Search This Blog

Monday, September 17, 2018

Pricing with Credibility in Small Business Federal Government Contracting

Image result for credibility
Image: "Video Blocks"


Introduction

Assuming a proposal to a government agency has an acceptable technical solution and past performance and management factors that convince the customer it is a viable candidate, then pricing may be the winning element in the source selection equation.

The mechanics of government contract pricing have been discussed previously at this site. The discussion relates how pricing should be a natural outgrowth of the organization structure, market strategy, competitive analysis, business system design and long range planning:


The above article also explains how long and short term pricing factors should be integrated with the management and technical elements of any given proposal and that a total view of the business is best presented by integrating long-term company strategy with short term proposal objectives. 

The purpose of this article is to augment the above discussion with tips on establishing and maintaining credibility in pricing to a government customer.

Certified Cost or Pricing Data

Certified cost or pricing data under the “Truth in Negotiations Act” (10 U.S.C. § 2306a) or TINA statute is proposal pricing, which for procurements greater than $750,000, is certified by the contractor as accurate, complete and current as of the date of agreement on price. (Section 811 of the fiscal year 2018 NDAA includes a provision that increases the threshold up to $2,000,000). 

The absence of a certificate does not eliminate defective pricing liability.

The statement underlined above is a key principle in relationships with the government and its auditors. TINA influences a government auditor’s thinking and it is in the back of the mind of every contract negotiator. They are taught and learn by experience to look for TINA faults.  

Thus, even if your procurement does not meet the above threshold for TINA certification you should price to establish a similar credibility with your customer, even though you may not have to sign a TINA “Certificate of Current Cost or Pricing”. Doing so is simply good risk management in business.

You may read more about cost and pricing data and the negotiation process at the following link:


Remember Historical Data is Precedent Setting

All auditors, negotiators and pricing analysts are preconditioned to utilize historical data. The last or most favorable price offered a customer for a commercial off-the- shelf product is strong support for what is currently being quoted. This is particularly true of GSA Schedule negotiations, product updates or repetitive buying situations.  If you are a commercial supplier, a quantity factor will also enter into play.  In general, orders of higher quantity than historical pricing quantities undergo downward pricing pressure by the buyer unless some other factor such as a non-recurring tooling charge, learning curve interruption, obsolescent material or other upward factors can be offered as support for a higher unit price on a higher quantity buy.

Educate Your Auditor

An auditor who is familiar with your forward pricing rates, your business system and your product lines will understand your proposal cost and pricing data better than one who has not been briefed on the big picture of your company business operation.  Take the time to conduct briefings at that level and acquaint new government personnel with your operations.  Do not assume he or she has read prior audit reports.  They may have done so but a face to face courtesy briefing is much more effective than reading some other auditors view of a specific proposal. 

This factor can be a double edged sword, however. An auditor who knows the operation extremely well can also spot deviations in cost and pricing data and require explanations for anomalies in pricing based on observed trends.

Develop a Comprehensive Basis of Estimate (BOE)

A good BOE should have the following principal attributes:

* Clear identification of the products, services, skills, materials and performance factors required to complete the contract and material/subcontract quotes, labor categories and skill sets to perform the effort.

* A description of the conditions under which the contractor will be required to perform and any related environmental or location factors that affect the hours or dollars quoted

* Specific references to product specifications that govern an acceptable product or services performance outcome and delivery acceptance so that the cost data has boundaries.

* A schedule for the contract that identifies discrete delivery dates for products and specific start and end dates for supporting labor to that escalation and price expiration are established. 

* A precise description of government/customer furnished material or facilities required and when it will be made available to the contractor to bound the expectations of the client with respect to elements your company cannot or will not control. 

Insure Compliance with Cost Accounting Standards (CAS) Requirements

Small businesses are generally required to meet modified CAS coverage for service contracts. This requires consistency in the manner in which a small business quotes a proposal and the manner in which costs and billings are accounted after award.  You can read about these requirements at the following link:


Insure your proposal contains no unallowable costs and that your direct labor as well as your overhead and G&A rates are applied in accordance with your latest forward pricing agreement. If you do not have a forward pricing agreement, explain precisely how your rates were developed from a CAS compliant business system perspective:


Utilize Weighted Guidelines as a Check to Prepare Support for the Profit Rate Quoted

Although policy in FAR Part 215-404-4 states that contracting officers ….” do not perform a profit analysis when assessing cost realism in competitive acquisitions”, it is wise to understand the contracting officer and his representatives are indirectly forming opinions of the risk to the contractor and the mix of cost elements in the proposal. That opinion directly effects profit negotiations and judgments.

