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Monday, April 6, 2020

The Most Credible Input On Our COVID-19  Challenges Today.

PLEASE consider the genius of this man's address in 2017. It is dramatically relevant, not only to how we arrived at our present dilemma, but also to what must be done going forward.   

"Pandemic Preparedness in the Next Administration: Keynote Address by Anthony S. Fauci"




Saturday, April 4, 2020

Know Your Options For Government Contracts Disputes and Appeals



REQUESTS FOR EQUITABLE ADJUSTMENT (REA)

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)

CLAIMS

I.  INTRODUCTION

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contains provisions for contractors and the government to resolve contract disputes.  The disputes often arise due to events during performance, many times surfacing weaknesses in the original contract work definition, technical parameters, schedule factors or related terms and conditions that can lead to change implications effecting cost, schedule and delivery.

In short, when the understanding the parties thought they had at negotiation and execution of the contract is in dispute, there must be a resolution. 

These conditions open the baseline of the contract to further clarification and negotiation. The FAR recognizes that a fair and equitable process is necessary to settle disputes and re-establish a mutually agreeable contract baseline.

 II. GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Contract baseline management has been discussed previously in the following article:

Contract Baseline Management

The above article offers six (6) rules of thumb:

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.

The remainder of this article will discuss the three most common processes that contract disputes undergo when the baseline is in dispute and selecting the best method considering the circumstances that exist on the contract. 


III. REQUESTS FOR EQUITABLE ADJUSTMENT (REA)

An REA is most often the first and the least formal step undertaken by a contractor when there has been a clear and recognizable departure from the contract baseline in terms of events that warrant cost, schedule, technical performance or terms and conditions parameter modification.  It does not start the formal claims process under FAR with associated interest implications.

Submitted in the form of a proposal for contract change, the REA cites the "Before and After" conditions of the contract baseline and the details regarding the delta.  Implicit in the submission are actual cost records, documents regarding government actions and guidance, an estimate of the new baseline impact in terms of cost, schedule or technical modifications to the agreement and a request for contract change. 

The government agency may approve or deny the proposal, further negotiate the details with the contractor and may or may not modify the contact.  The following article is an excellent guide to use and preparation of REA’s:


IV. ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION (ADR)

ADR takes advance planning on the part of the government agency and the contractor.  Not every government contracting office chooses to place an ADR clause in contacts they execute.  Not every contractor is willing to accept one at contract award.

ADR is intended to be an alternative to the REA and formal claims process, whereby the government and the contractor agree in advance to place an ADR clause in the contract and subject any dispute that arises to the ADR process for resolution.  

Below is a quote from the FAR on the use of ADR:

33.214  Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
(a) The objective of using ADR procedures is to increase the opportunity for relatively inexpensive and expeditious resolution of issues in controversy. Essential elements of ADR include—
(1) Existence of an issue in controversy;
(2) A voluntary election by both parties to participate in the ADR process;
(3) An agreement on alternative procedures and terms to be used in lieu of formal litigation; and
(4) Participation in the process by officials of both parties who have the authority to resolve the issue in controversy.
(b) If the contracting officer rejects a contractor’s request for ADR proceedings, the contracting officer shall provide the contractor a written explanation citing one or more of the conditions in 5 U.S.C. 572(b) or such other specific reasons that ADR procedures are inappropriate for the resolution of the dispute. In any case where a contractor rejects a request of an agency for ADR proceedings, the contractor shall inform the agency in writing of the contractor’s specific reasons for rejecting the request.
(c) ADR procedures may be used at any time that the contracting officer has authority to resolve the issue in controversy. If a claim has been submitted, ADR procedures may be applied to all or a portion of the claim. When ADR procedures are used subsequent to the issuance of a contracting officer’s final decision, their use does not alter any of the time limitations or procedural requirements for filing an appeal of the contracting officer’s final decision and does not constitute a reconsideration of the final decision.
(d) When appropriate, a neutral person may be used to facilitate resolution of the issue in controversy using the procedures chosen by the parties.
(e) The confidentiality of ADR proceedings shall be protected consistent with 5 U.S.C. 574.
(f)(1) A solicitation shall not require arbitration as a condition of award, unless arbitration is otherwise required by law. Contracting officers should have flexibility to select the appropriate ADR procedure to resolve the issues in controversy as they arise.
(2) An agreement to use arbitration shall be in writing and shall specify a maximum award that may be issued by the arbitrator, as well as any other conditions limiting the range of possible outcomes.
(g) Binding arbitration, as an ADR procedure, may be agreed to only as specified in agency guidelines. Such guidelines shall provide advice on the appropriate use of binding arbitration and when an agency has authority to settle an issue in controversy through binding arbitration.”

