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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Managing Risk In Small Business Federal Government Contracting

Image: Govconadvisors.com

The challenges and difficulties for the small business in government contracting are not so much in the areas of barriers as  they are in lack of knowledge (which I concede is a form of barrier but one that can be dealt with).

Large business and government agencies take advantage of the small enterprise lack of knowledge or make poor assumptions regarding what a small business knows about the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and associated Cost Accounting Standards (CAS). This leads directly to abusive practices.

A prime example of an abusive practice is large corporations signing  teaming agreements during proposal efforts and then not awarding  subcontracts to the small enterprise as agreed, keeping the majority of work for themselves.

Agencies take forever these days to put in place actual prime contracts after source selections and award to a small business. They do not realize that a small enterprise does not have deep pockets and must have cash flow to sustain a new program with new employees.

Funding levels on IDIQ and Omnibus programs are insufficiently committed and the small enterprise is not adequately informed about limitation of funds and  funding exposure. 

Managing Government Contract Limitation of Funds and Funding Exposure


I have seen enough small  businesses succeed in the government contracting field that I am  convinced that the government needs more active roles in education of  the small enterprise and more trained contracting officers that understand the limitations of a small business.

The most common traumatic situation I encounter is with newly  established businesses who have won their first government contract and  have no CAS compliant job cost accounting system in place to bill it  out. The government has assumed that capability will materialize and  when it does not they audit the bills, find no backup and shut down the  cash flow until the system is fixed. At that point the business can fail. The company should have been educated much earlier in the process about these requirements.

 What Small Business Should Know About FAR and CAS

The number of poorly performing SETA contractors in roles not suited  to them in contract administration support is increasing in federal  agencies. These firms need to be vetted and better managed for the  omissions and commissions they contribute to the above.

  Is Federal Government System Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) Contracting for You?

Not every small enterprise can get  into a class on government contracting at George Washington University,  The Defense Acquisition University or send their personnel to lengthy  and costly seminars conducted by organizations like the National Contract  Management Association. These are  great education sources but do not  come close to filling the complete requirement and they cost time and money.

The contracting officer and his staff as well as larger enterprises need to be upgraded in the skills necessary to guide - not abuse - the small business in federal government contracting.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Register at New FEDBIZOPPS Transition Site and Stay Abreast of 2020 Developments




UPDATE:  EDITORS NOTE:  "FEDBIZOPPS" will transition to  SAM.GOV in the first quarter of government fiscal year 2020.  You may acquire the details and further scheduling information here:  GSA Legacy Systems Merge.  We encourage all small businesses to explore this article.

All contractors will be required to set up an account on the newly merged legacy systems.  Pre-registration is now available to review the forthcoming system, provide feedback and stay abreast of further announcements here:     https://beta.sam.gov

_____________________________________________________

INTRODUCTION

This posting will provide strategic guidance on FEDBIZOPPS and factors for using it in small business marketing to government agencies and prime contractors.

A PUBLIC DOMAIN ACQUISITIONS BULLETIN BOARD

Established as the public announcement vehicle for all federal procurements over $25K, FEDBIZOPPS is a web-based, "Public Announcement Bulletin Board" to satisfy fairness in government contracting laws mandated by US law. It is a terrific market research tool and an absolute necessity once a solicitation has gone formal to stay abreast of modifications, changes in proposal due dates, questions and answers and other necessary information that contracting officers are required to make public.

WHAT ANNOUNCEMENTS MEAN

FEDBIZOPPS is the mandated posting point for contracting officers in all federal agencies. It is also the required notification point for GSA schedule solicitations, contract award announcements of all types and other information that is required by law for communication to the public in a fair and open manner regarding federal government procurement of supplies and services. The site contains "Sources Sought" and bidders conference notices, government requests for industry comment on draft RFP's and formally published solicitations with proposal due dates. The current FEDBIZOPPS "Agency Tab" lists 126 agencies:

https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=agency&mode=list&tab=list

A solicitation posted at FEBIZOPPS generally means that a procurement has received funding and the contracting officer has been authorized to start the source selection process.

Often misunderstood, is that much has occurred in the way of marketing activities by companies in advance of notices formally published by the government on FEDBIZOPPS. By the time the formal, solicitation is published it is too late to market for setting a procurement aside for a small business designation if it has not already been established as such. In addition, formal solicitation publication closes the window on self-marketing by HUB Zone and 8(a) firms for set asides to them individually without competition. In short, businesses have been marketing for the requirement long before it became formally announced at FEDBIZOPPS.

