How much time does an offeror need to submit a proposal? How much time is not enough? How much time is too much? What is the contractor doing with that time? As contracting officers, we didn’t know the answers to these questions (or even to ask all of them sometimes). This cast explains both sides of the proposal response time question and how to find a balance between the extremes of too little and too much time.
What does “Color of Money” mean? This episode explains different types of appropriations and how they impact acquisitions and the Government’s behavior. Kevin and Paul give examples of why the color of money matters and what goes on behind the scenes in a Government acquisition as a result of the appropriation type. Learn why the Government cares about the color of money and why Industry should. Why is September 30th such a busy time for acquisition offices? Give this podcast a listen to find out.
Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of a Government source selection? In this episode Kevin and Paul provide a glimpse behind the curtain and answer a listener’s questions about the source selection process.
Specific topics are:
Subjectivity in proposal scoring
The value of past performance evaluations
What does “significantly more important” mean?
Can evaluations be revised to favor a particular contractor?
J&A (Justification and Approval) is the common term used to describe the documentation required for a contracting officer to proceed with an acquisition using other than full and open competition. (also known as sole source contract) In this episode Kevin and Paul discuss when J&A’s are needed, the seven exceptions to full and open competition that the FAR allows, the content of a J&A, and who approves the J&A.
Targeting is a critical element of winning in the federal market. Poor targeting creates many of the problems we discuss on the Contracting Officer Podcast – from miscommunication between buyer and seller, to adversarial debriefs, and yes, even to protests. Regardless of where you sit in the federal buying and selling process, it is critical that you understand the importance of target-ing.
In this cast, we explain how to identify your Ideal Target Market by stitching together into the three elements that make up your Ideal Target Market: your Reachable Market, your Target Market and your Weight Class.
The last in a 4 part series describing the Acquisition Time Zones in greater detail. (see Episode 003 for an overview of the Time Zones) In this episode Kevin and Paul discuss what happens after industry submits their proposals in response to an RFP. Topics include the types of communication that are allowed between Government and industry during the evaluation process, what the Government team goes through in order to complete their evaluation and select a winner, and the importance of schedule to both industry and the Government.
The third in a 4 part series describing the Acquisition Time Zones in greater detail. (see Episode 003 for an overview of the Time Zones) In this episode Kevin and Paul describe what information must be included in a Government Request for Proposals, what types of communications are allowed during this part of the acquisition process, and what really happens after the RFP is released on both the Government and Industry sides.
The second in a 4 part series describing the Acquisition Time Zones in greater detail. (see Episode 003 for an overview of the Time Zones) In this episode Kevin and Paul discuss the types of market research the Government uses and what Government and Industry are doing (or should be doing) during this phase of the acquisition cycle. As always, communication between Government and Industry is stressed to make the process faster and improve results. (and make it easier on everyone involved!)
This is the first in a 4 part series describing the Acquisition Time Zones in greater detail. (see Episode 003 for an overview of the Time Zones) In this episode, Kevin and Paul describe how the Government creates and refines their requirements. The discussion covers real world examples of what the Government is doing (or should be doing) and what Industry is doing (or should be doing) during this phase of the acquisition process.
What is Section L? What is Section M? In this 2 part episode, Paul and Kevin explain how the Government provides proposal preparation and content instructions in Section L and provides the evaluation criteria that define how to win (or lose) the competition in Section M. Part 1 (Episode 010) focuses on describing “what” Section L and Section M are. In Part 2 the conversation strives to give deeper insight into “why” Section L and Section M are important.
What is Section L? What is Section M? In this 2 part episode, Paul and Kevin explain how the Government provides proposal preparation and content instructions in Section L and provides the evaluation criteria that define how to win (or lose) the competition in Section M. Part 1 (Episode 010) focuses on “what” Section L and Section M are and describes how their content can impact the Government and Industry. In Part 2 (Episode 011) the conversation gives further insight into “why” Section L and Section M are important.
What is the difference between a Firm Fixed Price contract and a Cost Reimbursable contract? If you’ve ever asked this question, this podcast is for you. We provide an overview of the 2 basic contract types used by the Government with examples of when they may be used and the risks each party assumes.
