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Lessons Learned | The CIO-SP4 Saga

We can confidently say that even if you’ve been living under a rock in the govcon industry this past few months, you have still probably heard the shouts regarding CIO-SP4 delays, amendments, and drama. Short of rolling our eyes one more time at the craziness of it all, what lessons can we take and learn from to better prepare our proposal teams for the next big bid?

BOOST has teamed up with Cy Alba and the team at PilieroMazza to focus your attention on several key elements to better prepare for future bids (we’re thinking, Polaris!?).

Need: Teaming
CIO-SP4 required several specific areas of past performance from across the board making it very unlikely for single companies to have all of the boxes checked. This brought about the opportunity for teaming, but with a caveat, there had to be documented history, actual work completed or in progress. Gone were the opportunities to have a quick coffee and call it teaming. What’s a business to do?

Lesson:
Build out your relationships early and with purpose. This was a stark reminder that no business in our industry can exist as an island, even during a pandemic. Flexibility in opportunities, areas of work, and specialties is paramount to the successful teaming and documented history for a partnership to be deemed efficient. Look down the pike at what may be to come and how that might affect your current and future teaming opportunities. If you are looking to be a Prime, analyze what areas you’re weak in and find teaming partners to fill those holes. If you’re a Subcontractor, take the time to build and show value to the big guys to remain top of mind for new opportunities.

 

Need: Systems and Certifications
The Government provides draft RFPs and scorecards to help you make successful bid and no bid decisions. This isn’t the time to get creative in shoving square pegs into round holes. Though the requirements might seem like guidelines more than rules, more often than not they showcase the important parts of the RFP prior to the drop. Even the mundane counts here – really read through the entire scorecard, not just the past performance quals.

Lesson:
Implementations take time, period. Trying to slam in an approved accounting system or EVMS purchasing system within a 30-day crunch is unrealistic and paves the way for mistakes. Look at previous RFPs and similar proposal awards to see where you can get ahead of systems, processes, and implementations. Seek conversations with partners and industry friends to discuss what they’ve found useful and if it makes sense for your model of business.

Lesson 2:
Do not rely on your teammates for these certifications, especially large companies that you teamed with only to utilize their certs for your scoring. Prepare your go/no-go analysis with the assumption that you have to stand on your own credentials. Any additional latitude by the government is just gravy.

 

Need: CAGE Code Readiness
DLA has been taking between 20 and 30 days to issue CAGE codes recently. Under the FAR you must have a CAGE code prior to bidding on federal work. Thus, if you are required to form a JV to secure the points required to win or to overcome go/no-go factors, you cannot wait until the RFP drops or else you will likely have no time to set up the new LLC or partners, and secure a CAGE code in time to bid.

Lesson:
You need to plan ahead and perhaps set up a few LLCs to have in reserve. We used to recommend that small businesses or mentor/protégé teams form at least two JVs at any given time to make sure they always have one in reserve. Well, at this point, if more procurements start to limit the ability to use subcontractors it will become important to have a LLC or two in reserve (which already are fully registered in SAM and have CAGE codes) to be prepared to pivot. Otherwise, you are set to scramble to find friends, partners, or teammates who have dormant LLCs. Because DLA is taking, possibly, 30 days or more, and there is no way to expedite the CAGE code issuance, you cannot wait or reverse course at the last minute. Understand the SBA rules or other rules that agencies must follow and then focus on teaming in those areas because the RFP cannot overrule law. So you can use the law to plan ahead!

 

Need: Quick Turnaround

Assume that all agencies are working on tight turnarounds. The speed of government is one that is never constant. The hurry up and wait mentality is for the post-proposal process, not before. What you know and can prepare for now should be actioned ASAP.

Lesson:
Use previous RFPs and on-ramp information to inform your timelines. If you’re looking to get an 8(a) that could be a nine-month or more process. Waiting until an RFP drop to begin these processes is an inevitable failure. As the phrase goes, the price of success is eternal vigilance.

 

Need: Compliance
Contracting Officers put the requirements to write a winning proposal directly in the RFP. Everything you need is there so this is not a time to flash your creative spin on how you can slide something into a place it doesn’t necessarily belong. For CIO-SP4 the “CTA” issues were a major point of concern, many firms are trying to get creative by forming 9.601(1) CTAs not understanding what they really are and not understanding other FAR or CFR rules that apply on top of the RFP (like the SBA JV rules). Also, firms see “CTA” and thing “GSA CTA” which is wrong.

Lesson:
Focus on the law and the regulations required for the agency to allow. Prepare for the most restrictive plan. In the event that the requirements are lifted slightly, you’ll still be well within the means of compliance, but you’ve prepared to batten down those hatches. Also, knowing the specific regulations as they apply to your business (i.e. small businesses acting as JVs) and how creativity can invite increased risk will help you to mitigate some headache should there be an investigation or protest.