Finding a solicitation that is ideal for your company for the first time on FEDBIZOPPS is excellent market research insight into what the agency publishing the requirement is buying. However, a careful bid/no bid analysis should be conducted as to whether it is prudent to go through the expense of a proposal if the opportunity has not been a new business target for your firm earlier in the game. Please see the following article on completing a bid/no bid analysis:

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2007/02/federal-government-contract-proposal.html

NAVIGATING THE SITE

Start by registering at FEDBIZOPPS. Many of the features available to users are not accessible without a registration. Begin some careful searches by key words into agency solicitations that could use your products and services. The FEDBIZOPPS user guide is available as a free download at the "Boxnet" cube of this web site to the immediate left of where you are now reading. Study it before you complete your registration. Be specific in your key word selections on the feature that allows direct emailing to you of announcements by agencies.

The data base is huge and it is best to move from specific key word selections to the more general with experience to avoid being inundated with meaningless solicitations. Some companies establish a separate email address for the FEDBIZOPPS mailings to keep the results out of the mainstream of other business. The mailings are totally automated so there are no marketing factors to consider in setting up such an arrangement.

As you examine the solicitations, see who has indicated an interest in bidding them among your competitors and the primes you are pursuing and then target such projects for participation by your firm either as a prime yourself or as a subcontractor. Pay particular attention to "Sources Sought", Draft RFP "Request for Industry Comments" and similar announcements that indicate an early requirement taking shape.

For active solicitations that you wish to monitor, check the "Follow" Box on FEDBIZOPPS to receive updates and announcements by email. Once the solicitation reaches the formal RFP stage and a due data for a proposal has been established, if you have decided to bid the job the "Follow" feature is especially critical.

If there is a bidders conference and you intend to bid the job, make plans to attend. When questions are solicited you may ask them but remember that your question and its associated answer will be published by the government so be careful not to educate your competition to your win strategy in the process.

You do not have to indicate you are interested in bidding the job by registering as an "Interested Vendor" in order to bid a solicitation. Some companies prefer not to advertise their bid intentions, seeking to avoid competitors modeling their firm.

A MARKET RESEARCH SOURCE

If you are new to federal government contracting and wish to determine the best market for your supplies and services, observing what a given agency is buying on FEDBIZOPPS is a key factor.

Keep in mind that the decision makers in government contracting are the technical managers and process people behind the scenes in an organization (either government agency or large company). They have the budget authority, program responsibility and accountability. These people pass their decisions on to buyers and contracting officers via signed requisitions. Buyers and contracting officers are really no more than gate keeping staff members, knowledgeable in legalities, terms and conditions and who sign on behalf of the agency or company AFTER an internal review by the executives who have technical and management responsibility.

Thus your real marketing targets are behind the gatekeepers and little is achieved by marketing to a contracting officer or buyer. This rule of thumb applies with prime contractor contracting specialists and administrators as well as government personnel. For further details on the roles of these personnel please see the following link:

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2007/06/federal-government-contracting-customer.html


Once again, bidding an active solicitation after it has hit FEDBIZOPPS may be too late. The idea is to use them for market research so you can target similar projects earlier in the process. Research the technologies and services in which your targeted agencies and primes are involved through trade magazines, Internet articles, web sites, employment hiring fairs and industry conferences.

Focus your marketing campaign on finding evolving projects you can use as vehicles to approach teaming partners and agencies directly with a marketing campaign geared to your capability statement. Develop a solution to the specific needs of the project and present it to gain their attention.

Your principal challenge as a small product and services provider is finding evolving programs and projects into which your capabilities fit. Once you have found such targets it is then a matter of marketing brusquely to get into the game with eye catching solutions and capabilities.

SUMMARY

When a procurement becomes public on FEDBIZOPPS it stays public, but many invisible strings behind the scenes are likely already attached to it by aggressive and talented companies who may have sculpted the requirement with the agency, assisted in writing the statement of work or influenced the structure of the specifications to favor their products and services. All this is good, competitive marketing practice in the government contracting venue, just as it is in the commercial marketplace.

Use FEDBIZOPPS as discussed here in consonance with the following teaming and marketing articles:

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2009/05/small-business-teamiing-in-government.html

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2009/07/multiple-front-marketing-in-small.html

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2006/12/marketing-small-business-in-federal_17.html

FEDBIZOPPS is an absolute necessity once you make a bid decision. It is an extensive resource prior to such decisions and if utilized prudently it can enhance your small business government contract marketing plan dramatically.