In this cast, we provide an overview of the Request for Information (RFI), the Draft Request for Proposals (DRFP) and the Request for Proposals (RFP). Contracting Officers use all of these in different ways and at different times for a variety of acquisitions. In this cast, we provide some insights from our experience on when and how to best use these tools. We also provide industry with some understanding of when they should, and should not, reply to each. This topic straddles the Market Research Zone and RFP Zone. Since we had a lot to cover, this session ran almost 30-minutes J.
In this cast, we explain the basics of what Contracting Officers do. We define the role of the CO, along with some detail on how they are appointed. We also describe the different types of contracting officers along with some of our personal experience mixed in, of course. This cast has a bit more ‘in the weeds’ FAR language, but it should give you some context on what the CO does and why they do it. Enjoy! And please provide comments below after you listen.
One of the many unique elements of federal contracting is the Debriefing. In this cast, we continue our discussion on the nuances and lessons learned on the enigmatic debriefing. During Part 2, we cover some detailed examples of what we found that worked well and what did not work well from our experience. We also talk through some of the specific items to expect during a debriefing as both a CO and an offeror. While we didn’t cover every element of the debriefing, we hope we gave you a real head start on understanding this uniquely interesting topic. Enjoy!
Listen and Learn… One of the many unique elements of federal contracting is the Debriefing. In this cast, we explain what a debriefing is (and what it isn’t). We also describe the debriefing process from both the contracting officer and industry perspective. We describe our perspective on why both the government team and the offeror should invest their energy in a meaningful debriefing. This cast turned into a deeper conversation so we broke it into two sessions for you. Enjoy!
Ever wonder why it takes, or at least feels like it takes, so long to get an RFP out sometimes? In this session, we discuss what the government team is doing while contractors wait for the RFP to come out. We talk about schedule drives, mandatory reviews and approvals, documentation time, the relationship between the complexity of the requirement and that of the acquisition plan, and others. We share some of our experiences on why we took “so long” to get things done as COs. The requirement is the “what.”
If you work in the Government acquisition world, this podcast is for you. (not just for Contracting Officers!)
Kevin and Paul provide an overview of the Acquisition Time Zones. The Acquisition Time Zones are a foundational concept of the podcast. Each zone aligns to a phase of the government acquisition process. The Acquisition Time Zones help our listeners understand how the content discussed in each podcast fits into the overall government acquisition process.
The Acquisition Time Zones are, in chronological order:
The Requirements Zone (Episode 012)
The Market Research Zone (Episode 013)
The Request for Proposal (or “RFP”) Zone (Episode 014)
The Source Selection Zone (Episode 015)
This episode provides a brief overview of each zone. The episodes above dive into the details of when the zones begin and end, what types of communication are allowed, and what government and industry professionals are doing (and thinking) during each zone.
This episode is brought to you by Skyway Acquisition. To get help with the Government market, become a Skyway Community member. The Skyway Community ensures you are better positioned to take advantage of opportunities and better equipped to manage the challenges of government contracts. Members have access to one-on-one insights, time-saving tools, and training resources from Skyway’s team of former COs, including the ability to get the perspective of the entire team in the “Ask A Contracting Officer” Forum, get specialized training from on-demand webinars and articles, targeting support through the RFP Score™ assessment tool, as well as custom consulting from Skyway’s team of former COs who help solve your unique puzzles. To learn more, visit askskyway.com or call 877-884-5280.
Kevin Jans and Paul Schauer created the Contracting Officer Podcast to help Government and Industry acquisition professionals understand more about how the other side thinks. Admittedly, the podcast’s name sounds very limiting. It is not just for contracting officers or even just for those in the contracting profession. Anyone with an interest in the Federal acquisition world can benefit from the insight and down-to-earth explanations of complicated topics provided by the hosts.
[Paul] Hello, and welcome to the Contracting Officer Podcast. This is the podcast for people who want to learn about the government market from the contracting officer’s perspective. Today, Kevin and I will talk about the differences between how the government buys and how you buy in your personal life or for your company. The end goal is the same, and some of the steps are the same, but the reasons why are often different. We’ll discuss the 80/20 rule and how it applies to the buying process regarding your relationships with the sellers and the processes used to buy – but the 80 and the 20 actually get flipped when the government is the buyer. Finally, we’ll cover why the government is required to openly compete their requirements. And with that, let’s get started.
[Paul] Ok, Kevin. Let’s talk about the difference between how the government buys and how you buy.
