Search This Blog

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Establishing Compliant Small Business Systems For Federal Government Services Contracts




INTRODUCTION

To effectively market a federal government services contract a small business must sell on the basis of having a business system as well as technical performance infrastructure ready to run the job when a contract proposal is submitted. This dual requirement is where many small businesses fall short in their federal government contract start up planning.


Parallel thinking is required to plan for government project technical effort against a template of necessary business process infrastructure, driven by introducing Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) into the company. Key elements of the necessary business system infrastructure are discussed in this article which assumes that your are in the federal government services contracting business, that you plan to price your services at an hourly rate and sell them by labor categories with professional job descriptions to perform the government's statement of work and bill by the hour. This article also assumes that you are not contracting under FAR Part 12, "Commercial Contracting".


Labor Categories


Each skill set in the company must be specified and defined as chargeable directly to a contract, or indirectly to a cost center overhead, a material handling pool or a general and administrative pool. Each labor category must have a job description and a prospective salary range for proposal purposes.


Cost Center

A Cost Center is a single business entity within the company, organized for a group of business lines and clients with close similarities for technical and business management purposes. Cost centers are also driven by geographic location and the requirement to separate commercial from federal government business. Projects performed in government facilities may also require a separate cost center, since many of the associated expenses for such operations are born by the government. Cost centers usually have individual subsidiary ledgers, balance sheets and profit and loss statements and are summarized monthly to a company total. Each cost center must have job cost accounting for the contracts residing there and a cost center unique overhead rate.


Examples:


Commercial Cost Center


Federal Government Cost Center


Government Site Unique Cost Center


Annual Overhead Rate


An overhead pool is made up of individual Cost Center indirect expenses projected for a given year divided by the projected Cost Center direct labor dollars for that year to determine a rate. Typical Cost Center Overhead general ledger expenses are those which cannot be effectively charged direct to contracts. These include Cost Center management, building lease, telephone, fringe benefits, electricity, capital equipment, depreciation, and the like.


An example of a 2023 Cost Center Overhead Rate of 
110%  is as follows: 

2023 Gen Indirect Exp for Cost Center        =  $459,800
_____________________________________________= 110%
2023  Projected Dir. Labor $ for cost center = $418,000


The estimated annual Cost Center Overhead Rate is applied to direct labor cost estimates to price labor cost through overhead for 2023 for the Cost Center. When a contract is awarded, actual overhead expenses are allocated monthly to direct labor by contract on the basis of direct labor dollars incurred. Projected overhead rates are adjusted based on actual total cost center experience as the year progresses.


Annual Material Handling Rate (if required) - Corporate wide expenses specifically associated with buying, storing and shipping material for a given year divided by the projected direct material dollars projected company-wide for that year. Not all companies have business that is material intensive enough to warrant a separate pool for material handling. Where extensive buying or subcontracting is conducted out of the corporate headquarters and inventory and shipping labor are high, a material handling pool is permitted by the government when it is not administratively possible to charge these expenses directly to contracts.


The estimated annual Corporate Material Handling Rate is applied to direct material cost estimates to price material for all Cost Centers. When a contract is awarded, actual material handling expenses are allocated monthly to direct material by contract on the basis of direct material dollars incurred. The projected material-handling rate is adjusted based on actual total company experience as the year progresses.


Annual General and Administrative Rate (G and A) is corporate indirect expenses projected for a given year divided by the total projected direct cost plus overheads for all cost centers for that year. Typical G and A general ledger expenses include costs which cannot be charged direct to contracts or to cost center overhead expenses such as corporate executive management, headquarters building leases, legal expenses, company wide insurance, corporate advertising, and the like.


MANAGEMENT FACTORS


Success will be determined by managing the numerator in each of the above equations and winning or maintaining the projected direct cost programs in the annual denominator. If expenses increase due to unforeseen events or if the company loses more projects than planned in the annual denominator base, the associated rate will go up for estimating purposes and under cost plus or time and material contracts the rate billed to the government will also increase.
 

Existing fixed price contracts under these circumstances will become less profitable. Pricing for future fixed price contracts must reflect the increased rates being experienced to avoid further losses.

Correspondingly, if expenses decrease due to unforeseen events/good management or if the company wins or grows more projects than planned in the annual denominator base, the associated rate will decrease for estimating purposes and under cost plus or time and material contracts the rate billed to the government will also decrease. Existing fixed price contracts will become more profitable. Pricing for future fixed price contracts must reflect the decreased rates being experienced.


