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3 Key Influencers of the Federal Budget Process

Posted by on May 23, 2018 in Acquisition | 0 comments

3 Key Influencers of the Federal Budget Process

If you’ve ever wondered how Congress and Federal agencies interact to get budgets approved or who the key players are that make the critical decisions about taxpayer dollars and the roles they play in the Federal budget process, then read on. Understanding the budget process and how to work with decision-makers is important for stewards of Federal funding. From the onset, it’s critical to be familiar with the key influencers of budgets and their responsibilities. There are three major groups that play a role in the Federal budget process: Executive Branch Includes the President, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Treasury, along with other Cabinet agencies and entities. Responsible for setting, executing, and overseeing the budget. Legislative Branch Includes the Senate, House of Representatives, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Responsible for collecting taxes, appropriating funds, providing economic forecasts, and analyzing and auditing agencies. Special Interest Groups and Other Stakeholders Includes members of the public who have direct interests in specific programs or issues. Provides input on requirement to the White House, OMB, and Federal agencies through various avenues such as testifying before Congress. Management Concepts has just launched a highly interactive, three-day course titled, The Legislative Process: Working with Congress, designed to provide participants with a solid framework of the legislative process and its impact on an organization’s budget. Participants will learn the typical and the not-so-typical scenarios Federal financial managers face on a daily basis and the resources available to address them, such as: Understanding the impact of a continuing resolution of agency budget submissions and, more specifically, new programs that will be delayed. (For more information refer to: CBO budget and economic projections). Deciding whether to outsource an activity to a Federal contractor or to hire new employees to take it on. (For more information refer to: OMB Circular A-76). Click here for more information about this course: The Legislative Process: Working with Congress. You can learn more about our other Financial Management course offerings to continue your professional development...

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3 Ways Bid Protests Can Help Improve Source Selection

Posted by on Apr 16, 2018 in Acquisition | 0 comments

3 Ways Bid Protests Can Help Improve Source Selection

Anyone involved in the government contracting process can tell you that bid protests cause a great deal of anxiety. From the stress caused by the ding on performance evaluations to the automatic stay and the loss of revenue, neither the government nor private industry view a bid protest as a positive. Despite the discomfort that bid protests cause, there is a positive that can be found in the action. The bid protest is probably the best learning tool that contracting professionals can utilize to refine their source selection methods. Now, before you shake your head, consider this; according to the GAO Bid Protest Annual Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 2017, the most prevalent reasons that bid protests were sustained in FY17 were: Unreasonable technical evaluation; Unreasonable past performance evaluation; Unreasonable cost or price evaluation; Inadequate selection decision; and Flawed selection decision. All of these sustained protests were due to failures in the source selection process. So what, you ask? How does knowing this information help refine source selection? Here’s how: 1. Learning from the mistakes of others: GAO bid protest decisions are available on the GAO website https://www.gao.gov/legal/ for everyone to read. The decisions walk the reader through the process that led to the protest, apply the facts to the law, and render a decision. These decisions allow other contracting professionals to learn what their peers did wrong in their source selection process so they can avoid making the same mistakes. 2. Learning from your own mistakes: Too often, a solicitation is rushed onto the street. Rushed solicitations usually have flaws and, more often than not, those flaws are in the evaluation criteria. For a multitude of reasons, those flaws are overlooked and it isn’t until the bid protest is received that the document is given the closer look it should have received prior to release. Using the allegations in the bid protest to review the solicitation can reveal failures that the eyes in the office have missed. Looking at evaluation factors from the eyes of the evaluated makes contracting professionals aware of how bidders understand the requirements. This is knowledge that can be applied when creating future solicitations. 3. Taking corrective action: Fair or not, there is a perception that some in private industry simply file protests because they can. Perhaps this is true of some, which is why Section 827 of the NDAA requires unsuccessful protesters to reimburse the DOD for costs. It can’t be true of all, because bid protests can be very costly for the protester. Usually, companies protest because they sincerely believe that their bid was not evaluated properly, and had it been, they would have won the award. In these cases, the protester just wants to be treated fairly and will allow the government to conduct a re-evaluation of bids. Although the contracting officer (CO) is responsible for the final source selection, the CO relies on the evaluations conducted by the technical evaluation committee (TEC). The TEC is comprised of professionals for whom conducting bid evaluations is an ancillary duty, and their lack of experience in conducting evaluations, or their lack of time to commit to the process while performing their actual duties, can lead to mistakes. The mistakes may not be obvious to the CO and a selection may not be made based...

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How and When Should Government Engage Industry?

Posted by on Mar 8, 2018 in Acquisition | 0 comments

How and When Should Government Engage Industry?

At the February 2018 ACT-IAC conference Lifting the Curtain: Requirements Development in Federal Acquisition and Reverse Industry Day, the question of when to engage industry emerged.  The most controversial idea was presented by James William, Partner at Schambach & Williams Consulting. During Panel I- Behind the Scenes: Understanding the Government Requirements Gathering Process, Mr. Williams offered that government could invite industry to the table to assist in the creation of the statement of need and the evaluation factors. By engaging industry in the requirement development process, early and often, requirements will be better defined, better solutions will be offered, the evaluation process will be streamlined, the Procurement Acquisition Lead Time (PALT) will be minimized and the government will achieve best value. This idea elicited a lot of response, and head scratching, from both industry and government. Why the head scratching?  It appears that experience has induced caution, and even suspicion. Both Federal acquisition professionals and their industry partners shared concerns that collaboration prior to the release of a solicitation is wrought with danger. Some of the concerns that emerged were: How can industry and government collaborate during the requirements gathering process and preserve procurement integrity? Is government and industry collaboration only beneficial for creating Requests for Quotes (RFQs) for firm fixed price procurements? Aren’t the Statement of Objectives (SOO), the Request for Information (RFI) and the Request for Proposal (RFP) the tools for industry collaboration? As most questions that arise in government contracting prove, the answers aren’t usually finite. There is more than one road to Rome, and there is more than one way for the government to engage industry in requirements gathering.  The goal is to improve the way engagement occurs. So how do we bring government and industry to the table to collaborate during the requirements gathering process?  According to Michael A. Marquez, Director for Army/Navy Sector, Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, General Services Administration, there are eight best practices to better collaboration: Engage the client. Before any process can be followed, the client must determine its need.  Though this is the responsibility of the client, the acquisition office must assist the client in determining its need from the ground up. Engage Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Often, the client knows WHAT it needs to accomplish but, it doesn’t know HOW to reach the WHAT. The SME must be called in, at the beginning, to assist the client. Release a list of industry partners. Choose the industry partners that can offer the services, products or solutions that will best reach the government’s goals and release this list to the public. Industry Day. Hold an industry day and use the opportunity to learn what industry partners have to offer. Due diligence. Conduct extensive research into the industry partners and their abilities; Release section L. Send this to all of the industry partners that have expressed interest. This will afford them time to begin developing solutions. Invite industry partners to meet one on one. Schedule meetings with interested industry partners.  Ask for their input in developing the requirements document and the evaluation factors.  DO NOT rely on only one industry partner for this input.  Allow the partners to ask technical questions with all interested government parties present. Determine Cost Range. The cost range cannot be properly determined prior to...

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The MGT Act and Agile Contracting. What’s the connection?

Posted by on Feb 26, 2018 in Acquisition | 0 comments

The MGT Act and Agile Contracting. What’s the connection?

With the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) underway to eliminate wasteful spending by placing Federal agency CIOs in control of IT investments, to the recent Modernizing Government Technology Act (MGT Act) signed into law last December as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, it is even more important to plan the right way for IT acquisitions. The purpose of the MGT Act is to: Assist the Federal Government in modernizing Federal information technology to mitigate current operational and security risks. Incentivize cost savings in Federal information technology through modernization. Accelerate the acquisition and deployment of modernized information technology solutions, such as cloud computing, by addressing impediments in the areas of funding, development, and acquisition practices. While agencies grapple with how to begin efforts related to the MGT Act, key to the success of modernization projects is the approach contracting professionals may want to take in structuring the acquisition activities.  Both FITARA and the MGT Act will require a shift in how the government procures goods and services.  Contracting professionals may want to explore, and in some cases, may be highly encouraged to employ agile contracting techniques.  Since contracting is about mitigating risks and agile is not without risks, how can contracting professionals feel comfortable and empowered to try agile contracting methods?  Here are three things to keep in mind.      1) Get the right team in place. OMB’s A-11 Circular, Part 7, advises that agencies/departments’ Integrated Project Teams (IPTs): “should be cross-functional, as necessary, to accomplish the various tasks of the project. The members should reflect the user community, project’s stakeholders, and should have a core knowledge of the project management, value management, budget, finance, sustainable design, and procurement.” This means that the IPT must include acquisition expertise as way to support the project’s successful outcome and completion of defined deliverables.  Collaboration between the project team (i.e., project management staff, contractor, and project stakeholders) is crucial to the success of any IT project. Agile teams are composed of members from different but complimentary skill sets. An IPT can be an agile acquisition team since it already includes experts in project management, budgeting, contracting, and acquisition. One very important benefit to constructing mixed-composite skill teams (as opposed to a team of specialists) is that it can result in: Increased opportunities for collaboration The ability to flexibly allocate and reallocate tasks as needed Lower overall risk since agile team members share artifacts, and work together to evolve the artifacts as needed Increased team efficiency through reduced bottlenecks, as tasks that might have piled up awaiting a specialist’s input can move through the queue unimpeded      2) Know that you can do it. The FAR is both permissive/innovative in its direction of government acquisitions as shown in the FAR Subpart 1.102(d): “The role of each member of the Acquisition Team is to exercise personal initiative and sound business judgment in providing the best value product or service to meet the customer’s needs. In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition Team may assume if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure...

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Three Initiatives to Help Improve the Acquisition Workforce

Posted by on Jan 10, 2018 in Acquisition, Workforce Management | 1 comment

Three Initiatives to Help Improve the Acquisition Workforce

As a new year begins, agencies are also making their resolutions.  High on their list are ways to keep employees engaged, energized, and focused on meeting mission goals.  These are the top three initiatives we’ve seen when helping our clients identify ways to improve the acquisition workforce. The importance of having a clear career progression for the acquisition workforce.  Below is a graphic (adapted from VA’s model) that shows that potential advancement includes not only completing the certification requirements, but also mastering professional competencies.  Agencies who recognize this can better guide their workforce to reaching their professional goals. The need to establish a formal COR program. CORs are integral members of the Acquisition Team.  Since COR is a “duties as assigned” role, some of the challenges that agencies face includes: Managing and tracking certification Aligning best qualified/best fit CORs with contracting needs Tracking CORs’ progress To help agencies form their own program, we offer COR Roadmaps for Level I and II.  The recommended courses for the program include those in acquisitions as well as professional skills.  This further reinforces the career progression model. Improving the Quality of Requirements Documents.  Members of the Integrated Product Team (IPT) contribute to creating documents that make up the Requisition Package.  To succeed, acquisition teams need an organized and structured approach to define needs, develop requirements, and write the requirements documents. When these documents do not clearly and concisely communicate the requirement, the government agency will receive faulty cost estimates, reduced competition, protests, contract changes, increased costs, disputes and claims, and ultimately not what was truly needed.  Helping IPT members develop skills such as writing effective statements of work is crucial.   Learn more about how Management Concepts can help you improve your acquisition workforce at...

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Leading Contracting Organizations

Posted by on Nov 16, 2017 in Acquisition, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Leading Contracting Organizations

NCMA’s Government Contract Management Symposium is just around the corner.  Each year, NCMA organizes a stellar program centered on key training topics for the acquisition community.  Last year’s education track included sessions on forming successful acquisition teams, to understanding how industry conducts business, to managing contracting organizations.  This year’s symposium highlights understanding contract management, adapting to our changing environment, and leading with confidence.  A common theme is leadership, specifically leading contracting organizations. Often times, contracting leaders are placed into management roles in contracting organizations with little training or guidance on how to be successful in their new role.  Today’s acquisition professionals are expected to combine technical expertise with strong leadership skills to achieve agency missions.  One of the fundamental roles of contracting managers is to develop and retain talent through effective performance management.  What are the best practices managers can adopt to support and manage their workforce?   Performance Management Although performance management is ongoing, the cycle typically begins with performance planning, moves to monitoring, developing, appraising, and then rewarding. Planning. Involves setting performance expectations and goals for your direct reports. These should be tied to organization- and agency-level objectives. Get employees involved in the planning process so they understand the logic behind the goals. Monitoring. Is ongoing and involves measuring performance and providing feedback on progress toward goals. Conduct progress reviews with employees so they know how well their performance is measuring against elements and standards, and so they can course correct as needed. Developing. Refers to helping develop your employees’ capacity to perform. Development of employees may involve training, stretch assignments, coaching, mentoring, and formal education (e.g., graduate degree). Appraising. May be done formally or informally. The appraisal process helps you compare an employee’s performance over time or against other individuals and standards. It impacts pay increases as well as the assessing of valuable personnel during periods of reductions in force. Rewarding. Means recognizing employees, individually and as members of groups, for good performance and acknowledging ways they have contributed to the organization’s goals and the agency’s mission. It should be an ongoing part of day-to-day operations and may involve cash bonuses, paid time off, and nonmonetary rewards, such as praise and other acknowledgements.   Performance Appraisals Performance appraisals should be viewed as an integrated part of performance management. Managers who use the following basic performance appraisal values to guide their performance cycles will be set up for success: Hold feedback conversations early and often. When there is a shared understanding of performance expectations and managers provide regular feedback, employees will not be surprised by any information in a performance appraisal. In fact, the performance appraisal should be a review of what they already know. Balance positive and corrective feedback. It is a misconception to think that the point of an appraisal is to expose all problems, shortcomings, or deficiencies. Instead, effective managers approach appraisals as gap analysis. However, most human beings can hear corrective feedback much more clearly and openly if they are also acknowledged for what they are doing well. Consider a ratio of three positive comments for every corrective or critical comment.   Giving Feedback Three feedback principles to keep in mind are: Positive intentions. If your motives and goals related to giving feedback are about anything other than helping someone perform well, it...

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Federal Spotlight: Amira Reiss

Posted by on Nov 6, 2017 in Acquisition, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Federal Spotlight: Amira Reiss

Amira Reiss serves as Homeland Security Acquisition Institute’s (HSAI) Associate Director for Training. Here is our Federal Spotlight interview: MC:  How long have you been in Federal Service and what is your main responsibility in your role today? AR:  I have been in Federal Service for almost seven years. I currently serve in the DHS Office of the Chief Procurement Officer (OCPO) as the Homeland Security Acquisition Institute’s (HSAI) Associate Director for Training.  HSAI’s Training Program continues to be one of the most active acquisition training offices in the Federal Government, supporting over 400 formal learning opportunities with over 12,750 course completions last fiscal year. Our program supports more than 13,000 DHS acquisition workforce members nationwide. We provide them with the training required to earn certifications in any of the ten acquisition career fields we support. We also offer a wide variety of continuous learning opportunities to ensure our workforce maintains current skills and knowledge. MC:  What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector? AR:  The people. I truly enjoy assisting and learning from other people. My passion has always been giving individuals the tools they need to succeed.  I enjoy connecting people with information and knowledge. I thrive by seeing sparks when connections are made. Navigating the Federal Government is challenging, but I enjoy connecting my colleagues with the tools, resources, and people who can help make them successful. MC:  What is one of your biggest achievements? AR:  Several years ago, I represented DHS in the cross-agency working group that redeveloped the Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS). FAITAS is the official system of record for tracking the training, certification, and continuous learning fulfillment of the federal-wide acquisition workforce. I was also responsible for rolling out the redeveloped platform across DHS. Today, we leverage the centralized platform to track the accomplishments of our workforce across their careers, including between agencies. This was a great, successful endeavor and I was honored to be part of making the government more efficient. MC:  What advice would you share with young people on entering government? AR:  Listen more than you speak. Never think you have all the answers.  There are always other perspectives. Ask questions and clarify the answers. Your actions, and those of others, have ripple effects. Personal goal achievement almost always stems from a team effort. Also, each day, directly or indirectly, your work in the Federal Government impacts millions of people. It’s worth taking the time do it right.     — Read more Federal Spotlight interviews by clicking here. And subscribe to this blog using the form at the top-right of this...

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National Cyber Security Awareness Month: 3 Steps to Safeguarding Your Contracts

Posted by on Oct 24, 2017 in Acquisition | 0 comments

National Cyber Security Awareness Month: 3 Steps to Safeguarding Your Contracts

As another government fiscal year comes to a close, agencies are moving to the execution phase.  For contracts that involve cybersecurity elements, acquisition planning, and contract administration have become increasingly more complex with the recent laws and regulations governing cybersecurity.  With October designated as National Cyber Security Awareness Month, this is a perfect opportunity to review current and new contracts and self-audit existing cybersecurity management practices. In a panel discussion at the New York Times 2015 DealBook Conference, IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, predicted that “Cyber crime is the greatest threat to every company in the world.”  With data breaches such as the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the recent Equifax hacks, major attacks have become a common occurrence.  Larger-scale breaches gain media attention due to the millions of records that are comprised.  However, “smaller” attacks, such as those involving identity theft, happen every day and can lead to the devastating data leaks that impact a majority of the population. Contracting professionals are the cybersecurity gatekeepers of the Federal acquisition process.  Cyber criminals know this and are constantly looking for ways to exploit vulnerabilities.  How can contracting professionals safeguard their contracts and do their part to practice good cybersecurity management?  Here are three suggestions. Step 1:  Compile a Checklist Contracting professionals are responsible for certifying that cybersecurity requirements have been met and keeping contracts secure.  Focusing on relationships with key individuals in all relevant areas of the organization is one way to contribute to cybersecurity management.  Creating a checklist of questions can serve as an overview as well as a conversation starter for establishing those key relationships.  Questions can include: What kind of data do we store? Process? Transmit? Who has access to the data? What kind of cybersecurity training do we provide to our staff? Do we have a written incident response plan? When and how is it tested? Who is responsible for maintenance of our information systems? Knowing the answers to these questions better prepares contracting professionals to handle potential cyber threats. Step 2:  Know Which Rules and Regulations Apply The axiom “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true especially during the acquisition planning phase.  For contracts governed by cybersecurity laws and regulations, knowing which ones apply is a crucial step to securing contracts.  Today, there are three main Federal cybersecurity regulations: The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) The 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, or the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 The 2002 Homeland Security Act, which included the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) There are also key FAR (FAR 52.239-1 and 52.204.21) and DFARS (DFARS 252.204-7012, 252.204-7008, 252.204-7009, and 252.239.7010) clauses that contracting professionals should be aware of, as well as reporting requirements that are associated with certain provisions.  Keeping track of the ever-changing cybersecurity landscape can become a full-time, but necessary, job. Step 3:  Be Vigilant Cyber criminals are constantly looking for vulnerabilities and ways to infiltrate systems.  Finding out who the contracting professional is on large-dollar procurements does not require much effort, especially if the solicitation is posted on FedBizOps.  That could make the individual an easy target.  As gatekeepers of the acquisition process, contracting professionals can do their part by knowing who in their organization is responsible for network security, reporting any suspicious activity, validating...