[Kevin] Ok. In simple terms, the government buys in some of the same ways we do, but the big difference is they’re required to compete lots of things. They’re required to set aside certain amounts of contracts for companies such as small businesses. They’re required to re-compete contracts they’ve already awarded. And if you think how different this is to how we buy services – when I buy a car, or I buy a customer relationship management software, or I hire an accounting firm for my company, all of those things, there’s no strict set of rules. I can go down and talk to my friend who happens to own the dealership and just buy the car on the spot without checking any prices or any other relationships, or I can go hire a CRM system based on how cool their website is. It’s that simple.
[Paul] So you don’t have to buy your car from a small business dealer this time just because you bought from the largest dealer in the city last time.
[Kevin] Good question, because I actually don’t have to, like a contracting officer has to go out and determine, can a small business even do this? Can a certain group of companies, who may not even be in my local area, do this work? And how different is that than what you and I do when we buy everything from our computer to – we don’t compare Apple’s requirements (I happen to have a Mac, right? So you compare what I needed, and I decided, you know what, I like Mac’s software better). Technically speaking, it does a lot of the same things as a PC, but I just happen to like it better. And you don’t shop on price with a Mac, because they set their prices.
[Paul] So the end goal is ultimately the same, but how you get to the end goal might have to be different if you’re a government contracting officer?
[Kevin] Correct. The end goal is: “to acquire goods and services at a combination of the best price, best service, and the best “solution” (which is the technical solution). So depending on what you’re buying, it could be the process is going to be different, but the reality is, whether or not you have to compete it, (FYI: “yes” is more often than not the answer), and then if you don’t, there’s a specific set of rules you have to go through. So the end goal is to get a great product or service, and to support your user. So if you’re a buyer for a large company, who is not a government contractor, your process to buy software is going to be very different. Things like – here’s one – as a contracting officer, you’re only allowed to take (last time I checked) a $25-value gift from a company who may actually sell you something at some point in the future. Well, compare that to the commercial market, where wining and dining (maybe I’m oversimplifying) – spending time networking with potential customers, it’s a completely different environment. There are no rules, there’s no – ok, there are few rules; there’s a lot fewer rules – about how that relationship works. So the reality is the end game’s the same, you want to get a great product and great service, but to get there, it’s a different process. It’s a different mindset. You have things like the Competition and Contracting Act that says you have to compete everything, unless for a certain set of circumstances which you then have to document.
[Paul] So you’re talking about non-government contracting companies of course, right? If I work for a government contractor, I’m also not allowed to accept large gifts in order to influence the procurement process from my subcontractors or vendors, correct?
[Kevin] That’s correct. And that’s another difference, that even as a subcontractor, in the government market the rules are going to expand and flow down to you. Like the term “flow down clause” – that’s kind of a lot of the things we’re talking about here. What I’m referring to is the almost hyperbole of the two ends of the spectrum: you have a completely commercial company and a completely government contractor. Your worlds are different. And you can step in both worlds, but understand that the rules in each world are very, very different.
[Paul] Ok, let’s talk about the parts of the worlds that are the same. I understand the steps are the same for how you buy for your own company and how the government ends up buying something, so let’s walk through some of the things that are actually the same in the process.
[Kevin] The biggest one is that you need to have a requirement. What do you actually need? What are you buying? So I’ll use the example of the CRM system again: If the government is looking to buy an equivalent of a CRM system, say SharePoint – they need a SharePoint system to manage data – how much data do they have? What does it have to interface with? How many users are going to be on the system? What is the expected cost for it? What is the budget for it? All those things that you and I when we go out and buy a CRM system to manage our relationships with our customers, we still need to do the same thing. What’s your budget? Do you need SharePoint at one end of the spectrum or do you need a free version of SugarCRM at the other end? And you need to decide, what is that requirement? So that’s going to be the same. The level of detail . . . on one hand, one could argue that the government is going to have a higher level of detail; I would argue that as a business owner, you want to have a good level of detail what your requirement is even if you’re not a government contracting officer, you need to really understand what you’re trying to buy. So I would say that needs to be more the same. And the other part of it is understanding “what is your competitive process?” Are you going to get three bids and just take the lowest one (which would be lowest price technically acceptable)? Or are you going to get a technical and a past performance volume and also get a price and then compare the three? For example, I’m actually in the process of hiring an editor for my book right now, and I went onto Elance, and I laid out my requirement – it’s a thirty thousand word book, I need to have it done in approximately two weeks, it’s about government contracts, it’s called Save Your Time: Whether or Not the Government Market is for You. So you go through that, and I laid out what I need from them. I need them to edit it, and I need them to give me an understanding of whether the chapters need to be reordered, etc. I gave them as much detail as I could. What I got back, of course, was a range of prices, some were three times as high as the other ones, but I also got explanations of how they’re going to do it – that would be their technical approach. And then if they had ever done it before. In fact, one of my requirements was that you have to have edited business books before. Well, that’s past performance. So the process is the same. It exists everywhere, and whether you’re putting out something on Elance or you’re trying to figure out which guy you should hire to remodel your house, write your requirement, figure out if you care (and how much you care) about past performance, and how much weight you’re going to put on technical approach. Those steps are the same.
