May 11, 2011 at 12:37 pm #130150
I was on Federal News Radio and In Depth with Francis Rose to discuss the Better Government IT initiative and the work the group is doing to improve the process and create best practices for government/industry communications.
What are some ways we can improve the process?
What are some areas you see that are difficult, either from industry’s side, or from government’s?
May 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm #130178
Looking forward to some interesting responses that you’ll get. I’ll have to think harder to provide some better comments, but here are a few items off the top of my head:
- NAICS codes: They seem to be arbitrarily selected, and have a huge impact on the potential bidders. Either this concept needs to be revamped totally, or a much more thorough selection of NAICS codes needs to be used for solicitations. Lots of codes overlap in scope.
- Industry Familiarity: An increase in the options for contractors to learn more about the customer. Even if you have a couple years of experience it is not a guarantee one will know the client extremely well. Periodic events during the year for the industry to learn more about the client would be beneficial. Or just putting more information out on the needs and processes of working with the agency. This information varies, and often times is written from the perspective of what the government thinks the industry wants to know, but typically it isn’t very useful.
- Small Business Offices: They are typically either totally useless, or good advocates who aren’t really able to open too many doors. There are exceptions to this rule (I for one find NGA’s to be fantastic), but if they could better assist small businesses in learning about how agencies work that would be useful.
- Clear Language: For obvious reasons RFPs are written in a very specific manner, but typically the language used obscures the real needs of the customer. Clearer descriptions, along with the required legal and contracting-ese language could be of benefit.
Thanks for starting this discussion.
May 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm #130176
Peter G. TuttleParticipant
This group is going to generate some great content that should provide actionable suggestions to improve the acquisition process – for both Government and Industry!!!
Jaime’s Question: What are some areas you see that are difficult, either from industry’s side, or from government’s? Here are three quick thoughts:
1) Frankly, just trying to establish and maintain meaningful communications can be a chore in itself. To start with, recognize that everybody on both sides of the table is overworked and has precious little time to reach out and “chat.” This being said, in our rush to plow through our daily workload, sometimes we do not see the value of the communication attempt by the other party. Perhaps part of any attempt at communicating should include a short value statement (e.g. this is why I am calling or emailing and what’s the value to you for responding).
2) Our Government peers need to realize that industry will take the effort to find out the information they are seeking – one way or another. With flattening budgets and fierce competition for any Federal business, industry will continue to have an apparently insatiable appetite for information. Government acquisition activities will continue to be very heavily scrutinized for any opportunity to do business. Industry realizes that as the acquisition process matures, communications become much more formal because of the Government’s responsibility to provide a level, competitive and fair playing field. Earlier in the process, however, there are ample opportunities to communication openly about requirements, market capabilities, etc. Try to take the opportunity to communicate when and where you can. If industry feels that Government is shutting off communications inappropriately, they will seek ways to compel communication.
3) Company’s want to know why they lost a competition. If they compete under FAR Part 15, the expectations for debriefing subjects are pretty cut-and-dry. The extent of required debriefing subjects for those acquisitions that are conducted under Parts 8 and 12 are somewhat less. OK, I get that, but industry still really wants to know details about why they lost. They want to know this so they can be more competitive on the next opportunity. Vague and superficial debriefing information, although allowed by the FAR, is absolutely useless. One example might be a company scored an “adequate” instead of a “good” on the technical factor. They will want to know specifically where they fell short when compared to the solicitation requirements. Government has this information since they have to provide the evaluation. Share the detail. The potential issue if detail is not shared is that industry will think something is being hidden from them or that there was a problem with the overall evaluation process. With budgets getting flatter and the competition getting fiercer as the Nation tries to take steps to address the deficit, I doubt that many in industry will be satisfied with rather bland debriefings.
Anyway, for what it is worth, these are three post-coffee thoughts. I am absolutely interested in any comment, rebuttal, reaction, etc. We are all in this situation together, nomatter where our office is located and have to work creatively together to help our Nation use scarce dollars wisely.
May 11, 2011 at 2:57 pm #130174
Really like your point regarding debriefing. I have attended a few of these, and I felt like I was forcing the government debriefer to perform a root canal on himself. Needless to say that session was not very informative. I too have found debriefs to be nearly useless. We went to every effort we could to make it clear we weren’t complaining or there to berate them, but we really just wanted to learn more about how the proposal was viewed by the government.
Maybe to that end the government could release a “proposals reviewed summary” document when an award is made? I can see how this might open up the protest process, but it would be interesting to see a macro level perspective from the government on the quality of bids, what worked well, where most deficiencies occurred etc.
I’d really like to know from the government acquisition folks what they’d like their industry partners to do better or differently. I’m sure we aren’t making their lives easy.
May 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm #130172
Replying to myself to pose a question to anyone in the government who reads this:
What do you all think of Shipley’s? They are considered THE standard for writing proposals. Do you think that is a valid and useful guide for industry to work from? Would you prefer that approach be overhauled?