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Three Important Questions When Planning for IT Acquisitions

Posted by on Aug 30, 2017 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Three Important Questions When Planning for IT Acquisitions

The government spends approximately $80 billion on Information Technology (IT) acquisitions. That equates to a lot of contract actions affecting the criticality of IT systems affecting our national health, security, and economy. The likelihood that you will encounter procurements that have IT considerations at some point in your contracting career is high. So, how do you plan for these types of IT acquisitions, and how do you make decisions about your IT spending? To effectively plan, you must first understand what IT acquisitions encompasses. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 2.101 defines information technology as: “[A]ny equipment, or interconnected system(s) or subsystem(s) of equipment, that is used in an automatic acquisition, storage, analysis, evaluation, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information by the agency.” The generally accepted definition of information technology includes computers; ancillary equipment (including imaging peripherals, input, output, and storage devices necessary for security and surveillance); peripheral equipment designed to be controlled by the central processing unit of a computer; software, firmware, and similar procedures; services (including support services); and related resources. Planning for Success Before undertaking an IT acquisition, there must be a perception of need. This perception may originate at various levels in an agency or department. The next step in planning to acquire IT should be to answer the Clinger-Cohen Act’s three pesky but necessary questions. These questions are found in OMB’s Capital Programming Guide and incorporate Raines’ Rules, and they’re critical because major information systems will not be funded unless agencies can demonstrate the actions they have taken to address them. The answers can help identify alternatives to investment in capital assets. In addition, they can help avoid making IT investments in support of inefficient agency functions or functions that should not be performed by the agency. Here are the three questions you need to answer in order to effectively plan for IT acquisitions: 1. Does the investment in a major capital asset support core/priority mission functions that need to be performed by the Federal government? The first question focuses on the issue of whether the function to be supported by the potential acquisition needs to be done at all. Given limited resources, an agency’s emphasis needs to be on supporting functions that are central to the achievement of the agency’s mission. Answering “yes” to this question verifies the mission-essential need. 2. Must the requesting agency undertake the investment because no alternative private sector or government source can better support the function? If the function is central to the agency’s mission, the second question addresses whether the agency can accomplish the function better than the private sector or another government entity. Alternatives include spinning off the function to another agency, devolving it to state or local governments, or privatizing the function. This step — looking outside the agency that has the need to determine the best means to meet that need — is often overlooked. However, Congress has indicated an intent to use reporting under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) to identify where functions should be combined across agencies. It is, therefore, important to consider such matters before being questioned about them. 3. Does the investment support work processes that have been simplified or otherwise redesigned to reduce costs, improve effectiveness, and make maximum use...

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With Protests on the Rise, What Can Agencies Do?

Posted by on Jun 25, 2017 in Acquisition | 0 comments

With Protests on the Rise, What Can Agencies Do?

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Bid Protest Annual Report, published at the end of 2016, revealed that the number of protests increased for the third consecutive year. Furthermore, GAO’s statistics show that bid protests have been climbing for the last several years: The fact that there is an increase probably isn’t a surprise to anyone involved in the world of Federal government contracting. Taken in the context of the budget battles of 2017 (those looming and those in progress), last year’s increase may be a sign of more to come. There has always been a strong relationship between budgets, agency spending, and protests. When departments and agencies have fewer dollars to spend, there are fewer contracts awarded. So, each award becomes more important to the offeror. More importantly to those on the Federal government side of the business is that the “sustained rate” is also increasing. The rate jumped from 12% in 2015 to 22.56% in 2016, an increase of over 10%. GAO noted that the top four reasons for a protest to be sustained were: Unreasonable technical evaluation Unreasonable past-performance evaluation Unreasonable cost or price evaluation Flawed selection decision Given the protest statistics, what can agencies learn from GAO decisions and how can they protest-proof their awards? We suggest three tips. First, understand GAO’s position and recognize there are universal themes found in the words GAO includes in many if not all of its decisions, specifically “sustained” and “denied.” These words provide insight on GAO’s focus and intent when reviewing a protest. Here’s a description from the GAO: “In reviewing protests of an agency’s evaluation of an offeror’s … proposal, our Office does not reevaluate proposals; rather, we review the evaluation to determine if it was reasonable, consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation scheme [emphasis added], as well as procurement statues and regulations, and adequately documented [emphasis added]. The protestor’s disagreement with the agency’s evaluation without more, is not sufficient to render the evaluation unreasonable.” Secondly, properly document contract actions during the source selection process. This includes documenting technical and cost proposal evaluations as well as the source selection decision itself! Many of the cases where GAO sustained the protest include the following statement: “the agency failed to … document [their decision and/ or evaluation] therefore we cannot consider their evaluation.” Testimony without well documented reports and evaluations does not necessarily persuade the court. Technical evaluation reports, past performance reports, cost or pricing evaluations all need to have documentation that explains how and why each proposal was, or wasn’t, evaluated. Even the source section authority’s decision needs to be documented and signed. Just “initialing off” based on the source selection team’s recommendation does not convince the court the source selection was property done. The court is looking for good, documented reasons that support the award. Lastly, follow the source selection plan. It’s important to remember that GAO does not reevaluate proposals. What they do is review the source selection plan to determine if it complies with statutes and regulations. They are not going to evaluate the specific source selection factors to determine whether they’re good or bad. But they will compare how the agency evaluated the proposals to the agency’s source selection plan. Was the evaluation consistent with the plan? In other words, did the agency do what they...

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In Search of CLPs: You Don’t Have to Look Far, But You Do Have to Look

Posted by on Jun 15, 2017 in Acquisition | 0 comments

In Search of CLPs: You Don’t Have to Look Far, But You Do Have to Look

Have you thought about your continuous learning requirements lately? Or is it something that you keep buried in the back of your mind until the last minute? If so, you’re not alone, and the clock is ticking for annual certification upkeep deadlines. But maybe it’s time to refresh your mindset for continuous learning. Most of us with a professional certification such as DAWIA, Federal Acquisition Certification (FAC), or PMP have to do continuous learning in order to maintain our certification. The purpose behind the learning requirement is to ensure we remain current in our career field as well as expand our skills and knowledge. For those of us in acquisition and contracting, it may feel like trying to keep up with the changes to the FAR is almost a daily battle at times. There’s no time to think about continuous learning until we have to. Other career fields have a more stable environment from a rules and regulations point of view but require their people to stay up to date on what’s going on in the industry, which can be a different challenge. Instead of taking and retaking the same class every year, take a chance: Look for opportunities that offer insight into (and key skills from) another area. If you’re not a financial manager, but still deal budgeted funds, what about a class on financial management? You’ll learn about the process to plan, review, and approve funding that happens every year—and you can get a step ahead on important subjects like Enterprise Risk Management, which affects far more than just financial managers. Even better, you may see how your job impacts them and how you might work together to unlock greater (and mutual) success. How about a class on project management? Most of us end up managing a project of some sort during our careers. Why not prepare for it? The principles of project management are the same for each project. It’s the focus of each project that is different. The skills you learn in class could positively impact your career development. Even better, you may be able to better communicate with the project or program manager you support. What about working on some of those tricky soft skills? There are classes on briefing and presentation skills, negotiation, influencing, critical thinking for problem solving, and plenty of other crucial leadership skills courses. Business and leadership skills are as important as technical skills for your career and the organization overall. Take a class with other people from your workplace. Training with a group of coworkers will give you a chance to connect with others in your organization. Sharing different perspectives and talking about what you’re learning in class makes for a richer learning experience. It will also help you discover ways to apply your new skills or knowledge when the training ends. When it comes to continuous learning, you have a wide range of topics from which to choose. Be adventuresome! Use your continuous learning requirements to explore something that’s new to you and will help you and your organization. Never stop learning—it’s too important for both you and your...

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Federal Spotlight: Suzi Inman

Posted by on May 11, 2017 in Acquisition, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Federal Spotlight: Suzi Inman

Suzi Inman serves as Acquisition Management Specialist/Contracting Officer’s Representative at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane Division, in Crane, Indiana. She is also Vice President for Membership and Chapter Organization for Federally Employed Women (FEW). Here is our Federal Spotlight interview: MC: How long have you been in Federal service and what is your main responsibility in your role today? Suzi Inman: I have been in the Federal service for 27 years. I started out as a GS-3 Clerk Typist, which was to be a short-term engagement for only 90 days. It quickly turned into several years of service and multiple positions. I have worked in the Comptroller Department in the Budget Branch, and from there moved to a Line Division as a Financial Analyst for their Financial Core Team. After doing financial work for several years, I became a Green Belt in Lean Six Sigma and worked on a Continuous Improvement Team. All of these different positions provided knowledge and experience allowing me to move up to my current position of a Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR). MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector? SI: Participating in the work we do supporting the Warfighter. And we have many opportunities to rotate our positions to various areas here on base, or to take on a totally new position while remaining at Crane. Many people question how we have a Navy base in the middle of Indiana, but our service to the Warfighter is essential to keeping our naval fleet the most powerful in the world. Working as a COR is very motivating, and I love working with people. In this role, I have the opportunity to solidify contracts that keeps our work moving forward. MC: What is one of your biggest achievements? SI: During most of my 27 years of Federal service, I have been a member of FEW. During that time, I have held several positions at Chapter, Region, and National levels. I have served as the FEW National Training Program Chair several times. I was rather shy before I joined FEW, but by stepping out and taking on various leadership roles it has made me a stronger person. Throughout the years, I have addressed large audiences, when before working with FEW I would run the other way. Through my volunteer service with FEW, I have made friends all over the country. Working with FEW in all the various leadership capacities gave me the experience that has allowed me to move up in my career. In 1998, I received the Barbara Boardman Tennant award from FEW. This award is an overall achievement award to recognize an individual’s achievements of national significance during a period greater than one year. The criteria states that the person nominated must be one whose actions and leadership resulted in service to the organization at a national level to a degree above and beyond that required by membership. This award is the highest award you can receive at the national level within FEW. MC: What advice would you share with young people on entering government? SI: My advice for young people starting out with the government would be to: Work hard in your position Be flexible with schedules Be respectful of others Register for classes offered, especially leadership...

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3 Steps to Advance Your Contracting Career

Posted by on Feb 15, 2017 in Acquisition | 0 comments

3 Steps to Advance Your Contracting Career

Now that we’re halfway through February, how many of us are still working towards our New Year’s resolutions? If you’ve made it past January 17, the official Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day, then congratulations! And for those who marked the occasion, it’s still early enough in the year to get back on track. Focusing on career advancement commonly makes it to the top of the resolution list every year. Contracting professionals may find that challenging since getting to the next level typically requires successful completion of required training along with mastering certain professional skills. It’s easy to just concentrate on the technical component, but neglecting the “soft skills” can be a hindrance to achieving the next level of success. The Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI) has outlined a Contracting Competency Model that includes technical components as well as professional elements essential for the contracting career field. Technical competencies are typically addressed through required courses for those who are seeking FAC-C or DAWIA certification. Honing your professional skills, such as problem solving, oral and written communication, and business acumen, requires a combination of training and non-training options. So, what should you do differently this year to move forward on your path to success? While there are often roadblocks to skill development in the Federal workforce, here are three steps you can always take that will help you reach the next level: 1. Identify Gaps Make an appointment to talk to your Acquisition Career Manager (ACM). Find out if your agency has a career progression model. Most models outline the progressive experience needed for advancement. Determine where your gaps may be through self- as well as peer-assessment tools. Your ACM may be able to direct you to the best options for these resources. 2. Make a Roadmap Create a map of courses that you need to take and supplement it with courses and other experiential opportunities to help develop your professional skills. If you need a roadmap to get you started, take a look at our Training Course Guide for Contracting Professionals. Post your roadmap in a visible place as a daily reminder of your progress and future goals. 3. Explore Options Outside of Traditional Training As training dollars continue to be tight, get creative. Seek professional growth opportunities through progressive assignments and cross-functional opportunities. Some departments have existing programs within the organization and possibly with other agencies to develop the skills you need. Consider coaching and mentoring as additional avenues to reinforce the learning, discover new breakthroughs for yourself, and provide the support to continue down your journey. Remember that you are in control of where you want to take your contracting career. Be an advocate for your own advancement. Resolve to be one step closer to your desired career progression by this time next...

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On the Horizon: The Status of Category Management

Posted by on Jan 27, 2017 in Acquisition | 0 comments

On the Horizon: The Status of Category Management

With the change in administration comes change in the Federal acquisitions horizon, and there is reasonable concern that the focus on category management could shift. However, while there is much on the new administration’s agenda, it looks like category management is here to stay—at least for now. The concept of category management – bundling similar items to gain a better price when purchasing in large quantities – is not new to Federal acquisitions. The resources to help agencies leverage the Federal government’s buying power to procure goods and services in a smarter and more efficient manner, however, are. The General Services Administration (GSA) launched the Acquisitions Gateway two years ago as a one-stop shop to provide contracting professionals access to tools, data, and a common workspace for key steps in the acquisition process. There is a government-only portal as a well as access for non-Federal and public users which contains a subset of what government employees can view. Recently, GSA announced that it reached 10,000 users who are using the site to learn about the 19 hallways and 10 common Federal Government spend categories. One of the hallways is dedicated to Professional Services. Working for a company that offers a broad range of professional services and has a comprehensive offerings list under GSA’s Professional Services Schedule, I am particularly interested in this topic. I want to know our customers’ buying and spending patterns—what major professional services contracts recently have been awarded and what’s coming down the pike, and how changes in the competitive landscape will affect companies in this space. Apparently, I am not the only one. Since last Fall, when the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) published in the Federal Register  its proposal for a new OMB Circular—Circular A-XXX, “Implementing Category Management for Common Goods and Services”—there has been much discussion about how Federal agencies would accomplish this and how it would impact the industry. From the proposed Circular’s summary, OFPP and OMB aim to: Establish a governmentwide approach to acquiring common goods and services. Emphasize the potential to achieve greater economy and efficiency across the Federal government. Define the strategies and policies agencies would follow to execute category management. Outline the governance and roles and responsibilities for all of the key players and stakeholders. Stress the importance of data analytics and information sharing through the use of the Acquisition Gateway. Identify the core metrics by which category management success will be measured. Given that agencies spent over $270 billion on common items and services, according to FY2015 statistics from the Federal Procurement Data System, harnessing that collective buying power would translate to substantial savings for taxpayers. Further, with the recent announcement of a governmentwide hiring freeze, agencies will be expected to continue to do more with less, or more with what they have. By leveraging best practices from other agencies through data contained in the Acquisition Gateway, contracting professionals can perform better market research, which leads to well-defined requirements, and ultimately getting what they want at a better price. There is still much work to be done on how to implement this approach governmentwide and how to involve industry at key points. Leading those discussions is the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC). On March 1, ACT-IAC and GSA are co-sponsoring the 2017...

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Is Fear of Protests Guiding Your Behavior?

Posted by on Oct 20, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Is Fear of Protests Guiding Your Behavior?

We often hear students and agencies wanting to know how to avoid protests. I think we first need to establish that companies competing for government business have a right to protest when they feel the source selection was improperly conducted. We believe properly conducted debriefings that communicate why the losing offeror was not selected significantly help to prevent protests that offerors feel are the only way to obtain a fair explanation. Other explanations for protests have been argued but the fact remains that transparency in the debriefing can effectively dissuade protests. Of course, failure to document the rationale for your decisions will not help. Bob Antonio, owner of the website Where in Federal Contracting? (aka Wifcon), has posted a blog that summarizes the results of GAO-sustained protests over the period FY2013 through FY2015. As Antonio reports, many protests are dealt with at the contracting officer level and do not reach the GAO level. Further, the GAO statistics do not address protests that go directly to the Court of Federal Claims. Antonio points out that the top reasons why protests are sustained have not varied much over the FY2013 through FY2015 period: Failure to follow the evaluation criteria Unreasonable cost or price evaluation Inadequate documentation of the record Unequal treatment of offerors Unreasonable technical evaluation Unreasonable past performance evaluation Flawed selection decision This information should be instructive as to what contracting officers can do to have the best chance of staving off protests and subsequently defeating any protests that are lodged. LPTA (lowest price, technically acceptable) seems to be used as a means of avoiding protests. The best way is to choose the source selection method that is best for the acquisition, do what you communicated in the solicitation, document your decisions, and provide meaningful debriefings. While there is no way to protest-proof your acquisition–it is a right competitors have and it helps maintain a fair source selection process–you can help reduce the number of protests by avoiding the pitfalls others have suffered. Transparency in debriefings goes a long way to satisfy companies’ need to understand why they lost. Documenting your decisions is important for reasons greater than the mere act itself—it makes you consider if your rationale for the decision is supported and can be explained. We’ll update this information when GAO releases the FY2016 data. Sustainment rates have declined over the period from 17% to 12%, so we hope to see continued reduction in the number of protests that are...