For time and material and cost plus contracts, monthly billing rates utilized are "Provisional Rates" that the contractor is free to change based on experience as long as he informs contracting officers and the local Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) of the changes and reasons for the changes can be demonstrated. Before time and material and cost plus contracts can be closed out, provisional rates must be adjusted to reflect actual rates experienced. 

The contractor will owe the government if provisional billings have been higher than actual cost history. Correspondingly, if the actual rates for cost plus or time and materials contracts have been higher than the provisional rates billed by the contractor, the government will owe the contractor at closeout. 

Firm, Fixed Price Contracts are generally billed at negotiated fixed prices by line item at contract award and paid upon final delivery and acceptance or through monthly progress payments based on incurred cost with a percent of payment retention by the government until deliveries are complete. 

Fixed rate contracts are billed on a monthly basis through hours incurred. The hourly rates are fixed for the contract term and do not change.

COST ESTIMATING/COST ACCOUNTING EXAMPLE


Consider a historical 12-month project priced in a hypothetical small business utilizing forward pricing "Provisional Rates." The contract began in July of 2018 and continued to July of 2019. Direct labor rates were escalated between 2018 and 2019 by 3.5% based on the Consumer Price Index. The company decided to keep the indirect rates for Overhead and G&A the same for pricing purposes in 2018 and 2019. The company had no Material Handling Pool and charged purchasing, inventory and shipping costs direct to contracts.


This government contractor maintained Overhead and G&A rate databases in Excel by month by year to forward price projects such as the one in this example. The databases all utilized the same generic chart of expense accounts as a template for the Cost Center Overhead and G and A monthly expense forecasts (equation numerators). The project was priced in cost center 1 at an overhead rate of 110% and a corporate G and A rate of 10%.


Cost Center Direct Labor forecasts in the databases were projected by hours and salary dollars for each existing and anticipated project and then summarized to determine the equation denominator which when divided into the Cost Center Numerator B, above) yields the Cost Center Overhead forecast by month by year. Direct Labor was then burdened by the projected Cost Center Overhead and added to Material and Travel to yield a total Cost Center business summary through Overhead.


The G and A rate data base summarized total direct labor through overhead, material and travel cost for all cost centers (equation denominator) and divided it into the total corporate G and A expense (equation numerator) The equation result yielded the projected  
G and A rate by month by year. All cost center labor through overhead, material and travel were then summarized and burdened through G and A to forecast a total cost projection by Cost Center at "Provisional Overhead and G and A Rates.

A copy of the annual baseline projected rate database was adjusted with actual expense data each month in the numerator after closing. The denominator for the month was also updated with actual existing and new business developments at the cost center level and G&A monthly actual cost at the corporate level. The resulting actual rate experience is then analyzed for trends as the year proceeds and utilized for making potential adjustments in provisional rates. 

When provisional rate changes are necessary, the government was notified in advance and provided with trend information justifying the rate change. Upon approval by the government, the baseline forecast was adjusted and utilized for billing on T&M and Cost Plus Contracts. The adjusted rates were also utilized to price all future projects. DCAA does not audit management decisions. They simply check the math.

Rate databases are usually fully detailed by month for the current year and 1-2 years into the future. Years 3-5 typically have summarized assumptions through use of escalation factors. Bids for out years 5-10 if required by the government definitely utilize escalation factors. Very few government contractors are willing to bid on a firm, fixed price basis beyond out year 5.


To comply with Cost Accounting Standards 401 and 402, this company set up each new government contract on job cost accounting in the identical manner in which it was proposed; in effect identifying direct labor, direct material and other direct costs to each contract monthly and allocating overhead and G&A utilizing the same numerator and denominator relationships upon which the contract was originally estimated.


The larger the direct cost that was incurred on a contract in this company the greater the share of the cost center overhead and corporate G and A was incurred by that contract. 


The entire content of this company's business system was subject to audit and verification by the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) against Cost Accounting Standards 401 and 402. 

DCAA validated company records by requiring "Incurred Cost Submissions" from this contractor. The submissions validated final rates for cost plus and time and material contract closeouts. Fixed price contracts were closed out when final delivery was received and accepted.  Retention on monthly progress payments under fixed price contracts was released at closeout.

SUMMARY:


The software tools discussed at the posting at this blog DCAA AUDITS AND SMALL BUSINESS JOB COST ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS are designed to assist you in running the above process from a job cost accounting perspective. However, these tools must be set-up to reflect the unique way you are organized and they must reflect your specific business plans as discussed in this article. They will not do that for you.