Contractors should be aware that the Weighted Guidelines Method is mandatory for all negotiated procurements except Cost-Plus Award Fee Contracts and exceptions as approved by a higher authority. Contracting officers are to prepare their position using DD Form 1547 with associated backup and file it at the conclusion of negotiations.

Understanding the weighted guidelines method can assist in achieving a higher profit on a negotiation because a contractor can present a position at the table that logically supports the following elements required by FAR Part 215-404-4:

* Performance risk

* Contract type risk

* Facilities capital employed

Read more regarding the Weighted Guidelines Method at the following link:


Summary

A reputation for defective pricing leads to accusations of waste fraud and abuse in government contracting and is mostly about what a contractor knew regarding company prices at the time a bid was negotiated and what the contractor did not disclose in the supporting data regarding the likely cost outcome of the contract.  

Actions taken by the government and litigation resulting from defective pricing become part of the contractor past performance record and must be disclosed during competition for other programs. 

Avoid defective pricing accusations by establishing credibility with your customer through consistent, regulatory-compliant, cost and pricing in your proposal submissions and negotiations.





Sunday, September 9, 2018

Unsolicited Government Contract Proposals - A Multiple Stage Challenge

image ostglobalsolutions dot com



INTRODUCTION

Most enterprises in government contracting encounter the possibility of submitting an unsolicited proposal.  The perceived opportunity arises as a result of observing a requirement that the company could uniquely fulfill, but for which the government has yet to issue a formal solicitation.

These opportunities are normally  large enough so they can't be sold off a GSA schedule or an existing contract delivery order, and do not fall under FAR Part 12, "Commercial Contracting”  

CHALLENGES AND STRATEGY

Since your product or service is not on the funding docket with the agency it does not have a funding I.D. Your job is to get the technical and project personnel enthused enough about it to carve out a niche in their program area and support a funding request for it. They do so by  to obtaining a solicitation I.D; money and authorization to buy from you.
The key to achieving the above is a good presentation revolving around your capability statement but supplemented by a pitch that should emphasize specifically how you understand the agency mission and that your offerings could further it.
Your objective should be to submit a hard hitting summary with a proposal in letter form, protected with the standard proprietary markings, through the contracting officer with whom you have already had discussions to the technical lead man in the agency and request a meeting to make the full pitch in person. 
WORK YOUR PROPOSAL IN STAGES
The following link is the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) guidance on unsolicited proposals:
FAR Guidance - Unsolicited Proposals

Be advised that you need to assert your rights in technical data and software on anything you give them that is product oriented because you have made an investment in it. When they start putting money into its further development you find them pressuring you for a deal on licensing and free use of it in exchange for funding and orders for services. That is the normal course of events and it can be managed.
Another approach is to carefully locate a platform provider that could use your product services and team with them on a larger scale, bundled program that may be going to formal solicitation.
In either of the above instances, carefully protect your idea using the tips in the below article:
You will note that the FAR guidance specifies that cost and pricing data must be submitted so the proposal may be evaluated.  Naturally you must provide that ultimately, but it is recommended you do not do so with your initial proposal submission.  Simply state you will be pleased discuss with the agency the scope in terms of types and quantities of product and services, after which you will price the result of their input for planning purposes, pending a formal solicitation with funding commitment.
If the agency or a prime gets enthused, they will ask for a Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) estimate for planning and funding purposes on what your product or services may cost. Be careful to make it conservative because those things get cast in concrete and caveat any ROM with a written statement that your ROM is not a formal commitment to a contract and that you will be pleased to commit with a formal proposal from the government through a duly authorized contracting officer under a funded solicitation.
I have had clients that have even been requested by agencies to write a statement of work for such a solicitation
The government fiscal year is a key driver in terms of available funding and getting it earmarked. Keep in mind funding for a program using your idea or a platform using it must fall within a funding cycle that begins 1 October, picks up heavily in July and August and must conclude in September.
CONCLUSION
Success in unsolicited proposals is a process:
1.   An initial unsolicited proposal submission after focused marketing is the gateway

2.   A strong presentation to the customer in person is key.

3.   Rough order of magnitude (ROM) pricing permits planning by the customer

4.   A funded solicitation is a green light for a firm contract proposal.

5    A Formal proposal submission under a funded solicitation, committing to negotiable price, schedule and delivery terms wins the contract. 