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NCMA World Congress 2016 Recap

Posted by on Aug 10, 2016 in Acquisition | 1 comment

NCMA World Congress 2016 Recap

Last week, I attended the National Contract Management Association’s (NCMA) World Congress 2016. It’s the premier education event for contract management, procurement, and acquisition professionals – and it was their largest one to date. Although I’ve been a member of NCMA since 2012, this was my first time attending World Congress, as well as my first time presenting at the event. The event started with a keynote by Denise Turner Roth, Administrator at the General Services Administration (GSA). In her keynote, Administrator Roth discussed how GSA is seeking to eliminate government contracting inefficiencies across the entire executive branch through a rationalized and streamlined – “Act as One” – mentality. An example of “Act as One” is the Acquisition Gateway online community, which aims to provide better value, transparency, and efficiency across the Federal government. Further, she stated that this “Act as One” framework would not be complete without category management – which is a procurement approach currently being pursued by the Federal government. Category management is supposed to move toward a single enterprise procurement structure that results in a smarter and more leveraged approach. Most of the discussion from the keynote stemmed from Administrator Roth’s mention of the TechFAR Hub, which is currently in its alpha release stage. The TechFAR Hub was developed to assist the Federal government in applying industry best practices when acquiring digital services. As a proposed next step to the TechFAR Handbook released by the GSA’s Digital Services team back in 2014, the TechFAR Hub provides a practical digital service acquisition framework for Federal acquisition professionals. From a Federal acquisition practice standpoint – and, particularly IT acquisition – Administrator Roth’s keynote was definitely the most informative. However, there was also a wealth of information provided in each day’s main stage presentations – from the use of social science in procurement, as presented in David Loseby’s keynote on “Behavioral Procurement,” to workforce management, as discussed by the final day’s panel on “Bridging the Contract Management Age Gap.” There was even a debate, which you can view on the NCMA YouTube channel, where senior procurement executives from various organizations discussed their perspectives on Federal acquisitions. Overall, World Congress was definitely one to remember, and it wouldn’t have been complete for myself and my co-presenter – and, also first time attendee – 1Lt Kevin Bess (Active-Duty USAF) without our session on critical thinking in the acquisition workforce, particularly in regards to the controversial Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces – the final rule of which is set to be released this month. Back in February, I wrote a two-part blog post on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces discussing what Federal acquisition professionals should know about the proposed rule and guidance. (To learn more about Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces – feel free to read Part 1 and Part 2 of my post.) As such, instead of holding a session on what was contained in the proposed rule and Department of Labor (DoL) guidance, 1Lt Bess and I decided to hold a session that would force Federal acquisition professionals to think critically on how these regulations might positively or negatively affect their jobs. We began by asking the audience whether they had even heard of Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces, to which 100% of respondents answered “yes.”...

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NCMA World Congress 2016 – Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces

Posted by on Jun 30, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

NCMA World Congress 2016 – Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces

After attending my first ever NCMA conference last year – the Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS) – I made it my mission to secure a spot as a breakout speaker for this year’s NCMA World Congress, the organization’s largest education event for contract management, procurement, and acquisition professionals. Now, only six months removed from GCMS 2015, I am not only hosting a breakout session on a highly relevant Federal acquisition policy issue, but also facilitating that session with a very promising active-duty acquisition professional that I met at GCMS last year – 1st Lt Kevin Bess (United States Air Force). On Wednesday, July 27, 1st Lt Bess and I will be facilitating a discussion on the highly anticipated, and highly controversial, Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (FPSW) final rule – which is a resultant artifact of President Obama’s Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces. If you’ve never heard of FPSW, then you can’t afford to miss our session. With the final rule set to take effect in the coming months, after a rather extensive comment period, FPSW is all set to splash onto the Federal acquisition scene. Whether that splash results in ripples or waves is yet to be determined, but in order to understand how these regulations might impact you, your organization, and our profession, you have to become informed. That is why our session will focus on harnessing your critical thinking faculties to address this issue by conducting team-based research, engaging in interactive discussions, and challenging preconceived notions, in a session that is sure to have you leaving the Orlando conference with a different pair of shades on. So, I urge you – come to GovConGreyMatters (G14) in Room Sun A at 9:45am on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Note: Be sure to bring your phone, tablet, and/or laptop – whatever you prefer. You’re encouraged to use your phone during the presentation!...

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Fourth Quarter Preview: What is the SBA up to?

Posted by on Jun 24, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Fourth Quarter Preview: What is the SBA up to?

As we approach the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, we are coming upon the time of the year when the most simplified acquisitions and awards to small business concerns occur. According to Guy Timberlake of the American Small Business Coalition, during fiscal year 2014 (FY14) “[Federal] agencies spent $11 billion of $19 billion from Q1 to Q3, [meaning] over $8 billion [was spent] from the start of July to the end of September.” Of that $8 billion, $6 billion was obligated under purchase orders and definitive contracts. Furthermore, $5 billion of that $6 billion was awarded to small business concerns. With numbers like these, I believe it is safe to assume that most of this was through simplified acquisitions – what Mr. Timberlake calls “low-hanging fruit” – as is the typical case during the last quarter of the fiscal year. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss some of the changes the Small Business Administration (SBA) made recently that may ease your contracting office’s small business set-asides and simplified acquisitions for Q4 of FY16. After all, during this quarter – the busiest quarter of the fiscal year – we could all use some external assistance in easing the dollars out the door. Right?! With that said, on May 31, 2016, the SBA passed a rather lengthy final rule stemming from the Small Business Government Contracting and National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 Amendments, including revisions to the following items: Procurement Center Representative Responsibilities Limitations on Subcontracting HUBZone Program Subcontracting Plans Affiliation Joint Ventures Calculation of Annual Receipts Recertification Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs Size Status Protests North American Industry Classification System Code (NAICS) Appeals Nonmanufacturer Rule Adverse Impact and Construction Requirements Certificate of Competency Out of this long list of revisions, five of these may impact your small business set-asides and/or simplified acquisitions during the final quarter of the fiscal year: (1) limitations on subcontracting (2) joint ventures (3) size status protests (4) nonmanufacturer rule (5) certificate of competency So let us discuss these: First off, the SBA revised the Small Business Act language concerning the limitations on subcontracting to bring it more in-line with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). The revision provides the SBA’s statutory authority for exempting small business set-asides valued between $3,500 and $150,000 from the limitation on subcontracting. The guidance at FAR 19.508(e) already contains this exemption, stating that “[t]he contracting officer shall insert the clause at 52.219-4, Limitations on Subcontracting, in solicitations, services, and construction, if any portion of the requirement is to be set aside or reserved for small business and the contract amount is expected to exceed $150,000.” Therefore, there is no need to change the way you’ve been doing business. It’s just nice that the SBA has clarified this exemption on their end – so you’re covered either way. Second, the SBA has broadened the exclusion from affiliation for small business joint ventures. Under the final rule, the SBA sets forth language allowing two or more small businesses to joint venture for any procurement without being considered “affiliated” with regard to the performance of that procurement requirement. This allows two or more small business concerns, who are small under the applicable NAICS code for the procurement, to form a joint venture and compete...

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Five Things to Know about SBA’s Proposed Governmentwide Mentor-Protégé Program

Posted by on Apr 20, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Five Things to Know about SBA’s Proposed Governmentwide Mentor-Protégé Program

In case you haven’t heard, the Small Business Administration (SBA) plans to make a sweeping change to the Mentor-Protégé Program. Stemming from the Small Business Jobs Acts of 2010 (Jobs Act) and the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (FY13 NDAA), the program proposes the expansion of the Mentor-Protégé Program to all small business concerns. If implemented as proposed, the program has the potential to significantly increase the number of Federal contracting opportunities available to small businesses. This is HUGE for both small and large businesses alike. Small businesses (i.e. protégés) will benefit in that it provides them a supportive pathway to economic growth, and large businesses (i.e. mentors) will benefit from the larger pool of protégés for possible joint ventures. But what does this mean for us as government contracting professionals (e.g. 1102s, contracting officers, contracting specialists)? Here are the five things we need to know and how they will affect the performance of our job: Many of the department-specific mentor-protégé programs will be going away. SBA’s proposed rule calls for the elimination of pretty much all department-specific mentor-protégé programs no later than one year after the release of final guidance on the new governmentwide mentor-protégé program. The only department-specific mentor-protégé programs that will definitely continue to exist is the Department of Defense Mentor-Protégé Program, and the only other programs that may continue to exist are the Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) programs because the SBA did not propose the inclusion of these in the governmentwide program. However, the SBA did question whether the VOSB and SDVOSB programs would still be needed with the expansion of the Mentor-Protégé Program to all small businesses. We, as government contracting professionals, are not severely affected by this decision – other than the fact that some of us may have to learn a new process. Overall, this will not majorly affect the performance of our job. Any small business can be a “protégé” and “mentors” must be for-profit companies. Currently, under the 8(a) Business Development Mentor-Protégé Program, in order to be considered a “protégé,” an 8(a) program participant must: Have a size less than half the size standard of its primary NAICS code Be in the developmental stage of its 8(a) program participation Not have received an 8(a) contract Under the new program, all small businesses would qualify to be a “protégé” if it is considered small under its primary NAICS. Mentors, on the other hand, can currently be either a for-profit company or a non-profit entity. Under the new program, due to conflictual language between the FY13 NDAA and the Jobs Act, only for-profit companies can qualify as mentors. Additionally, a protégé may not become a mentor and still retain its protégé status. So, how does this apply to the performance of our job? As government contracting professionals, we need to ensure we are selecting the correct NAICS when soliciting requirements. The choice of NAICS can significantly impact competition, particularly from small business mentor-protégé joint ventures. Keep in mind that certain NAICS size thresholds changed recently, so we need to be sure we are mapping our requirements to the most current NAICS standards. Recognition of joint ventures requires a written document. The current language concerning what constitutes formal and informal joint ventures...

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ACT-IAC Acquisition Excellence 2016 Recap – The Breakout Session Edition

Posted by on Mar 31, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

ACT-IAC Acquisition Excellence 2016 Recap – The Breakout Session Edition

Earlier this week my colleague, Vi Zenone, discussed some of the outstanding things that occurred during the ACT-IAC Acquisition Excellence 2016 event last week – from the audience rendition of the national anthem to the cleverly placed reference by Claire Grady of “thinking outside the five-sided box” – but what stood out to me was the fact that the event was a realization of the essential mission of ACT-IAC: Advancing Government Through Collaboration, Education & Action. I was fortunate enough to not only attend the event, but also participate in the planning and facilitation of two key breakout sessions: (1) “The Problem with the Problem Statement,” which was part of the Acquisition Innovation track and (2) “Lifting the Curtain – Inside the Technical Evaluation Committee,” which actually received a plug from OFPP Administrator Anne Rung during the lunch, and was part of the Advancing the Government-Industry Relationship track. While my participation in the Acquisition Innovation breakout session dealt mostly with the facilitation of a small group exercise during the session, the collaboration I was involved in between the government and industry in the days leading up to the event was key in providing the appropriate material and an experience that was conducive to learning and relevant to the issues the members of the audience deal with on a daily basis – on both sides of the aisle. My group was voted as having developed the best problem statement, but more importantly, all of the groups consisted of a mix of government and industry personnel all working together to learn and solve the “problem with the problem statement.” Through the process of analyzing a problem statement, determining why the problem statement did not encourage innovation, and developing a new problem statement that did, all of the groups came up with unique variations of how to solve the problem. That’s exactly what we need in today’s ever-changing Federal market – government and industry working together to understanding the roots of problems, so that requirements can be developed and advertised in a way that encourages innovative solutions. This session definitely accomplished everything it set out to. But as we all know, developing and advertising a requirement is not the end of the acquisition cycle… it’s barely the start of the entire process. The hardest part for industry is the “go/no-go decision” and the evaluation – and that’s exactly what my afternoon session discussed. I joined the afternoon session committee for the “Advancing the Government-Industry Relationship” track late in the game at the urging of my colleague, Jessica Klem, who was already serving on the committee. When I joined the committee, it was for the sole purpose of developing content for the session, yet it blossomed into a panel-sitting role, which was something I had hoped for, and it turned out extremely well. The planning for the session was a highly collaborative effort between government and industry with the intent to shine light on a part of the acquisition process industry rarely gains insight to – the Technical Evaluation Committee. The mixture of the committee was essential to the session’s success because, being that this was a “Lifting the Curtain” session, the overarching goal was to provide both the industry and government perspective. (This session was part of a series, also mentioned in...

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Highlights from ACT-IAC’s 2016 Acquisition Excellence Conference

Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Highlights from ACT-IAC’s 2016 Acquisition Excellence Conference

When was the last time you attended a conference and the whole room burst into song? OK, don’t answer that out loud. Typically, for an event where public and private leaders convene to discuss the latest development and updates around acquisition, that is not usually on the agenda. However, at the American Council for Technology–Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Acquisition Excellence conference held in Washington, D.C. last week that is exactly what happened. When there was a minor technical difficulty with playing the national anthem during the opening remarks, the attendees decided to sing it. In light of the tragedy that was unfolding in Brussels that morning, it was a beautiful way to kick-off the conference. In its fifth year, the Acquisition Excellence conference focused on four key areas whose theme was echoed throughout the keynote addresses and track sessions. The areas were Cybersecurity Acquisition; Services Acquisition; Acquisition Innovation; and Advancing Government Relations with Industry. Morning keynote Claire Grady, Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy Director, emphasized the need for better requirements when acquiring services, engaging industry early and often in the procurement process, and finding ways to “think outside the five-sided box.” Her message was reinforced by Anne Rung, Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget. Rung touched on how complex the Federal marketplace can be and how imperative it is to simplify the process. This would make it easier for companies to partner with the government and strengthen vendor relationships. Innovation was another key topic that surfaced for most of the speakers. During the afternoon panel discussion, Kay Ely, Deputy Assistant Commissioner and Acting Director of the Office of IT Schedules Programs at the General Services Administration, spoke on how to be risk adverse and innovative at the same time. “We talk about innovation like it’s new. It’s not new, but constantly encouraged,” Ely stated. Government has to find a way to leverage industry best practices in a smart way to achieve its mission and goals. ACT-IAC did not disappoint on delivering interactive, engaging, and actionable track sessions. The two that I attended surpassed my expectations. In the first session titled, “The Problem with the Problem Statement,” participants focused on writing a requirements statement that did not inadvertently include a solution to the problem. Sounds easy, right? It proved more challenging than initially thought. The room was divided into four groups and each group iteratively worked through a real world problem. At the end, we voted on which team had the best-crafted problem statement. While my group did not win, I practiced writing better, non-restrictive problem statements and learned strategies to incorporate innovation to drive successful solutions. My final session was “Lifting the Curtain – Inside the Technical Evaluation Committee,” which my colleague, Keaston Simmons, co-created and served as a panelist. The room was about half industry and half government, which led to a lively discussion on what goes on behind the scenes of a Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC). The session attendees received a fictitious RFP to review then, the TEC shared their evaluation of the proposals. It was interesting to see how companies responded differently to the same evaluation criteria. Industry group members walked away with valuable insight on how to improve their next proposal submission. Lastly, not only was...

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Part Two: FPSW Labor Violations and Takeaways for Contracting Officers

Posted by on Feb 12, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Part Two: FPSW Labor Violations and Takeaways for Contracting Officers

Earlier this week I provided background on President Obama’s Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (E.O. 13673) and discussed its impact on the Federal contracting community. Today I’ll go deeper into working with contractors that have labor violations and key takeaways we, the Federal contracting community, must remember as we approached the scheduled released of the final rule on FPSW in April of this year. So, what do I do if a contractor discloses it has a labor violation? Your particular agency’s ALCA will be the lead liaison on all matters labor-related. When an offeror discloses that it has had a labor violation within the previous three-year period, you must request additional information from the offeror on those violations and submit that information to the ACLA for a recommendation. The ALCA will then make one of three recommendations on whether the contractor could be found to have a record satisfactory to perform under government contracts: The prospective contractor could be found to have a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics. The prospective contractor could be found to have a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics if the process to enter into or enhance a labor compliance agreement is initiated. The prospective contractor could be found to not have a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics, and the agency suspending and debarring official should be notified, in accordance with agency procedures as contemplated by current FAR provisions. Additionally, the ALCA will state whether the violations should be considered serious, repeated, willful, or pervasive. So, what do serious, repeated, willful, and pervasive mean? The proposed FAR rule borrows language from the DOL Guidance when it comes to defining serious, repeated, willful, and pervasive. The DOL Guidance actually goes very in-depth, discussing how these definitions were arrived at, as well as what laws can be referenced to gain a thorough understanding of the definitions; however, the following are to-the-point definitions of these terms: A serious violation is one in which a number of employees are affected, a high degree of risk is imposed, and actual harm is done A repeated violation is one in which one or more additional labor violations of substantially similar requirements have occurred A willful violation is one in which there was knowledge of, reckless disregard for, or plain indifference to the violation A pervasive violation is one in which the number of violations of a requirement or the aggregate number of violations in relation to the size of the prospective contractor is high As stated previously, an in-depth discussion of these definitions can be found in the DOL Guidance, however, as a contracting officer, this basic knowledge will help you understand what you are dealing with when a contractor discloses such violations. Now that I understand, can I award to a contractor that discloses a labor violation? I’m sure you’ve already assumed this, but I’ll say it anyway – as with everything in Federal government contracting, the answer is… it depends. Common sense would tell us that if a prospective contractor has a serious, repeated, willful, or pervasive labor violation, further scrutiny during the responsibility determination is warranted. By awarding to a contractor with a disclosed labor violation, you could potentially face performance and/or reputational risks – but, then again, you may...

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Part One: Understanding Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (FPSW) for Contracting Officers

Posted by on Feb 9, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Part One: Understanding Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (FPSW) for Contracting Officers

Introduction Released on July 31, 2014, President Obama’s Executive Order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (I call it FPSW – pronounced: fip-swuh) (E.O. 13673) has caused quite a stir within the government contracting community. While proponents of the order believe it to be an effective way to ensure “[F]ederal contractors respect their workers… [and] show [regard] for taxpayer value,” its opponents argue that it is “unnecessarily excessive, largely unworkable and inexecutable [sic],” and that the “cost and risk of [doing business with the Federal government] may increase significantly” as a result. In my opinion, both sides of the community make valid points; however regardless of the various industry opinions, as a Federal contracting officer, FAR 1.602-1 requires you to “[ensure] that all requirements of law, executive orders, regulations, and all other applicable procedures, including clearances and approvals, have been met” prior to making an award. With that said, the final rule on FPSW is scheduled to be released in April of this year. Instead of being enthralled in and confused by the current community discourse concerning the E.O. 13673, you need to be clearly knowledgeable and sufficiently equipped to award contracts that are compliant with the rule when the time comes. So, what exactly is the purpose of Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces? E.O. 13673 states that its purpose is to “increase efficiency and cost savings in the work performed by parties who contract with the Federal Government by ensuring they understand and comply with labor laws.” The government believes that “[c]ontractors that consistently adhere to labor laws are more likely to have workplace practices that enhance productivity and increase the likelihood of timely, predictable, and satisfactory delivery of goods and services.” As a result, FPSW requires “prospective and existing contractors [to] disclose certain labor violations.” Additionally, it requires contracting officers, in coordination with the newly created Agency Labor Compliance Advisors (ALCAs), to consider the disclosures, and any mitigating circumstances, as part of their responsibility determination when making an award or extending a contract. Is there a monetary threshold for labor law violation disclosures? Yes. The current proposed FAR rule states that labor violation disclosures will only be required on contracts exceeding $500,000; and subcontracts for other than Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) items that exceed $500,000. The proposed rule is silent on whether contracting officers may still require disclosures on contracts below the $500,000 threshold. Additionally, there is a threshold of $1.0M for the inclusion of the new clause 52.222-YY, Arbitration of Contractor Employee Claims, which states that “contractors [must] agree that the decision to arbitrate claims which arise under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or under any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, be made only with the voluntary consent of employees or independent contractors after such disputes arise;” however, of particular note is that this does not apply to employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the contractor and a labor organization representing such employees. What types of labor violations exist? There are exactly three types of labor violations: Administrative merits determinations – Notices or findings of labor law violations issued by an enforcement agency following an investigation. They may be final or subject to appeal or further review Arbitral awards or decisions – Determinations by an...

