It just got easier for DOD, and other federal agencies, to use GSA procurement vehicles. Up till now, a DOD customer would have to obtain a written determination that using the contracts of another agency was in its best interest each time it wanted to place an order. This was a cumbersome process, made worse by the fact that there were no standard guidelines issued by DOD on what needed to go into such a finding, the timing, or other circumstances around which a written determination could be obtained. GSA changed all of that on September 27th by issuing a class deviation letter, through the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council (CAAC). The letter sites authority granted by Congress in the FY’18 Defense Authorization bill, specifically Section 875, that removed the best procurement approach determination requirement to use an interagency acquisition that had been in FAR 17.502-l(a). Agencies now have to make just one blanket determination per contract vehicle, rather than having to obtain a separate determination for each procurement. There would, for example, only have to be one determination issued for the Navy to use the GSA Schedules program. A permanent FAR change is underway, but the deviation makes the legislative change effective now.
Are DOD agencies waiting for the massive JEDI and DEOS projects to finally come to fruition before moving storage and applications to the cloud? It seems unlikely. Bloomberg Government estimated that DOD was on track to spend about $2 billion on various cloud solutions in FY’18. That’s a lot of cloud business up for grabs for contractors with credible, secure cloud solutions. That number is unlikely to go down, too, as DOD moves data storage and even certain applications, to cloud-based platforms. Meanwhile, several Congressmen have asked the DOD IG to investigate the JEDI contract, a vehicle that also has three pre-award protests pending. The DISA DEOS vehicle is also bogged down in a tug-of-war over whether the solution will be truly commercial, or somewhat more tailored to meet specific needs. Now they want to move the acquisition to the GSA 70 Schedule. It seems clear that neither project is anywhere close to becoming operational. Contractors with existing contract vehicles that include cloud solutions can fill the gap. The solutions matter more than the contract vehicle used to obtain them, and the fact is that DOD agencies both need and want the advantages that cloud solutions bring. They also have money now to spend on new projects. Federal acquisition history is littered with the corpses of overly grand acquisition vehicles. At least some DOD officials must have had this experience. Make sure you’re ready to provide the solutions your DOD customer needs right now.
Protests are a part of a federal contractor’s life. That nice award you just got? Protested. Feel rejected? Protest! Here are three things to remember about protests that are essential to sustained business success: 1. GAO Protests Don’t Always Stop and Award: While a protest to GAO may stop an acquisition in its tracks, it doesn’t always. First, if you’re hoping to stop work on a project it’s best to protest earlier in the 10 day window than at the end. Second, GAO opinions are, technically, advisory. An executive branch agency doesn’t have to follow the GAO’s ruling. 2. “No Protest” Policies Work Against You: Generally, government contractors are more reluctant to protest than they should be. The concern is harming the customer relationship. Balderdash. Unless your protest is totally off the wall or you crank out a protest 365 days a year, chances are your customer agency is expecting a protest on every high stakes acquisition. They even build protests into their acquisition planning. Worse, if you’re a known “no protest” company, that late night bid you submitted on September 30th may never get read. You’re better off adopting a reasonable, protective, protest policy. 3. Know When and Where to Protest: Is the wording in the RFP or RFQ vague? No one’s answering your e-mails for clarification? Protest now, before bids are due. Guessing what your customer wants = guessing you’re going to lose. Post-award protests on RFP/Q wording are not timely. Post-award, you have 10 days from the time you knew, or should have known, about a protest-able issue to file at GAO. Also, if you want a de-brief on Thursday, but the CO offers one the Monday before, the 10 day clock starts ticking on Monday. Remember, too, that the Court of Federal Claims can be a viable protest venue. Protests are a tool to be used wisely. While you may use this tool infrequently, it helps to be proficient anyway.
Federal market publications lit up last week with news that President Trump is requesting that all federal agencies trim their FY’20 budget requests by 5%. While it grabs headlines now, it may never actually be implemented. The main reason is Congress. Regardless of whatever party controls the House of Representatives after the mid-term elections, appropriated spending is likely to increase. Democrats want to push a comprehensive infrastructure plan, something that already has conceptual support in the White House. Republicans, meanwhile, want to increase defense spending and have made it clear that, save for the Freedom Caucus, running up deficits in short term does not concern them. Companies that rely on federal spending should certainly monitor the budget and appropriations process to ensure that their interests and projects have a good chance of receiving full funding. No one wants to wake up and find that their pet project has been de-funded. Still, we are at the start of a very long process, one that will wend its way from federal agencies, to OMB, to Congress and, finally to appropriators and up or down spending votes. It would be an understatement to say that a lot can happen between an initial 5% reduction request and reality. In the meantime, there is no reason to not keep selling!
In a bid to increase transparency, GSA announced last week that it will start placing select post-award information about E-Buy procurements on FedBizOps. GSA hopes to increase interest and participation by small businesses by demystifying the E-Buy process. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy stated, “Making this data public will be especially helpful for small businesses who often aren’t able to dedicate resources to navigate the government contracting process.” As part of the process, GSA is establishing a test group to gather and analyze data. This group is comprised of the most active e-Buy users, and includes contracting officers from the GSA Office of Internal Acquisition and the FAS Region 7 Southwest Supply and Acquisition Center. All data collected will be from GSA funded procurements. All notices will be posted on FedBizOps and be labeled “eBuy Pilot”. Of course, any business that wants to gather intelligence on how E-Buy works can look at the pilot information on FBO. This could provide valuable information on how agencies specifically word certain requirements so that contractors on a specific contract or SIN can or cannot see them. Other business intelligence information may also be gathered. Therein is the two-edged sword for contractors. While non-winning companies can see some information on why, and to whom, they will also be able to see other public information that could give them an advantage on future bids. So, if you’re selling to GSA via E-Buy there are several reasons to pay attention to the pilot.