Overall, we’ve learned some specific yet helpful things throughout this CIO-SP4 process. While these were merely the highlights of items you can take action on right now we can’t leave you hanging. So, just wait, there’s more! On August 30th, 2021, Stephanie Alexander and Isaias “Cy” Alba joined the GovCon Untethered Podcast for a discussion surrounding how to best mitigate and prepare for this new season of GWAC RFPs. Listen here.

 

Learn More

If you have questions about the CIO-SP4 RFP and its impact on the government contracting community, please contact the blog’s co-author, Isaias “Cy” Alba, a partner in PilieroMazza’s Government Contracts Group.

PilieroMazza, a business law firm, serves as a strategic business partner to government contractors and commercial businesses from numerous industries that operate nationally and internationally. With attorneys from a cross-section of the Firm’s core practice areas––including Government Contracts, Mergers & Acquisitions, Labor & Employment, and Litigation & Dispute Resolution––working seamlessly as a team to support the legal and business needs of their clients, PilieroMazza attorneys offer thoughtful and thorough solutions to protecting their clients’ business interests.  Our knowledge on how laws are administered, productive relationships with decision-makers at various government agencies, and “boutique” business model, make PilieroMazza uniquely qualified to provide clients with highly valuable and exceptionally skilled representation. For more information, visit www.pilieromazza.com.

BOOST LLC provides government compliant and strategic corporate back-office operational support and candid business advice, combining our team of experienced and trained professionals with the drive of entrepreneurs to enable small businesses to become successful with government contracting. We have SMEs to support our clients’ growth in the areas of accounting, branding and marketing, contracts, HR, recruiting and strategic pricing.

Building Business Opportunities in the GovCon Arena

In this digital event Robin Desmore Scott, BOOST’s Director of Contracts is joined by Dwight Gibbs and Scott Keough of Contraqer Corp to discuss Building Business Opportunities in the GovCon Arena with Award and Opportunity Search.

Our presenters discuss:

• Business & Opportunity Practices
• Where to Find the Necessary Data
• Process Tips
• Best Practices for Opportunity and Historical Award Searches
• & More

 

The biggest question from our audience centered on the best places to find reliable information on award searches, announcements, and contract details.
The recommended websites from our panelists are:

Federal Procurement Data System: https://www.fpds.gov/
Contract Data Reports from https://beta.sam.gov/
FedBid: http://www.fedbid.com/ or https://www.unisonglobal.com/
USA Spending: https://www.usaspending.gov/

Our next digital event in this series is slated for Tuesday, February 23rd and we encourage you to keep an eye on your email for more details to come.

Please direct any questions to BOOST or Contraqer for discussion or clarification!

Where OCIs Meet Protests

In this session our presenters will discuss:
• Award Protests
• OCI Considerations
• Protest Scenarios
• and the Answers to Your Questions

If you missed Part 1: Protest Basics, you can find the replay here.

Protest Basics: Pre-Award, Post-Award & Case Examples

Join BOOST’s Director of Contracts, Robin Desmore and Maria Panichelli of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP for the first of a two-part virtual series on the Protest Basics: Pre-Award, Post-Award, and the Process.

Our presenters will discuss:

• The Bid Protest Process
• The Types of Protests
• What Issues ARE Protestable
• Protest Scenarios
• and the Answers to Audience Questions

 

Protest Basics: Pre-Award, Post-Award, and the Process

Recently BOOST’s Director of Contracts Robin Desmore and Maria Panichelli, Partner and the Chair of the Government Contracting department at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP discussed the first of a two-part virtual series on the Protest Basics: Pre-Award, Post-Award, and the Process.

You can view the replay of the event here.

Here are some of the notable pieces from the discussion:

What are the Different Types of Protests: 

• Solicitation

• Contractors Submit Responses to Solicitation

• Evaluation of Contractors/Source Selection

• Awardees Chosen

What are the Common Protest Deadlines: 

• Pre-award Protests Based on Errors in the Solicitation need to be submitted before the response deadline.

• General (GAO) Rule: 10 days after the basis of the protest is known (or should have been known)

What are Some Protestable Issues: 

• Pre-award protests based on errors in the Solicitation:
• Ambiguous or contradictory terms
• Inclusion of prohibited terms/exclusion of required terms
• Unduly or overly restrictive terms or specifications
• Improper use of LPTA
• OCI Issues
• Set-aside/“rule of two”/Kingdomware issues
• De Facto responsibility determination
• Pre-Award Competitive Range/Post-Award Protests:

• Common Non-Price Evaluation Factor Issues

• Unstated evaluation criteria or subfactor, etc.
• Error in applying evaluation criteria/assigning ratings
• Unequal or disparate treatment of offerors
• Meaningful/misleading/uneven discussions
• OCI Issues

• Common Price Evaluation Issues

• Price Reasonableness
• Price Realism
• Escalation, Adjustment
• Balanced Pricing
• HUBZone Preference

UPDATE: On November 17th, 2020 BOOST Hosted Part 2 of this series: Where OCIs Meet Protests.
Our presenters discussed:
• Award Protests
• OCI Considerations
• Protest Scenarios
• and the Answers to Your Questions

Please visit this link to gain access to the replay.