Illustrations of the the rates, pricing and the long range plan utilized in the above example are available in Chapters 45 and 51 through 53 of my free book, "Small Business Federal Government Contracting" and appendices A and B. You may download the book and related documents from the "Box Net" Cube in the right margin of this site.




Monday, January 30, 2023

Small Business Government Grants Versus Direct Government Contracts

INTRODUCTION

Start-ups, entrepreneurs and new small businesses regularly seek information regarding small business grants. There are many misconceptions about the nature of such instruments, who qualifies for them and what constitutes a small business grant. The misunderstanding stems from advertising on the Internet and other media creating the impression that grants are readily available and that they are "Free Money".

Other than the special circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic, there is generally no such thing as “Free” small business government grant money. In many instances individuals seeking grants should be looking to direct government contracting; this article will explain why.

DEFINITIONS

Small Business Government Grants

Small Business government grants are a type of contract and involve performance of a statement of work for agencies that are in some socio-economic endeavor serving the public, such as health care, public information, communications, high technology, or similar undertakings. A small business entity receiving a grant from a government agency becomes an extension of the agency mission and obtains funding to enhance that mission while growing as an enterprise.

Small Business Direct Contracts

Small business direct government contracting differs from grants in sheer numbers and regulatory control. Direct contracts are used by all agencies of the federal government to acquire supplies and services. Both for-profit and non-profit organizations compete in direct government contracting. A direct government contract has a very specific work scope, schedule, deliverable items, pricing and in many instances incremental funding. A grant has a more generic functional orientation to funding and may or may not include deliverable items.

There are some programs, such as Mentor/Protege and Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) that appear to be hybrids of grants and direct government contracting and are often mistaken for grant instruments. They are not grants and are governed under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) as direct government contracts.

REGISTRATION
Guidance on registering to become eligible for both small business grants and direct contracts is at the following link:

Registering For Government Contracting

STRUCTURE AND STRATEGIC PLANNING

Non-Profit Organizations

Most small business government grants go to non-profit organizations because of the nature of the work such entities do.

A non-profit organization operates in much the same way that a for-profit company does except that the founder (s) work for a board of directors that pays them a salary and, upon registration with state and federal governments under IRS provision 501 3 (c) or a similar designation, the business pays no taxes.

What would normally be considered profit in a for-profit company is re-invested back into a non-profit to further its work. Annual reports are required by the IRS to demonstrate the re-investment and maintain a tax-free status.

Non-profit organizations are usually initiated to pursue a religious or socio-economic endeavor serving the public, such as churches, health care, public information, communications, high technology, or similar undertakings.

No one owns a non-profit organization. A board of directors, a charter, articles of organization filed with the state and the IRS designation with the federal government establish it as a public entity. In the event it is discontinued, all proceeds and assets are distributed by the government for public use and no one individual benefits. A non-profit charter must include that provision.

The following link at NOLO provides the chronological process between a state registration and the IRS in applying for non-profit registration and tax-exempt status:



For-Profit Organizations

A for-profit organization is founded by individuals specifically defined by name as owners in the articles of incorporation with the state and registered with the federal government for tax purposes. There are many different types of for-profit entities (S Corp, Sole Proprietorship, LLC, Partnership, etc.); each type has its own unique tax and operating characteristics.

A for-profit organization exists for the specific purpose of providing a return on investment for the owners. All assets on the books of the company are the property of the company, and although certain types of corporations, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) reduce the risk and insulate the owners' private assets to some degree, in general what is invested by an owner in the firm is the property of the firm and subject to business risks and the laws governing such matters. In return the owner or stockholder is entitled to the return on his or her investment as an individual in the form of dividends, direct proceeds after costs or other forms of entitlement (conveying what is commonly known as profit).

GRANTS VS. DIRECT CONTRACTING

Small Business Grant Funding

Small Business Government Grants have the effect of supplying lump sum funding to a non-profit organization for a specific period once the grant is awarded. In general the funding is used to further the stated mission of the business. However, the grant provider may reserve the right to receive reports on how the money was spent and may require deliverable items associated with performance of the work under the grant.

Certain grants take the form of cooperative agreements, whereby the non-profit and the agency commit to supplying mutual funding amounts to a project. Under limited or special circumstances involving 0 profit, a for-profit entity may be eligible for such a cooperative agreement with the federal government.