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Acquisition and Appropriations Law – Making the Connections

Posted by on Jan 20, 2016 in Acquisition, Financial Management | 0 comments

Acquisition and Appropriations Law – Making the Connections

There are many intersections between the two disciplines of Acquisition and Appropriations Law. Federal Acquisition managers more and more must have a fundamental working knowledge of Appropriations Law. Let’s review one of those important areas of connection: applying the Bona Fide Needs Rule with associated scope changes in a contract modification. Contracting officers must certainly be familiar with the Bona Fide Needs Rule/Law (31 USC 1502) to ensure proper year fund use. This seminal doctrine within the body of Appropriations Law states in simple terms that current year funds must be used/obligated for current year contracted needs. Program and financial officials often work closely with acquisition professionals to determine which fiscal year funds should be used with a purchase request particularly on matters related to bona fide need determinations. When Federal acquisition and financial managers are making contract scope change determinations under the Bona Fide Needs Rule, the proper fiscal year funding source is particularly important and sometimes complex. If incorrect year or source funds are used an Antideficiency Act violation may occur. Many agency Financial Management Regulations (FMRs) – including the voluminous DoD FMRs – stipulate the contracting officer is primarily responsible for determining whether a contract modification is within the scope of a contract. In making such a determination, a contracting officer must be guided by appropriate provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the appropriate agency FAR Supplement, legal principles applicable to scope changes, and the provisions of agency financial management regulations. If a contract modification is determined to be outside the scope of the original contract (primarily changes in quantity, cost, or time period of the original contract) then current year funds must be used in accordance with the Bona Fide Needs Rule. If a scope change is not involved, such as properly invoking the contract changes clause, then original year funds (which may now be in an expired status) may be properly used. Again there are many intersections between the disciplines of acquisition and Appropriations Law. What other areas do you particularly see and deal with? We will cover those suggested and other related areas of these two disciplines in future blogs....

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The FY16 NDAA Acquisition Provisions

Posted by on Jan 14, 2016 in Acquisition | 0 comments

The FY16 NDAA Acquisition Provisions

Last year, as we all brined our turkeys and prepared for the annual harvest feast, President Obama signed S.1356, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16) into law. Then, just a week shy of the Christmas holiday, the House, Senate, and President approved the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill needed to fund the government for this fiscal year. While there was a significant amount of discussion last year about “acquisition reform” leading up to the passage of the FY16 NDAA, it was almost exclusively focused on the power dynamics between the service chiefs and secretaries, and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), “which has held Milestone Decision Authority [(MDA)] over [acquisition] programs for roughly the past 30 years.” On Thanksgiving Eve, the debate was put to rest. Under Section 825, Title 10 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 2430 was amended to designate the Secretary of Defense as the MDA for major defense acquisition programs effective October 1, 2016. And yet, even with all the hype, in my opinion, while significant, this was not the most important provision of the FY16 NDAA. Honestly, from a political standpoint it’s a pretty major issue, but practically, and for most of us acquisition and contracting professionals out there, this doesn’t cause a major shift in the way we do business. But, there are other provisions of the NDAA that will, or have the potential to, impact the way we acquisition and contracting professionals, as a whole, conduct business; and, as we start the new year, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the provisions that made the cut that I find more interesting. From my analysis of the FY16 NDAA, I found that there were some fairly relevant themes spread across the various sections: The requirement of multiple review panels The establishment of new programs The call for new procedures (particularly in the area of information technology (IT) and cyber acquisitions.) In fact, three separate provisions called for reviews or panels that I interpret to be targeted toward streamlining the process of IT acquisitions: Sections 808, 875, and 888. Section 808 of the FY16 NDAA essentially calls for a report on the efforts to link and streamline the requirements, acquisition, and budget processes within the defense departments. As the Department of Defense (DoD) attempts to determine the best way to stay on the forefront of the increasingly technologically-driven battlefield, faster acquisitions at higher thresholds will eventually become the norm, and I believe this provision is just one measure in preparing the Federal acquisition system for such a time. Section 875 calls for a review of the government’s access to Intellectual Property (IP) rights of private sector firms, as is titled. This will also be important as IT acquisitions increase. This space is still relatively new for the Federal government, especially in its current state. Intellectual property in the world we live in today is a very broad concept. Not only are the systems developed and the technology that powers them considered IP, the information obtained from users is also considered IP. In the age of the cloud, IP is a very important issue, and I believe the inclusion of this provision is highly appropriate and relevant to...

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NCMA GCMS 2015 Recap: Breakout Session Edition

Posted by on Dec 23, 2015 in Acquisition | 0 comments

NCMA GCMS 2015 Recap: Breakout Session Edition

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the National Contract Management Agency (NCMA) Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS) for the first time! If you missed it, you missed out on a wealth of information and some great networking opportunities. The keynotes were particularly interesting. There was a lot of discussion about where government contracting (“govcon”), as an industry and profession, is today, and, what direction senior executives and officials see it heading in the next few years. With that said, while the GCMS keynotes and executive panels provided a wealth of information, I feel that too often the smaller sessions at conferences such as this receive little to no attention in blog posts. So, being the fair person that I am, I wanted to take this time to recap some of the smaller breakout sessions that I attended at GCMS this year. Not only did these smaller sessions touch on highly relevant topics to the govcon professionals of today, they also provided an opportunity to network, have some fun, and learn something new! My breakout session agenda began with one of the new interactive breakout sessions – and let me set it up like this… What do you get when you combine: five tables, twelve govcon professionals at each table, a stack of index cards with FAR questions printed on them, a game board, foam cars, and monochromatic money? Answer: The Contracts Management Board Game – and it was entertaining to say the least! At each table, you had senior executives from the Federal government and private industry mixed with mid- and entry-level professionals, all battling it out to see who was most knowledgeable about the FAR, while trying to advance around the board. Think “Monopoly” for the contracting professional! It was loud! It was entertaining! And, it was definitely one of the highlights of the breakout sessions. While the next session I attended was not about winning money, or advancing around a board – it was about strategizing. “Applying Strategy: Theory and Application in Strategic Sourcing” provided govcon professionals with a framework within which to think about strategic sourcing. Mr. Al Muñoz, Director of Strategic Sourcing at the Department of Agriculture, framed sourcing into three categories: Tactical, in which govcon professionals are responding to a sourcing requirement for which no sourcing system currently exists (e. a stand-alone purchase order) Reactive, in which govcon professionals are responding to a sourcing requirement for which there is a sourcing system currently in place (e. a blanket purchase order) Strategic, in which govcon professionals are ahead of the requirement and are constantly maintaining information about the market conditions and other socioeconomic factors dealing with such requirement (e. a delivery or task order taking all things into consideration) (Disclaimer: This is my summarization of the concepts presented. These are not direct quotes from the presentation.) It was a very interesting presentation, and very valuable to govcon professionals in that it provided a framework within which to think about sourcing requirements. The presentation definitely highlighted the fact the government still has some distance to cover when it comes to strategic sourcing – and category management is supposed to be one of those efforts accelerating the government in that direction. For the next breakout session, being that I am highly obsessed with professional development...

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Gov-Scared!

Posted by on Dec 17, 2015 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Gov-Scared!

Phaedra Chrousos, Associate Administrator of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at GSA captured the attention of an audience of about 900 people on Tuesday morning at the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) Government Contract Management Symposium with a refreshingly realistic perspective on the challenges associated with getting innovative technology companies to do business with government. Phaedra leads the GSA Office of Citizen Services, which includes the 18F organization that’s charged with transforming the way the government buys digital services. While 18F has had some successes, those successes are not scalable without industry. Phaedra made it clear she needs tech startups as well as established companies to be willing (even eager?) to partner with government. But she says that the private sector is aware of how difficult and potentially hazardous it is to contract with the government—how long it takes, how complex and inflexible the process is, and how risky the venture is. Startups getting their funding through venture capital firms often face a condition that prohibits contracting with the government. Being “Gov-scared” as Phaedra put it, results in companies that could make a difference in the performance and innovation of government programs saying no to government business. However, 18F offers hope. Phaedra listed several initiatives in the works intended to relieve some of the government bureaucracy. Coming soon are: Plain language guidelines for GSA’s IT Schedule 70 An Agile Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) that will require contractors to submit code in order to prove they’re able to do the work A suite of contracting officer tools A streamlined FedRAMP process. As quoted in an FCW article on the NCMA event, Phaedra mentioned “It’s three years in, the world changes quickly, and we should reimagine [FedRAMP].” Phaedra’s lively and engaging talk ended with her lament that no one’s talking to the private sector to help them get business with the government. She called on NCMA’s audience that included government contracting professionals to become “Sherpas” for new industry involvement with government. Sherpas are experts who provide an invaluable service of guiding expeditions in extreme altitudes. Sounds like contracting officers to...

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Working as an Acquisition Team

Posted by on Dec 10, 2015 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Working as an Acquisition Team

Under the Guiding Principles in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), FAR 1.102-3 – Acquisition Team states that identifying the members of the acquisition team encourages teamwork, unity of purpose, and open communication in sharing the vision and achieving the goal of the Federal Acquisition System. This Guiding Principle is often lost in translation as we progress from the development of the requirement to contract closeout, however it is key to ensuring we achieve the best value for the U.S. taxpayer. So who is this acquisition team? While one might be inclined to think that we are simply talking about the individuals within the government, the FAR actually tells us that it begins with the customer and ends with the contractor providing the product or service. It also tells us that the government should prepare its team members to perform the functions and duties assigned to them within the context of the acquisition team through training, professional development, and other resources necessary for maintaining and improving their knowledge, skills, and abilities. It encourages contractors to do the same. This may have been one reason why Congress decided to include contractors in the provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16 NDAA) that pertains to the acquisition workforce (see Title VIII, Subtitle D). So what type of training helps us work better as an acquisition team? For the government, it begins with training the Contracting Officer (KO). The acquisition team does not exist without the KO who serves as the key interface between the government and its contractors. To ensure our KO’s possess the necessary skills to serve as such a liaison, we must train them to shape smart business arrangements, which begin with understanding the requirement, the market, and what drives contractors providing the requirement. Additionally, we must ensure they have a thorough understanding of the ethics issues involved in Federal acquisitions, as well as the types of negotiation techniques that lead to “win-win” situations. Training in these areas will provide KO’s with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to serve as effective commercial diplomats and stewards of the U.S. taxpayer’s dollars. Next, we turn our attention to the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR), who is often the subject matter expert and onsite government representative. In another post, I discussed the training that I believe is important when it comes to the COR, however, just to synopsize, the COR should strive to be just as familiar as the KO with contract management responsibilities that are assigned to them and more knowledgeable than the KO in matters relevant to the product or service being acquired. This will result in a well-rounded COR, which is key to the successful progression and completion of a contract. Finally, we turn to the contractor… the provider of the product or service being acquired. While contractors sometimes receive a bad rap, they are as essential a part of the acquisition team as the KO and COR; and, as such, it is my opinion that contractors should strive to be just as proficient in how the government conducts business as the KO and COR. While the FY16 NDAA incorporates contractors who provide acquisition-related services into the defense acquisition workforce, I believe all contractors should train their employees who manage the company’s government contracts in...

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Contracting Light Bulb

Posted by on Nov 12, 2015 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Contracting Light Bulb

Our acquisition community takes a lot of hits for failures in the information technology arena. We all know there are many more reasons for those failures than the competency of the acquisition workforce. One culprit to point to is the lack of tools and guidance available to those charged with contracting for IT goods and services. Recently I attended the Federal IT Acquisition Summit (FIAS) held in Washington DC. I came away with an understanding that there are some excellent existing contracts out there for contracting officers to take advantage of rather than reinventing the wheel with new contracts. Training sessions covered: NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP V) NIH’s three Chief Information Officers (CIO) contracts (CIO-SP3 for services, CIO-SP3 Small Business for services with small businesses, and CIO-CS for commodities) GSA’s Alliant contract During an afternoon session, there was kind of a “light bulb” moment when many in the audience were, I think, wondering the same thing: “Where’s the tool to help contracting officers figure out what existing contracts are available (there are Multi-Agency Contracts (MACs) out there too) and which is most appropriate for their needs?” I’m envisioning something like this: And then if the government could provide the data, I’d add in a column for ordering agencies to rate their experience with the contract vehicle — how well did it end up meeting their needs? What do you think? Does it make sense for the government to gather some good old fashioned market research on these GWACs and MACs that have so much potential to save time and dollars, as well as improve the quality of...

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COR Competencies: The Art of Working Smarter, Not Harder for the Contracting Officer’s Representative

Posted by on Oct 30, 2015 in Acquisition | 4 comments

COR Competencies: The Art of Working Smarter, Not Harder for the Contracting Officer’s Representative

Being a Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) is one of the hardest jobs in Federal government contracting. As a COR, you not only have to be knowledgeable of the technical aspects of the requirement – you also have to be able to interpret the language of the contract. Not only must you have a thorough understanding of the government’s requirements – you must also be able to discern whether the contractor’s performance will deliver those requirements.  Moreover, while you are often the most aware of everything going on with the contract, you typically don’t possess the authority to make decisions about anything regarding the contract. As a COR, you may feel empowered, yet powerless at the same time, in a position that is often, let’s face it … an additional duty. In the face of such contradictions, the best solution is unfortunately an oft-used cliché: “Work smarter, not harder.” I know. You’ve heard this phrase many times throughout your life. You’ve most likely even used it. Yet, did you know this phrase was coined in the 1930’s by an industrial engineer named Allan “Mogy” Mogensen? Mogy was the father of work simplification, and he believed in empowering the overseers of processes. Those who ensure that the work required is being performed in the most efficient manner, and in accordance with the required specifications. He called such individuals the “treasured resources” in continuous improvement. Mogy believed in the power of what the government contracting community calls CORs! As a COR, you are the treasured resource on the acquisition team. As the individual with the most knowledge of the actual requirement, an understanding of the contract language, and an awareness of the day-to-day situation, you are the most vital factor to the successful performance of the contract. For that reason, it is important that you are always improving your skills. By continuously improving your skills, you will be better equipped to determine the best way to work smarter, not harder. I like to think of it as developing COR competencies. Apparently, so does the Federal Acquisition Institute and the Department of Defense, as they have developed guidelines for the development of basic COR competencies based on a COR’s experience level and the type of project the COR is assigned to oversee. So how do you develop these COR competencies? To answer that question, we need only look to the contract lifecycle. There are three (3) phases in the contract lifecycle: (1) preaward; (2) award; and (3) postaward; and, at each phase, a different set of skills is required of the COR. During preaward, it is important for the COR to understand how to: (1) conduct market research; (2) develop an independent government cost estimate; and (3) write performance work statements. Being proficient in these three areas will enable you to develop and draft requirements that require less oversight in the later stages. Preaward skills are the first step in working smarter, not harder! As we progress along the contract lifecycle past preaward, we come to the award stage, where it is important for the COR to have an understanding of the following: (1) cost and price analysis; (2) source selections; and (3) best value tradeoffs. These skills allow you to assist the contracting officer in selecting the best contractor for your requirement....

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Challenges in Acquisition Training

Posted by on Aug 10, 2015 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Challenges in Acquisition Training

I ran across this article in the July edition of NCMA Contract Management. It was written by a colleague of mine, Denean Machis. I found that it provided an insightful look at training the acquisition workforce. While training seems to be an easy target to identify as the cause for acquisition failures, the article suggests another, more systemic reason. I recently wrote a blog expressing some problems I see in the way the government buys training. While certification programs provide foundational knowledge, individuals need to be able to perform the tasks when they are assigned. Denean provides a compelling case for job-focused training. As a training and performance improvement company with a broad range of courses that can be used for satisfying the continuous learning requirement to maintain certification, we see a large percentage of students who report that the reason they chose our course was to earn continuous learning points. I recognize that choice does not necessarily mean that the course was not linked to the student’s desire to improve their on-the-job performance. Denean makes the point in the article: “Certification and continuous learning programs aimed at workforce development are not focused on performing the job at hand” and suggests that “A formal, mandatory, funded, job-focused learning program is the solution to improving the acquisition workforce performance on the job.” and “Connecting training to the job at hand will result in greater interest, better comprehension, and increased retention over time.” I won’t steal any more of Denean’s thunder but recommend you read her article to get a different, persuasive perspective on training for performance improvement....

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FITARA: Improvement or Impasse?

Posted by on Jul 6, 2015 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

FITARA: Improvement or Impasse?

