You may have seen in recent news that Italian artist, Salvatore Garau, sold an invisible sculpture for $18,300. Even more mind-blowing, in 2020, an invisible painting was sold to a group of investors for $170 million!
What does this have to do with communication among Government procurement officials and Industry? Well—in the world of Government procurement—we often construct invisible barriers between the Government and Industry. Like the invisible art, much of our communication is rooted in mythical ideation. Despite the presence of a tangible basis, these fabled concepts are pervasive.
In February 2011 and May 2012, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) released memos addressing the misconceptions surrounding public-private interaction. A decade later, the key points from these memos are still relevant in ensuring that Industry is educated in optimizing communication with the Government for mutually beneficial outcomes. Based on these memos and first-hand experience, here is a list of five tips that will help contractors maximize their engagement with Government.
1. Don’t be afraid of engaging one-on-one with Contracting Officers
One of the biggest misconceptions from both Government and Industry alike, is that the Government is prohibited from engaging “one-on-one” with prospective offerors during the solicitation process. No such prohibition exists. In fact, FAR Part 15 encourages these exchanges, and Government is not required to engage with all possible offerors, however, any information shared in a one-on-one that directly affects proposal preparation must be shared with all. Understandably, this mandate is designed to avoid granting a would-be offeror any unfair competitive advantage.
2. Include both business development personnel and SMEs in meetings with Government agencies
Many companies often focus on their sales pitch rather than the technical capabilities that will add value to the Government’s acquisition. When meeting with a government agency, don’t forget to include the technical SMEs that can provide information on how your company provides a value-added solution. Often, it is a better use of time to discuss technical issues rather than business development issues for both parties. The Government may get a better idea of possible solutions they may not have considered, while company SMEs get an opportunity to better understand Government requirements.
3. Engage with the Government on anticipated procurements early and often
We often assume that a prospective offeror’s impact on a solicitation during the pre-solicitation phase is limited, as there is a persistent myth that Government agencies already have their requirements and acquisition strategies set in stone. In reality, Industry input provided early in the acquisition lifecycle is essential to the process and may modify the original plan. Responding to RFIs, providing comments to draft RFPs, and attending industry days/pre-solicitation conferences may not only add value to the procurement process, but can also provide a fair advantage if your company provides a unique capability that adds great value for the Government.
4. Understand the importance of debriefings
I know, I know! We all have received debriefings that provide little to no useful information, but asking the right questions can provide valuable insight on how to better position your company for future procurements. Be familiar with the debriefing requirements outlined for Contracting Officers in FAR 15.505 and 15.506. Be aware of the timelines associated with debriefing. If you feel you did not receive adequate information, ask specific questions within two days of receiving the initial debriefing. A good practice is to request a redacted decision document to better understand how an agency arrived at a particular award decision. Debriefings are important to both Government and Industry, so make sure you engage meaningfully to get the best value out of them.
5. Be aware of the latitude Contracting Officers may exercise in their communication
In accordance with the FAR, Contracting Officers have broad latitude in their engagement with Industry. For example, FAR 10.002(b)(2) enables Contracting Officers to use wide-ranging techniques in conducting market research through Industry engagement. Unfortunately, many Contracting Officers do not take advantage of the flexibilities authorized for fear of protests or unauthorized commitments. As a government contractor, it is important to be aware of these flexibilities authorized by the FAR to help Contracting Officers understand how meaningful engagement will provide a direct benefit to them.
In the past, communication between Government and Industry has been strained, mostly due to fear derived from anecdotes of horrifying experiences. That fear has thrown up barricades. Being aware of how communication can benefit the world of Government procurement is the first step in understanding the perspective of both sides and enabling all parties to see their goals come to fruition symbiotically. For more information and to read the two aforementioned memos published by OFPP in full, please click on the following links:
Myth-Busting: Addressing Misconceptions to Improve Communication with Industry During the Acquisition Process
Myth-Busting 2: Addressing Misconceptions and Further Improving Communication During the Acquisition Process