Friday, February 4, 2011

Government Procurement wants to Improve Communication with Contractors

Several months ago, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) held a series of outreach sessions with industry representatives, acquisition professionals, agency procurement attorneys, and others to identify and address core misconceptions about communication between the government and industry during the pre-award acquisition process. Coming out of these sessions were a number of misconceptions about vendor engagement that may be unnecessarily hindering agencies' appropriate use of existing flexibilities.

In a February 2, 2011 memorandum to all government acquisition activities, OFPP listed out the top ten misconceptions that came out of these outreach sessions. These misconceptions are ones prevent effective communications between the government and contractors (or potential contractors). The memorandum then tries to dispel the misconceptions by stating the facts as it sees them. It then tasks the agencies to develop "vendor communication plans" and increase employee awareness.

Here then are the top ten misconceptions concerning communications between industry and the government. The OFPP memorandum goes into much more detail on each of these - its 13 pages and can be downloaded here.

1. Misconception – “We can’t meet one-on-one with a potential offeror.”

Fact – Government officials can generally meet one-on-one with potential offerors as long as no vendor receives preferential treatment.

2. Misconception – “Since communication with contractors is like communication with registered lobbyists, and since contact with lobbyists must be disclosed, additional communication with contractors will involve a substantial additional disclosure burden, so we should avoid these meetings.”

Fact – Disclosure is required only in certain circumstances, such as for meetings with registered lobbyists. Many contractors do not fall into this category, and even when disclosure is required, it is normally a minimal burden that should not prevent a useful meeting from taking place.

3. Misconception – “A protest is something to be avoided at all costs - even if it means the government limits conversations with industry.”

Fact – Restricting communication won’t prevent a protest, and limiting communication might actually increase the chance of a protest – in addition to depriving the government of potentially useful information.

4. Misconception – “Conducting discussions/negotiations after receipt of proposals will add too much time to the schedule.”

Fact –Whether discussions should be conducted is a key decision for contracting officers to make. Avoiding discussions solely because of schedule concerns may be counter-productive, and may cause delays and other problems during contract performance.

5. Misconception – “If the government meets with vendors, that may cause them to submit an unsolicited proposal and that will delay the procurement process.”

Fact – Submission of an unsolicited proposal should not affect the schedule. Generally, the unsolicited proposal process is separate from the process for a known agency requirement that can be acquired using competitive methods.

6. Misconception – “When the government awards a task or delivery order using the Federal Supply Schedules, debriefing the offerors isn’t required so it shouldn’t be done.”

Fact – Providing feedback is important, both for offerors and the government, so agencies should generally provide feedback whenever possible.

7. Misconception – “Industry days and similar events attended by multiple vendors are of low value to industry and the government because industry won’t provide useful information in front of competitors, and the government doesn’t release new information.”

Fact – Well-organized industry days, as well as pre-solicitation and pre-proposal conferences, are valuable opportunities for the government and for potential vendors – both prime contractors and subcontractors, many of whom are small businesses.

8. Misconception – “The program manager already talked to industry to develop the technical requirements, so the contracting officer doesn’t need to do anything else before issuing the RFP.”

Fact – The technical requirements are only part of the acquisition; getting feedback on terms and conditions, pricing structure, performance metrics, evaluation criteria, and contract administration matters will improve the award and implementation process.
9. Misconception – “Giving industry only a few days to respond to an RFP is OK since the government has been talking to industry about this procurement for over a year.”

Fact – Providing only short response times may result in the government receiving fewer proposals and the ones received may not be as well-developed - which can lead to a flawed contract. This approach signals that the government isn’t really interested in competition.

10. Misconception – “Getting broad participation by many different vendors is too difficult; we’re better off dealing with the established companies we know.”

Fact – The government loses when we limit ourselves to the companies we already work with. Instead, we need to look for opportunities to increase competition and ensure that all vendors, including small businesses, get fair consideration.

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