Anyone associated with government IT acquisitions, project management, or systems operation is likely to be familiar with the recently passed (Dec. 19, 2014) Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). This overhaul of the IT acquisition and oversight for most Federal agencies and departments is the largest action signed into law since the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act. There are many opinions and summaries of the FITARA’s requirements and stipulations, we are only going to discuss its potential benefits and possible implementation roadblocks in this post. Most recently, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued its final implementation guidance for FITARA on June 10, 2015 which lists its objectives, scope, resources, and recommendations for agency implementations. The most significant recommendation is on the implementation of FITARA’s ‘Common Baseline’ which modifies the roles and responsibilities of agencies’ senior management positions (CXOs) related to the acquisition, management, and oversight of each agency’s IT assets and resources. The most dramatic change is the largely expanded role of the agency’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) in all aspects of the agency’s IT budget and acquisition processes. Additionally, OMB recommends actions on several other fronts, such as continued support and implementation of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) to further reduce the number of government data centers and hubs. The technical aspects of the OMB’s guidance can be discovered in the referenced OMB memorandum of June 10, 2015. However, in the limited space of this post, it is more advantageous to discuss the potential benefits and improvements that FITARA may bring about if the issues and roadblocks of its wording and interpretation can be overcome. The benefits and improvements are several: The agency CIO is raised to the true level of a ‘C level’ executive with suggested reporting directly to the agency Senior Executive The agency CIO is to be the primary decision maker and approver of the agency’s IT budget, resources, and acquisitions Completion of an agency self-assessment and implementation plan to be submitted to OMB no later than August 15, 2015 Implementation of all FITARA provisions by the agency no later than December 15, 2015 These enhancements and additions to the agency CIO position can provide the potential benefits of establishing an enterprise-wide perspective of the agency’s acquisition, development, and deployment of IT resources and assets – as opposed to the somewhat fractured perspective now evidenced by the more than 250 CIO positions currently in place in the top 26 agencies. For example, a recent GAO study revealed that only two of 24 agencies have a current inventory of their software licenses from an enterprise viewpoint! Another possible benefit will be the partnerships between other agency ‘C-level’ executives such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Acquisitions Officer (CAO), and the agency’s CIO. Together they will collaborate on the planning, acquisition, and budgeting of IT assets and resources. This will be accomplished through the implementation of a ‘Common Baseline’ which defines new roles and responsibilities along with standard agency reporting on the success of implementations by Federal agencies to both OMB and the agency’s Chief Executive. While these benefits and improvements are laudable and hopefully achievable, FITARA, due to the wording and ambiguity of its provisions, has the possibility of spawning several significant issues and roadblocks that can ONLY be addressed by...

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What Makes a “Practice” Best?

Posted by on Jun 16, 2015 in Acquisition, Project Management | 1 comment

What Makes a “Practice” Best?

During the Civil War (as the story goes) a Union Soldier’s widow approached President Lincoln to complain about her husband’s death. Her complaint was that her husband died, not from a grievous battle wound, but an infection in his feet. It began with sores worn into his feet by the shoes he was issued. Letters to his wife always mentioned how these shoes fell apart when they got wet, never seemed to last long, and had to be constantly repaired with whatever materials he could find. In those days war profiteers (many of whom were Union Officers or government employees) set up make-shift manufacturing operations and turned out sub-standard shoes by the thousands for the Union Army at great profit. After hearing of her plight the President asked Secretary of War Stanton to investigate. As a result, new procurement regulations were posted requiring competition, quality standards, and inspection upon receipt. Today there are almost 1,900 pages in the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s two volumes. A complicated Gordian Knot of rules, exceptions, and various clauses that takes years to master. As time has passed, the needs of the government have grown while budgets were cut, the workforce has been reduced, and workers have aged. Many organizations are reaching out to determine how to best navigate the troubled waters of acquisition. In the aftermath of yet another failed large procurement, a client recently tasked Management Concepts to collect “best practices in acquisition” for use in focusing their workforce on practices and approaches to the process of acquiring goods and services. We identified more than 150 citations that cited key issues, critical factors, success factors, preferred practices, essential practices, and other actions leading to more effective, efficient, and successful acquisitions in the Federal government. Our research confirmed that “best practices” are a part of the organizational environment in which they operate. There are interrelated forces at work that require, encourage, mentor, and ensure that these practices are part of a successful organization’s decision and operational actions taken to achieve its goals and objectives. Federal government workers often navigate a complex web of rules, regulations, and laws in their operations. These forces take specific actions to support the successful implementation of a best practice. The best practices we examined all had eight components in common as outlined below: Policies are written by higher authority to establish the outcomes and constraints that guide Federal activities. Policies themselves are not specific enough to achieve the outcomes alone. They are the basis on which subordinate organizations determine how these outcomes will be achieved given the constraints that exist. Successive subordinate entities may issue supplemental policy guidance based on what is received from higher authority. Procedures are written that specify how the work is to be performed in order to comply with the policies, actions to take, processes to follow, roles and responsibilities, and authority. This component is the birthplace of a practice. Guides supplement procedures with specific details of the methodologies, key activities, decision points, workflows, artifacts, etc. that are to be used consistently across the enterprise to achieve the outcomes specified in the policy. Templates establish the format and content of artifacts created for use in the activities to make decisions, provide information, or collect and use data maintained in the organization’s systems. Job Aids can...

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Training Shouldn’t Be LPTA

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Training Shouldn’t Be LPTA

There are many reports that impugn the training that the acquisition workforce receives as ineffectual and the cause of poor acquisition execution and achievement of outcomes.  We suggested in a previous blog a way to improve the outcome of training.  In this blog we’d like to take a step back and describe how buying training could be improved and performance improved. As a training and consulting company, we see many solicitations that specify course names and sometimes lengths, but provide no information about why they are buying the training, what problems they are trying to address through training, or even the objectives and topics they want the training to address.  At times, when the buyer provides a course outline of topics they want covered, they don’t specify whether they want this training to be refresher training, in depth training, or basic training.  Training providers may get the impression that the extent of market research, if accomplished, went no deeper than seeing if a training provider had a course name that related to the subject on which they wanted training.  This becomes obvious when the course names in a solicitation duplicate the names of a particular training provider’s catalog.  One company’s Source Selection course is not, by definition, the same as another company’s Source Selection course.  One could be current and reflect up-to-date guidance with interactive exercises facilitated by a veteran of many source selections, while the other could be a straight lecture course delivered in a much shorter length and always at a cheaper price.  Should price alone be the determining factor on which course will meet your needs? There also seems to be a lack of recognition that length has an impact on the depth and level of learning that can take place.  We see incidents where an agency wants to reduce the length of a longer, say 5-day course to 1 or 2 days while covering all the topics in the course.  This is doable, but I fear the outcome of that training would be no more than an overview of the topics at Bloom’s level 1. Buying training by name and length may seem to be driven by economics, but I would submit it is false economics.  If the training doesn’t produce the outcomes sought, the dollars are wasted.  If the agency has not specified what it needs and treats training as a commodity to be bought at the lowest price possible, then those dollars spent have a high probability of not producing improved performance. It would be entirely serendipitous for the agency to achieve the outcomes of the training if the buyer doesn’t define the outcomes it wants to achieve, defines the length without regard to those outcomes, identifies name only, and treats training as a commodity without differentiation.  I submit that all training is not a commodity and can be differentiated by design and delivery methods and therefore is not best suited for the Lowest Priced Technically Acceptable (LPTA) source selection method.  Also ask yourself – how you could hold the contractor accountable if you buy by course name only? Training providers and their courses can be differentiated if agencies analyze what they want from the training and describe it in the solicitation. Training is not a commodity, in my opinion and therefore, LPTA...

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When is an RFI not an RFI?

Posted by on Apr 9, 2015 in Acquisition | 0 comments

When is an RFI not an RFI?

Answer:  When the government mistreats it as a solicitation, which is a Request for a Quote (RFQ) (FAR Part 13), Invitation for Bid (IFB) (FAR Part 14), or Request for Proposal (RFP) (FAR Part 15). What was once thought to be a rare aberration was revealed at a recent government-industry conference to be a more widespread phenomenon. During the question and answer period in one session on market intelligence, vendors pointed out what may be a disturbing trend: in at least two major agencies, the government is restricting all communication with industry after issuing Requests for Information (RFIs) but before release of the actual solicitation unless it through the contracting officer. This is concerning. Here’s why: FAR 15.201, Exchanges with industry before receipt of proposals, specifically calls out the RFI as a tool meant to “promote early exchanges of information.” It clearly states that RFIs are issued in order to obtain price, delivery, and other market information for planning purposes and cannot in any way form a binding contract. There’s not even a required format for RFIs or the responses. Further, it explicitly states that the contracting officer should be the focal point of communication after release of the solicitation. Until then, other members of the acquisition team may have exchanges with industry and vice versa. To its credit, OFPP also has worked to promote more open communications with industry. In its 2011 memo “’Myth-Busting’: Addressing Misconceptions to Improve Communication with Industry during the Acquisition Process,” OFPP suggests issuing an RFI to “make sure the government not only understands the capabilities of industry, but can develop or improve its acquisition strategy regarding contract type, performance requirements, performance work statements, and performance metrics.” Nowhere is communication with industry discouraged, limited, or prohibited during the RFI stage. OFPP doubled down on this in 2012’s “Myth-Busting 2,” spelling out to agencies that RFIs are a “part of the market research to investigate the industry and marketplace in accordance with FAR Part 10.” Not only is it a bad—and potentially harmful—practice to restrict communications with industry during the RFI market research stage, it goes against specific guidance and regulation. Pre-solicitation information gathering and communication are vital parts of the acquisition planning process. They are paramount to building good requirements and achieving good outcomes. So why are many government professionals prone to restrict open communication with industry prior to releasing the solicitation? Look no further than misinformation and the risk-averse culture that continues to plague the Federal acquisition workforce. The calls to reform how the Federal acquisition workforce is prepared to do its work have been getting louder. It’s easy enough to read about the need for reform and move on. But it’s when you witness first-hand a risk-averse culture failing to see the benefits of government/industry communications on the outcome of an acquisition that the need for a cultural paradigm shift hits home. Nothing will change until culture...

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The Struggle to Improve IT Acquisition

Posted by on Mar 13, 2015 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

The Struggle to Improve IT Acquisition

The Federal government wastes about half of the $80 billion per year it spends on IT. Agencies spend, on average, seven times more on IT per employee than their counterparts in the private sector. These alarming figures come out of a recent report from the International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM), which criticizes the Federal government’s unreasonably high spending on IT. The report says that, on average, private sector companies spend under $5,000 per employee on IT; while on the Federal side, the report shows that agencies average about $36,000 per employee. The Department of Education stuck out for dropping $168,000 per employee on IT. While you can question the usefulness of the spending-to-employee metric (as some do) or debate the percentage of IT spending that actually constitutes “waste,” no one is making the argument that the Federal government currently handles its IT portfolio well. IAITAM is merely making the case for a comprehensive top-level inventory/asset management program. But The Government Accountability Office (GAO) just recently acknowledged something else we already knew: that the front end is broken. In February, GAO placed IT acquisition on its “high-risk list” alongside other major Federal programs that need fixing. This isn’t new and the reformers have been at work. At the end of last year, Congress finally passed the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) as part of the 2015 NDAA, essentially reforming the Federal CIO position to take on program and budget authority over agency IT portfolios. This is no small move and experts on the government and commercial sides have responded to the reform as a positive step. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not wasted time implementing the new law by working with CIOs; it’s also taken the lead on spearheading other efforts to modernize outmoded IT procurement functions. Three months ago, Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Administrator Anne Rung was pointing the way forward through category management, workforce improvement, and vendor relations. Earlier this month, Rung checked in again, saying in a speech that she’s pleased with the progress on those fronts, noting that “we’re doing our deepest dive on IT.” Category management development continues apace, and OMB expects to bring on new hires to manage the IT category, she said. One new software application expected to deploy in coming weeks is Acquisition360, a feedback tool allowing agencies to identify weaknesses in their own acquisition processes through user reviews; Jason Miller over at Federal News Radio calls it the Yelp for government acquisition. Agile development remains a fixture in revamped IT acquisition approaches, and Rung pointed out that the U.S. Digital Service and the General Services Administration (GSA) are developing trial programs to implement the methods governmentwide. She’s also planning to engage with the Federal acquisition workforce in new ways: through a series of podcasts on the TechFAR Handbook and Digital Services Playbook, and a series of discussions with personnel on existing practices. Reflecting Rung’s “deep dive” sentiment that officials are investing the time to get the IT portions of reform right, the Federal Acquisition Institute is still working on its FAC-C Core-Plus Specialized Certifications, originally due out by the end of last year. FAI is expected to lay out specialized certification tracks for level II and level III contracting professionals performing...

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Between the Classroom and the Job – Acquisition Training

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Between the Classroom and the Job – Acquisition Training

“I will apply the new knowledge and skills to my job.” It’s the last day of class. You’re filling out the course evaluation and get to the above statement. You’ve just had a great training experience and without a doubt you’re better now than before you walked in here. You confidently check “yes” and head home for the weekend. But will you apply your knowledge on the job? When? Sadly, many acquisition professionals won’t be taking what they’ve just learned in the classroom and effectively applying it on-the-job—at least not right away. A lot of students taking acquisition or contracting courses are actively completing or maintaining certification requirements. While required certification provides essential foundational knowledge for contracting officials, it also leaves some individuals with noticeable performance gaps. Acquisition certification programs, by design, cover a lot of ground. They have to. But this also means that, in some cases, it can be years between when a contracting professional learns something in the classroom and encounters it on the job. Even the best training can’t impact that kind of retention. Adults learn by doing. While covering material to meet a certification provides a knowledge baseline, it doesn’t always transfer to performance. The many concerns over the performance of the federal acquisition workforce have been widely documented (here and here are just two recent examples). There has to be a better way to bridge the gap between foundational knowledge and effective performance on the job. We’ve come up with a solution: our new Acquisition Workforce Performance Improvement service synchronizes training with an organization’s needs and pairs an experienced coach and job aids to ensure the mission is achieved. By providing point-of-execution learning and including all the members of an acquisition team, organizations can capitalize on the impact of training when it’s most important. This approach shows contracting professionals how to do the work, goes over it with them, and oversees the application of these skills, on-the-job and in real time—leaving students prepared and confident to handle the work on their own the next time. More information on our four-pronged methodology is available...

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New FAC-P/PM Curriculum Kicks Off

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015 in Acquisition, Project Management | 1 comment

New FAC-P/PM Curriculum Kicks Off

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) 2013 memo outlined the major revisions to the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) Program, which became effective on March 31, 2014. OFPP’s move to update the program – particularly to incorporate issues surrounding the frequently troubled Federal IT project – shows the government’s dedication to strive for innovation and improvement. Training the Federal workforce should always be a priority, and the moves to update Federal Acquisition Certifications, along with the recently enacted FITARA, mean that we could begin to see some strong improvements to Federal acquisition. So What Does This Mean for You? If you had a certification before the March date, you are grandfathered into the new program at your current level of certification, as long as your continuous learning requirements are up-to-date. However, if you start working on a higher-level certification, you will need to meet the new requirements.  Anyone working on a new certification will also have to comply with the new requirements. Key Changes from Old to New: Applicability: All acquisition P/PMs must be certified at their appropriate level as determined by their agency, not just at the senior-level for major acquisitions. Waivers: Waivers of requirements, either in part or in whole, by the Chief Acquisition Officer (CAO) are no longer allowed. However, the CAO may grant extensions of current certification levels. Competencies: Competencies and performance outcomes for each competency level have been better defined to describe the required knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for successful performance. They include: Requirements Development and Management Processes, Systems Engineering, Test and Evaluation, Life Cycle Logistics, Contracting; Business, Cost and Financial Management; and Leadership. Training Length Requirements: The fixed minimum hours of training have been replaced with a flexible range from approximately 80-120 hours for each of the three levels, depending upon agency requirements and the type of training to be received. This flexibility allows for the training to be better tailored, addressing each individual’s competency gaps. Senior Level Experience: Senior-level P/PMs are still required to have four total years of program and project management experience, but experience on Federal programs and/or projects has been reduced to a minimum of one year of within the last ten years. Experience has also been broadened to include experience as a contractor. Core-Plus Specialized Certification: General Core-Plus requirements have been added to the core FAC-P/PM certification along with specific requirements for an IT Core-Plus certification. The revised FAC-P/PM certification policy provides for a new Core-Plus specialty certification for those P/PMs involved in managing IT projects and programs.  Management Information System: The Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS) is now the official system of records for the FAC-P/PM program. How Can We Help? Our revised FAC-P/PM curriculum is now FAI-verified and available for group onsite delivery – we’ll provide the training at your location for your group, team, or division. Keeping with OFPP’s modernization of the FAC-P/PM Program, our courses are all offered live or online, and we’ve developed pre-class assessments and eLearning modules to best prepare you for the training – making the most of your time away from the office. Management Concepts Mid Level FAC-P/PM courses also meet IT Core-Plus competencies. Teidi Tucker also contributed to this post. Teidi Tucker is a Product Manager and Senior Business Development professional...

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Career Resolutions for You and Your Staff

Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 in Acquisition, Coaching & Mentoring, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management, Workforce Management | 0 comments

Career Resolutions for You and Your Staff

Each January, we all make resolutions with varying degrees of sincerity and dedication. As we get further and further from New Year celebrations, life has a way of creeping in. Achieving lifestyle changes is not solely about exercise or dieting; it should also be about improving your professional competence and positioning yourself and/or your staff for future success. This year, why not try a different resolution? Are you an individual trying to manage your career? Resolve to focus on your career. Ask for the stretch assignment. Explore mentorship opportunities. Challenge yourself to hone current skills or learn new ones. Go for that promotion. Ask for training and professional development. Be ambitious! Get out of whatever rut you may find yourself and commit to creating and fostering a personal path to career success and an environment of learning and advancement. Perhaps you are more seasoned, and at a more advanced place in your career development. Why not investigate a certificate program; successful completion can demonstrate your knowledge and dedication.  Another possibility is getting a leadership coach or mentor.  If you’re lucky, your organization may have a formal mentorship program, but you can do it informally too.  Ask for over-the-shoulder coaching, stretch assignments, or simply discussing your career aspirations with a trusted co-workers can also make a huge difference. Are you a supervisor?  Maybe your resolution is to bolster the skillset of your direct reports.  I’m sure someone took an interest in your development—pay it forward. As the President’s FY15 Budget noted, steps are in place to “restore cuts to Federal employee training to help train, retain, and recruit a skilled and effective Federal workforce, targeting investments in employee training to common, but high-impact areas such as customer service or information technology.” This statement announces a hopeful and positive change, a return to the time-proven practice of investing in people.  Feds are again able to focus on seeking the learning and development that keeps them – and their staffs – efficient, productive, up-to-date, and effective. Career development for your personnel will enhance productivity and morale.  Smart investments in quality learning solutions will help deter the loss of high-performing Federal employees to the private sector. Identify the stepping stones that will take you – and your staff – to the next level. Recognize and reward your dedicated employees and groom them for future success in positions of greater responsibility. Don’t wait for your staff to ask for training. Identify the development opportunities that will lead them to successful performance. As a professional development and performance improvement company, clearly we value formal training. It is important to remember, however, that remaining professionally competitive doesn’t necessarily entail only classroom training. Career development is a broad mix of mentorship, coaching, challenging work assignments, support, industry association, and professional certifications that together enhance the skillsets of Federal employees. Abraham Lincoln once said “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” Don’t leave your career or the development of your staff to chance.  Positive developments result from intentional steps toward a goal. I love to hear stories about a team finishing a challenging project or a student getting promoted.  We succeed when you succeed because we are dedicated to unleashing the potential of people, teams, and organizations.  Now, what is your resolution? Tom Dungan,...