[Paul] Sure. So the process of getting different quotes and surveying the market is different between the government buying process and your own buying process, but you’re doing the same thing. How you go about receiving those quotes, how you go about requesting those quotes might be different, but you’re still comparing different offerings that meet your requirements.
[Kevin] Correct. And one of the other (what I consider to be) similarities is that you come up with a competitive range. And the difference, of course, is that in the government you have to tell everybody how you’re going to determine said competitive range, but the reality is that if you start out with ten companies, you’ve got ten bids – going back to the editor, I’ve got ten different editors (I think I actually ended up with 24, if you can believe that) – and then based on my criteria I took some of the top off and some of the bottom off, and now I’m in a competitive range of five people. It’s the same idea, it’s just that the steps are a little bit different; I don’t have to document it as much, I’m not required to write them a dear-John letter, I’m not required to give them as much specificity in the equivalent of the Section L and M (which are evaluation criteria) – “This is the kind of thing that I’m going to take you off of the list for.”
[Paul] Ok. Let’s talk about how you actually are going to pick which one of those editors that is going to work on your book. You wrote an interesting blog post about the 80/20 rule and how it applies to the process of government buying and how it’s actually flipped between process in buying versus relationship in buying between what you would do buying on your own and what you would do buying as a government contracting officer. Tell me about that.
[Kevin] So the 80/20 rule we came up is based on the fact that as a business owner – 80% of the sales our company gets as a service provider is based on relationships. People understand what we do, they understand we support small businesses, they understand we’re passionate about helping companies navigate the market. That’s how most commercial companies work. I bought my Apple computer based on the fact that I get their culture, I understand why they do what they do, I understand how the style is very clean, and honestly, I know a lot of people who have worked at Apple, I understand what the overall end game is and that’s to make a great product that does just enough.
[Paul] So you’re actually operating somewhat on your personal feelings about the product.
[Kevin] Exactly. And you use that for when you hire your accountant – that’s a relationship. You’re trusting them to do your taxes, you’re trusting them to potentially keep track of your personal finances. That’s what a relationship is. The 20% is, there’s still a process. Regardless of how strong the relationship is with an individual service provider, regardless of how much you like the company, there is a point at which you’re not going to pay five times as much for their support, you’re not going to tolerate sub-par service. In service contracts in particular, we tend to stick with a company longer because of a relationship. Well, you can’t do that in the government market. In the government market, that relationship is only 20% whereas in our commercial providers, it tends to be closer to 80%. Flip that on its head for the government market. In the government market, you understand the needs of the government customer. You’ve done some targeting, you know this particular agency has the right needs for what you do. Let’s say you’re an operations and intelligence company, and your staffing support specifically helps specific agencies that do operations and intel (say Special Operations Command, for example). So you understand their culture, you understand what’s important to them, you understand the difference between that culture at Special Operations Command and what the VA does. They’re very different goals. You understand what this program manager is looking for. That’s the 20%. However, 80% of whether or not you get work with them is through the process. It’s, “Do you understand how to put a proposal together?” “Do you understand how to respond to a Section L and M?” “Do you understand that if your proposal is late, you’re out?” It doesn’t matter how good your relationship is.
[Paul] So you mean if I’m a government contracting officer, or a program manager, I just can’t call up my friend who has a company that provides that service and say, “Hey, Bob, we need you to come do some work for us”?