Monday, August 12, 2019

What Small Business Should Know About FAR and CAS




Federal Acquisition Regulation & Cost Accounting Standards

      Rules of the Game
       Developing Your Game Plan
INTRODUCTION

Small businesses consistently encounter FAR and CAS requirements upon entering or growing into federal government contracting.   The purpose of these standards is to supply uniform regulatory guidance to all companies doing business with the government and to the agencies that buy from them.

This article will discuss a basic understanding of FAR and CAS as well as the methods to design approaches to meeting them. 

OVERVIEW

The below table contains the principal FAR chapter titles and each of the 19 CAS clause titles (CAS 419 was never written).  Linked below the table are the web sites that can be utilized to explore these documents. 



PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
The FAR applies to the full acquisition cycle for all supplies and services the federal agencies buy.  The CAS apply to consistency in estimating, pricing, job cost accounting, billing and closeout of financial data under the contracts for supplies and services regulated by the FAR. 

FAR and CAS are not "Rocket Science" but they are different than the commercial business sector.  

HOW TO DETERMINE WHAT FAR AND CAS MEAN TO YOU

No one ever reads the full body of FAR and CAS from cover to cover.  They are reference documents, maintained by the government to oversee the contracting process.  From time to time changes to the regulations are offered for public comment at the FAR web site.  Such changes are more common in the FAR than in CAS.  The CAS have been constant for several years and are not as dynamic as the detail processes in the FAR. 

FAR

Determine the regulation basics that apply to any given job considered for bidding.  Examine a few solicitations in your area of expertise at the FEDBIZOPPS web site:


Use the FAR and CAS links to determine the basic terms and conditions and examine the solicitation source documents to read in detail the clauses you must understand to effectively bid federal work.  

CAS

Small businesses are generally required to meet modified CAS coverage.  A business system meets Modified Cost Accounting Standard (CAS) Coverage defined by the government when it it satisfies the following:

Standard 9904.401, Consistency in Estimating, Accumulating, and Reporting Costs
 
http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2005/octqtr/pdf/48cfr9904.401.pdf

Standard 9904.402, Consistency in Allocating Costs Incurred for the Same Purpose
 
http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2004/octqtr/pdf/48cfr9904.402-50.pdf

Standard 9904.405, Accounting for Unallowable Costs
 
http://www.smalltofeds.com/2007/04/unallowable-costs-under-federal.html

Standard 9904.406, Cost Accounting Standard―Cost Accounting Period
The following article contains practical business system guidance regarding building a Modified CAS Coverage Small Business System for federal government contracting:

HELP
 
When you have confusion regarding interpreting a requirement, seek assistance in the table of contents to the free book at this site offering guidance under the topic in question:


PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE

You may also set up a free counseling connection at Micro Mentor:



SUMMARY

While assessing the impact of FAR and CAS on your company educate yourself on that what directly affects your company first in making the transition to federal government contracting and growing into the field.

Carefully  maximize your existing business processes and systems first before making changes and do not jump to instant fixes with exotic software tools a supplier or consultant has told you will make you compliant or competitive overnight in government contracting.
FAR and CAS are generally logical bodies of regulation that have come about due to the need to control and make consistent the government and industry approaches to meeting prudent and sound contracting objectives with the necessary  transparency to govern. 

FAR and CAS do not impose business systems.  They do require that you disclose the way you meet regulatory requirements in the way you operate with your processes and tools. Plan the approach and learn to convey it to auditors, contracting officers and industry partners.


Grow into the business by exploring the venue and having it grow into you.








 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

PROCUREMENT INTEGRITY AND THE LAW

Image: "360 Training.com"
FEDERAL ACQUISITION REGULATION 3.104

In dealing with government officials the small business owner must be aware of regulations regarding procurement integrity. This body of law has come into being through trial and error in dealing with conflict of interest and undue influence by industry on government officials and vice versa. 

The section of the Federal Acquisition Regulation dealing with these matters is 3.104, "Procurement Integrity". It is recommended reading for every small business growing into government contracting:

Improper Business Practices and Personal Conflicts of Interest

FAR Section 3.104 defines the roles of government officials in the source selection process that are subject to procurement integrity regulation. FAR Section 3.1 sets out definitions of standards of conduct, conflict of interest and specifies restrictions on gratuities to government employees (permitting virtually none). It details restrictions on dialogue regarding employment with officials prior their leaving their government jobs and further restricts where an official may work in industry and in what capacities relative to prior government service.