Federal Government grant regulations are at the following link:

Grant Regulations



A Web site for researching federal grants as well as additional information on grants in general is at the following site:

Government Grants

Small Business Direct Contract Funding

Federal Government direct contracting regulations are at:

Federal Acquisition Regulation


“Small to Feds”, the web site you are reading, was initiated to assist small businesses in understanding the above regulation and direct federal government contracting. Please see the table of contents in the right margin of this site for topics.

As stated in the introduction above, both for-profit and non-profit entities compete for direct federal contracting. A non-profit entity will bid grants and direct contracts at 0 profit. The following links are suggested as an introduction to direct federal government contracting:

Introducing Federal Government Contracting Into Your Commercial Small Business

Small Business Government Contact Set-Aside Designations

Should You Consider Small Business Federal Government Contracting?

 
SUMMARY

This article has provided a brief (and admittedly general) overview of the difference between non-profit and for-profit business entities and the small business government grants and direct contracting available to each. 

Both small business government grants and direct government contracts are highly competitive. Selecting potential agency sources and submitting winning proposals are acquired skills. For assistance in writing grant and direct contract proposals please see the following links:

Proposal Preparation


Non-Profit Guide

When considering forming an enterprise, please assess in your business plan the potential of both types of entities in direct contracting or grant competitions. Go to the SBA web site that guides you through the business planning process. I suggest you follow the site presentation and note the factors to consider:

Write Your Business Plan


The following site contains samples of business plans:

Sample Business Plans

Look for examples in the above of both for-profit and non-profit organizations at the above link.

Ask yourself some strategic questions, such as what competition you envision and what your marketing plan will be. Addressing these questions may take some research and that is all part of the process of putting in place your plan. It is your road map for the future.













Saturday, January 28, 2023

Utilizing Contingent Hire Agreements to Strengthen Workforce Depth



An option to recruit prospective employees and associates who have previously worked in businesses that have contracted with the government is by utilizing contingent hire agreements.  Such individuals prospectively bring expertise and qualifications with them and lend credibility to your enterprise proposals. 

A contingent hire agreement is one way to approach an experienced employee with the prospect of joining your firm at a later time when the business base is there to permit professional advancement. Under such an agreement the prospective employee agrees to contribute time and effort on a proposal for a new contract and is assured on paper by your company of a position on the project when it is awarded to your firm.  

Such arrangements are generally recognized by the government as a credible way for new or start-up businesses to grow and agencies will accept resumes of experienced professionals in proposals from small business contractors with signed contingent hire agreements even though the personnel may not yet be on the company payroll. 

Prospective employees of this type are often available from the retired or downsized ranks of  prime contractors. Be aware that government procurement integrity regulations apply. Individuals should not be considered who have a potential conflict of interest in the project you are bidding due to a former association with the buying agency in a source selection authority role as specified in FAR Section 3.104.

You can download a recommended free draft shell for this type of agreement from the right margin of this site at the BOX "References" cube.  Look for "Generic Contingent Hire Agreement"  in document list.  



Sunday, January 22, 2023

Federal Government Contracting Customer Relations


For government contracting success it is vital to understand the roles, responsibilities and authorities for the principal personnel with whom the contractor must do business. 


PROCUREMENT CONTRACTING OFFICER

During a federal government contract proposal you will come to know the Procurement Contracting Officer (PCO) assigned to the solicitation that runs the source selection process. 

Prime contractors have equivalent individuals, usually called, “Subcontract Administrators" or "Subcontract Managers". 

Behind the PCO is the agency source selection board made up of the end user and other experts in the government agency. In prime contractor organizations these individuals are usually knows as "Program Managers". 

It is not uncommon for a different PCO to be assigned to the contract once it is awarded. The government seems to evolve specialists in the ranks of procurement officials; some specialize in solicitations and source selections while others tend to be in charge of negotiating and running contracts once the winner is determined. 

PCO’s also have staff assistants, cost analysts and procurement specialists who support them. These personnel may interface with you on fact finding, quality and technical matters. 

Procurement Contracting Officers (PCO's) hold warrants to represent the federal government. PCO's must have internal approval of a contract within their respective agencies before they can sign it on behalf of the agency. 

Only a PCO is authorized to officially commit the government. Only a subcontract administrator or manager is authorized to commit a prime contractor.