V. CONTRACT CLAIMS

A formal contract claim is a significant step in the relationship with your customer.  It acknowledges that the REA and ADR (if applicable to the contract) processes have not been effective in resolving the dispute and refers the matter to a formal claim which has the potential for adjudication.  It also starts the interest clock in terms of government payment liability in the event the agency loses the claim during adjudication. 

Below are the major clauses regarding formal contact claims and the certifications by the contractor that apply.  They have significant legal implications.


VI. SUMMARY

When contract disputes or the potential for claims and appeals arise it is best to view each instance uniquely in deciding which of the three avenues discussed in this article may be appropriate. 

Contract disputes are serious matters. In the event the impact to the company from a risk perspective is substantial, it is best to involve a law firm that specializes in government contract claims for advice on how to proceed. 


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Small Business Government Contracting and Federal Financial Recovery Resources










The COVID-19 battle will continue as a local issue.  It is at the local level in which federal funding programs are enacted, grown and made part of the culture. 

There will be dramatic roles for small business, not just in medically related fields but also in logistics to geospatial technology fields and others. Here is an example of one :


There will be many more soon to come. Consider the following entry points into Federal Government contracting:





New rules allow the affected small businesses within the state or territory to apply for a disaster assistance loan.
SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Relief For Small Business
____________________________________________________

"SBA PRESS RELEASE: 3/31/2020"
"WASHINGTON – Following President Trump’s signing of the historic Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin today announced that the SBA and Treasury Department have initiated a robust mobilization effort of banks and other lending institutions to provide small businesses with the capital they need.
The CARES Act establishes a new $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program. The Program will provide much-needed relief to millions of small businesses so they can sustain their businesses and keep their workers employed.
“This unprecedented public-private partnership is going to assist small businesses with accessing capital quickly. Our goal is to position lenders as the single point-of-contact for small businesses – the application, loan processing, and disbursement of funds will all be administered at the community level,” said Administrator Carranza. “Speed is the operative word; applications for the emergency capital can begin as early as this week, with lenders using their own systems and processes to make these loans. We remain committed to supporting our nation’s more than 30 million small businesses and their employees, so that they can continue to be the fuel for our nation’s economic engine.”
“This legislation provides small business job retention loans to provide eight weeks of payroll and certain overhead to keep workers employed,” said Secretary Mnuchin. “Treasury and the Small Business Administration expect to have this program up and running by April 3rd so that businesses can go to a participating SBA 7(a) lender, bank, or credit union, apply for a loan, and be approved on the same day.  The loans will be forgiven as long as the funds are used to keep employees on the payroll and for certain other expenses.”
The new loan program will help small businesses with their payroll and other business operating expenses. It will provide critical capital to businesses without collateral requirements, personal guarantees, or SBA fees – all with a 100% guarantee from SBA. All loan payments will be deferred for six months. Most importantly, the SBA will forgive the portion of the loan proceeds that are used to cover the first eight weeks of payroll costs, rent, utilities, and mortgage interest.
The Paycheck Protection Program is specifically designed to help small businesses keep their workforce employed. Visit SBA.gov/Coronavirus for more information on the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • The new loan program will be available retroactive from Feb. 15, 2020, so employers can rehire their recently laid-off employees through June 30, 2020.

Loan Terms & Conditions

  • Eligible businesses: All small businesses, including non-profits, Veterans organizations, Tribal concerns, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals, and independent contractors, with 500 or fewer employees, or no greater than the number of employees set by the SBA as the size standard for certain industries
  • Maximum loan amount up to $10 million
  • Loan forgiveness if proceeds used for payroll costs and other designated business operating expenses in the 8 weeks following the date of loan origination (due to likely high subscription, it is anticipated that not more than 25% of the forgiven amount may be for non-payroll costs)
  • All loans under this program will have the following identical features:
    • Interest rate of 0.5%
    • Maturity of 2 years
    • First payment deferred for six months
    • 100% guarantee by SBA
    • No collateral
    • No personal guarantees
    • No borrower or lender fees payable to SBA
SBA’s announcement comes on the heels of a series of steps taken by the Agency since the President’s Emergency Declaration to expeditiously provide capital to financially distressed businesses affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Since March 17, SBA has taken the following steps:
Visit SBA.gov/Coronavirus for more information on SBA’s assistance to small businesses."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Marketing to Achieve a Small Business Set-aside Government Contract