[Kevin] Correct. You can call them up, you can probably give them a heads-up on the fact that you want them to bid, there are some cases where that actually can happen through a justification and approval process for unique circumstances but that’s a podcast for another day, but in general terms, that is a completely different structure because the 80% process which goes through the market research – here’s another one. Going back to Special Operations Command, let’s say you understand what SOCOM does, all those great things, but you’re a women-owned small business, and they set aside to contract for a group of service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses – it doesn’t matter how good your relationship is with that contracting officer. It doesn’t matter how good you know their structure – you aren’t eligible to bid. The process kicked you out from the beginning. So if you didn’t see that coming, or if you weren’t involved in helping to structure that set-aside by helping with the market research, etc…then you’re out. And again, let’s go back to the commercial market. You walk into this potential customer’s office and say, “Come on, we’ve been friends for a long time, at least give me the chance to bid.” And more often than not, they’re going to go, “Ok.” A contracting officer can’t do that. If you come in as either the wrong type of small business or as a large business, and it’s a small business set-aside, you are legally not able to swing at the ball. You don’t even get to step up to bat.
[Paul] So that’s quite a difference from my own buying process where I can literally select any vendor or any company I want to do the job.
[Paul] So the 80/20 rule as applied to the government buying process tells me that despite the fact that I have relationships with different companies if I’m the contracting officer, despite the fact that I know what they’ve done in the past, despite the fact that they might be providing other agencies fabulous service, when they come in and submit a proposal, if they don’t follow all the rules of the process to the T, I can’t award with them, even if I know they have the best price and the best solution and the best history of doing the job. If their proposal is late, if they haven’t covered everything I asked for in the RFP or RFQ, I still can’t award the contract to them.
[Kevin] Yes. And here’s a great example of that. I had a contract as a contracting officer for some equipment, we’ll leave it at that, and the company who had a much better solution – this was a small business set-aside, best value source selection, so we were able to trade off between their technical, past performance, and price – and they had a significantly much better solution, technically. Past performance was phenomenal, the customer (the user) really liked the product (we did a physical evaluation of it and tested everything. They blew everybody else away. But their price was 50% higher. And during the competitive range I told them, “Your price is significantly higher.” So understanding the process got them so far, but the reality was I could not justify paying 50% more for a product, because it was better, but it wasn’t twice as good. In the end, the product we got was good, it wasn’t great, but then again it was, well, two thirds the price. So think about how that plays out as a taxpayer. You’re thinking, “Yeah, I can’t make that leap.” So when you wonder about how important is the process, it’s not about simple things like, yeah, obviously, if “you’re late you’re late”, but understanding the nuts and bolts of when you get a letter from a contracting officer that says, “Your price is significantly higher,” that’s a big red flag. That’s not shave 2% off your price and keep going. It’s a big deal. And those are the kinds of things in the process that people need to understand, and that’s kind of one of the benefits of this podcast.
[Paul] Ok. You touched upon a couple bigger-picture government words there – best value competition, competitive range – we’ll cover those in detail in later podcasts.
[Kevin] Yes. I think we’ll have a lot of that going around as we build more of these.
[Paul] Alright. So tell me about another difference between the processes. Say I’ve had the same people mowing my lawn for the past five years, and I love what they do, they show up on time, they do a great job, they don’t mow it when it’s raining outside – can I just keep giving them a contract year after year, keep renewing their contract?
[Kevin] Yeah, that’s a good way to say it. Everything, every service provider, every product that we have on the government side, it’s got to be recompeted unless you get official approval through a specific process to not. So the simple example would be the guy or gal that mows your grass, your accountant, or the guy that comes to my house and sprays for bugs (he’s been doing it for fifteen years and he comes once a year). I have no idea if I’m paying ten bucks more to him than I would with somebody else. I haven’t looked, because I don’t have to look, because it’s just not worth my time. As a contracting officer, you have to look as little as every year and as often as about every five years. But think about how that plays out for you as a user – you had this great product, going back to my product I was telling you about before – you had this great product, you’ve been getting it from the same vendor for the last five years. You like it. You’ve gotten used to it. But guess what? The contract is expiring, and we have to recompete it. We have to write the requirement and make adjustments to it depending on if things have changed, and we have to recompete, and you may end up with a completely different vendor with a completely different product that makes that same solution. So think of it in terms of the stuff you have in your house. My printer – if my printer keeps working, I’m going to keep it, right? But if the service provider who comes out and fixes and does the adjustments to my printer to make sure it works at the volume that I need, I have to hire a new guy every five years. It doesn’t matter if I’m happy with that guy, I still have to compete it every five years.
