The Week Ahead - November 11, 2013
WILL WE HAVE A 2014 SEQUESTER? ANSWER STILL UNCLEAR
Everyone from DOD officials, to healthcare workers, to federal employee unions are pushing hard for Congress to reach a budget deal that avoids automatic sequestration spending cuts in 2014. While some groups have stronger arguments than others, the real question is whether Congress will actually take action on any or all of the requests. Despite the prevailing wisdom that “something” will be done to let at least DOD off the sequestration hook in whole or in part, it will likely be until after Thanksgiving before there are any true indications of where it, or any agency, stands. In fact, Congress technically has until mid-December to come up with a budget deal for the remainder of FY’14 and beyond. Senate negotiators are reportedly looking to the House to make the first move, but the House may be in no mood to pass anything palatable to the Senate. Without action, the President would have to issue a sequestration order in mid-January. DOD would be the agency hardest hit by such an action and, at least publicly, leaders at that agency are preparing to live with Sequestration II. Stay tuned.
THINK YOU “KNOW” WHAT YOUR FEDERAL CLIENT WANTS? THINK AGAIN
Allen Federal has had the chance to listen in on comments from senior and line level government contracting officials lately. Aside from the comments about a thin acquisition workforce and the impact of sequestration, most federal contracting officials agree: Sometimes contractors who think they know what the government is asking for have no idea. Whether it’s offering a “Cadillac” solution when a “Chevrolet” is all that was needed, or a company offering what it can sell regardless of the actual requirement, contracting officials say that contractors sometimes seem to have not even read the solicitation. To be fair, even reading a government solicitation may leave companies with only the vaguest idea of what a buyer’s real requirement is. Putting that aside for a moment, however, contractors do need to read each solicitation, even if it’s a project they’ve been tracking for months, to make sure they know what ended up in the final statement of work. Most companies spend their business development time with end-users, but the contracting office can always change things up a bit at the end. Make sure you know. If you do get an RFP that is unclear, don’t guess at what the requirement is. Ask questions. Contractors have done that in great volumes on just the current NASA SEWP RFP alone. NASA issues answers. If your buyer doesn’t, and you still don’t know what’s needed, a protest before proposals are due is entirely appropriate. Don’t have a failure to communicate.
HAVING CONTRACT NEGOTIATION PROBLEMS? CONSIDER ESCALATION
There was an old Federal Computer Week cartoon that Allen Federal inherited back at the Coalition for Government Procurement. It showed a contractor crouched underneath his briefcase getting beaten by a woman, presumably a contract negotiator, holding a board with a nail in it. The caption read, “A Vendor’s View of GSA Schedule Contract Negotiations.” Recent discussions with several Schedule contract holders indicate that the cartoon resonates today. Sometimes, though, even an experienced contractor will take a contract specialist’s view of things as the last word. Discussions with contracting officers may also be difficult when special terms are being discussed. We find that most companies are more reluctant than they need to be to take matters with which they disagree up the ladder. An individual company doesn’t see what we do: Contractors take matters up the chain of command all the time. Contracting specialists report to CO’s who, in turn, report to branch chiefs. It is not uncommon for a firm, especially one seeking a departure from standard clause, to have to get at least branch chiefs involved in order to reach a satisfactory solution. If your company is escalating everything every day, that may be out of hand. As a general rule, though, if something doesn’t seem right to you, seek another opinion.
NINETY DAYS LATER, HAS THE DUST SETTLED?
Allen Federal is checking in again to see how companies with GSA contracts that had been managed out of FAS’ former Arlington, VA headquarters are faring since FAS closed its physical building and moved to GSA HQ in downtown Washington. Our initial poll found that companies were experiencing initial disruptions. We’d like to know whether those disruptions are continuing, worsening, or getting better. Drop us a line, just a one word answer will do, at email@example.com. All individual responses will be kept confidential, but Allen Federal wants to make sure that common problems areas are addressed.