INTRODUCTION

Marketing is one of the greatest challenges for the small business federal government contractor. We have previously discussed the federal government marketing process at the following articles:

Insights to Succeed




This posting will address sculpting a government contracting business opportunity to the point where it becomes a sole source or small business group-designated set aside procurement.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Small business group-designated procurement is far more frequent than sole source contract awards.  Agencies must prepare special justifications for sole sourcing and those most frequently approved are for Hub Zone and Small, Disadvantaged [8(a)] firms (see table below).
Small business group designations are beneficial to firms who hold them by enhancing the probability of an award through agency restrictions on prime contractor bidding to only those who hold the group designation. Others may bid as subcontractors to the prime but the prime small business contractor must be capable of performing at least 51% of the total effort in terms of work scope, hours and dollars.  
 
In either sole source or group-designated marketing, an agency making the buy must be convinced that sufficient capability exists in a single company or in the small business designated group community to set a contract aside. The agency must be convinced early – before a formal procurement announcement is published on SAM Contract Opportunities  

Marketing to achieve a limited competition under a small business group designation or eliminate competition under a sole source contract assumes the marketing enterprise has one or more of the following federal government set-aside designations:

DESIGNATION                                                         TARGET
Small Business                                           (Group Set Aside Potential)
Small Woman-Owned Business                 (Group Set Aside Potential)
Small Veteran-Owned Business                 (Group Set Aside Potential)
Small Disabled Veteran-Owned Business  (Group Designation Set Aside Potential)
Small Hub Zone Business                          (Sole Source and Group Set Aside Potential)
Small Disadvantaged Business 8(a)          (Sole Source and Group Set Aside Potential)

Federal government procurement is further classified under the SBA Small Business Size Standards in terms of North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) Code, number of personnel and/or annual sales. To determine whether a firm qualifies for a given bid, note the NAICS for a given solicitation and download the SBA Small Business Size Standards the Box Net “References” Cube in the right margin of this site.

Part of the sole source or designated group set aside marketing task is to suggest to the agency the NAICS Code (hence the size standard) for a prospective procurement.
Registering to bid government contacts and establish sole source and group designations may be achieved using guidance in the below articles:
Hub Zone and Small Disadvantaged Business 8(a) designations are lengthy certification processes. The remaining designations in the above table are self-certifying at the above government contract registration web site, and are verified by site surveys and bid vetting for each solicitation prior to contract award. 


EARLY REQUIREMENT TARGETING IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN SET ASIDE MARKETING

Effective set aside marketing reaches the agency decision makers with technical, budget and schedule authority before a synopsis of the requirement is posted on SAM Contract Oportunities
The objective of this form of targeted marketing is to get concurrence from the government to set the program aside sole source if the company has an 8(a), or Hub Zone Certification or reserve it by one of the above group designation classes to eliminate the prospect of full and open competition involving large business.

  • Become known to targeted agency personnel by visiting their program offices and meeting the decision makers.  Bring a capability statement:
  • Present your qualifications openly, objectively and specific to their needs.  You must determine what those needs are through market research, trade magazines, research on what they are buying on SAM Contract Opportunities, as well as postings on their web site that are future-program oriented.

  • Subscribe to periodicals like "Washington Technology" and other trade magazines.  Observe agency trends and analysis that impact your market segment.  There have been set aside programs marketed by small companies through acquainting agency management and technical personnel with capabilities they were not aware existed in the small business community or fulfillment of needs they in fact did not know they had.

  • Pay particular attention to SAM Contract Opportunities "Sources Sought" or “Requests for draft RFP Comment”  on programs that have yet to be formally solicited. Obtain an appointment to present your capabilities to the decision makers (not the gate keepers).  Be courteous to contracting officers but understand they are not the individuals who make source selections. Understand that once the requirement is formally published on SAM Contract Opportunities the gate closes on informal visits to the customer and the competition begins in the form of proposals by competitors.  It is too late at that point to set the program aside for a sole source or a small business designation if it has not occurred by the publication stage.

