When a government contracting specific market target has been identified and a proposal has been submitted, pre-award surveys and fact finding by the buying agency or the prime contractor often follow. These processes take two forms:
1. A survey visit to the small company facility
2. Inquiries with respect to supplementary details for enhancing the customer perspective on a proposal submittal.
Undertaking the above processes with a government agency differs from that of undergoing them with a prime contractor. You are not required to disclose proprietary data to a prime contractor. Please see the following articles for further information in this vital area:
Protecting Intellectual Property
This article will discuss each of the above processes and suggest measures to prepare for, conduct and succeed at pre-award surveys and fact finding.
A pre-award survey is a government or prime contractor visit to a supplier's facility. The Procurement Contracting Officer (PCO) or the Administrative Contracting Officer (ACO) and the Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR) as well as members of their respective staffs may attend.
In some instances the local Defense Contract Management Area Office (DCMAO) is involved. As you become a regular supplier to an agency, site survey visits will normally cease or occur only rarely.
For further explanation of the above government officials and their roles, please see the following article:
Government Contracting Customer Relations
The site survey team is 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" Forms are completed and become part of the contract file:
Pre-award Survey Forms
Pre-Award Survey of Prospective Contractor SF-1403 8/1997
Pre-Award Survey of Prospective Contractor (Accounting System) SF-1408 8/1997
Pre-Award Survey of Prospective Contractor (Financial Capability) SF-1407 8/1997
Pre-Award Survey of Prospective Contractor (Production) SF-1405 8/1997
Pre-Award Survey of Prospective Contractor (Quality Assurance) SF-1406 8/1997
Pre-Award Survey of Prospective Contractor (Technical) SF-1404 8/1997
Select the person who will lead the meeting 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 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 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.
PROPOSAL FACT FINDING
Fact-finding usually involves the government requesting additional information to supplement that which was submitted by you in your proposal. These areas of interest are early indications of where the negotiator is looking for weaknesses in your cost justifications or disconnects between your technical approach and the cost you are estimating to do the job. If you have subcontractors or major material suppliers, the government may ask for copies of your vendor proposal evaluations. The government may wish to examine cost history for the last time you performed similar efforts.
Keep in mind that most government agencies put together an independent cost estimate of what they feel the item or service should cost. These are commonly called "Should Cost Estimates". The additional requests for information during fact finding are feeding the should cost estimate. The Procurement Contracting Officer (PCO ) typically has an end user for the product or service internal to his organization who will become the Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COTR) when the contract is awarded.
The COTR has a strong influence on the negotiations and will usually be present when negotiations commence. On many occasions, the 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. He simply cannot sign for the government.
The PCO has the agency warrant to commit the government 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. Keep in mind that the COTR and the PCO are formulating their assessment of the cost and the risk associated with the program during the fact-finding process. Cost is the first item of negotiation and risk has a direct influence on the government's position on profit.
The contacting officer may order a Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) audit. The Request for Proposal (RFP) to which you responded may in fact have ordered a copy of your proposal be submitted to the 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. For guidance on these matters, please see the following article:
DCAA Audits And Small Business Job Cost Accounting Systems
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 to check compliance with Cost Accounting Standards insuring 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&A utilizing the same numerator and denominator relationships upon which the contract was originally estimated.
DCAA is paid by the PCO to perform the audit. 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. DCAA will not express an opinion on the cost content of the proposal in terms of a value judgment 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 proposal and examine other audit findings in preparation for negotiations.
With adequate preparation and an understanding of what the processes involve, the small enterprise can succeed in passing government agency or prime contractor site surveys and fact finding.
Remember that these encounters are extensions of your image as presented in your proposal. They are building block in nature and serve to establish, reinforce or change a customer’s view of your company and your proposal.