[Paul] That sounds incredibly inefficient. That sounds like a great topic for another podcast as well. The reasons why the government does go about making you recompete every five years or more often than that.
[Kevin] Correct. And it’s a great topic for later, I’ll give you one little tidbit – competition is supposed to be inefficient. And if you think about it, it’s very efficient to just give it to the same company over and over and over again. But, if you want to be a government contractor, that system doesn’t really serve you, does it? That’s a great topic for later.
[Paul] So let’s sum up what we talked about today. The government, commercial companies, and even you yourself personally buy some of the exact same products. We talked about some of the similarities and differences between how you buy and how the government buys. The end goal is very similar – you’re trying to get something that meets your requirements and gives you the best possible performance for your buck. Kevin also talked about the 80/20 rule, where when you buy for yourself, 80% is the relationship with the sellers and maybe 20% is the process that you go through to buy it. When you’re the government buyer, that’s flipped and it’s more 80% process and 20% relationship.
[Paul] We hope the discussion today helped you understand a little bit more about why the government goes about doing what they’re doing. If you have topic suggestions, feel free to send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or enter your comments directly into the site www.contractingofficerpodcast.com. Thanks a lot, and we’ll see you soon.
One often-overlooked difference between the federal market and the commercial market is that federal market sales are won more by process than by relationships. Contracting Officers (COs) cannot buy based on relationships alone. Relationships matter (see FAR Parts 3 and 9), but relationships are usually not the most important factor. The relationship is 20% of the decision. The other 80% is the competitive process.
Compare this to the commercial market. Here the ratio is reversed. Our relationship with a company is often 80%, or more, of our decision to buy from them. The other factors such as price and past performance do matter, but not nearly as much as our relationship with the seller. How did you selected your doctor, your homebuilder, your banker, your car dealer, your airline, your computer, your grocery store? Was the decision to buy from a particular company driven by relationships with friends, customers, or because you bought from them before? I bet so.
Understanding this Relationship-to-Process ratio in the government market is key to winning. The relationship you build with an agency, a program manager, or even a contracting officer will only get you so far (about 20%). You win in the other 80% (the competitive process). Even on existing contracts, regardless of how good the incumbent’s relationship is with the customer, the CO must eventually re-compete it.
Both relationships and process matter. Just be sure to get your ratio correct. You will win more often by aligning your time and resource around 80% process and 20% relationships.
[Paul] Hello, and welcome to the Contracting Officer Podcast. You’re listening to the podcast for people who want to learn about the government market from the contracting officer’s perspective. Today’s episode should be called “Why We Did This” – why is there a contracting officer’s podcast? Why did we choose the name “Contracting Officer Podcast?” Is it just for contracting officers? We decided to call it the CO Podcast because Kevin and I share a unique background as government contracting professionals who have worked on both the government side as contracting officers and on the industry side responding to RFPs from contracting officers like we used to be. So this episode is great if you’re interested in a little background about why there is a contracting officer podcast. Hope you enjoy it, and here we go.
Hey Kevin! Today we’re going to talk about why we created the Contracting Officer Podcast. People and companies need help with the government acquisition process. Our government’s buying process is all clogged up, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that communications between the buyer and seller don’t flow as well as they do in other parts of the buying and selling world. So what do we mean by “people need help?”
[Kevin] The simplest way to say it is that they don’t understand each other. I think there’s a lot of miscommunication, there’s a lot of guessing, a lot of people are spending time chasing things, they’re making assumptions that cost them time and money – on both sides. And some of the questions that I get – as a contracting officer I used to get questions that, I’m in my desk and I would get an email or a phone call and I thought, “Wow, you didn’t know that? You didn’t understand what Section L meant, you didn’t understand that you had to actually respond to a debriefing?” Some of this stuff is really basic; then the more advanced things, like the color of money means that it expires and you only have five years to spend it – and there’s all these other pieces that I just assume people knew, and since I’ve been out, I’ve run into a lot of people who ask these question still and I thought, “You know, a great way to solve that is through a podcast.” So this podcast is for everybody who has questions that they just wish somebody would answer and this is a great way to do it.