  • Cultivate teaming relationships with other firms in your industry and look for early opportunities in agencies, not only to prime a program but to bring a team of qualified contractors in lesser roles to fulfill them with you or join a team being led by a more experienced firm:
  • Understand the small business start up past performance challenge and work to meet it:
  • Attend small business outreach events by agencies and prime contractors.  Stay attuned to who is attending and research their needs and requirements.

  • Make a point to be present at bidders' conferences for existing solicitations that you may not choose to bid but which may lend insight into the agency needs and prime contractor relationships in the future.      
SUMMARY

As a small business becomes known in the federal government contracting community, successful marketing of sole source or group-designated business becomes easier, but it is always a challenge due to the need for taking early action in windows of opportunity.  Find those windows and communicate capabilities to the decision makers and industry team members who can help you.  

If you are eligible for any of the designations discussed in this article, make small business set asides or sole source procurement a key element in your marketing plan. 







Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Registering Your Business For Federal Government Contracting

You have worked hard establishing your small business in the commercial market; or you have succeeded in your profession working for large enterprises. You have established yourself and you are recognized as a success by your superiors, your peers and your subordinates. Someone or something one day attracts your attention with the suggestion that the federal government may be in the market for your skills, products or services. This article will address the path to expanding your existing business or initially undertaking a business involving federal government contracts.

GETTING STARTED


The best way to explore federal government contracting possibilities is to expand your business plan to include a sector for that type of business or develop your start up plan including a federal government business sector. Doing business with the Federal Government is not "Rocket Science" but it is different. It embodies a set of regulations entitled, "The Federal Acquisition Regulation" or FAR, which contain the rules by which the government and industry abide in contracting for supplies and services. The FAR had its genesis during World War II and has evolved since that time to control and regulate the ever-expanding amounts of goods and services which the federal government buys.


The following are the most important "Mechanical Steps" necessary in positioning your business to begin selling to the federal government. They are listed in the necessary sequence for becoming a supplier entity in the government system. A link to appropriate web sites is provided at each step.


A. Register Your Company With Your State And with the IRS:


Incorporation is fairly inexpensive and can be done yourself via the WEB for either a non-profit or a for-profit business. 
You may download free instructions to register a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in your state from the BOX in the right margin of this site.  

B. Register at the System For Award Management Web Site:




C. For application in the SBA Small, Disadvantaged Business (SDB) Program:


SBA 8(a) Program


If you qualify as a minority, follow the directions closely. Note there is a preview section which will acquaint you with the application and the types of information that will be necessary when you start the process.


D. For Historically Under-Utilized Business (HUB) Zone Information:



SBA Hub Zone Program

Note that Hub Zone qualification is based on where the business is located and where the personnel in the business reside as well.

For information on additional set aside designations such as those for women-owned business, veterans and disabled veterans please see:

Federal Government Contracting Set Aside Designations

E. For Searches on Federal Buys:


Contract Opportunities 
 is the gateway for all federal business. The search tool there is a very powerful engine with many filters that are useful. It is well worth the time to learn the filters. Every federal agency is required by regulation to advertise there and you will be amazed at the products and services the federal government buys.

F. For an example of a small business capability statement check the following web site:



A capability statement is always a good idea for marketing. The link above as an example. It was found on the web in the public domain Note that the site is a SDB. Later you will get into proposal preparation and the regulations governing the types of grants and contracts, as well as billing the government for your work and other factors.

G. Questions for you:


Are you planning to produce a deliverable, distinct, end product such as software, hardware, a commodity, a report, a conference, a survey or a study, sell it to meet the government's statement of work and bill for the end product when delivered?


OR


Are you planning to price your services at an hourly rate, sell them by labor categories with professional job descriptions to perform the government's statement of work and bill by the hour for labor and at cost for material and travel?


Answers to the above questions are key factors in how you set up your business and price your work in proposals to federal agencies. The answer to the above questions is "Yes" in both cases for some businesses. Some small businesses sell their product commercially, but contract for product implementation and support on a service contract basis.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Small Business Government Grants Versus Direct Government Contracts

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE OR DOWNLOAD TO ENLARGE


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".

There is 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 left 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.