DEFENSE CONTRACT MANAGEMENT AREA OFFICE (DCMAO) AND ADMINISTRATIVE CONTRACTING OFFICER (ACO)

As you begin government contracting you may encounter a DCMAO site survey team interested in establishing the physical presence of a new supplier, the technical capability and the human resources to perform the prospective work and the quality of the environment in which the effort will be performed. A "Pre-award Survey of Prospective Contractor" Form is completed and becomes part of the contract file. This will hold true as well if you are a subcontractor to a prime. 

Select the person who will meet with the government survey team. This person should be empowered to speak for the company and should be completely familiar with details of the solicitation and of your company's offer. If relevant, make available one or more technicians to answer questions. 

Identify any disparities that may exist between the solicitation and your company's offer that should be resolved during the initial meeting with the survey team. Think about how you can demonstrate actual technical capability or the development of technical capability on the proposed contract. Make sure your plant facilities and equipment are available and operable. If they are not, be prepared to demonstrate that they can be developed or acquired in time to meet proposed contract requirements. 

Make sure that your labor resources have the proper skills or that personnel with the needed skills can be hired expeditiously. Gather and make available to the survey team documentation, such as previous government contracts or subcontracts or commercial orders, to demonstrate a past satisfactory performance record with regard to delivery, quality and finances. Gather financial documentation for the team financial analyst, including the company's current profit and loss summary, balance sheet, cash flow chart and other pertinent financial information. Make sure the plans are in place for vendor supplies and materials or subcontracts to assure that the final delivery schedule can be met. 

Make sure that these plans are verifiable. Review any technical data and publications that may be required under the proposed contract and make sure you understand them. If the contract is a type other than a firm-fixed price or if you have requested progress payments, prepare adequate accounting documentation for review. Review your quality control program and make sure that it is workable and consistent with the quality requirements stated in the contract.

For smaller contracts a PCO may delegate his authority to an Administrative Contracting Officer (ACO). This often occurs in larger industrial plants where the ACO is resident in the facility or in remote locations where the ACO is a member of the Defense Contract Management Area Office (DCMAO) in the city where the contract is being performed. ACO's run coordinative functions in geographically dispersed offices representing the government and coordinating inspection and acceptance functions, site surveys and related matters on behalf of the PCO. 

As you grow into the government contracting business you will find yourself interfacing more frequently with the DCMAO ACO nearest your location on functions various PCO's delegate or request be performed supporting contracts their agencies hold with your company. With appropriate delegation of authority from the PCO, an ACO can sign contracts and contact amendments on behalf of the government.

CONTRACTING OFFICER'S TECHNICAL REPRESENTATIVE (COTR)

The PCO typically has an end user for the product or service who will become the Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COTR) when the contract is awarded. As discussed above, the prime contractor equivalent position is a Program Manager. 

The COTR has a strong influence on negotiations and contract performance as well as payment approval. Your COTR is the real internal customer at the agency. He has fiscal, technical and schedule responsibilities to his management for the program you are servicing. However, he cannot sign for the government. The PCO has the agency warrant for that function and knows the most about public law and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) as it is applied to contracts the agency undertakes.

 It is the COTR who is likely feeding the PCO requests for fact-finding data during a proposal and it is the COTR with whom you will interface the most in terms of product acceptance or performance of services. Keep in mind that the COTR and the PCO will approve your deliveries, along with quality assurance inspectors for the government. 

A satisfied PCO and COTR mean expeditious billing approval and payment by the government. It can be generally stated that if the COTR is unhappy with contract technical performance the PCO will be unhappy as well. They are co-equals organizationally within an agency. A COTR has program executive management authority regarding decision making options. A PCO is a staff role with signature authority to promulgate decisions, once they have passed inter-agency legal and management reviews.

There are two important aspects of dealing with a COTR:

He or she is your most important government customer technically.

He or she does not have the authority to commit the government on contract changes in work scope, schedule, pricing or terms and conditions. Taking contract direction from a COTR and performing outside the scope of an existing contract without official sign-off on a contract amendment by a PCO is very high risk.

PURCHASING AGENTS

For micro-purchases  you may find yourself dealing with government personnel who are granted purchasing authority without being designated a PCO or an ACO. In most cases these officials are COTR's and are seeking to utilize a government- wide purchasing credit card. If any doubt exists about their authority to commit the government on a transaction, it is always a good idea to ask for their PCO or ACO contact information for verification of the transaction.


