MAIL BAG: WHEN “HELP” LEADS TO A CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Long-time reader K. Kardashian writes, “I’ve been working with a potential customer to help create an acquisition my company wants to bid on. I’m not getting paid, but I’ve written half the scope of work. Could this be a problem when the RFQ is issued?” Every contractor wants to get an edge, K. Relationships matter in government acquisition and, as such, companies work to provide extra information to prospective buyers and recommend acquisition strategies. Shaping an RFI, or even RFQ, is a frequent contractor practice to ensure that any subsequent bid highlights a company’s strengths. Too much help, however, can bar your firm from competing for a piece of work. Any actions or knowledge that give your company an unfair competitive advantage could cause your potential customer to determine that you have an Organizational Conflict of Interest. You could be out of the running for business you’ve been tracking before the starting gun even goes off. Some companies falsely believe that, so long as the advice was provided for free, no conflict exists. That’s not the way government agencies always see it. If your people are working side-by-side with a customer agency preparing acquisition strategies, terms and conditions, or especially scopes of work, you may cross the line from “resource” to “co-program manager”. Instead of heading west to find fame and fortune, your federal business could go south.