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Smart Tips for Pricing Labor Rates

If you’re bidding on any government contract these days, whether it’s a Firm Fixed Price or Cost Plus, there is almost always a requirement to demonstrate and justify how your labor rates were developed.  Many companies may end up bidding existing employee rates (that’s fine, but may not be the smartest approach), or using free online sources such as salary.com.  We recommend a few better approaches to refine and really sharpen the bid rates. Note here that there is, of course, a cost to obtain good data.  Good data paves the way for good analysis.

Here are BOOST’s top three tips to develop and bid smart labor rates (that you can justify to the government and intelligently execute):

  1. Access: Get access to labor survey databases. This can be costly, but there are options for buying reports or gaining access. Options include: using cost-sharing with other partners buying a license directly with companies such as Economic Research Institute (ERI), Mercer, Western Management Group, proprietary survey tools from BOOST etc,. These depend on their cost and your usage.  Do not rely on free sites such as salary.com or LinkedIn. It’s possible to review them and perhaps use them as a way to triangulate, but they should not be used as primary sources of information to justify your rates.
  2. Research: Use government sources such as the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics data tables. This isn’t the most accurate way to define your rates, but it can provide a good range to compare to the other data sources and provide fidelity. Additionally, peruse GS Pay rates and add them into your analysis.  Use these resources with caution. They’re not as refined as the commercially developed salary databases mentioned above, but sometimes the government does require you to bid within these ranges.
  3. Collaborate: Get your subcontractors on data calls. When developing labor rates, you’re often required to request rate data calls from your subcontractors.
    This does two things –

1. Ensures that you’re performing a proper subcontractor rate analysis as a part of the FAR requirements.

2. Provides actual data points from various companies in the scope of the contract/work to be performed.

In a way, this is actual live market data, that you can use to compare and refine your rates.  This is an often-overlooked strategy because it’s very time-sensitive. Furthermore, you don’t usually get the data in enough time to make actual pricing comparisons and decisions on your rates.  This is why a proper timeline and pricing schedule must be implemented. That’s a story for another day!

Pricing is a monster all on its own, but with these smart tips you can start to tame the beast. The pricing experts at BOOST are experienced in helping to support your strategic pricing needs. Contact us today to better prepare and price your proposals.

Easy Tips for Competitive Data Gathering

As small business contractors, we know how tough it is to get daily operations up and running; let alone set up a proposal shop and to go after business.  Most often, it’s a one-person shop, hunting and gathering crumbs in the govcon jungle. This can obviously be very overwhelming and wasteful as time passes, but there are some quick and easy ways to be a bit smarter about planning your bids.

This industry, as we all know, is quite cutthroat, not just in price/rates, but also in partnerships/performance.  If you’re in the right place at the right time (read: right team/right contract), you can suddenly find yourself on a meteoric path to growth. However, most often you’re just trying to get a few contract full-time equivalents (FTEs) here and there until you get enough past performance or a wonderful set-aside contract drops into your view.

There are some ways you can make some intelligent bid/no bid decisions, and also sharpen your proposal approaches.  We recommend some free (elbow grease required) sources below:

  1. Free government sources
    1. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Includes cost of living tables, economic indicators, fringe and tax data. If you don’t study macro-economic trends, you could be missing the pulse of the market.
    2. DoL website – Also contains wage rate tables for Service Contract Act, by location. This can give you a good idea about how to modify and/or plan for benefits plans for nonexempt contracts. This can be a huge risk if not accounted for.
    3. GSA website – Includes various schedule rates and top-line data for companies, can be a good starting point to compare and contract. Sometimes the RFP requires you to bid in these ranges, so it’s good to have these as data points to triangulate your bid rates.
  1. Government funding/budget data
    1. Usaspending.gov – This website contains spending charts where you may find very useful trend information. It’s a good research site.
    2. Federal Procurement Data System – fpds.gov – direct source to get previous contract funding/obligation data, by company, by contract. This can be very useful to obtain trends and do some back of the envelope analysis.
    3. FBO.gov – may contain past government contract info, interested vendors, industry day info, etc.
    4. Industry Days – These are potential opportunities to attend in person or dial in. Ideal for intelligence gathering.
    5. Small Business Administration – sba.gov. This website contains some good information on how to gather competitive data and has a few tools to help gather free research.
  1. General Websites
    1. Glassdoor – employee reviews, can indicate benefits across companies, morale, contract headcount, job descriptions.
    2. LinkedIn – resume descriptions, contract sites, recruiting notes
    3. Corporate websites – often post job listings and sometimes provide benefits info. Read the annual reports for public companies; you can see trends within the financial reports and project out a feasible G&A rate for most of these companies.