In addition to the articles linked above, please review the following 2 additional articles for guidance:


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Baseline Management in Government Contracting



INTRODUCTION

Government Computer News (GCN) carried a story in the recent past on the difficulties experienced with, "Performance-Based Contracting", which has been made part of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) in an attempt to pre-establish at contract award those discrete outcomes that determine if and when a contractor will be paid.  The conditions it cites remain today in terms of a dramatic need for contract baseline management. 

Interestingly enough, the article splits the blame for the difficulties right down the middle, stating the government typically has problems defining what it wants as an end product or outcome and looks to contractors to define it for them. More than willing to do so, the contractors detail specific end products or outcomes, set schedule milestones and submit competitive proposals.

The winner is selected based on what the government thinks it needs at the time to fulfill its requirement and a contract is negotiated. Once underway, the government decides it wants something else (usually a management-by-government committee phenomena with a contractor growing his product or service by offering lots of options). The resulting change of contract scope invalidates the original price and schedule, so a whole new round of proposals and negotiations must occur with the winner while the losers watch something totally different evolve than that for which they competed. The clock keeps ticking and the winner keeps getting his monthly bill paid based on incurred cost or progress payments.

 GCN "Performance Based Contracting"

It is in the long term interests of astute contractors to assist in contract baseline management. The only way to achieve such an objective is through sound technical, cost and schedule contract definition and control via an iterative process with the government. This article will address that process.

SOLICITATION AND STATEMENT OF WORK BASELINE

If you are selling a straight commercial product off the shelf, the problem of baseline management is minimal, assuming your product meets the specifications required and you deliver on time. Is it during development programs for new products or service contracts involving labor supplied to the government that lack of definition and poor communication are high risks. The initial benchmark for managing this risk is in the government solicitation and statement of work.

A wise customer farms the preliminary draft solicitation and statement of work out to prospective bidders and requests comment. A wise supplier is constructive, yet critical in pointing out weaknesses in the document.

Part 1, Section C, is where the technical specifications and statement of work are located in the solicitation and will reside in your negotiated contract.Without a well written Statement of Work (SOW) and associated supplies and services specifications there is unacceptable risk in the future contract and is it exceptionally high risk to bid or contract the job. Both the contractor and the government must come to an understanding regarding the scope of effort to be performed. That understanding is conveyed in the SOW and confirmed in the specifications referenced therein. A good SOW should have the following principal attributes:

* Clear identification of the products, services, skills, materials and performance factors required to complete the contract

* A description of the conditions under which the contractor will be required to perform and any related environmental or location factors

* Specific references to product specifications that govern an acceptable product or services performance outcome and delivery acceptance

* A schedule for the contract that identifies discrete delivery dates for products and specific start and end dates for supporting labor.

* A precise description of government furnished material or facilities required and when it will be made available to the contractor.

If your customer does not provide the above, offer a revision to the document during the comments period, during your proposal or during negotiations that represents a version to which your company will commit. Do not let the fact the program is competitive sway you from the facts. Signing off on a poorly written SOW results in a difficult contract to manage, a high probability for disputes during the contracting period and a poor past performance record you will have to deal with in the future on other jobs.

You should also do a complete review of the Contract Line Item (CLIN) Structure in the solicitation and cross foot SOW requirements to insure the scope is covered by the CLIN'S.

Please see the following article on how to perform this analysis:

Contract Line Items - The Heart of Your Contract

NEGOTIATION BASELINE

The following article discusses the standard template for negotiations through which government contracts generally pass:

Government Contract Negotiation

During the audit, fact-finding and subsequent negotiation steps, a growing definition of the contract occurs and a clear understanding between you and your customer evolves. If you find the process slow and unknowns frequently surfacing, that is a barometer of future difficulty unless the issues are resolved. Technical work scope, schedule, cost and terms and conditions regarding inspection and acceptance as well as payment provisions are especially sensitive.