[Paul] Right. And when we were both contracting officers, we didn’t understand that the industry folks didn’t understand what we were thinking, and we certainly didn’t understand what they were thinking until we left the government service and got on the industry side and saw our coworkers, our friends, struggling with, “Why is the contracting officer doing that?” So this is a great way to share the back-and-forth since we’ve both gained experience from both sides of the table. So what do we mean by “the government’s buying process is clogged?”
[Kevin] Simply, there’s too much information; there’s lots of opinions, there’s lots of free insight out there, and people are drowning in information and they’re also potentially drowning in opportunity, and they really need an understanding of “Where should I throw my darts? What’s the best way for me to solve this problem?” And a lot of times just being able to understand what a contracting officer’s perspective is and get their shared experience from – for the podcast, multiple perspectives – to smooth out some of the miscommunication. And what I mean by that is that if you learn something from the podcasts that convinces you, “Oh, wow, I shouldn’t be bidding on this,” or “Wow, the contracting officer’s not just being mean – there’s a law behind this that they could get in trouble for” – I say that kind of tongue-in-cheek but it’s true. When I’ve had conversations with people about explaining to them, “This is why we did this, this is why I had to take you out of a competitive process” or “I needed to have this form” or whatever it is; there’s a reason behind that. And a lot of those reasons, they aren’t shared with people, so there’s a lot of guessing and the process gets really complicated. So going back to why it’s “clogged,” so many people on both sides are spending a lot of time trying to figure out, “Should I be doing this, should I answer this question, I need to respond to every RFI” – well, if you respond to every RFI, you eat up your time –
[Paul] –And you eat up the contracting officer’s time.
[Kevin] Correct. And likewise, if you bid on everything, you’re eating up your time, and you’re eating up the contracting officer’s time, because they have to review every proposal. So multiply that concept by the thousands of source selections that are happening all over the world right now, and things take longer. So, let’s try and fix that.
[Paul] And if the listening goes well on both sides, I think we really hope that we can save both sides – the sellers and the buyers – we can save them time and money in the process and get the products to the government that they need when they need them. So why do we say that communications are the key here?
[Kevin] It’s funny – I say that communication is the key because one of those sayings is that “the biggest myth in communication is that it actually happened”. So a lot of times, when I would put together an RFE and I would send it out to the world, and what I thought it said is not what it said, and then I would get a protest of, “Oh, well you said this, and I thought you meant that,” and we’re spending all this time back and forth. That’s what I mean by it being too formalized. What if there were an area (i.e., this podcast) where people could understand, “Oh . . . when I don’t understand something, I need to make sure I understand it before I bid” or “What’s the right way to ask to make sure that I understand it?” – or, for that matter, for a contracting officer to say, “Wow, when I wrote this language, hm. I need to be more clear. I need to be very specific.” Those kinds of things. And I’m using hyperbole, but you get my idea here, there’s a lot of too-formalized communication; people are afraid to have an open dialogue and I was the same way. I was afraid to have an open dialogue with some competitors or some companies that were competing with each other, and some source selections because I was afraid of the impact. This podcast is not regulated by anybody. This podcast is not sponsored by the government or sponsored by any government organization or, for that matter, none of this is illegal advice or anything. This is just open dialogue. So it’s an environment where we can get rid of some of those assumptions, help people understand what’s going on on both sides and to share experiences and ideas and say, “Wow, this really worked, and this really didn’t.”
[Paul] Yeah, a lot of what you’ve talked about can be attributed to Hanlon’s razor, and if you don’t know that maxim, that’s “Never attribute to malice what can be easily explained by lack of knowledge.” And I think that’s what I found when I got to the industry side, is so much of the industry wonders why the government is stupid, or so slow, or “Why are they doing this crazy thing?” If you go back to me as a contracting officer, I didn’t know the impact that I had on industry when I did something. That’s not what contracting officers generally get trained in, is the impact of their actions. So I really felt like when I got to the industry side my eyes were opened up and I would have been a better contracting officer. So if we can share some of that back-and-forth and help the sides understand that, “Hey, the other guys aren’t stupid, why did the contractor not understand why our people–” well, it’s not because they’re stupid, it’s because they didn’t understand what you were going for there. So if we can open that up, I think we’ll be doing a great service.
