By definition all of my government clients have been through the process of hiring a government consultant/contractor. It isn’t easy and most federal leaders and managers have to do it at some point in their career. Maybe they can’t get hiring authority to bring in new people. Maybe they need to jump start a new project/program with skills that aren't available inside their office/agency. It’s a big decision to make and many managers and leaders, especially those doing it for the first time, are uncertain about how to move forward. As someone who provides those services I’d like to give a few tips to help make federal leaders more educated buyers. 1. Take some time to think about the problem you have and put aside the solution for a bit. Many times I see clients who send out a request for proposal (RFP) too fast without thinking about the problem they are trying to solve. They also fall into the trap of trying to over prescribe the solution in the RFP. Spend your time defining your problem and let a group of consultants/contractors pitch solutions. That’s their job.
2. Take some time to talk with a few different trusted companies. Every manager should have an exploratory conversation with at least a few companies. You need to form relationships, gather ideas, and check out some of your assumptions before you ever get close to writing an RFP. Getting multiple views will help you understand the problem you are trying to solve better and make sure you shape the procurement strategy so that it is attractive to bidders. Once an official procurement process begins, you aren’t going to be able to talk to them anymore so now is your chance.
3. Understand procurement vehicles. This is an area where many managers need help. Government procurement vehicles are complex and differ from agency to agency. Agency X might like to use a government wide vehicle like MOBIS while Agency Y has an agency specific Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (aka IDIQ) vehicle that is mandatory to use. The vehicle that you or your procurement shop chooses to use will affect who can bid on the contract so make sure you choose one that has companies on it that can meet your needs. Go talk to other people in your agency that have used the vehicle and find out about the bidders strengths and weaknesses.
4. Pay attention to the evaluation criteria and personnel qualifications. Your procurement shop is there to make sure you get a good price and to walk you through the process so you don’t get in trouble. How service oriented they are to you beyond that is going to vary by agency. Beyond the Statement of Work and Performance Work Statement itself, pay close attention to two areas.
First, make sure the evaluation criteria for the proposals are well defined, aligned to the problem, and weighted appropriately. Too high a score on price opens the door to minimally qualified companies. Too low a weighting could drive up the price. Find a balance. Second, think through the personnel qualifications. Don’t load it up so much that few people could compete but don’t leave it open to any Tom, Dick or Harry coming off the street. You’ve got to make sure the people you get are good. In many instances you should not pre-identify personnel qualifications as this may limit the solution(s) proposed.
5. Keep another company in the wings. I’ve heard statistics that incumbent contractors win recompetes 85% of the time. Some of this is due to risk aversion and not wanting to take on the hassle of transitioning work rather than just good performance. I’d recommend you reduce your risk and barriers to transition by keeping alternative companies in the mix. In some cases you might have multiple contracts so you could have different companies in the same environment. (Just don’t give them overlapping responsibilities. That’s a headache you don’t need!) If you don’t have that luxury, keep talking with other firms. It’ll help you stay more informed. If other companies know about you and your organization, they are able to offer better alternatives and transition more smoothly, if required.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think are the keys to getting a good contractor/consultant in the federal government?