Government Notices and Communication (Part 1)

If you’ve been around the Federal marketplace for any amount of time, you have seen that the government tends to communicate in a somewhat deliberate way. This is not to suggest that communication is clear or consistent. The words used by the government vary from one agency to the next; however, the method in which communications occur can be tracked and deciphered. If you intend to win contracts and grow your business with Federal customers, then it becomes imperative to understand more than “what” is being communicated, but also “how” and “when” that communication is delivered…and to “whom.”

There are many ways this topic could be discussed. Because the government utilizes a structured approach for most of its procurements, this blog post will go through what cues from the government that industry participants should anticipate in the first phase. The process for procuring services is called the Seven Steps To the Services Acquisition Process. There is a process for acquiring products and a very robust and complex process for systems acquisitions, but to understand cues from the government, this blog post (and those that follow) will focus on the Seven Steps To The Services Acquisition Process. The following illustration is provided to give a visual of how this process is laid out:

This post is the first in a three-part series. It will focus on the first phase of the process, the Plan phase. As the name suggests, the government is early in its requirements formation process. Depending on the complexity of the requirement, there may be clear and deliberate actions taken at each step, or it may be a less formal process whereby the government team manages the procurement in a more informal way. Either way, the messages going to the industry tend to be reasonably similar.

Step One – Form the Team

In this phase, the industry is not likely to see a lot of communication coming from the government on a specific requirement. The government program manager or requirement owner (many times this is the same person) recognizes there is a need that can be fulfilled by contracting with the industry. It may be an existing requirement going out for re-competition, or a brand new requirement. Specific communications will be limited, but there may be early notices regarding requesting information at a high level to assist the program manager with pulling together a team with the right skills and background. This point in time is a great time to engage with the agency Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) or Small Business Liaison Officer (SBLO). The government will move into market research in Step 3, and you want your

information quickly available to the team when that time comes. The OSDBU/SBLO can help facilitate that.

Step 2 – Review Current Strategy

This step can be a little quiet also. However, an example of communication from the government you might anticipate is questions regarding a previous procurement. The government might seek to learn lessons from what went right and what might have gone wrong from industry’s vantage point. The government is interested in soliciting its requirements, so any intel they can get on how to increase the level of competition will be helpful to them.

Step 3 – Perform Market Research

Market research is where industry is likely to see the most communication leading up to the issuing of a Request for Proposals (RFP). If you have any aspirations at all in being considered for a particular government requirement, you must take advantage of these opportunities to engage the government in their pursuit of information.

Sources sought notice – These are typically sent out to determine the level of interest among capable vendors. The government is interested in learning about vendors that might compete for their requirements. Of particular interest is how much interest there is; what size standard and socio-economic categories are the interested vendors; and are interested vendors capable of performing. This is a great opportunity to highlight your capabilities and encourage the government to set the procurement aside for the lowest socio-economic category for which your company qualifies.

Requests for Information – These notices are less about how many vendors or whether they are small businesses, but more about improving the government’s understanding of their requirements. RFIs are issued with all sorts of questions, but they’re mostly looking to improve the way the government outlines its requirement in an RFP. This provides industry an excellent opportunity to encourage the government to include requirements that align with their strengths, or conversely, remove provisions that might be a barrier to entry and prevent you from participating in the competition.

Industry Forum – An industry forum can be associated with a specific requirement, or it can be hosted by an agency who is wanting to share information about several upcoming requirements. Keeping with the seven-step process tied to a specific requirement, an industry forum in this context is often associated with more complex needs. The main benefit to the government for these is they have the opportunity to dialogue with industry regarding the requirement openly. These are enormously beneficial to a vendor as you can learn a lot about what the government is trying to accomplish, how they think they will go about it, and you can see who else is interested.

DRAFT RFP – When the government shares this information publicly, they are asking for help from the industry. They WANT feedback on the current configuration of the RFP so they can make changes to improve competition and better align to commercial best practices. This is a golden opportunity for a vendor to shape the procurement in a meaningful way. Do not sit this one out!

These are the types of communication tools most often seen during the market research step, but the list can be quite a bit longer. The main point for the government is looking to understand the competitive landscape, whether they can set it aside for small businesses (or lower-level socio-economic category), and whether the requirement is commercially available.

The descriptions above at each step hardly scratches the surface. Understanding the cues sent out by the government is critical. Do not brush off an opportunity to get your business noticed by those who are doing the purchasing on the government side just because you don’t think the notice is all that important. If you need or want help responding, give FP&C Consulting a call or schedule some time right on our home page. We are here to help!

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