Embodied within contracting issues today is who is winning awards and who isn’t. Calls for reform start from the premise that those professionals making the awards (1) take too long; (2) don’t understand their business; (3) need more training; (4) aren’t sensitive to private sector concerns; (5) used the wrong selection methodology; (6) won’t take risks; (7) won’t talk to industry; (8) should take advice from communities (program, technical, incumbents, small business, large business, legal, trade groups, etc); (9) should act more commercial; (10) should compete more; (11) should use more past performance criteria; (11) should rely on price; etc. Certainly in a commercial market, industry success and failure is usually laid at the feet of company management and it ability to understand and meet market needs. It seems rare to hear complaints that the reason for lack of private sector success is because the supplier was right, but the customer is wrong. Not so in government contracting. One can appeal to government legislative representatives, contracting managers and agency leaders and Protest real or perceived unfair treatment. One often hears that it’s the buyer, not the seller, who is wrong, and that’s why revenue wasn’t “booked.” Its common practice, if not encouraged by government, for industry to comment on the nature of the customer’s requirements, how they ago about meeting those requirements and who is involved in doing so. That’s the nature of an open and fair process.
So, besides complaining directly or through trade groups to Congress, agency executives and the Contracting Officer, what are some positive tools to win and keep government business? While not new, they’re certainly more important in an era of increased competition and fewer opportunities. Private firms that offer such support, but the strategy is the same:
- Offer superior product: Certainly providing great products or services that meets customer needs at an affordable price is Business 101, regardless of market
- Ensure your firm is “qualified” to do government business: Is your accounting system compliant? Can you pass a Contracting officer’s “responsibility” determination? Are you registered and licensed to do business? Have you paid your taxes? Can you positively “certify” to the several “representations” you will need to meet, etc?
- Know your market: In government contracts, that means understanding agency authorization and appropriations language, attending industry days, analyzing Federal Business Opportunity listings, reviewing competitor strengths and weaknesses, understanding past performance indicators that may help or hinder your business prospects?
- Understand government contracting statutes, regulations and policy: Yes it may seem complicated, onerous and even overwhelming, but to anyone who really takes the time to learn, it makes sense and is very fair. Learn and create corporate acquisition knowledge.
- Find opportunities to meet and develop relationships with program and contracting officials: Becoming involved with professional associations and events can over time develop the involvement, credibility, relationships and understanding necessary, well before specific requests for proposals are formal communications come out. Meeting top agency or contracting executives might help understand overall customer vision, but concurrently, operational contract and program managers can provide insight to customer specific requirements and acquisition planning or source selection methodology.
New strategies and policies pertaining to category, supply chain and risk management; acquisition planning and market intelligence, always foremost source selection strategy and DoD’s Better Buying Power 3 and new reform legislation are here. World Congress is quickly coming up, offering more opportunities to build understanding and interact in person with those with a different perspective, from the other side of the table, and perhaps learn innovative ways of meeting ever greater challenges.
Actions industry can take toward success in government contracting today is in most cases nothing new, but should not be minimized during a climate which seeming correlates business success or failure as a result of customer (i.e. government) failures. In our system of government, it is fair and expected that citizens have the opportunity to exert influence on the expenditure of taxpayer funding. However, all of us should look in the mirror and acknowledge the responsibilities we all share in our business success.
Michael P. Fischetti, J.D., CPCM, Fellow
National Contract Management Association