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Strategic sourcing — Where Are We Today?

Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 in Acquisition | 1 comment

Strategic sourcing — Where Are We Today?

It was two years ago that strategic sourcing became a “thing” again in Federal acquisition. In a watershed moment for Federal strategic sourcing, GAO’s report from October 2012 said that across the board, Federal agencies were only leveraging a fraction of their buying power—leaving as much as $50 billion per year in potential cost savings on the table. The biggest spenders in government—DoD, DHS, Energy, VA—were only managing about five percent of their portfolio through strategic sourcing efforts. Following that report, in December 2012, OMB established “a broad strategic sourcing initiative to ensure that all agencies manage their acquisitions effectively and that, wherever possible, agencies join together to negotiate the best deal for the taxpayer.” That memo required agencies to designate senior-level strategic sourcing accountable officials, and established an interagency Strategic Sourcing Leadership Council that would expand on existing opportunities to achieve cost savings and “lead the government’s efforts to increase the use of governmentwide management and sourcing of goods and services.” The memo also tasked GSA with establishing new governmentwide strategic sourcing initiatives, out of which grew the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative, the governmentwide effort to bring agencies together to “develop innovative sourcing strategies for a set of commonly acquired goods and services.” It should be noted that current efforts are being assumed largely under a supply view, not a demand view. To wit, prices can be driven down through strategically sourcing services, supplies, etc. These savings pale in comparison, however, to the savings that can be achieved when demand is more accurately assessed. For example, an agency can achieve savings through strategically sourcing, say, smart phones for its workforce. But those savings pale in comparison if the agency properly assessed its actual need for those smart phones and found that only about half its work force needed them. The remaining phones can then be bought under strategic sourcing principles. Getting started has been slow-going for Federal agencies, as is to be expected with any large-scale cultural shift in government. And prioritizing strategic sourcing as a buying approach is just that: a “cultural change,” complete with all the baggage that comes with it. There has been progress, setbacks, success stories, protests, cost savings, and concerns. As the Federal acquisition framework aims to institutionalize strategic sourcing principles and practices, it will do so in fits and bursts, large bumps and small victories. GAO reported to Congress in the summer of 2013 that DoD had begun ramping up additional resources to support new strategic sourcing efforts, and that the VA was moving toward measuring the dollars it was spending on contracts that were strategically sourced, as well as looking for new initiatives. Indeed, many agencies have already moved to set up centralized strategic sourcing launch pads to inform and assist sub-agencies, programs, and individuals. DoD, government’s biggest spender for example, has set up its own page to coordinate components, “foster a culture of strategic decision-making,” increase enterprise-wide awareness, as well as train organizations and individuals how to effectively execute strategic sourcing initiatives. For its part, GSA already has in place robust strategic sourcing mechanisms for such categories as delivery services, maintenance, office supplies, and information services. But the gains are not without their detractors. Congress took notice last summer of the growing number of bid protests from small businesses against...

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Federal Acquisition Report: DoD Approves Use of a Blended Rate for Calculating Executive Compensation

Posted by on Dec 10, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

With increasing public scrutiny of both high executive compensation and the performance of Federal contractors, Congress included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 a provision to lower the amount of executive compensation for which Federal contractors may be reimbursed. The December issue of the Management Concepts Press Federal Acquisition Report explains how the DoD’s decision to allow contractors to use a blended rate will ease the transition to the lower cap.  Here’s an excerpt: The Department of Defense (DoD) will allow contractors to use a blended rate to calculate executive compensation as the department transitions to a new reimbursement limit, according to a memorandum issued by Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy Director Shay Assad. The use of blended rates is intended as a “practical and cost efficient solution” to ease the transition to a lower executive compensation cap, the memo provides. Section 702 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-67) lowered the executive compensation cap—the maximum amount of contractor-paid executive compensation that the federal government will reimburse on cost-based contracts. The cap was reduced from $952,308 to an initial limit of $487,000 per year. The figure will be adjusted annually to reflect the change in the Employment Cost Index calculated by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The new executive compensation cap was implemented in the Federal Acquisition Regulation through an interim amendment that applied the $487,000 cap to all contracts awarded, and cost incurred, on or after June 24, 2014. In light of the challenges that will surely arise among contractors that hold contracts awarded both before and after June 24, the memorandum allows affected contractors to use a blended rate approach to calculate executive compensation. Each contractor would propose their own rate based on a calculation of the volume of contracts awarded before June 24 and on or after that date. The directive emphasizes that contractors are not required to use the blended rate approach; those that choose otherwise may calculate executive compensation on each contract based on the applicable rate, or adopt the lower rate for all contracts regardless of award date. Those who do wish to use the blended rate method will use an initial rate for interim billing that is based on the estimated cost breakdown; then, when establishing final overhead rates, a final rate will be calculated using the actual proportion of contract costs for the current year for contracts issued before and on or after June 24. The memo specifies that contractors who employ the blended rate method must submit an auditable calculation of the blended rate. “An audit will ensure that only the total allowable compensation is billed to the government for the fiscal year based on the different authorized caps,” the memo reads. Contractors must also execute an advance agreement under FAR 31.109 in order to use the blended rate method. The agreement will document the process to be used, the auditable data submission requirements, and an expiration date for the use of the blended rate. The October 24 memorandum notes that the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) will issue implementation guidance on the use of blended rates, in coordination with the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA). Note that the blended rate approach has only been approved for Department of Defense contractors and subcontractors. Contractors that hold...

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OFPP Memo Charts Acquisition Improvement

Posted by on Dec 8, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

New Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Administrator Anne Rung has laid out her priorities for governmentwide acquisition improvements. In a memo released last week, Rung details the framework from which agencies will work to overcome a complex Federal contracting space that tends to produce “higher costs, slower procurements, and less innovation.” The plan is built around three concepts – category management, developing the acquisition workforce, and vendor relationships. Category Management GSA has been refining its category management approach for about a year, and now OFPP is ready to roll those ideas out governmentwide. Led by the Strategic Sourcing Leadership Council (SSLC), which Ms. Rung chairs, GSA will be laying out categories of commonly-acquired goods and services, such as IT hardware and software.  Currently, there are 10 categories and 50 subcategories. Each category will each be captained by a true expert in the given field and employ a broad set of industry-based strategies. GSA will be following up with further guidance to agencies that will ensure independent validation of savings, performance metrics for category management, and “best in class” solutions by the category managers. Agencies, in turn, will provide GSA and the category managers with data such as prices paid, contract performance assessments, best buying practices, and terms and conditions to more easily draw comparisons between contracts. This information will be made available through GSA’s Common Acquisition Platform. Developing the Acquisition Workforce To meet the challenges posed by the evolving acquisition system and to promote innovative contracting practices, one of the top priorities is enhancing the capacity of the acquisition workforce. Pushing for innovation in the workforce, especially when buying technology, is a stated priority with programs already underway. To build on that, OFPP is working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and U.S. Digital Services (USDS) to improve digital acquisition, including kicking off a pilot program to train personnel “in digital IT acquisitions and deploy trained personnel so as to encourage innovative acquisition practices governmentwide.” DoD and GSA are tasked with developing training and tools to build the workforce’s ability to use agile approaches to technology buys. They’ll also be detailing a “joint plan to use new and innovative approaches to workforce development training, including cross-functional training, rotational development and assignments, and effective training and education used by the private sector.” Vendor Relationships The third part of the plan is improving the relationships between government and industry. To this end, OFPP wants to further the dialogue by hosting regular feedback sessions, piloting an online tool so that contractors can assess specific agency acquisitions — what Jason Miller over at Federal News Radio calls the “Yelp for contracting shops”— exploring the idea of hiring a “vendor manager” to handle top IT commercial contractors, and removing outdated or burdensome regulations from the FAR and agency level...

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Does Anyone Look at Those End-of-Course Evaluations Anyway?

Posted by on Nov 12, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

When you complete an evaluation, do you ever wonder if anyone actually looks at your responses? Do companies take your feedback seriously and make changes based on what you have to say? If they are asking for your feedback, they should review it and take action when warranted. Anyone who has taken one of Management Concepts training courses knows there will be an end-of-course evaluation to complete. Why? It’s good practice to collect students’ feedback on courses they’ve just taken. We collect feedback about the learning experience including the quality and usefulness of the course materials, the instructor’s facilitation skills, and the extent to which the facilities were an appropriate learning environment. In addition to getting feedback on various aspects of their experience, the end-of-course evaluation serves another purpose. We can collect information such as: How confident students are that they can apply what they learned back on the job The degree to which the training will improve their job performance The degree to which the training was a worthwhile investment in their career development In case you’ve wondered if anyone at Management Concepts actually looks at your completed evaluations, the answer is yes. Actually, lots of people at Management Concepts read the evaluations and it drives much of the work we do to create professional development programs. Of course we love hearing about positive student experiences, but we also need to hear about the negative ones. How else can we improve? We use both the quantitative and qualitative feedback you provide to make informed decisions about possible improvements. Here is a sampling of how different stakeholder groups within our organization use your feedback to improve your learning experience: Instructional Designers who create the courses and are always looking for ways to improve the experience Instructors/Facilitators who look for ways to improve their delivery and teaching approach Resourcing Staff who schedule the instructors/facilitators and want to ensure the best delivery of each course Logistics Staff who coordinate the course delivery and  want to ensure the course materials are complete and where they need to be when they are needed Learning Technologists who produce online courses and materials and are looking for ways to improve the online learning experience Facilities Staff who want to ensure a clean and inviting environment Customer Service Staff who help students with registering for courses and want to ensure a positive experience Administrators who review the data to ensure we are in compliance with Continuing Education requirements Executives who oversee all these areas and use the information in short- and long-term planning and want to ensure we meet needs and exceed expectations All of these groups work together to ensure your learning experience is valuable and enjoyable. Your responses help us know when to update courses, what new courses are needed, which instructors are most effective, which technologies add the most value, and what types of learning environments are most effective. So, next time you are asked to complete an end-of-course evaluation, make sure you do. We want to hear from...

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Audit Questions Contractor Teaming Arrangement Oversight

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

A schedule contractor teaming arrangement (CTA) is an agreement between two or more Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) contractors to work together in meeting a particular ordering agency’s needs. The arrangements are set up by the team members independent of the government, and allows for firms to compete for work they would not otherwise qualify for, as the arrangements are structured to complement each firm’s capabilities. As long as the final agreement doesn’t conflict with each team member’s individual schedule contracts, the contractors are free to structure teaming agreements in the way that produces the best solution. But a recent audit from GSA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) raised concern over how closely Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) contracting officials are able to monitor and administer contractor teaming arrangements. It could be worth paying attention: it’s a safe bet that issues identified with proper oversight of teaming arrangements aren’t isolated to FAS. “Assisted Acquisitions contracting officers,” the audit says, “have been provided minimal instruction and have received no formal training relating to the award and administration of team arrangements.” FAS does issue some guidance on team arrangements, but it is “suggestive rather than mandatory.” Contracting officers readily admitted to auditors that they have little experience with teaming agreement awards, resulting in some examples of improper administration. In one RFQ, a team of contractors responded but did not include a teaming agreement. While FAS guidance recommends that contractor team arrangements submit teaming agreements along with their proposals, it isn’t a requirement. This can cause issues for both contractors — who may be responding incorrectly — and contracting officers — who may not realize it is a teaming arrangement at all. In another example, auditors found that contracting officers were only doing excluded parties list system (EPLS) checks on the team leads and not every member of the CTA. This gave light to another issue: system limitations. The FAR requires that contracting officers review each team member for exclusions in SAM (FAR 9.405). But the systems tracking CTAs only allow the team lead to be the contractor identified as the awardee, the report says. In teaming arrangements, each member of the team is considered a prime contractor and can interact with the government accordingly. Since only one contractor in a teaming agreement can be identified in the system as the awardee, it can impact a CO’s knowledge of a particular arrangement and the effective administration of a contract. For example, the performance ratings for the entire team could be assigned to the team lead in the system and not to each member of the team performing the work. In another example of confusion, auditors found that a team lead submitted charges for subcontractors even though the charges were actually for team members. This can be very confusing, as individual team members—each a prime itself—can also have their own subcontractors under a teaming arrangement. To GSA, this was yet another indication of “a misunderstanding of teaming arrangements and how they should be administered.” To improve the oversight and administration of contractor teaming arrangements, the audit made several suggestions. If the issues outlined in GSA’s audit of MAS teaming arrangements sound at all familiar, it could pay off to heed the advice in boning up guidance and understanding of contractor team arrangements. The audit recommended that...

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The Rules for Protesting ID/IQ Task Orders

Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

With increasing attention on Federal IT procurement and the rules governing such acquisitions, it’s important to understand the rules that apply to protesting the various purchasing vehicles government agencies use to obtain IT services and solutions. A ccording to Deniece Peterson of Deltek, for the last several years Federal agencies have been obtaining more than half of their IT solutions through indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contacts, which means that protests are limited unless certain conditions are met. So under what circumstances can a protest occur?   The Bar to Protesting Task Orders under $10 Million under ID/IQ Contracts The protest process allows a large number of contracting actions to be challenged, but there is one glaring exception: task orders and delivery orders (hereafter “task orders”) placed against ID/IQ contracts. Currently, protests against task orders are not allowed unless the task order (1) increases the scope, period, or maximum value of the contract or (2) exceeds $10 million (in which case the protest may be filed only with the Government Accountability Office, GAO). Since ID/IQ contracts are so prevalent in federal contracting, this is an enormous exception to the general rule allowing contracting actions to be protested. Starting with the passage of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 until 2008, all task orders, regardless of the dollar value, were virtually immune from protests. Concerned that this level of protest immunity could encourage too many noncompetitive (and therefore potentially wasteful) contracting actions, Congress narrowed this exception by allowing the GAO (and only the GAO) to hear protests of all task orders that exceed $10 million. Regardless, considering that the government routinely issues task orders under $10 million to fill its needs, this bar to protests shields billions of dollars’ worth of contracting actions from protests every year. Despite the bar on protests of task orders under $10 million, certain types of task order protests are always allowed. These are protests arguing that a particular task order increases the “scope, period, or maximum value” of the contract. The theory behind this “exception to the exception” is that a task order that violates one of these three limitations was not subject to competition originally, and therefore such a task order should not enjoy immunity from protest. Further, it is important to note that the bar against task order protests does not extend to orders that are placed off GSA Schedules. See FAR Subpart 8.4. Excerpted with permission from Key Case Law Rules for Government Contract Formation by Patrick Butler. ©2014 by Management Concepts Inc. All rights reserved....

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Procurement Workforce Needs New Approach to Training

Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

This week, Federal News Radio.com  is airing a three-part special report called “The Missing Pieces of Procurement Reform” and it is well worth tuning in to hear how some of the leading minds on Federal acquisition workforce development are weighing in. Yesterday’s segment, Acquisition workers as critical thinkers: A change that has to happen  zeroed in on some of the underlying challenges to improving acquisition workforce development, along with some of the innovations and approaches for better preparing the acquisition workforce. A number of workforce development improvements are already in the works. For example, OFPP and FAI are working to flush out the CORE Plus tracks geared to provide specialized training in a given area once FAC-C training is complete. The initial track is for buying IT products and services and we’re told is due out by the end of the year. DAU, for example, would like for students to spend less time in the classroom and more time on the job. This “flipped classroom” approach would rely on e-learning capabilities for some portions of the training, such as policies and procedures, and follow up with custom scenario-based exercises in the classroom. If you’ve been in one of our classes recently, you know that Management Concepts is already increasing the use of activities in our contracting courses where students apply previously gained knowledge and critical thinking skills to work through case-based scenarios. These advances, however, need to be coupled with more focus on students demonstrating the proper competencies for their job — just because someone is “certified” doesn’t mean they’re demonstrating “competence.”  The gaps identified in competency assessments need to be closed, either by targeted training or a method of access to on-demand tools, how-to’s, OJT, coaching, or mentoring. For new approaches to development to have maximum impact, larger issues such as contracting’s risk-averse culture, one-size-fits-all certification programs, or pervasive budget constraints need to be addressed. And they won’t be overnight changes. So as this larger issue of procurement reform inches forward, it remains incumbent upon workforce development organizations to continue providing the most effective tools, resources, and approaches to arm individual contracting professionals—and their agencies—with the requisite skills, knowledge, and experience to meet the mission.  ...

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How to Make Training “Stick”

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As summer is ending and kids are going back to school, I was thinking about ways to get the most out of learning. While there are many reasons for attending a training class, most of us take training to meet a certification requirement, or because we need to improve/expand our skills. Just like we tell our kids to do in school, we know that during training, it’s important to take good notes, interact positively with our instructor and classmates, and pay attention to the lessons that are covered. Doing these things will get you through the course just fine. But, to make sure you get the most out of your learning opportunity, there are three easy things you can do before, during, and after training to make sure it “sticks.” Before – Take time to prepare. In addition to having your supervisor approve your training request, you should also spend a few minutes talking to your supervisor about why you need to attend the training. Specifically, review the course objectives with your supervisor and make plans for how you will apply the training once back on the job. If you have an Individual Development Plan (IDP), then the training you are planning to take should be linked directly to a topic or skill on your IDP.If there are specific questions you or supervisor have about the topic or skill, or areas you are struggling with, make a list to share with the instructor. Good instructors will start the class by asking you what you hope to get out of the training. Then, they’ll know which areas to emphasize and which areas will have most meaning for the students. Your instructor and fellow classmates have a wealth of knowledge and varied experiences, and most instructors welcome the opportunity for questions and debate during class! During – Create an action plan. We all know you either “use it or lose it.” Some training courses end with having students develop an action plan. The purpose of this, of course, is to document ways in which you will apply what you learned on the job. This is an important step in helping training “stick.”Mastering the skills you learned in training will take time and practice. Be sure to complete the action plan with things you want to remember and/or apply back on the job. Set goals for yourself and identify a strategy for achieving those goals. Even if you aren’t working on a current project that relates to the training, find a way to get involved with one. Maybe you can take on a small assignment or join a project team at work. Alternatively, maybe there’s a way to practice what you’ve learned in your personal life – plan a party to practice your project management skills, volunteer at your kids’ school, or get involved in a professional or community group to practice your leadership skills. After – Reinforce what you learned. Once you have completed your action plan and left the training facility, it can be easy to get caught up in other priorities, deadlines, and fire drills at work. But, this is the time to put what you learned into action. Here are a few easy tips: Keep your action plan in a place that you can see everyday Create job...