 

Data gathering may be snore-inducing for some, but we have the connections to those who thrive on this type of hunting and pecking. If you would like an introduction or a roadmap to your best strategies for data capture, email BOOST. [email protected]

How to Survive a DOL SCA Wage and Hour Audit

On a late Friday afternoon in May, just before I am about to leave for a three-day holiday weekend, my phone rings at the corporate office in Maryland and it is the voice of a woman who is the last person I wanted to speak to at the end of a long week – a Department of Labor auditor.  The woman seemed nice enough until she says, “a report has been made against your organization in North Carolina and I have been assigned to oversee the audit.  I will be emailing you momentarily all of the documents I will need.”  I receive the email and immediately called her back to ask, “Three days? I have three days to bring you payroll reports, rosters, and time cards for a workforce of 200 employees?” That is when she informs me if I do not comply the company will be in violation of her records request which could cause the organization to be assessed fines.  So, my team and I pulled together all SCA policies and procedures, 2 years of employee records, a month’s worth of payroll records, and time cards for 6 months for 200 employees. All over a holiday weekend.  It was a feat to be had, but the team pulled together and by Tuesday I was driving to North Carolina with 5 large bankers boxes to meet with the auditor on Wednesday morning.

Wednesday comes and the audit begins.  Two weeks later the audit is over, and I receive my findings. They were good, but not great.  The company was assessed almost $200,000 in back wages, but we were found to not be negligent in our practices, policies and procedures.  And from this experience, here is what I learned on how to survive (as best as you can):

  • Be nice and play nice with the auditor. She can make or break the findings.  By playing nice with the auditor and offering assistance, she shared the reason for the audit – someone was not happy about not receiving their vacation benefit after being away from the contract for more than six months.  I explained that the FAR clause pertaining to vacation benefits does not dictate length of separation when determining an anniversary date and vacation payout.  The company set a generous policy that was in writing as to what would constitute a separation from the contract.
  • Make sure you understand the FAR clauses. Especially those associated with SCA and wage & hour as it pertains to an SCA contract to include health & welfare benefits. By demonstrating knowledge of the FAR, we were able to justify the policies and procedures put into place and that the company put a considerable amount of thought in how to implement the corporate policies.
  • Be prepared for employees to talk to the auditor. The auditor will request that you provide a number of employees to speak with her.  Our auditor spoke with approximately 25 employees.  We were able to identify 10 employees with the remainder identified by the auditor.  The company was not aware that the auditor would speak to employees as we were told originally it was just a document request and management interview.
  • The auditor is not limited in scope. The auditor will ask questions that are within the scope of DOL wage and hour and SCA.  They are not limited to the complaint that was filed.  We found out from employees who came to us asking why the auditor asked specific questions about pay practices, how we handled policy infractions, and more.
  • The auditor will be reviewing ALL aspects of wage & hour and SCA compliance. The auditor asked questions of corporate, program management, and employees on topics such as how employees are paid, how they are compensated, are they compensated fairly under the wage determination based upon their labor category, do they work overtime, and do they receive all benefits in accordance with the SCA.  Our auditor found that even though there was no overtime required on the contract and that we had a strict no overtime policy, employees were still using their own time to do tasks such as making copies at home or buying supplies for their workspace.  It was deemed that this was in direct violation of overtime laws.
  • The auditor will assess fines, penalties, damages, and lost wages. The fines, penalties, and damages are at the discretion of the auditor (this is where the “be nice and play nice” rule applies).  Our auditor felt that since we were forthcoming with information, knew our FAR clauses and how to apply them, and there was no willful misconduct by the organization that she would not assess fines or penalties under wage and hour or SCA.  Yes, there could have been fines and penalties under both labor laws! However, the company was required to pay back wages of uncompensated overtime to 200 employees.
  • The auditor will determine the amount of lost wages and when those wages must be paid. Our auditor made a determination and created a calculation of how much potential overtime was reasonable to be paid to the employees (both current and past employees) who had worked in the prior 22 weeks. For most employees who were employed for that entire look-back period, they received just over $1,000 in back overtime wages which had to be paid out within two weeks of DOL’s notice.  If the company had been found to be negligent in violating SCA and/or wage and hour laws, punitive damages would have been assessed and paid to the employee.  To put this in perspective, punitive damages are two times the amount of lost wages.

 

This is how I survived and what I learned during a Department of Labor SCA Wage & Hour SCA audit.  If I or my team had taken the stance that DOL was the enemy, if the company was not clear or consistent in SCA policies and practices or was found negligent in our understanding and application of SCA wage and hour laws, the outcome would have been catastrophic.  The company did a review of a worst-case scenario and found that the end result would have been over $1,000,000.00 in punitive fines, damages, and back wages that would have been owed to either the DOL or to the employees.  That’s a huge chunk of change for an up and coming 8(a) business.  The company would have had to shutter their doors and more than 200 people would have lost their jobs.

 

Avoid being a “worst-case scenario” story by making yourself aware of the SCA Wage & Hour requirements on every contract. If you would like guidance on where to start and how to focus, email BOOST LLC. [email protected]