[Kevin] And the other part of this is that the cynics of the world say, “Well, this is a problem that’s really hard to change.” You know what, it is. But somebody’s got to start somewhere, and this is our attempt at using the Gandhi concept of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This is our attempt at changing some of these problems we see.
[Paul] Right. So what kind of stuff are we going to cover? We’re going to try to keep the topics in small doses so that whatever issue comes up, you can take a look through the site and find a podcast that touches on those topics. And we’re also going to ask for input, for what do you want to know more about? What confuses you? What topics would you like to hear us talk about?
[Kevin] And one of the big things we’ll talk about here is this isn’t “The Kevin and Paul Show.” This is the “Contracting Officer Podcast”. So while we have our own experiences, which you’re going to hear a lot about, there are lots of (obviously) contracting officers who we intend to invite on the show – some we’ve already talked to about this – to talk about their experiences. For example, I was not a GSA contracting officer. But there’s a GSA contracting officer out there who we have to have on the show who will be able to give you their perspective on what happens in their agency. And that’s what I mean by opening up the dialogue, to give specific topics, to say this is a tactical ground-level insight that you can use today to help you navigate this market better.
[Paul] That’s a great point. There’s tons of people out there that have different perspectives. You and I were contracting officers for years, but we both worked for the Air Force, so big picture, we both have a narrow view of government contracting. We both had wide-ranging experiences across lots of different types of acquisitions, but there are tons of people that we can get on to talk to describe experiences that we might not have covered. So I’m really looking forward to that part, to bring in the other folks around to it. And we’re not going to try to talk big government acquisition policy issues, we’re not going to try to change the world by making the FAR a hundred pages instead of its current thousand. We’re going to try to stick to ground-level topics that are “This is what I care about today; hey, let’s talk about that.”
[Kevin] And Paul kind of undersells the fact that he’s also worked in the National Reconnaissance Office, I also worked in Special Operations Command, but the point is still valid that we still only touched a small portion of this market, and this is a great environment to really be able to touch a theoretically infinite number of topics and contracting officers and issues, etc. And that’s why we don’t want to get any higher than the tactical level, because then it just gets fuzzy and you’re not going to find it as useful.
[Paul] Alright. So – where do you find more information about the contracting officer podcast? So the podcast itself is on iTunes and all the other sites where you can grab this content. On the website, www.contractingofficerpodcast.com, you can reach out directly to either of us, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and we really hope to hear from you and hear what you have questions about, and what are you confused about.
[Kevin] Exactly. And the one last thing we’ll bring up is that this is our first podcast, so as you can tell we’re not going to be the most polished speakers – actually, funny enough, we’re actually pretty good public speakers, but this is new content – we’ll get better at it; I’d appreciate any feedback on like if you can hear sounds in the background that we don’t hear . . . we’re not trying to make this an edit show, we try to turn it into the perfect solution, because there’s just so much content to cover. We’d rather spend time focusing on great content that you can use and if our recording isn’t the best in the world, our theory is that if that’s why you’re not listening, then the content’s not that good. So we’re going to focus on content. So just to throw out there as a ground-laying concept: don’t hate us if we don’t edit out every “um” that we throw out there.
[Paul] That’s nice. Set it up early for “give us a break, we’re learning as we go.”
[Kevin] Exactly. We’ll get better. Alright, thanks.
[Paul] Alright. That’s it for this episode. If you have questions, comments, or complaints, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.
Companies need help. They are awash in information (and data),but they are starving for insights on the COs’ perspective. As contracting officers, we saw so many companies overwhelmed by the rules, the process, the seemingly limitless options and the shear volume of opportunities in the market. They were, and still are, looking for insights to help them better understand how our federal government’s processes work. We created this podcast to improve the acquisition process by sharing COs’ collective perspective.
Contracting officers need help. They are awash in information (and data), but are starving for insights on the contractors’ perspective. Since leaving our contracting officers positions, we see how some of our actions as COs, while well-intended, impacted companies in ways we did not know. We wish we knew then what we know now. We also created this podcast to offer COs some insights on the contractors’ perspective.
We want to “be the change we wish to see in the world”. Many say that the procurement system needs more regulation(or less), or more oversight (or less), or more funding (or less),or more people (or fewer), and so on. We decided we’d startwith more communication (not less).