The General Services Administration
continues to create a phoenix to rise from the ashes of what was the Alliant II
The process, though, shows why new large indefinite delivery indefinite
quantity (IDIQ) programs may be vulnerable in a marketplace that increasingly
favors speed and, to some extent, innovation.
Simply put, no agency creating a new IDIQ program has the luxury
of making it a multi-year proposition. Federal agencies and industry customers simply
vote with their feet and use other acquisition projects. The demise of Alliant II SB has led to work
for the main Alliant contract, GSA’s 8(a) STARS, and the Schedules program, to
name three. It is problematic that work
originated under other vehicles will be available to transition back to a new
small business GWAC.
Current examples, though, are not promising. Both GSA’s aging WITS and Networx contracts
continue to see telecom business. Industry
has had to again go to Congress to force agencies to use the newer EIS
contract. All of those delays cost companies money, well over seven
figures for large programs like the one now being re-created at GSA, all before
a single cent of revenue, let alone profit, is seen. At some point, industry will lose patience
with multi-year lead times, labyrinthine RFP’s, and protests.
Customers, too, continue to fill their
needs from other available contract sources.
Look no further than the JEDI contract debacle at DOD to see that military agencies
readily brought cloud solutions elsewhere during the years-long struggle to
have that procurement break free of the tractor beam. New IDIQ programs must be put in place
quickly in order to be relevant. Promising the moon and the stars to industry
and customers alike guarantees delays. To
quote one of our previous bosses, “There’s a lot to be said for being a helluva
If GSA really wants to innovate it can set an example
that all other acquisition shops can shoot for.
The agency should set a goal to have a new small business GWAC in
place by April 30, 2021. The
benefits of a good GWAC shouldn’t just be that task orders can be filled
quickly. The contract, itself, should be
able to be quickly implemented as well.
That will keep industry partners’ costs down, maintain customer
interest, and ensure that a new vehicle is on line in time for the FY’21 fourth
With FY’21 just days away now is a good time to talk about what it takes to have a successful discussion with a potential federal customer. Sometimes it seems like these customers are hiding in some remote Afghan cave when your firm is trying to set up even a virtual meeting. While this may certainly be the case sometimes, more often feds say that contractors don’t know as much about an agency’s mission as they should. That makes any discussion one-sided and, as such, not productive. It also means you likely won’t get a second meeting.
Make sure you know what’s going on with your target customer before you meet. What are their pain points? How can you help? Importantly, did they just buy a solution similar to what you’re offering? This last one happens way more than you might think.
The secret to having a successful 45-minute meeting with a federal customer is to spend at least twice as much time doing your homework. Who does your customer buy from now? From whom do they buy? How can your firm respond to those factors? “I want to meet with the Colonel in charge” may be a common desire among federal sales executives. You actually may want to meet with their deputy, or someone in an entirely different office. Just because an 06 is in charge in one place, does not mean they are in another. The right feds do want to hear from you – if you have something to say that can help them accomplish their goals. Focus on those and you may get in more doors than you thought.
A Washington Post report published last week found that $1 billion in CARES Act funding intended for DOD public health use was, instead, diverted to weapons systems, uniforms, and engine parts. The report is likely to be just one catalyst to the creation of oversight hearings and audits of how special money intended to combat COVID 19 was instead spent on other agency priorities. Contractors are very likely to become part of the circus and should be prepared to show that they followed applicable laws and customer directives. Congress has already started voicing its displeasure with the redirection, with the House Armed Services Committee stating, “The Committee’s expectation was that the Department would address the need for PPE industrial capacity rather than execute funding for the (defense industrial base)”.
Despite DOD assurances that the money was appropriately re-focused, any future money intended to be spent in specific areas may come with additional strings attached to ensure that it goes to where Congress intends. The impact won’t be limited to DOD spending, either. Any agency that received emergency funding will be subject to increased scrutiny, as will the contractors that received such money.
A new round of rules and regulations designed to end the diversion of funds could make the acquisition process more difficult for government and industry. The Post report is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A commission of federal Inspector’s General also commented last week on how even a “job well done” could have fraud, waste, and abuse attached. Expect the issue of misuse of COVID 19 funds to be an area of major Congressional oversight in 2021 and be prepared.
“We’re not going back,” said Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen
Wilson recently to an industry and government audience in discussing his
branch’s post-COVID telework plans. The
Air Force is fully adopting telework and is integrating it into its long-term operating
plans, seeing it as a way to save money for the service and increase
productivity. Other agencies,
military or civilian, may well follow suit. Productivity has increased in many agencies,
as has worker satisfaction. The announcement is a signal to government
contractors that the manner in which they did federal business up until March
may permanently change. In the meantime,
contractors, too, have likely seen similar changes in their own
workforces. Being able to interact with
customers remotely and develop key relationships may pose challenges, but if
both customers and employees are demanding increased telework, companies
will have to adapt. Both virtual
and smaller in person one-on-one meetings that take place near a federal
office, but not in it, are likely components of a new protocol. Of course, not all Air Force or federal
missions will change to telework. “I have not been able to get anyone
to explain to me how I fix a B-52 engine through telework,” said General Arnold
Bunch, leader of Air Force Materiel Command. Both contractors and their federal
customers will likely take time to adjust to previously unprecedented levels of
remote working as they pursue business, fulfill missions, and sustain a
trained, capable personnel base.
GSA is moving quickly to insert supply chain risk management (SCRM)
language into both existing and new contracts. While contractors can initially self-certify
that they meet some requirements, others, like CMMC compliance, will have to be
verified by third parties (though check back in a few months to see if the CMMC
train wreck has cleared the tracks). The
bottom line for contractors is that SCRM is becoming another compliance factor
that must be taken seriously.
GSA officials have stated clearly that they will monitor and follow up
with companies to ensure that their systems meet contractual SCRM
requirements. Section 889 compliance is
another part of SCRM compliance, as will be a new set of requirements now being
devised by part of the Federal Acquisition Security Council. The council will refine exactly what those
requirements are over the next several months before working with GSA to
identify the major contracts that meet federal SCRM business needs. Those contracts will include 8(a) STARS III,
a signal that the agency will not spare small firms from meeting whatever new
IT security requirements the government deems necessary. This is another incremental cost that takes
the government further away from buying commercial items according to
commercial standards. It is
unclear whether any consideration has been given in GSA or elsewhere to the
ability of existing or developing commercial market IT security standards to
meet the government’s needs as an alternative to the creation of government
unique standards. For now, contractors
should prepare to ramp up their SCRM programs as well as prepare for
audits and possible whistle-blower cases.