OFPP dispels 8 more agency, vendor communications myths

Lesley Field, acting administrator and Joanie Newhart, associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs, OFPP

Jason Miller | April 17, 2015 3:43 pm

The solution to many of the problems with federal procurement comes down to communication between industry and government. So it’s to that end the Office of Federal Procurement Policy is taking a second turn at dispelling some of the most commonly held myths.

As Federal News Radio first reported, OFPP issued its Mythbusters 2 memo today detailing eight more fictional reasons why agencies and contractors can’t talk, and the real truths about why they can communicate freely. The administration issued the first Mythbusters memo in February 2011 with the goal of breaking down barriers in how contracting officers and program managers talk to vendors.

Misconception #1 -“The best way to present my company’s capabilities is by marketing directly to Contracting Officers and/or signing them up for my mailing list.”

Fact: Contracting officers and program managers are often inundated with general marketing material that doesn’t reach the right people at the right time. As an alternative, vendors can take advantage of the various outreach sessions that agencies hold for the purpose of connecting contracting officers and program managers with companies whose skills are needed.

Misconception #2 – “It is a good idea to bring only business development and marketing people to meetings with the agency’s technical staff.”

Fact: In meetings with government technical personnel, it’s far more valuable for you to bring subject matter experts to the meeting rather than focusing on the sales pitch.*

“Mythbusters 2 continues that conversation, the difference is, these are misconceptions from industry’s perspective,” said Lesley Field, acting OFPP administrator, in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio. “We are hoping to help industry use the time with government to be productive and engage in good conversations. We have a few myths and misconceptions with facts that follow up on good and productive ways to engage with government.”

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Field said OFPP developed these second round of myths from a series of meetings with industry, members of the Frontline Forum, senior procurement executives and others.

Vendors do have influence over market research

Joanie Newhart, OFPP’s associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs, said in the interview one of the most commonly held misconceptions is vendors have little influence over potential solicitations in the pre-request for proposal or market research phases.

“That is not so. We are finding agencies are engaging because industry has the critical knowledge that could help shape the acquisition strategy and outcome,” Newhart said. “So we are trying to bust that myth.”

OFPP wrote in the memo that vendors can provide comments or suggestions during the formal requirements development phase without trigging organization conflict of interest as long as the vendor is not hired to develop the requirements.

Misconception #3 – “Attending industry days and outreach events is not valuable because the agency doesn’t provide new information.”

Fact: Industry days and outreach events can be a valuable source of information for potential vendors and are increasingly being used to leverage scarce staff resources.

Misconception #4 – “Agencies generally have already determined their requirements and acquisition approach so our impact during the pre-RFP phase is limited.”

Fact: Early and specific industry input is valuable. Agencies generally spend a great deal of effort collecting and analyzing information about capabilities within the marketplace. The more specific you can be about what works, what doesn’t and how it can be improved, the better.*

“Suggesting detailed solutions to your concerns is even more valuable,” the memo states. “Additionally, FAR 15.201 encourages exchanges with all interested parties, beginning at the earliest identification of a requirement through receipt of proposals.”

In the memo, OFPP also says another myth is that industry days and pre-solicitation conference aren’t valuable, but that is not true as these widely attended meetings are good ways to understand what the agency’s goals are.

“Many times, agencies hold sessions designed to help new vendors do business with them,” the memo states. “In these sessions, agency personnel are on hand to answer any questions about how to do business with the agency. Gaining a better understanding of an agency will help you more effectively target your outreach, thereby saving valuable resources, and helping you respond to solicitations more effectively.”

Newhart said another common one is that vendors don’t need to tailor each proposal to the specific procurement and can just change a few words for similar solicitations.

She said that’s absolutely not the case, and vendors should write the proposal so it meets the evaluation criteria laid out in the RFP.

Agencies can share pricing data

Field said another common myth is around the sharing of pricing information between agencies around similar buys.

Misconception #5 -“If I meet one-on-one with agency personnel, they may share my proprietary data with my competition.”

Fact: Agency personnel have a responsibility to protect proprietary information from disclosure outside the government and will not share it with other companies.

Misconception #6 -“Agencies have an obligation not to share information about their contracts, such as prices, with other agencies, similar to the obligation they have not to disclose proprietary information to the public

Fact: There are no general limitations on the disclosure of information regarding existing contracts between agencies within the government. In fact, agencies are encouraged to share pricing information to ensure that we are getting the best value for our taxpayers.*

“We think the price visibility part of it, and I know there are lots of transactions every year, but making sure when a particular agency is buying something that another just purchased, we want to make sure contracting officers are sharing that information,” she said.

Field said OFPP is looking at a number of options and possibilities to help get better price visibility, but they don’t have a specific plan yet.

The memo states sharing of information between federal agencies is allowed and it’s not a disclosure of proprietary information.

“Therefore, while there might be occasional circumstances where an agency could benefit from signing an NDA that would restrict its sharing of information with another agency, agencies should generally avoid NDAs that prohibit sharing of information — particularly pricing information — within the government,” the memo states. “Price visibility is critical to ensuring that the government gets the best prices and that agencies are not paying more for the same products or services being bought under the same circumstances.”

Another common myth, OFPP says, is vendors should bring business development staff to meet with agency technical staff.

“Vendors should bring their technical experts to meetings with agencies,” the memo states. “Their knowledge of advances in technology and your firm’s capabilities are much more helpful to agencies than generic sales presentations.”

Misconception #7 -“To develop my new proposal, I don’t really need to tailor my solution to the specific solicitation since the government won’t read my proposal that closely anyway.”

Fact: Offerors should tailor each proposal to the evaluation criteria, proposal instructions and specific requirements of the solicitation to which they are responding. Contracting officers and evaluation team members read proposals closely for compliance with the proposal instructions and must evaluate them against the evaluation factors and the statement of work in the solicitation.

Misconception #8 -“If I lose the competition, I shouldn’t bother to ask for a debriefing. The contracting officer won’t share any helpful information with me.

Fact: Unsuccessful offerors should ask for a debriefing to understand the award decision and to improve future proposals.*

* Source: “Myth-Busting 2″: Addressing Misconceptions and Further Improving Communication During the Acquisition Process

Newhart said during her career as a contracting officer all of these myths came up at one time or another and continue today.

“The memo is targeted more for the vendors who are newer in working with the government,” she said. “This is to help them sort through the maze of working with us.”

Outreach and updates to communication plans

Newhart said OFPP is planning a lot of outreach to dispel the myths. She said agencies will update their Vendor Communications Plans, required in Mythbusters 1, to reflect these false ideas.

“It’s really a communication piece for government folks within the agencies to know how they should be incorporating this new vendor communication into their procurement and also for vendors so they know how agencies plan on handling this,” she said. “It also holds an agency official accountable for this.”

Field said there is new functionality on FedBizOpps.gov for small businesses and for vendor communication and collaboration that will help dispel these myths. The vendor communication plans are posted on the portal.

Field said Mythbusters 1 helped open the door for contracting officers to talk with contractors more easily and comfortably and vice versa.

“I think pulling together the information and the opportunities and having agencies drill down into their communications plans and then posting them actually required agencies to reduce barriers to entry,” Field said. “The process itself, especially at the agency level, questioning what they could do better, what they differently and having someone assigned to it to have accountability so it’s an ongoing effort. We’ve heard from agencies they are feeling more comfortable having webinars or conference calls in the pre-RFP space. It has taken some time, but it seems to be a little bit of a catalyst to have better communication and ultimately better value.”

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