May 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm #130170
Replies to @ Christopher:
- NAICS codes: No doubt this needs a relook by SBA. They recently revised the size standards for a very limited number of NAICS codes, but not nearly enough to make a difference. How would small business classify themselves outside NAICS? What suggestions could you give to improve?
- Industry Familiarity: The portal (point 25 of Kundra’s 25 point memo) is a collaborative platform for this very purpose. It is intended to allow buyers/sellers to exchange information about an opportunity or a need outside FBO. Further, this platform can be used as a way to exchange this information you suggest. I’ll add it to the list of “requirements” for our reform agenda.
- Small Business Offices: What exactly do they need to be doing? There has been discussions with FAI/DAu that SBA personnel need to be 1102s. What constructive feedback could be provide?
- Clear Language: Definitely something we would like to address in best practices. My particular focus is on outcome based procurements, identifying needs and allowing industry to propose solutions.
May 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm #130168
Reply to @Pete
The debrief process is one of the fundamental acquisition-related communication mediums that needs a complete overhaul. The biggest barrier is institutional, as acquisition personnel often claim they do not have the time or resources to conduct debriefings properly or at all (especially with FAR 8 buys), which is a disingenuous and counter-productive argument. Protest actions are on the rise, and a well-done debrief would properly eliminate half the protest filed, which have and will continue to see increase activity in the environment of austere budgets.
One of our initiatives will be best practices during contract award, with the first work package envisioned as being a comprehensive debrief deliverable for use by Contracting Officers across government on how to conduct a proper debrief. This resource will hopefully satisfy a glaring hole on process and methodology, and provide government the ability to communication vital information to industry, and also ensure that processes and documents support a sound contract award decision. This will help offset protest activity, improve the bidding process for both buyers and sellers, and open pathways to communication.
May 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm #130166
@ Chris – Regarding Shipley’s, I also believe that they have one of the better products available in proposal writing. However, I believe the issue with proposal writing is more fundamental. The RFP/RFQ starts with a set of requirements, which are often either poorly written, or not understood by buyer or seller. So, it goes to one of my “soapbox sayings” that I often use to describe this situation; Garbage In Equals Garbage Out.
Once requirements are properly defined, the need is clearly understood and communicated to industry, there in theory should be a dramatic rise in the value and quality of proposals offered by industry to solve the buyer’s issue. Shipley’s would be an afterthought at that stage.
May 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm #130164
I like what I read at this post.
The tool is not any one social media flavor of the day or month, but creating a platform where the Service Line Manager can host conversations with agencies, vendors, other contracting officers, and the essential acquisition management folks who know how to best apply FAR/DFAR or to change those or add new appropriate regulations.
May 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm #130162
@ Sandy – I need to post comments on that particular discussion you mention, as creating yet another process for acquisition is not the answer. If best practices were followed, there would be no need, as FAR 8 buys from GSA Schedules can be streamlined and efficient if done the correct way.
The tool (point 25) is not supposed to be a be fad, but an important step in improving procurement and communications early in the program. It is these early missteps that lead to poor outcomes, along with weak execution, oversight, and governance.
May 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm #130160
Jaime …. The details of your insights on Best Practices to achieve the goal by better applying the existing FAR sections is of great interest. Especially, how to apply the practices once identified. Does it go beyond the use of GSA Multiple Award Schedules to include BPA and GWAC?
May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm #130158
We are looking at all areas, so yes! What areas would you suggest specifically?
May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm #130156
May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm #130154
I get what you’re saying about Shipley’s if requirements were well understood etc. But unfortunately for the Industry, we don’t really ever know how well the government understands its own needs. So it’s kind of a crapshoot for us to begin with. Further, Contractors are ALWAYS competing against each other, regardless of the quality of the requirements. So for us, the quality (or maybe rather perceived quality) of our proposals is vitally important. That’s why I bring up Shipley’s.
If the concept of RFPs was totally revamped, then we could perhaps start over with a bid process that adds more value for the government, better enables it to make award decisions, and more accurately determine what bidders can deliver on what they propose. Past Performances are supposed to assist in that, but I view them as grossly abused by we in the Industry in our submissions. There’s been some improvements in this area, but the vast majority of Past Performance information is Contractor developed/maintained.
May 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm #130152
- NAICS: I don’t recommend replacing the concept or even the existing system. The simplest fix is for CO’s to take a more expansive view of how to use them. For example, 541611 (Administrative Management and General Management Consulting) is one of the more heavily utilized generic NAICS codes. When using 541611 couldn’t several other codes apply as well?
- Small Business Offices:
- Clear Language: This is highly related to requirements, or as I prefer to view them “needs”. What I think happens is that when the government’s needs are well understood internally, they do not get translated well to the industry via the RFP process. Legalese, contracting-ese, etc all cloud the needs of the government.
I always hate giving the cliche “just blow up the existing process/system” response to really good inquiries like yours, so I’m trying to confine myself to smaller or more medium sized concepts. Tweaking what we have now.
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