BOOST Contracts

Contact BOOST for your govcon contracts needs today!
[email protected]

Introducing BOOST LLC

BOOST was founded to support GovCons as they get to the next level. After reinventing the wheel many times and banging our heads against numerous walls, we have learned what works and what doesn’t. We love working with executives who want to see their organization grow and who value advice from those who have “been there, done that.” We want our small clients to outgrow us. We want our large clients to use us when they need us and then call us back for the next project. We want you to sell your business for the multiplier you want. We want you to be successful.

www.boostllc.net

SCA and ACA…. WTH?

For our readers who have SCA (Service Contract Act) contracts, please keep reading…there’s a whole other level of compliance we’ve gotta get smart on.  For those of you who don’t have SCA contracts, thank your lucky stars, vow that you won’t go after this work without serious soul searching, and move on (Take this as our warning to you!).

Okay, everyone still with us?  As you know, SCA compliance is tedious and painful.  That’s our baseline.  Let’s now talk compliance with ACA (Affordable Care Act).  One thing to remember – ACA applies to all employers, not just those with 50+ employees.

First, SCA dictates that a certain dollar amount, now $4.54 effective July 5, is the new bona fide health and welfare (H&W) rate for all covered contracts executed or bid on after the effective date.

This means:

• If a contract has a new option year, the new H&W rate may be applicable.

• For any new work bid on, the updated H&W rate must be included.

• For those contracts covered by the sick leave EO 13706, the new rate is $4.22/hour.

• Companies will want to contact their Contracting Officer for each SCA contract requesting the timing of the updated H&W rates for the specific contracts

• Remember to ask whether a modification to the contract will be issued (yes!!) or if the H&W rate will be updated at contract renewal/option year (boo!).

Secondly, in regulation with ACA, employers are required to offer minimal essential coverage with their benefit offerings, just like employers with non-SCA staff or pay a fee to the IRS.

• H&W by design was implemented in order to require employers to provide benefits instead of cash in lieu (CIL).

• Technically, not offering benefits could be non-compliant with SCA.

• DOL has provided guidance saying that under ACA, employers will no longer be able to pay all cash (ARE YOU HEARING THIS CIL FOLKS?) in lieu of offering benefits.

 

Finally, with this information come certain risks under ACA and SCA.  Some key elements to consider:

• Offering CIL payments in lieu of benefits does not meet the ACA requirement.

• Employees can potentially waive benefits to receive the CIL and still not have benefit coverage under another qualifying plan.

•Not having a waiver on file could make the employer non-compliant with the ACA mandate.   So yes, insist on the documentation, regardless of what story the employee may tell you.  No documentation = considered not otherwise covered in the eyes of the employer, IRS, and DOL.

• Not offering an ACA compliant plan that meets minimal essential value or minimal essential coverage could put the company at risk.

 

Along with these stormy clouds. We bring you some sunshine in the form of how to combat these risks:

• Offer benefits that are ACA compliant and follow SCA definition of a bona fide fringe benefit.

• Ensure each plan meets minimal essential value and minimal essential coverage.

• Work with brokers and other SCA/ACA experts on the outside if there isn’t someone at the company who understands the SCA complexities.

• Be sure to obtain waivers (proof of insurance) from employees who waive benefits.  Unfortunately, you just can’t take their word for it.  If you’re audited and no documents on file means you’re paying fines.

 

If you’ve made it this far you deserve another cup of coffee (or something stronger depending on where you are in the process). BOOST can help with that too! BOOST LLC is sponsoring the September 25th govmates Institute that will focus on how you can CYA in SCA. (Breakfast and lunch with beer are included! We told you we had you covered.) Register for the govmates institute or contact BOOST for more information, [email protected]

VAR’s | Speed = Money

As we move into the busy Federal Contracting proposal season, there is one category of GovCon that really feels the crunch at the end of government fiscal year – VARs (Value Added Resellers) or resellers.

This type of company is generally very different than the typical services company. They move to their own drumbeat. The name of the game is speed. When the government is ready to spend, resellers/VARs must be able to react quickly to go on contract, procure, and deliver – all while maintaining compliance with FAR, TINA, and other fun acronyms that govern our GovCon lives.  Oh, and they’re margins are slim – they make their money in volume. Or manage cash flow as they manage distributor and OEM relationships amidst a flurry of customer demands.

