Acting GSA Administrator Katy Kale and FAS Commissioner Sonny Hashmi
recently outlined the agency’s top four priorities. Contractors should take note and understand
how each one may either directly or indirectly impact them. First up is continued COVID-19 supportand, closely tied to it, bolstering economic recovery. While
considerable effort has been put into meeting personal protective equipment
(PPE) needs, this support could also include logistics assistance to other
agencies as well as new methods to support a workforce that splits its time
between office and remote locations. This could mean opportunities for
contractors to provide GSA and its customers with a variety of logistics and
remote workforce services. That
workforce, itself, may become more diverse and see increased advancement
opportunities for women and minorities. Workforce diversity and equity
are the second major goal. This may or may not change who contractors
work with, but it is certainly an indication that GSA may be looking for
the same types of initiatives in its contractor base. Last, impacting climate change,
possibly viagreen procurement, is making a comeback and could
impact contractors in new ways.
Plans were being crafted toward the end of the Obama Administration, for
example, that would have required contractors to not only report on the
eco-friendliness of any goods they make, but on the green status of their
office buildings, supply chains, and other business components. Absent from the priorities was any specific
mention of GSA’s need to improve acquisition outcomes or manage its
still-substantial real estate holdings.
Either GSA leaders believe that these are so well handled now that they don’t
require top-level attention, or these basic agency functions will be
subordinate to the new priorities.
Even in the era of “Best in Class” contracts and resultant reductions in
contract duplication, contractors must be careful about the number and
types of contracts on which they bid.
Not everyone produces the business expected. This can be due to a number of factors. Protests sunk the GSA Alliant II SB
contract. Inadequate market
research has resulted in others being issued without any apparent market for
them. Issuing follow-on contracts
that look little like their successful predecessors is another. Perhaps the most obvious example of that, so
far, is the Army’s transition from Encore II to Encore III. Federal buyers, especially those in the
intelligence community (IC), loved Encore II.
Its ability to consider both technical factors and price made it a solid
vehicle through which the community, the contract’s heaviest user, could issue
complex task orders. The Army, though, significantly changed the format of
Encore III, making it an LPTA-based contract and introducing other changes popular
at that time that made it difficult for the IC community to use it. The Army did this despite consistent
expressions of concern from both users and contractors. The Army Encore III team was told
several times that users wanted the new vehicle to look largely like the old
one. Despite this feedback, the
Army ploughed ahead. The result? Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS)
information shows that Encore III business plummeted almost 77% from
Encore II. Sales data from
fiscal years 2017 to current day (after Encore II expired) show that Encore II
racked up $1,247,850,080 in sales vs. $289,301,552 for Encore III. It is obvious that the bulk of Encore II work
is now being done under other contracts.
It should also be obvious to contractors that they need to invest bid
and proposal assets wisely. Just
because one vehicle has been successful, doesn’t mean that the follow-on will
be – especially if the follow on is considerably different. Agencies contemplating follow-ons to their
own successful vehicles should take note as well. If your customers and contractors are
concerned with your new approach, perhaps that approach should be revisited,
even if it is designed with good intentions.
Federal agencies must consider whether a procurement can be set-aside
for small businesses under the FAR 19 “Rule of Two” requirements as part of
their acquisition planning process. The
Court of Federal Claims (COFC) affirmed this requirement recently in Tolliver
Grp. Inc. v. United States, but may have confused the matter in so
doing. First, it is important to note
that nothing in the new COFC ruling changes the ability of agencies to
conduct acquisitions pursuant to FAR 8.4. Federal agencies are still able to buy from
GSA Schedule contracts, just as they were before. They may, of course, set-aside a procurement
for small businesses, but they are not required to do so. What the COFC really said in Tolliver
is that an agency can’t bypass the need to consider whether small businesses
are capable of meeting a procurement action.
Merely deciding that an IDIQ contract is the appropriate
acquisition method does not indicate that this requirement has been satisfied. In Tolliver, the Army originally
awarded a contract under a set-aside acquisition. The losing small business protested and the
Army cancelled the award and went back to the drawing board. Its new plan was to acquire its needs via a
newly-competed IDIQ contract that did not include small businesses. The original small business protested and the
COFC agreed. The Court said that the
Army had to make a new Rule of Two determination as they were conducting a new
procurement. They could not bypass that
requirement in favor of using the new IDIQ.
Agencies must show that they considered using small businesses in
their acquisition planning file and then decide on an acceptable acquisition
It can be difficult to set customer briefings or follow-up meetings
right now as career professionals take time to brief a new wave of political
appointees. Here are three things contractors
should consider now to keep their customer discussions going. 1. Make
sure you have a “hook”: What’s new
or really special about your solution?
How is it different from the last time you briefed the customer you’re
reaching out to now? Whether its new
functionality or the way your solution supports a new operational goal, a
well-defined hook can get you the follow-up or new discussion you seek. 2. Do
you have a new partner to introduce?: A new business partner, whether a
“brand name” company or a specialized small business with a unique talent, can
also catch the interest of an otherwise over-committed customer. Like a hook, a new partner gives you
something different to talk about.
It adds to your previous capabilities, something that can be
attention-getting if those capabilities now align more closely with agency
priorities. New partners can make
your company look dynamic and able to meet a wide array of needs. 3.
Consider an incremental approach:
Some customers may not want to commit to longer-term projects at a
time when new leadership is coming in. Indeed, larger pieces of business may be
subject to review during a transition.
Consider a “start small” proposal that allows your project to get
underway and start showing its worth. Whether
it’s a task order against an existing contract, or a buy made via Simplified
Acquisition Threshold procedures, this approach gets you business now and
positions your firm for any follow-on business.
It may, however, not be the time to talk about “pilot” projects unless
you know your customer will be receptive.
“Pilot” may sound too new.
Overall, understanding what your customer can and can’t do during a
transition time is key to success now and after the transition is complete.
Despite support from the Biden Administration and several Senators, substantial
additional funding for the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) no longer seems
likely. A lack of Congressional
support for adding $9 billion to the fund as part of a COVID-relief bill became
apparent during the recent confirmation hearing for OMB Administrator-designate
Neera Tanden. The problem with fully funding the TMF is not that Congress
believes that large-scale IT modernization across federal agencies isn’t
needed. Rather, the fund’s
non-agency specific status means that legislators would have to cede control of
where the money is applied, something Congress is always reluctant to do. Appropriating money for specific projects
enables Members and Senators to direct spending and conduct oversight. A general pot of money, not allocated for any
specific initial purpose, is also difficult to account for within current
budget and appropriations rules. Tanden
stated that she was optimistic that other avenues could be found to increase
technology accounts, even if a more traditional agency-by-agency approach was
used. Among her many comments of
support was a statement on pandemic-related IT spending. “We recognize the importance of this
modernization during a global pandemic where we need to make sure that our
agencies’ information and essentially the public’s privacy is protected and
protected well.” Although this, and
other positive statements, indicate that Tanden might be an ally for increased
tech spending, her well-documented reputation for smearing those with whom she
disagrees may want to make contractors think twice about fully engaging with
OMB. Working with specific
customer agencies may be a better approach.