CONTRACT AWARD BASELINE

Signing the contract represents full agreement on the proposal and conclusion of negotiations. Award is the benchmark baseline for contract performance.

BASELINE MAINTENANCE - THE CHANGES CLAUSE

During the period of performance on a development or services contract, effort does not always go as planned. The article on Earned Value Performance Measurement (EVMS) at this site is one technique to control this situation:

Earned Value Mangagment

Not all programs warrant EVMS or have the funding to perform that type of control. The simple rule of thumb is that the changes clause in your contract allows you to request additional funding and schedule relief, as well as a modification to the SOW if you are being driven by customer directed work scope change events to depart from the baseline to which you committed at contract award.

To the extent you do not remain sensitive to this provision, on a firm fixed price contract you will lose money. On a cost plus and time and materials type contract you will consume funding at a higher rate and faster than the contact baseline anticipated and your customer may or may not be able to provide additional monies when the ceiling amount on the contract is reached. At that point in time it is too late and everyone is disappointed.

The above occurrences are collectively known as "Scope Creep" in project management circles.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BUDGET AND FUNDING - (Limitation of Funds and Funding Exposure)

Many federal contracts are funded incrementally, usually based on the government fiscal year that runs from 1 October to 30 September. Although the government may negotiate dollar price ceilings for cost plus and time and materials contracts or firm, fixed total price arrangements, the contracts themselves may be incrementally funded, particularly if they extend over two government fiscal years.

A contract may contain negotiated prices or a cost ceiling but also specify an incremental funding value. The contractor is required to inform the government when actual costs incurred plus obligations to suppliers or payroll on a specific contract reach certain thresholds of the current incremental funding specified in the contract (usually 80%). The government is then obligated to further fund the contract. In the event the contract is not funded further, the contractor has the right to stop work before he exceeds the incremental funding.

Some contractors choose to operate on "risk," continuing to perform on a contract while exceeding the incremental funding in booked cost and obligations. The government is under no obligation to reimburse the contractor for amounts exceeding incremental funding.

Nearing the end of a government fiscal year, a contractor may find delays in funding reaching all the way to congress. This situation must be managed with the government contracting officer.

If a contract is not funded to continue and the contractor has performed to date in accordance with all required terms, the government retains the right to terminate the contract for the convenience of the government. This requires a special notification to the contractor from the government and usually occurs due to changes in government priorities. The contractor may then bill the government for all costs and obligations to date, plus any direct and indirect extraordinary costs associated with business disruption, termination administration, employee layoff cost and the like. Terminations for convenience are very expensive for the government. Nevertheless, limitation of funds and funding exposure must be carefully monitored by an astute small business.

To properly manage incremental funding, the business system must be capable of accounting monthly for all direct and indirect costs on each contract, plus commitments to suppliers and employees in the form of open purchase orders and unpaid or un-posted payroll.

Your internal release document should specify the current incremental funding if your contract is not fully funded at award. Further revisions to your release documentation should convey receipt of contact amendments from the government that supply additional required funding to the contract as performance proceeds. Requests for increases in incremental funding are required when the actual booked cost plus commitments to suppliers reaches 80% of the current funding on the contact.

In the event the contact is not adequately funded incrementally by the government, a revision to your internal release documentation should specify a stop work order after you have notified your customer that you plan to cease performance on the contract due to lack of sufficient funding. Notification should be provided to suppliers under your contract with a stop work to avoid their incurring additional costs for which you are not receiving funding from the government. Be specific with a stop work date to these suppliers.

IN SUMMARY - KNOW WHERE YOUR ARE AND WHEN TO SAY "NO"

"Scope Creep" can kill a contract, a customer relationship and a past performance record, all of which are important to your business. Stay in front of "The Scope Creep" by communicating positively with your customer to control your baseline, keeping cost, schedule and technical performance integrated and synchronous.


Six rules of Thumb to control "Scope Creep":

1. KNOW - The contract value and its ceiling amount

2. KNOW - The incurred cost to date and commitments

3. KNOW - The scope of work and whether or not your current efforts are supporting it or some other objectives

4. KNOW - The estimated cost at completion based on where you are at today

5. KNOW - Your customer and who among the customer population is prone to direct out of scope effort.

6. KNOW - WHEN TO SAY "NO" to "Scope Creep" and say it officially in writing to the contracting officer specified in your contract.