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Embrace Flexibility, Innovation in Contracting

Posted by on Sep 2, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

The White House is encouraging contracting officials to take advantage of existing procurement flexibilities and find innovative ways to achieve acquisition missions. Innovative procurement doesn’t just hinge on IT buys, though that is a major driver of the effort. Policymakers are encouraging contract and program officials to push boundaries, take risks, and engage in a governmentwide discussion on what’s working and what isn’t. The newly-launched U.S. Digital Service recently released the TechFAR Handbook, a guidebook highlighting flexibilities in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) with “a particular focus on how to use contractors to support an iterative, customer-driven software development process, as is routinely done in the private sector.” The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and E-Gov are currently taking comments on the TechFAR, so get involved. OSTP also just released its Innovative Contracting Case Studies, which, like the name suggests, is an evolving document cataloging a number of real-life examples of agencies using innovation within the regulatory framework to achieve successful and cost-saving mission outcomes. For example, the guide most famously details NASA’s recent Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program. With NASA’s moon program on indefinite hiatus, it kicked off ILDD, which “intends to purchase specific data related to lunar exploration resulting from commercial development of small, robotic lunar landers.” To achieve this, NASA issued a broad agency announcement (BAA) to attract a range of non-traditional competitors — there were a range of small businesses, non-profits, new startups, and university consortia vying for the spots. These weren’t traditional contractors. But neither was the structure of the deal, which combined some attributes of a firm-fixed price contract with the flexibilities of an IDIQ. In the end, NASA selected six teams, all of which are currently competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE — where the winner will land a robot on the moon, have it travel 500 meters, and send the data back to earth. This unconventional approach is being held up as a success story in innovation, showing how “NASA has used milestone-based payments to promote private sector competition for the next generation of … moon exploration.” OFPP would like for the list of procurement innovation stories and case studies to grow. It has started a Google public discussion forum for Government Procurement Innovation and both government and industry are encouraged to share success stories. The power of these two documents to shape future procurements will depend on how much the acquisition community embraces new ideas and takes risks to achieve mission outcomes in new...

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Does It Make Any Difference?

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

From time to time it is important to take stock of why we invest our energy in the things that occupy us.   Birthdays, job changes, and retirements are points where we as individuals commonly reflect and ask “does what I do make any difference?” In early August my colleague, Cleve Pillifant, retired from Management Concepts.  He joins the cadre of senior “‘tweens” who work on occasion a few days or weeks here and there, ‘tween work habits compacted over a career and a complete leisure retirement.   Cleve proudly and irreverently (as is his style) titles himself on his LinkedIn consulting LLC as “President and Grand Poobah.” I’ve known Cleve for less than a year, but we have common root in military careers, his in the Marine Corps, mine in the Army.  At the Management Concepts farewell luncheon, hosted on the outside terrace of our Tysons Corner office building, standing on a stepstool above the group of his friends and co-workers, Cleve made public his reflections on “does it make any difference?”  Typical of a colonel at a change-of-command, he diminished his own importance in favor of the Management Concepts team. He wanted to give us a final challenge and motivation.  He asked, “In the grand scheme of life, what’s the value that our company gives?”   He paused, giving time for us to consider our own individual efforts to develop and deliver quality training for our many customers.  I reflected that it’s easy to narrowly focus on “the metrics” like enrollment stats or student surveys.   To take satisfaction in a course revised with the latest law and policy changes.  To count the number of successful course deliveries and client “attaboys” and call that success.  Are these the right measures of the value we give? Cleve then answered:  The training we provide is important because it changes peoples’ lives for the better.  His point was that training statistics, contracts, and performance metrics are useful to measure progress along the journey, true.  But the significance of our training efforts is only achieved one person at a time: when our adult student gets that promotion, when he discovers an entire new field of work to pursue, when she decides to commit herself to mastery of her career field.  These are points of realization which elevate the trajectory of a person’s career, and we, the Management Concepts team, can take pride that our efforts have this positive impact. The genuine reason for our team of professionals who agree to the collective banner of “Management Concepts – Unleashing the Potential of Individuals, Teams, and Organizations” is the achievement of each person who betters their life by the knowledge we convey. Then, the old colonel didn’t say this, but I knew he was thinking it: “… that’s your mission, and don’t ever forget it.  Carry on!” Ooorah, Cleve.  And...

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What You Need to Know About OFPP’s New Past Performance Memo

Posted by on Jul 22, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) dropped a memo July 10 with some new requirements for the acquisition workforce on the collection and use of contractor past performance information. In recent years, they’ve taken a number of steps to expand the governmentwide use of contractor past performance, from trying to make evaluations more uniform to seeking better reporting compliance. Now OFPP is adding some additional steps in gathering, evaluating, and sharing past performance. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) doesn’t merely prescribe when and where source selection officials should find and use past performance information when evaluating offers (FAR 15.3), it provides the flexibility for Contracting Officers (COs) and other acquisition staff to seek out additional sources of information beyond what’s already contained in the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS). And that’s exactly what OFPP is directing COs to do for designated high-risk, complex contract actions. Specifically, the new outreach program asks that source selection officials complete the following activities (attachment 1 in the memo provides a full outline of the additional research and outreach steps required): Contact the CO, COR, or program manager from the contractor’s two largest, most recent federal contracts.  Review news articles, GAO or inspector general reports about a contractor’s business integrity and performance.  Use commercial performance databases outside of PPIRS that provide reviews and evaluations of companies.  Request offerors provide at least three to five references from recent contracts.  Request primes provide information on subs. These activities, OFPP says, “are to be applied, at a minimum, [to] acquisitions (contracts or orders) for complex information technology (IT) development, systems, and services over $500,000, and other acquisitions identified by the agency as presenting a significant risk.” OFPP has previously laid out how to determine when a contract is high-risk. The information gathered by these activities should be carefully evaluated as to its relevance and balanced with what’s already contained in PPIRS, the memo advises.  Documentation in the contract file must show how the performance information was used during source selection. It’s also important that solicitations contain these past performance methodologies, so contractors are aware of how their history of state, local, foreign, and commercial work will be collected and evaluated. Last, each agency’s designated past performance POC should be providing this information for contractors on high-risk contracts to senior agency leaders. The FAR clearly outlines how past performance evaluations should be prepared and maintained, and specific procedures exist for allowing contractors to comment on any adverse performance reviews that fall within the scope of PPIRS (FAR 42.15). For these the “extracurricular” outreach efforts, however, it is important for COs to remember to give contractors the opportunity to respond to any negative feedback that turns up as part of the enhanced past performance collection and...

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Don’t Forget the Sammies This 4th of July!

Posted by on Jul 3, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I’m not referring to the “sammies” you may be planning for a July 4th picnic celebration, but you can get back to perusing tasty recipes for your holiday menu in just a minute. I’ll be brief. I’m talking about what are referred to as the “Oscars” of government service awards: The Service to America Medals awarded each year by the DC-based Partnership for Public Service. The Sammies recognize “outstanding Federal employees who are making high-impact contributions to the health, safety and welfare of countless Americans and others around the world.” Eight Federal leaders are awarded for their efforts across a handful of categories, including: Science and Environment Homeland Security and Law Enforcement National Security and International Affairs Citizen Services Management Excellence The 2014 Sammie nominations were released back in early May, and the results are announced at the annual Service to America Medals Gala in September. The Sammies are particularly important to note this year because all too often lately the lead story on the evening news is another “failure,” “mistake,” or “cover up” by a Federal organization run by a high profile government leader. The fact is that Federal organizations are no more or less immune to scandal or poor management decisions than private sector companies. We need (and we clearly have some) exceptional individuals that are dedicated to bringing the same drive and innovation to the organizations that exist to keep us safe and healthy as those that exist to grow our investments or develop the next life-altering tech gadget. From saving $4 billion in purchasing new rockets to using cutting-edge technology to detect crime to improving the way Government respond to natural disasters, this year’s nominees have shown innovation, agility, and hard-work are essential to outstanding public service. So, on the eve of this Independence Day, let’s celebrate those Federal leaders who are choosing to use their talents to serve our country with the same American spirit that helped us on that pivotal day in 1776. And, to those Federal leaders out there, we say thank...

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The Moving Pieces of IT Acquisition Reform

Posted by on Jul 1, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

The Federal government spent $82 billion on information technology in FY 2014. As overseers from GAO have warned time and again, these Federal IT projects frequently fail, going over budget or beyond schedule, and in the end contributing “little to mission-related outcomes.” This is a pretty damning assessment of how the government spends its money on information technology. A hearing last month before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Oversight Committee brought together some of the major players in IT procurement policy, who discussed efforts already underway as well as coming changes to policy and guidance aimed at improving the government’s track record of bungling technology buys. Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel laid out a number of tools in place and initiatives underway that are already impacting government IT procurement, most notably the efforts to make spending and performance data more transparent through systems such as PortfolioStat and the IT Dashboard. VanRoekel estimates that the PortfolioStat process alone has resulted in $2.5 billion of identified cost savings and $1.9 billion of realized savings. GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini talked about not just the tools employed to improve IT procurement but the approach itself. GSA, which many see as a testing ground for innovative acquisition practices, has recently been deploying an agile approach. “GSA IT has moved away from the world of waterfall application development methodologies that have historically led to higher costs and poor product quality,” Tangherlini said at the hearing, “to an agile methodology which allows us to work better, faster, and leaner than we ever have before.” Elements of this agile approach are being picked up governmentwide. Back in 2010, OMB began emphasizing incremental development to reduce investment risk — agency IT investments needed to deliver functionality within 12 months. In 2012, it doubled down: agency IT investments must deliver functionality every six months. It must be noted that this hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. GAO reported at the hearing that three quarters of the investments it reviewed didn’t plan to deliver capabilities within six months and that less than half would deliver within a year. GAO said that OMB should issue clearer guidance on incremental development and that agencies should implement stricter policies based on that guidance. A number of initiatives are also in the pipelines that could have dramatic effect on how agencies buy technology. The long-awaited (third time’s a charm?) Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), for example, recently passed in the House as part of the 2015 Defense Authorization Act and awaits Senate consideration. If adopted, it would raise the profile of agency CIOs—the number of Federal CIOs would be reduced, but those remaining would have considerably more authority over strategy and budget and report directly to agency heads. The bill also aims to reduce duplicative procurement efforts across the government and to strengthen the IT acquisition workforce. On that last piece, FAI has already begun moving to add an IT track to its FAC-C program—promising more details by the end of the year on a training specialization for complex technology buys. This will likely support the IT track added to FAC-P/PM for program and project managers managing complex IT programs. Finally, officials are stressing that the government is open to trying new things. FITARA itself would require a three-year pilot at OMB...

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Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview

Posted by on Jun 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Rock Your Next Federal Job Interview

You’ve completed the self-assessment, submitted your resume via USAjobs.gov, and have been selected for an interview. Now what?  Interviewing can be quite nerve-wracking in general, but can be even more so for a Federal job, which is quite different from interviewing with a private firm. Successful planning and preparing in advance will be the key to success… and hopefully an offer for employment. Below are some tips on preparing for a Federal job interview. Before the interview… Prepare Using the Job Announcement: You applied and tailored your resume and assessment for a specific job announcement that lists the qualifications, skills and experience that the organization deems necessary to be successful in that role.  Prepare in advance specific examples that demonstrate your experience and accomplishments that align with those items mentioned in the job announcement. You want to be able to confidently talk through several of these examples to effectively illustrate why you are the ideal candidate for the job. If you’ve tailored your resume for the job, you can reference the section of your resume where it’s discussed. This gives the interviewer a visual as well as an auditory reference to help them remember your qualifications. Know the Organization: Do research on the organization. Each agency has a specific mission and it’s important to know what that is. Furthermore, agencies have a human capital plan that often explains skills the agency is most seeking.  Click here, to search for missions and human capital plans by agency.  Setting up Google news alerts is another easy way for you to stay on top of current events for a particular organization. For many government employees, it’s not about the money they make, but being a part of an organization that is working hard to do something specific for the public. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask and tailor it to the organization and role you’re interviewing for. This will show the hiring official that you take this interview and job opportunity seriously.  In addition, if you know who will be interviewing you, check their profile on LinkedIn. The Interview… Arrive Early: You never know what traffic will be like or what obstacles you may face while trying to get to an interview. If you have time prior to your interview, do a “dry run” so you know exactly where the building is, where to park, what metro stop to get off at, etc.  Another important thing to keep in mind is that many government agencies have strict security requirements, which may take some additional time when arriving and checking in at the building. Always be sure to bring a government ID with your photo such as a driver’s license or passport. You may also want to leave non-essential items, likely to set off metal detectors, such as a pocketful of change, at home. Many women feel more comfortable bringing in a portfolio with their ID and leaving their purse locked securely in the car. Feeling rushed right before an interview will only add to your stress. Ask the person setting up the meeting if there is anything extra you should know about traveling to their building. First Impressions: Hiring officials often make a judgment within 15 seconds of you walking through the door, making appearance a critical, although often subconscious, aspect of an...

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4 Generation Workforce: Instructional Challenges for Human Resources & Management Leaders

Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

“They’ve been called Generation Y. They’ve been called Echo Boomers. They may go by different names, but there’s no debate about their effect on business. They are the fastest growing segment of your employee population. They’ve been trained to use their heads more than their hands to solve problems.  It will take a new set of leadership skills to understand their perspective and motivate them to succeed.”  –  Donald D. Shandler, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President, Graduate and Adult Education, Marymount University, and author of Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker. Historically, this is the first time that there are four different generations concurrently in the workforce. The anchor years for these generations are: silents (b.1925-1942), boomers (b. 1943-1960), generation X (b. 1961-1981) and millennials (b.1982-2003). America’s new four generation workforce brings different values, needs, preferences, behaviors and experiences to the workplace. It’s critical for today’s senior leadership, line managers, and training professionals to realize that their multigenerational staff may require different learning styles and preferences. More specifically, there are critical instructional design considerations that must be addressed when designing and developing programs for the four generations that now work and learn together. For those professionals charged with the responsibility of engaging, training, and educating a high- performing multigenerational workforce they must plan and accommodate for the commonalities and differences that each population exhibits. In particular, it’s essential to focus on the learning preferences of the three largest cohorts presently in the workforce. Boomers have a preference for classroom-based and career-related programs; Generation X express enthusiasm for online programs and learning for both fun and enrichment; and, Millennials, as digital natives, have an intense interest in technology-enabled learning with little tolerance for boredom. To be an effective manager of these generational differences: Recognize the unique learning preferences of the four generational cohorts now driving America’s economy, and in particular the millennials. Identify inclusive learning strategies to design multigenerational learning experiences. Appreciate the importance of the millennial knowledge worker as a seminal force and centerpiece of a rapidly changing workforce. Incorporate technology-mediated learning methods to meet generational learning needs. Staff directly serving the training and professional development needs of the generations should: Expand their instructional design strategies to include generational learning preferences. Encourage the application of generational learning strategies to enhance an existing or proposed learning experience. Stay current on the growing body of generational research impacting workplace learning and performance. Reconcile the balance of classroom-based and technology-enabled learning. Stuart H. Weinstein, Ph.D is Practice Leader – Instructional Systems at Management Concepts.   Additionally, he was a contributing author to Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker (Axzo Press – Crisp Fifty-Minute Books, Paperback, 257 pages, December 2009).   In addition to his role at Management Concepts, Dr. Weinstein teaches Principles of Training and Development and Corporate Distance Training in the Instructional Systems Development graduate program at the University of Maryland Baltimore...

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Pop Quiz: How Do You Evaluate Training?

Posted by on Jun 24, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Recently, I’ve encountered several instances where agencies want to make sure they get what they pay for when training their employees. One method that I’ve observed is giving students a test at the beginning and end of a class. At first glance, this makes sense: Let’s make sure the employees are learning something when we spend our scarce training dollars. To understand the limitations of the before and after test, let’s look at Laura, a GS-9 analyst with ambitions to move up to deputy program manager and eventually to program manager. Laura signs up for a three-day class on effective briefing and presentation skills. The morning of the class, she feels nervous, wondering “Will I have to give a speech in front of the whole class?” Walking into the classroom on Monday morning, the instructor hands her a test. Laura finds a seat and looks over the test, which asks how she should analyze the audience when preparing a speech and to identify “bridge words.” She’s presented with four short lists of words to choose the right answer from; the words start to jumble together as she reads them. Memories of standardized tests in high school start to run through her head. Laura does her best to answer the questions and hands her test in. Other students filter in, starting their tests. While waiting, Laura strikes up a conversation with Sam. The instructor asks them to be quiet so that the other students can focus on their tests. Glancing at her iPhone®, Laura realizes that it is almost 10 a.m. A whole hour has gone by as they wait for everyone to finish the test! Finally, the instructor begins the class. Laura learns many tips and ideas for giving a great briefing. She even learns that “bridge words” are transition words, such as however, in addition, and for instance, that help the audience know that you are moving on to a new thought. On the afternoon of the last day, each student prepares a short talk. Laura feels confident and eager to try her new skills. Each student takes turns giving their talk. Laura receives a standing ovation for her talk. At the end of the class, the instructor hands out another test. Instead of leaving with a sense of exhilaration that she nailed her talk, she leaves a bit anxious that she didn’t remember all of the key characteristics of effective presentations. Laura wishes she could ask the instructor a few more questions, but there is no time; the class is done and students filter out of the room. This scenario highlights several drawbacks of pre- and post-tests, which are: They take away valuable instruction time They test students on material that they have not yet been taught They often measure test taking skills more than knowledge Further, pre- and post-tests are not good measures of a student’s skill or behavior. Laura could get a perfect score on her post-test, yet still not be able to give an effective presentation. But, wait! Isn’t it possible that, for whatever reason, Laura did NOT learn what a “bridge word” was? Don’t we need to know if the instructor did a poor job teaching? Or that the materials didn’t clearly explain certain concepts? Or that Laura just daydreamed during the class?...