DEFENSE CONTRACT AUDIT AGENCY (DCAA)

The Request for Proposal (RFP) to which you responded may have ordered a copy of your proposal be submitted to the Defense Contract Audit Agency DCAA Office nearest your location. If you are a new supplier to the government, DCAA may ask for a copy of your long-range plan containing your direct and indirect rate structure. They will verify the rates utilized in your proposal against your LRP, evaluate escalation factors utilized for long term projects and check the math. 

The auditor will ask for copies of major material and travel quotations and insure that government per diem rates are utilized for lodging and meals in the cost proposal. DCAA may also visit your facility and complete a "Pre-award Survey of Prospective Contractor Accounting System" form. 

The survey checks compliance with Cost Accounting Standards 401 and 402 to insure that the company sets up each new government contract on job cost accounting in the identical manner in which it was proposed; in effect identifying direct labor, direct material and other direct costs to each contract monthly and allocating overhead and G and A utilizing the same numerator and denominator relationships upon which the contract was originally estimated.

DCAA is paid by PCO’s to perform audits. The audit does not extend to negotiations and at the audit conclusion the auditor files a report with the PCO. The report will contain information on any errors uncovered and findings on the adequacy of the accounting and long range planning systems. 
regarding prices for prospective supplies and services. If the auditor does not offer an exit interview, ask for one. 

Better yet, ask for a copy of the audit report to the PCO. Many DCAA offices will provide a copy to audited contractors. DCAA does not have the authority to direct a proposal revision based on audit findings. An astute contractor will immediately correct any errors found by the auditor in the 
DCAA will not express an opinion on the cost content of the proposal in terms of a value judgment proposal and examine other audit findings in preparation for negotiations.

DCAA is also involved in rate approvals on an ongoing basis. When you elect to change your forward pricing rates DCAA will perform and audit of the reasons for the changes and inform the PCO and ACO of the results. DCAA also gets involved in auditing progress billings and incurred cost submissions in support of contract closeout documentation. GSA officials involve DCAA in auditing schedule application proposals and associated escalation factors for multiple year awards.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

PRICING SMALL BUSINESS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SERVICE CONTRACTS

Integrate Long-term Company Strategy
 With Short Term Proposal Pricing Objectives 
For Success