The upside? Streamline your process, know what you are doing and there is a ton of work out there with limited competition in the small business space.  Even better, you can do it with a heck of a lot fewer people.

Useful tips for VARs as you go into the prime selling season:

 

  1. Have a central repository for all of your contracts’ paperwork. We don’t mean just throwing the email into a folder and calling it a day. We mean utilizing a streamlined retention and organization procedure. The better organized you are, the easier it is to process.

 

  1. Utilize this streamlined process so you can easily look up and flow down terms as appropriate with the myriad of business relationships that VARs maintain (partners, distributors, vendors, etc.). Pass down the risk where you can and know who is doing what to whom. And do it quickly.

 

  1. Have solid agreement templates that you review at least bi-annually. This way you know, without a shadow of a doubt, what is in your agreement. You can negotiate quickly.

 

  1. Create automated features that allow the sales folks to do a quick data entry that is communicated to contracts – without the need for an email. You already have too many emails.

 

  1. Speaking of contracts, know your vehicles inside and out. How will your customer buy from you?  Do you have the vehicle they like to use?  If not, be ready to team if they procure via a different contract vehicle than the one you have.

 

  1. Sales teams generally rule the roost in most VARs. The company can live or die by them. BUT…they are quick to put the company at risk with quick acceptance of terms that may inflict more harm than good (especially at the end of a quarter!). Contracts folks identify and mitigate risk for a living. They should always act in the best interests of the company. But they should understand shades of risk, when they need to accept it and the speed in which business needs to move. Creating a culture where both the sales team and the contracts department value the other’s strengths and respect their differences and points of view is critical.

 

  1. Know your financing options. Be current with all your distributor partners and have a firm grasp on credit limits they have extended to your firm.  Will your distributor accommodate that one-off $3,000,000 order?  Should your flooring lines and vendor financing not be enough to cover surge season, be sure to have a plan B in place.  Preferably some sort of supplemental non-recourse receivables financing facility.

 

There are a lot of moving parts associated with resellers/VARs, but there is a great business model if you can get the battle rhythm. Take care of the back end now, before the fiscal year-end sprint begins.

BOOST has helped resellers/VARs with streamlining their contracts department, organizing their data and serving as an outsourced contracts administration house with contract authority of $10M+. If you need help, please email us at [email protected].  If you need reseller financing, we’re happy to introduce you to a trusted partner.

Institute Recap

GovCon Lifecycle:
Purgatory to Paradise

The second govmates institute, GovCon Lifecycle: Purgatory to Paradise met at the Northrup Grumman location in McLean, VA. In an authentic meeting-of-the-minds, industry experts discussed topics pertinent to growing the local govcon footprint.

Highlights from the institute include:

Purgatory: That Awful Time Between Submission and Award

  • BAFO’s, How to respond to government requests, FAR compliance, “Gotcha’s”“Proposals are rarely won at submission, but they are lost. If you get an EN – correct, don’t defend.”
    Barry Landew – Wolf Den
    “To mechanically lower your price during ENs make sure you revisit trends to see where you can adjust.”
    Avantika Singh

30-60 Day Transition & Ramp-Up

  • Recruiting & Operations (Transition planning, Re-badging, Quality Planning, Customer interaction) –
    “Be sure to stay in touch with your key personnel and others that you bid after you submit your bid.  Fostering this relationship will cut down on your recruiting time.”
    Mary Holmes – BOOST
  • Contracts (Sub-K’s, Negotiations) –
    “Best advice that is not only the most obvious but the most overlooked – did you read the entire contract award and do you know what you are signed up for?  Make sure everyone on the team is aware.”
    Amanda Tyson – BOOST
  • Accounting (Accounting system set-up, Billing requirements, Types of contracts)
    “Make sure you get the labor category paperwork done up front because you could lose money if they don’t meet the qualifications.”
    Giacomo Apadula –  BDO

Opportunities in Loudoun County

  • “Insider baseball on AWS is coming to Northern Virginia. There is still a ways to go, there will be another downselect based on sites.”
    Steven Hargan – Loudoun Economic Development

Now That You’ve Won – How Do You Pay for It?

  • Have your contracts folks review the financing document.  It’s a contractual document – CEOs make sure you know what you’re getting into and completely understand the terms.“Be careful and read the fine print to make sure you’re actually getting the rate you think you’re getting from your financial providers.”
    Matt Stavish

Capture & Business Development for FY2019

  • Be strategic about your capture process – make sure it’s a rolling 36-month pipeline.
  • Focus on both getting onto some of the larger IDIQs (hello Oasis!  GSA Schedule 70!) and on agencies that award independently – who buys from you? 
  • Yes, there seems to be less direct sole sourcing opportunities and more competitively bid set-aside work for 8a’s.
    Kim Pack, Wolf Den

Join govmates to be updated on future opportunities for continuing education and targeted matchmaking!