Penalties for violating these rules are significant and are specified in Part 3.1. They range from criminal prosecution for government and industry personnel found guilty of violations to debarment of companies and individuals from government contracting.

The rules, which define procurement integrity regarding prime and subcontractor relationships, are defined in FAR Section 3.1, under the topic heading, "Subcontractor Kickbacks".

Fixed Price Versus Cost Plus in Federal Government Contracting

                                                         Image: Available Data dot com

Below is an interesting conversation with a very astute, anonymous interviewer on Quora.  It is replicated here for those who may be confused at times with regard to some of the nuances between fixed price and cost plus federal government contracting

Anonymous:

Why are cost-plus-fee government contracts less profitable for defense companies than fixed cost contracts?
 

They are extremely low risk because the contractor is guaranteed reimbursement of any and all costs up to the funded ceiling on the contract.

Therefore under the guidelines for negotiation of profit based on risk, the profit range is always settled at a lower range than other types of contracts with higher risk factors. 



Anonymous:

Thank you Ken. Is the government moving more towards cost-plus contracts and away from fixed cost contracts?

 
It depends on the type of effort involved.  Cost plus is generally in very advanced development arena, where the state of the art is being pressed, the requirements are nebulous and the design baseline is tough.

Higher profit production programs where the product or service is mature, predictable and repetitive are usually the recipients of firm fixed price contracts at higher profits.

It is common for the huge billions for services in the war zone for instance to be cost plus due to the unknown nature of warfare.  A similar program stateside at an air force base would lock them into fixed rates for several years but at a higher profit. 

Cost type contracts are generally pursued for cash flow, "Keep the lights on and bill every month" reasons, while higher profit programs are being pursued at the same time in the company

Anonymous:

What about small UAVs / drones? Are those now mostly cost plus contracts?

 
During development the more complex ones are indeed.  Size in the services and the intelligence community does not necessarily equate to simplicity with micro technology, Satcom and sensors involved.

When they hit production on a repetitive basis they move to more fixed price oriented and incentive oriented higher profit contract types, which of course is the real goal of the companies involved.

Anonymous:

I'm confused, I thought cost plus was for more established technology product and fixed price was for more complex technology product (because it allowed for higher returns)?

 
It is just the opposite.

Companies will not undertake advanced technology like the F-35 without a cost plus contract because of the risk in pressing the state of the art and meeting an enormously difficult specification.  A prototype is a one of a kind item. 

A production program has high volume potential and yields less risk at a higher profit rate overall at fixed prices.

Pentagon history is replete with incidents where companies went broke on new product development on a fixed price basis. At one point the FAR disallowed fixed price product development because of that issue.

The Lockheed Skunk works went broke years ago and had to be bailed out.  The Pentagon simply plussed up their cost plus contracts and the Black Bird was the result.

The F-35 cost plus contract was finally capped by the Air Force recently and a portion of the risk shifted to Lockheed due abuse of the cost plus contracting by Lockheed Martin.

https://www.quora.com/Ken-Larson/Posts/Plane-that-Ate-The-Pentagon-The-Politically-Engineered-F-35

Companies seek a production program follow-on at a high volume and fixed prices with higher profit with lower risk to ultimately make the real bucks,  Under such an arrangement they also own the tooling.  Uncle Sam owns the tooling on a cost plus contract.

Anonymous:
 
Hi, I'm still confused.  A company I know had high gross margins because they had more fixed price business in the last two years. For this year, they will have more cost plus and are guiding to lower margins. I thought they and more cost plus this year because they are doing more retrofitting as opposed to the original technology? I am ultimately trying to understand if this is a permanent shift in their Department of Defense business... but any clarification would help!

 
It is not surprising that gross margins go down when the cost plus base increases.  I have never seen it any other way in my 40 years in the aerospace industry.  Cost plus is low risk and low profit. 

In fact, on certain cost plus contracts there has been a regulated maximum ceiling on profit.

At the bottom line there is no shift in what you are observing.  It is simply the mix of business in the company driving a lower profit rate due to the low risk, hence lower profit, nature of the cost plus environment. 

If the mix were to change to a higher base of fixed price contracts (and higher risk) the opposite trend would occur.