INTRODUCTION
Small businesses entering or growing into federal contacting often struggle with developing a pricing approach. They must design a pricing structure to pass an audit and win competitively. A winning strategy for federal services contracting must involve a view of the horizon as well as the instant bid on the table.
If you are a small enterprise selling off-the-shelf commercial items under FAR Part 12 or marketing commercial products on a GSA schedule, you may be initially challenged by the government contracting venue. With persistence you will establish selling relationships through agencies and prime contractors. Your pricing challenge is minimal. A service contractor faces a far greater challenge in understanding the nature of government contact pricing and winning at it.
Strategic thinking must therefore be applied to structuring a government service contracting cost center in your company. It must involve long term planning and designing a business system as well as establishing rates and factors to bid new work.
LONG TERM COMPANY STRATEGY
Build a Business System With Pricing in Mind:
We have previously discussed the basics of small business government contracting business system design: Job Cost Accounting Basics
The structure or your pricing approach from the cost element level through burdens must use the same template as your job cost accounting and billing. The parallel mapping provides the consistency required to pass audits or get your billings approved on a service contract.
Please read the above article and its related references. Then design your processes recognizing the guidance there and applying it to your company organization, and the way you produce your supplies and services:
Sculpt the DCAA Auditor
As you begin submitting government contracting proposals you will encounter your local DCAA audit office. They learn about your company by auditing your cost proposal rates, job cost processes and systems, billings and contract closeouts.
Keep in mind that you are shaping opinions in these encounters on the part of these government personnel that will influence your future and be passed on in reports to contracting officers. Your unique company business system structure must be carefully explained to them against what they know best; their DCAA Audit manual and FAR Cost Accounting Standards:
Protect Rate Information
Your fully loaded rates will appear on your GSA schedule in the public domain, in subcontracts from prime contractors and in data acquired under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by competitors.
It is generally recognized by all industries participating in federal government contracting that internal overhead and G&A rates and the data that support them are proprietary data. The reason for the proprietary nature of rate data between companies is that in government work firms are teaming with each other exclusively on one project and competing against each other on additional contracts or projects at the same time.
Companies do not disclose the details of their rates to other companies and they do not expect to see another company’s proprietary rate information. So companies view each others rate information on a fully loaded basis, meaning the total of the base cost, any proprietary indirect cost and an agreed upon profit percent.
If a prime contractor requests that subcontractor proprietary rate information be supplied with a proposal the detail should be double wrapped and the package stamped, ‘Government Eyes Only’. The prime will then hand the package off to DCAA without opening it and receive only the fully loaded result of the burdened rate pricing.
For further information on intellectual property protection and protective markings on government contract proposals please see the following article:
Recognize Overhead and General and Administrative Expense Rates Are Critical
Assuming your competition pays a generally similar labor rate to their employees as you do and that fringe costs about the same for everyone, then overhead and general administrative expense are what wins and loses contracts.
Please read the following articles carefully with regard to long range planning and setting your overhead and general  administrative  rates:
Keep in mind that if you are performing work inside a government facility the government will expect to be charged a lower overhead rate than if you were paying the space and occupancy costs and the light bill. This is normally achieved by establishing a separate cost center for “On site” (Internal to government quarters) work with lower overhead expenses applied to project direct labor dollars in that cost center.
Price Set Aside Contracts the Same as Full and Open Competitions
If you are a small business lucky enough to receive a sole source set aside contract under an 8(a) or Hub Zone award, or if you are participating in limited competition under a small business set aside designation, use the same sharp pencil you use on the full and open market. Your goal is to compete for the long haul and inflating estimates on particular jobs due to limited competition has an inflationary effect on your business as a whole.
Your company past performance is being constantly evaluated by the government and prime contractor community. Consistency attains and retains new business. You will eventually grow to the point where set asides and sole sourcing will no longer be available; prepare early.
Know the True Value of Your Proposal
Develop risk thresholds (ceiling and floor) for your bids. The ceiling is the price for which you can bid a job, perform to meet specifications and win. A floor is the lowest possible price for which you can accept a contract and survive.
Do not bid or be negotiated out of these thresholds. “Buying In” does not work and sacrificing the future of your company by “Low Balling” cost proposals and hoping to get well on scope changes later is dangerous.
In government contracting the only worse scenario than losing a contract is winning it, performing poorly (cost, schedule or technical) and getting a black eye on your company past performance record that takes a long time to go away.
Understand a Proposal is the Opening Chapter a Baseline for Your Contract
Your proposal represents an initial offer to a government agency or a prime contractor. Please read the following articles on how this baseline is initially set and controlled through the negotiation process and ultimately through careful contract management.
SHORT TERM PROPOSAL OBJECTIVES
Make Bid/No Bid Decisions Wisely
Conduct your bid/no bid decisions effectively. Please see the bid/no bid analysis process at the beginning of the following article:
Be Conservative in Rough Order of Magnitude Pricing
A common government planning technique in the early phases of marketing is to ask questions and review and approve a concept paper by a company then informally request for “Planning Purposes”, a rough order of magnitude cost estimate (ROM).
If you provide a ROM be very careful. It tends to get cast in concrete in the customer’s mind, even though it is not the final, formal proposal. Make it conservative in cost content and schedule duration, then plan to beat it with your formal proposal.
Make sure you caveat the ROM if you are asked for it with the statement in your cover letter that it is for planning purposes only and is not a commitment on the part of your company. State that you will be happy to make a full formal proposal/commitment upon receipt of a formal RFP from an authorized contracting officer. Keep in mind that contracting officers are the only people who can commit the government:
