when contracts don’t perform as expected. Take the time to understand industry dynamics. It will make you a better acquisition professional.

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Jaime Gracia

Well said Chris! I would disagree that the capture management process starts at RFP release. This process normally starts at need identification, that includes all the processes at business development and positioning your firm for the win as early in the procurement process as possible.

Nonetheless, many acquisition personnel regretfully have the attitude about “Too bad industry, that is just the cost of doing federal business.” Many government procurement folks do not understand (or care) about the way industry functions. This is just a subset of the poor state of government and industry relations.

OFPP and the new Obama Administration need to continue to push for helping correct these issues (e.g. MythBusters). Government and industry need to speak early and often, and help alleviate these endemic problems of doing business with the federal government.

One issue that I would add to your letter would be for Contracting Officers to be honest about their budgets. How many times have solicitations been pulled at the last minute, or after RFP release, because of budgetary issues? This is an outrageous and inexcusable action, especially when it calls into question the possibility of Anti-Deficency Act violations.

Let’s work together to solve problems.

Chris Cairns

Yes, you’re right about when the capture starts. Latest should be when there is a pre-solicitation notice, which can be several months in advance.