WHAT “INNOVATION”, “BUSINESS CYCLE”, & “PARTNERSHIP” REALLY MEAN IN GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING
One of the many famous lines from the movie “The Princess Bride” is “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Just as with the movie characters, contractors need to remind themselves that words do not always have the same meaning in the government market as they do elsewhere. “Innovation” is one such word. Innovation gets a lot of promotion in federal agencies. People talk about innovative solutions and innovative acquisition methods quite a bit. To be fair, there are some real pockets of both types of innovation in government. For the most part, though, contractors need to remember that innovation more often than not means “state of the market” rather than “state of the art”. Few government customers want to be the first to try something new and would prefer to follow others. Overall, the federal market is risk averse, making “innovation” a relative term. “Business Cycle” is another term that can mean something different in the federal space. Contractors may track opportunities for months, or even years, only to have to rush to respond to a tight government deadline. This is reminiscent of how war is sometimes described – months of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror. Regardless of whether the government took months to respond to your last question, if they ask for an answer in 48 hours, that is what is expected. “Partnership” is another word that gets used a lot in government business. Agencies want to partner with industry and industry very much wants that relationship with government. It’s important to remember, though, that only one side of the partnership can audit the other’s books, conduct myriad types of investigations, and impose civil and criminal penalties if the partnership doesn’t work out. It should always be clear to contractors who has the upper hand and understand what that means for business. It’s not just the key terms of a contract that companies must keep track of, but knowing the government definitions of common terms as well in order to be successful in the government market. Make sure your company has a “federal-English” translator in place.