The government usually goes forward with the concept paper and the ROM for approval of the funding necessary for the job. The “Agency Higher Ups” either give the project personnel the approval to do a set aside or they require a competitive procurement.
You may want to read the following article on Statements of Work:
Know the Difference Between Firm, Fixed Price, Time and Materials and Cost Plus Contracting
During the solicitation and proposal process the contract type is specified.
Firm, Fixed Price (FFP) is the riskiest type of contracting and should be undertaken only when you have a definitive grasp of a precise statement of work with known variables and end products. You should have achieved similar work scope in the past or be delivering follow-on products and services that are mature in nature to undertake a firm, fixed price contract.
FFP is particularly risky in software development contracts or high technology program pressing the state of the art. You will receive no more in the form of funding than your bid price on a firm, fixed price contract.
Time and Materials (T and M) contracting places the risk on the government and is suited to long term service contracts of a development nature. Time and Material may be contracted with fixed labor rates, making the hours and pass through materials and other direct costs the only variables.
Cost Plus (CP) contracting is the least risky of all contract types and you are assured of receiving every dollar of cost incurred under this type of contract.
The lower the risk to the contractor the lower the expected negotiated profit rate you can expect, since the government considers risk the principal factor in profit negotiation.
For further explanation of contract types in more detail, please see the following article:
Develop a Price Profile of the Competition
Use a copy of your own forward pricing long range plan (LRP) to model your strongest competitors. Profile your best intelligence regarding their size, location, contract base and estimated overhead and G&A expenses. Then interpolate, from your knowledge of the market, their labor and fringe costs, as well as other direct costs as you prepare your proposal. Incorporate any unique approaches you estimate your competition may offer that impact cost.
Adjust your competitor cost model to perform “What If Analysis” during your risk assessment and proposal review process. For an example of an LRP cost model please see the Box Net Cube in the left margin of this site: Small Business Federal Government Contracting It is Appendix B to the book, “Small Business Federal Government Contracting” and is available as a free download in Adobe format from the BOX in the right margin of the site.
Understand “Best Value” Source Selection
When the government declares a “Best Value” proposal award process the agency will perform a weighted trade study of cost verses technical and management factors in reviewing proposals. They will announce the weight of each factor in relative terms within the solicitation so contractors can focus on the most important elements.
What best value means quite simply is that if you are the low price bidder you may not win. If a competitor proposes a superior technical and management approach, a higher weighted rating in those factors may offset an otherwise non-competitive bid price, resulting in an award. This is a fact you must keep in mind when preparing your own proposal. In short you must perform your own trade study on your own bid.
Past performance has also become a significant weight factor in proposal evaluations in recent years. To address this challenge, please see the following article:
A balanced proposal, with specific, heavy emphasis on government-designated weight factors and an economical, yet realistic cost/price usually wins. Offsetting weaknesses in any designated government weighted area by proposing excellence in other weighted areas is vital.
Beware of Unallowable Costs
Over the years the federal government has determined that certain costs cannot be allowed in prices, cost reimbursements or settlements under contracts with the US Government. The government is unwilling to pay for these costs as direct charges to federal government contracts or through indirect expense pools applied to federal government contracts.
A company is not prohibited from incurring unallowable costs, but they cannot be recovered either directly or indirectly under federal government contracts. To manage unallowable costs, separate accounts must be established for these type expenses and they must not be priced directly into federal government contracts during the proposal process.
Such costs cannot be made a part of the expense pools which are applied to federal government contracts through an overhead, material handling or G&A cost allocation at accounting period close or during forward pricing rate planning. For more detail on unallowable costs please see the following article:
Integrate Pricing With Technical and Management Approaches
Establish price targets as soon as possible for major tasks, evolve a program plan, or if you are bidding a T&M, IDIQ type program develop a sample work order for a typical representative effort.
As the technical and management proposal move toward completion, use established checkpoints to evaluate the efficiency of your cost estimate, escalation factors, labor, material and other direct costs. Then apply your indirect rates and subject your total proposal to a credibility check with regard to a believable cost estimate considering your solution and its time frame.
Run your competition price model and bring in some outside experts to review the end product proposal “Cold” before it is submitted.
Manage Best and Final Offers (BAFO) Carefullly
Most government solicitations require a format and terms and conditions with submission that permit contract award without further discussion. However, many involve a down-select process, briefings by those selected in the “Competitive Range”, a call for best and final offer (BAFO) or negotiation to achieve a final price.
The best and final offer period is a sensitive time. Most contracting agencies that call for a BAFO will cite weaknesses or concerns in the selected contractor proposals. They wish to hear about solutions to those weaknesses during BAFO briefings and require a re-submitted offer to correct them. The price may be adjusted as well and that is a key consideration. Pay particular attention to the way the BAFO instructions and concerns, specific to your down-selection, are worded. Look for hints that indicate critical opinion about your pricing, and then adjust your costs.
Consider the cost, schedule, technical and past performance implications of the BAFO request letter from the government and revise your proposal by the required submission date. Close the loop on all matters with your suppliers, subcontractors and prime contractors, and then conduct your briefing to the customer when it is scheduled. Present a united front to win. Your price should be your best. You will not be offered a chance to bid another competitively on that program.
On some procurements you may be asked to undertake additional discussions to determine final contract pricing. Please see the negotiation template at the following article for guidance on that process:
SUMMARY
This discussion has conveyed how pricing should be a natural outgrowth of the organization structure, market strategy, competitive analysis, business system design and long range planning.
We have further explained how your long and short term pricing factors should be integrated with the management and technical elements of any given proposal. Take the long and the short view of your business by integrating long-term company strategy with short term proposal objectives