Anonymous:
 
Is there a reason why for the last three years they had more fixed contracts but now over a sudden the mix shifts to cost plus? Does that make sense?   So to understand - this can change every year? Is there any way to predict it based on the types of products they have going forward? Is it because they are retrofitting that its cost plus and not fixed?

 
Cost plus = high tech, high risk, difficult to meet the spec, full of unknowns and a specification that is moving around all the time until the product is base lined.

Fixed Price = mature product, prototyped and tested, probably through low rate initial production and now going high quantity for fielding.  Lower risk, company willing to commit to FFP; government comfortable the company will not go broke in doing so at a fixed price.

Rule of thumb - look at your product or service complexity and technical challenge  mix, not a government trend.

Check the above mix in the company, the mix in the market, the mix in the competition, the mix in the environment the product or service will  encounter.   Then assume cost plus for high risk, pressing the state of the art procurements and fixed price for lower risk mature products or experienced services.

Anonymous:
 
Can a program start off as fixed price and then become cost plus? Or is it the opposite?
  
 
The opposite. A program generally moves from cost plus to fixed price as it matures.

The federal government generally recognizes 6 principal categories of  acquisitions. Below is an extract from the FAR for each.

It is possible  for a product to go through, or be supported by, all 6 acquisition  categories during its life cycle and many different contact types, depending on the nature of the work, the risk and the product.




Thursday, August 1, 2019

“Value - Based ” Marketing Techniques for Small Business

Image:  123RF.com

“Value-Based” Marketing occurs when you become uniquely aware of what motivates specific personnel internal to a customer company, a buyer or a prospective teaming partner to make favorable decisions regarding your product or services. 

COMPONENTS:

Value-based marketing does not relate to client perception of your product or service value; rather, it relates to your understanding of the client and using that knowledge to motivate that client to buy.  It includes answering the following 5 strategic questions:

1.  Who is your client? (personal traits and proclivities)

2.  Where  is your client located in the organization and what role and authority does he or she hold?

3.  What  are the driving factors that will motivate the client to make a buying decision in your favor?

4.  How to best lead the individual client to the conclusion you wish them to make in buying your product or service?

5.  Why is your product or service the best to further the client's personal value system and motives?

METHOD:

Combine the details of your product or service with some transition suggestions regarding how a client can make the leap from where they are now to where you can take them without totally disrupting how they operate at time now.  

Understand that to sell the services and the product you are offering you must provide a bridge for those who do not have your vision of the end game. 

It is a simple fact of life that your sales techniques must provide practical suggestions in getting your client off a blank sheet of paper as to how your concept could be brought internally to their organization.  That can only occur if you are sharp enough and aware enough of their existing processes and systems, status, plans, budgets and funding to offer them a path to follow.  This type of market research is a tough order but you will not sell effectively without it.  

Sometimes clients will not disclose personal values and organization value systems until you are engaged with them and at that time you must be sympathetic to transition issues, think on your feet and evolve a way to get to your sales objective; not just insist that they change dramatically to accommodate your concept. 

Ask the client questions about what you know or have found their needs to be. Then take them to where your presentation has solutions for them; engage them on a solutions frequency and make your concept of the future theirs. A key will be your ability to make the client want to own your product or service in their environment and your assistance to make them as individuals look good for acquiring what you sell to increase their visibility and productivity in the organization. 

Consider the values of the client your are engaging and threaten or further his or her value system.  To do so, find out what they value first.  It may not be what you value - or what you believe they should value;  but you are stuck with those values and the value system backing them up. In many cases they are political, self-serving and disappointing but you cannot ignore them.  You must manage them.  You must threaten or further those value systems to get your customer to act.  Furthering client values is a positive view of the future, enhancing what the client already has.   Threatening client values is making the client feel he or she cannot undertake the future effectively without buying from you.

SUMMARY:

I once had the privilege of experiencing a professor who conducted a course on managing people for 3 days to our management group.

For those 3 days the instructor did not allow us to use the word, "Problem". His message was that there are no such things as problems - just situations that threaten or further peoples' (or the corporate culture values).

Through a series of exercises, mock situations late into the night, critical negotiation teams and value determination exercises he demonstrated that his theory was absolutely correct and that if one determines the values involved in a challenging situation, then develops solutions that threaten or further them, one will motivate people to take action.

Value-based marketing effectively threatens or furthers your client's value system as a strategic element in your marketing program, motivating them to act  in your favor.