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Assuring Successful Adoption of Business Innovations

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 2 comments

It’s common practice for the government and commercial entities to periodically modify their organization’s reporting structure, business processes, and day-to-day procedures to adapt to the changing needs of the agency or company.  And … it’s human nature to be resistant or hesitant to the accepting the changes, or confused by the new ideas that result from those actions.   Senior leadership tends to introduce the “new ways of doing things” through policies, memos, all-hands meetings, and the all too frequent “word of mouth.”  Although these work to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the “message” or the level of effort in planning the changes, there are some fundamental tips that relate to basic human behavior which work with most people regardless of their nationality, language, culture, education, or location.   I would like to share five easy-to-remember building blocks that have been proven to lead to successful adoption of new ideas and innovations. The foundation for these building blocks were derived from an analysis of over 1,100 sociological studies by Everett M. Rogers and Floyd Shoemaker in their ground breaking book, Communication of Innovations, 1972. The authors define innovations as “an idea, product, or practice as being perceived as new by an individual.” The key here is that when individuals, not the organizations, adopt new ways of thinking or acting, the resulting changes are more readily accepted.  To verify that this definition is true, Rogers and Shoemaker explored the characteristics of innovators, the rate of adoption of ideas by a diverse population of people, and the decision-making processes in 103 different sociological settings. They also compared what they found with similar conclusions in more than 1,500 publications dealing with the communication of innovations. Examples of the new ideas they studied ranged from introducing farm tractors in Turkey, to family planning techniques among Hindu housewives, to modern math among Pennsylvania teachers and ultimately the introduction of new medicines worldwide. You may have heard of the terms “innovators,” “early adopters” and “late adopters”, which are commonly used in the press and trade journals. Those terms and concepts are from these authors.   Types of Innovation Adopters (Adapted from Rogers and Shoemaker, Innovation Curve in Communication of Innovations, 1972)  The Five Building Blocks for Successful Innovations There are the five building blocks that you may want to include in your planning for new “innovations.” Relative Advantage:   “The degree to which an individual perceives that a new idea or product is better than the one it supersedes.” The relative advantage of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption. Compatibility:  “The degree to which an idea or innovation is consistent with existing values, past experiences and the needs of the person considering the adoption of the innovation.” The compatibility of an innovation is positively related to its rate of adoption. Complexity:   “The degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to use or understand.  The ease with which an individual can acquire capabilities in the use of the innovation is measurable on a simplicity — complexity continuum.”  The complexity of an innovation is negatively related to its rate of adoption. Trialability:  “The degree to which an innovation may be experimented or “tried out” on a limited basis; without committing the individual to a permanent adoption.”  The trialability of an innovation is...

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Employee Performance: Do You See the Big Picture?

Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Linda, a supervisor of an eight-person analysis team, went home every night for a week frustrated that her team wasn’t getting the job done. She shared her frustrations with her husband over dinners, “Maybe this team just doesn’t have what it takes. Charles and Kelly don’t seem to understand some of the analyses we do. And, Jose and Pat just seem apathetic most of the time.” Linda’s husband asks, “Wait, didn’t you invest a lot in training those four last year? Remember how many dinners I ate alone because you were doing their work while they took classes?” Linda sighs, “Yeah, I thought things would get a lot easier when they improved their analytics skills. I even made sure they knew how strongly I felt about investing in them and their careers.” Linda faces an issue that many supervisors face each day. They often ask: What influences employee performance? How can I improve their performance? More factors impact performance than many of us realize. Some of these factors include: Skills Ability Attitudes Personality Background and experiences Motivation Organizational culture Work context Linda might want to consider all of these factors as she tries to figure out why they are performing lower than her expectations. Here are a few hypothetical scenarios that relate to each factor: Skills: Despite having sent the four team members to training, the analysis software that is used on the job is different from the one used in training. Additional training in the analysis software that the team uses may be needed. Ability: Some of the team members don’t have the attention to detail that analysis work requires. They may perform better in a different role. Attitudes: Jose and Pat are apathetic because they feel they are still regarded as junior team members even though they have advanced analytical skills. Personality: Charles and Kelly are reluctant to ask questions about their work assignments in a team meeting because they are introverted. Background and experiences: Charles has a background in financial analysis, which is quite different than technical analysis that Linda’s team does. Some of the concepts are the same, yet the work is different enough that Charles has a hard time using his background in his current role. Kelly comes from a family of technical analysts who take pride in one-upping each other, so she feels self-conscious about asking questions and prefers to figure things out on her own. Motivation: Pat was turned down for a promotion last year and doesn’t feel that his performance is being fairly rewarded. Jose feels that any extra effort he puts out is rewarded with more work. Organizational Culture and Work Context: Linda’s predecessor answered questions from the team with, “Don’t we pay you to know the answer to that?” Over time, the team stopped asking questions; the team’s norm soon became one of figuring things out on their own instead of working together to address challenges. Linda’s choice of solution depends, of course, on which of the above factors are operating. A likely next step is for her to gather additional information, perhaps by meeting with each team member. Linda, like most supervisors, will probably feel nervous or unsure how to approach this meeting or how to phrase her questions. The important first step for Linda is to recognize...

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Moving Beyond Just Training: FAC-C Signals Shift to Career Development

Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

Preparing the Federal acquisition workforce to achieve agency missions won’t be accomplished by training alone. Effectively developing the workforce involves a more holistic, involved, analytical approach. And contracting professionals should take note: “checking the box” certification won’t cut it. OFPP recently revised FAC-C, and the move marks a significant change in the career development approach for the civilian agency contracting workforce. The memo calls out a number of development activities, such as rotational assignments, mentoring, association memberships, onboarding programs, and participation in interagency teams to flesh out the experience of acquisition pros. But it also acknowledges the need for contracting professionals to be active participants in both their development and training—performance improvement requires a demonstrated breadth and depth of knowledge and experience to ensure the workforce has the right skill sets. Civilian agency contracting professionals are going to be expected to demonstrate specific competencies in the classroom, as training increasingly becomes more application- and activity-based. Under the new FAC-C, OFPP has essentially moved civilian acquisition training back into alignment with DoD’s DAWIA curriculum, swapping out all but two courses, adding 100 hours of additional targeted training, and expanding certification requirements beyond 1102s to include all warranted contracting officers regardless of job series.  Identified competency gaps are being addressed with the inclusion of FAR fundamental and cost and price analysis at Level I, and intermediate cost and price analysis and supply and service contracting at Level II. Level III includes advanced course electives such as Understanding Industry and Acquisition Law. OFPP also emphasizes the importance of continuous learning to “[enhance] the skills of acquisition professionals, afford them opportunities for professional growth, and improve the quality of services rendered.” Also coming down the pipeline are specialization tracks for contracting professionals, what OFPP is calling “core-plus.” This will likely resemble the IT concentration developed for FAC-PPM, and include concentrations in IT, followed by construction, small business, and supply and service contracting. We expect to hear more from OFPP on these career tracks by the end of the year. Finally, the memo makes the Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS) mandatory: all contracting professionals are required to register in the FAITAS. Agencies and individuals alike are to use it to manage and track career development. Which is kind of the point: contracting professionals should be active participants in their career development. Agencies are being given until October 1 to fully transition over to the new FAC-C, though some have already begun the process. In case you missed it, here’s our own Acquisition and Contracting Executive Director, Beth Blazek, weighing in on Federal News...

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Use the Active Voice for More Impactful Writing

Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

We often lessen the impact of our writing by using the passive voice. In The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language, I offer some very practical guidance and examples that illustrate how government managers can add directness and impact to their communications, both with their staff and with the public. Give it a try with something you’ve written recently. See the difference? PREFER THE ACTIVE VOICE In an active sentence, the person or agency performing an action is the subject of the sentence. In a passive sentence, the person or item acted upon is the subject of the sentence. Changing passive voice to active voice in your writing can add energy and cut wordiness. Consider the following two versions of the same basic message, which describes a supervisor’s actions: All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly by my supervisor. Following the completion of each task, I received a full feedback that gave me an opportunity to reflect upon and improve my performance. I was given support in addressing my personal objectives such as improvement of interviewing skills and building technical and client knowledge. My supervisor clearly explained all the issues and fully answered my questions. His comments after every task helped me to reflect upon and improve my performance. He constantly encouraged me to address my objectives, such as improving my interviewing skills and building my technical knowledge. The first version, in passive voice, is wordier, weaker, and less direct. The second version, in active voice, is briefer, clearer, and more conversational or natural. The active voice emphasizes who is doing something: “My supervisor clearly explained all the issues and fully answered my questions.” The actor (my supervisor) comes first in the sentence. The subject of the sentence does the action. The passive voice emphasizes who or what is being acted upon: “All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly by my supervisor.” Or, the doer may not be mentioned in the passive sentence: “All issues and questions were discussed and explained very clearly.” To communicate effectively, write most of your sentences in the active voice. To change passive sentences to active, follow these four steps:   1. Find or supply the actors. “An excellent job was done by Stacy.” Stacy is the actor. 2. Put the actor at the beginning of the sentence. “Stacy . . .” 3. Replace the passive verb with an active verb. “Stacy did . . .” 4. Make the subject of the passive sentence the direct object. “Stacy did an excellent job.” Of course, sometimes the passive voice is a better choice, such as when you need to point out an error or shortcoming in a diplomatic way. “A mistake was made in the last set of calculations” is more tactful than “You made a mistake in the last set of calculations.” Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language by Judith Gillespie Myers, PhD., a book in series The Government Manager’s Essential Library.   © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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Assess Before You Diagnose

Posted by on Apr 22, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

I opened my copy of Performance Improvement recently and was excited to read “An Ounce of Good Assessment is Worth A Pound of Analysis and A Ton of Cure” by Roger Kaufman. It is only natural for managers and executives to diagnose their organizations. They want quick answers. The sooner they can figure out what is causing a problem, the sooner they can focus on getting “real work” done. When I go to the doctor, I am the same way. I’ve already Googled my symptoms and think I know what’s wrong. I don’t want to spend time talking about the different possibilities. I want to focus on how I can cure my ailment. What I really want is a shot or pill that can fix me quickly! It’s frustrating when I leave the doctor’s office with nothing more than an order for a diagnostic test. But, I know that it’s the right approach to gather additional information to make a correct diagnosis. Organizations work the same way. Stepping back to gather information takes time. It takes resources. It requires clear thought. An assessment is simply a tool that helps you collect the information so that you can accurately diagnose what’s going on and then find the right solution. Does this mean that assessment has to be a costly, time-consuming endeavor? Of course not. Many ways exist to gather information—interviews, focus groups, online assessments, surveys, observations, and existing metrics. You might conduct a few interviews with key stakeholders.  You could invite five or six people to a focus group or spend a day observing employees on the job. You also might use an online assessment or survey, which are great ways to get information from many people in a relatively short amount of time. I learned from Dr. Kaufman’s article that investing the time to accurately diagnose the problem is not a new concept. In 1975, another leading scholar in the field of instructional design and performance improvement, Joe Harless, wrote a book called An Ounce of Analysis is Worth a Pound of Cure.  Today, people still want to rush to find a quick solution without spending time to analyze the problem. The next time you think you might be self-diagnosing a problem in your organization, stop to ask yourself a few questions: What are other possible explanations for what I am seeing? What evidence do I have that my explanation is the correct one? Am I relying on anecdotal evidence, such as a handful of personal observations or what others have told me? How can I collect information that will help me reach the right conclusion? If you think an assessment will help you better understand an organizational problem, seek assistance from an expert. Find someone who can advise you on how to collect the information you need for an accurate diagnosis. Performance improvement specialists—sometimes called human performance technologists, assessment specialists, instructional systems technologists, or industrial/organizational psychologists—will know the latest and most efficient way to proceed, often drawing on their experience and lessons learned while helping with other...

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FAS Chief Aims to Chart the Future of Government Buying

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in Acquisition | 0 comments

GSA wants to be the buying agency for the federal government—both now and in the future. To further consolidate what, in recent blog post, Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) chief Thomas Sharpe referred to as a “fragmented acquisition landscape” GSA is working on a new approach and establishing a new platform for government procurement; one he hopes will ensure that the government will “act as one” when buying. Specifically, Sharpe is pushing the idea of category management, which—once implemented—would “guide federal agencies to the right solutions by easily and centrally locating acquisition vehicles, suppliers, past transactions and prices-paid data[.]” So FAS is busy identifying core categories of business, such as complex IT and professional services, and developing its expertise. He reassured potential customers that by the time category management is unveiled, individual GSA managers of each category will be able to provide expert guidance and market intelligence to customer agencies. All of this will be rolled out on the Common Acquisition Platform (CAP), billed as the next-generation technology platform and strategy for federal acquisition. The platform is intended to pull purchasing and pricing data from across the government and leverage it against GSA’s own expertise in buying behaviors in order to “guide buyers to the best solution.” This concept is being referred to as the “category hallway” where a buyer chooses a category and proceeds down a hallway that contains information and expertise for a particular purchase. Over time, these hallways will be built out with more sophisticated capabilities such as an e-commerce solution and a contracting library of best practices. Implementation of this initiative will take time, and GSA plans to release more details on its efforts in coming weeks. But ahead of a clearer picture of how category hallways will actually work, some questions seem in order. Sharpe noted that category management is meant to drive government purchasing into “controlled categories.” Is category management a further attempt to commoditize professional services, similar to early OASIS efforts? Prices for professional services, particularly high end services, depend on what services were provided, and those are rarely the same.  Further, labor categories, rates, and hours are essential ingredients to understanding price—those elements are not readily available in any database. The success of category management largely relies on the sharing of data from systems across the government; systems that numerous studies have shown to be significantly flawed. Does GSA run the risk that category managers will be “guiding buyers” based on questionable information? And how can GSA ensure data and system integrity? Especially when posting competitor prices within categories? While GSA’s work in this area is commendable, these questions and challenges will have to be addressed and overcome as it aims to streamline the government purchasing...

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Senate Approves DATA Act, Final Passage Expected Soon

Posted by on Apr 14, 2014 in Acquisition, Grants & Assistance | 0 comments

On Thursday, April 10, the Senate approved the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) by unanimous consent.  The Senate action follows weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations between House and Senate supporters, and the approved bill represents a compromise between the two chambers. The House, which previously approved another version of the DATA Act by a 388-1 vote in November, is expected to give final approval to the bill in the next few weeks. The DATA Act is designed to increase transparency and accountability of federal grants, contracts, and government spending. The bill would require that all government spending be published and publicly available on USASpending.gov. To achieve this objective, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be required to develop standardized government-wide data elements to ensure uniformity of reporting requirements. The administrative burden of complying with the DATA Act requirements will fall primarily on federal agencies. Provisions in the legislation requires federal agencies to submit grant financial information to USASpending.gov, therefore, grant recipients and pass-through entities should not see an increase in reporting requirements. Grant recipients may, however, see an increase in financial monitoring as federal awarding agencies will be required to track every federal dollar. This requirement may require grant recipients to improve accounting procedures and internal controls. The White House has not announced President Obama’s position on the legislation. In January, a memo from OMB to agency leaders regarding the DATA Act was leaked to the media. In the memo, OMB proposed significant changes to the legislation, which bill supporters claimed were attempts to severely weaken the bill. The final version of the bill does not contain the proposed changes that OMB supported. With such overwhelming and bipartisan support from Congress, it is almost certain the bill will become law. Washington Post reporter Andrea Peterson wrote a fantastic article summarizing the practical implications of the DATA Act. Her article, “The DATA Act Just Passed the Senate. Here’s Why that Matters.” can be read...

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Is ILT Dying?

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Yes, ILT (instructor-led training) is dying, but we need not mourn its loss. Instead, we should realize we are standing on the brink of something exhilarating: the reincarnation of instructor-led training as virtual instructor-led training (VILT). The traditional brick-and-mortar ILT classroom has been smoldering for a while now. As federal travel budgets shrink and training dollars dry up (although the future of training is looking up), organizations are seeking alternatives to fill their training needs. Organizations are continually looking for a way their employees can be out of the office for less time. In response, virtual instructor-led classes, which are typically delivered by an instructor in a virtual environment, are swooping in to meet this need. Organizations that have previously only offered traditional ILT classroom experiences acknowledge the customer expectation that these same courses be available virtually. ILT Reborn VILT marks the rebirth of ILT. In this format, employees can take required training courses without leaving their worksite. Some parts of the training may be available asynchronously, meaning students can learn at their own pace, and when their schedule allows. The classic VILT experience is guided by a facilitator, who in many cases will be delivering instruction real-time, so students can ask questions and participate in peer discussions. Given that there has been an overall increase in the use of VILT, and it is likely not going away anytime soon, it is important to address some of the common questions that come up around this training modality. How can you possibly replicate the ILT experience virtually? The answer is you cannot — and should not — simply carry over the ILT experience into virtual training. Instead, you design VILT courses so that the material can come to life in a virtual space. VILT courses are not mindless page-turners; rather, they have the potential to be highly interactive, relevant training experiences with frequent instructor and peer interaction built into the course. Where does the instructor fit in this new format? In the VILT class, the instructor still stands at the helm of the learning experience, coaching students, telling stories, answering questions, and delivering lectures (recorded or live). In fact, the instructor may be even more tapped into how individual students are doing than if the class were offered only in a traditional face-to-face classroom. VILT has the potential to provide more engagement through discussion forums, chats, polls, and other “pulse checks” that help the instructor gauge each learner’s mastery of the content. How do you reach those students who prefer to learn in an ILT setting? The point of VILT classes is not to set students adrift, floating alone in the virtual sea. Instead, they are part of a community of learners who happen to interact in a virtual classroom. Students often have the opportunity to explore course content at their own pace, so they can take the time they need with the material. In addition, the virtual environment encourages support, as peers respond to questions and share knowledge with each other. In the VILT classroom, there may also be some hesitation on the part of non-digital natives. Those who have built their careers sitting in the physical classroom with an instructor leading from the podium may find it difficult to envision a productive virtual training experience. Given that the...

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Tips for Government Managers to Overcome Writer’s Block

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Whether writing a business plan, memo, or report, one of the hardest tasks government managers face in writing is getting started. In my recent book, The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language, I offer some  tips to help you break through the writer’s block we all experience—and also to help you make an initial assessment of what you have written before passing it along for editing and review.   TIPS FOR WRITING DRAFTS To make the draft stage easier and more productive, consider the following steps: • Once you have a complete outline in hand, write your first draft quickly. • Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time for drafting. • Begin with the easiest section. • After you complete the first draft, walk away from it. • After you get some distance, take a few minutes to review your draft with fresh eyes. • Assess the following before going into the editing stage: – Did I explain my purpose clearly? – Did I consider the role, knowledge level, attitude, and other characteristics of the reader? – Does the overall organization of the draft make sense? – Did I provide closure? (For example, did you tell readers exactly what you want them to do?) After taking a cursory look at your first draft, you’re ready to go on to the editing stage. Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Plain Language by Judith Gillespie Myers, PhD, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library.  © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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What is the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring?

Posted by on Mar 28, 2014 in Acquisition, Coaching & Mentoring, Leadership | 0 comments

One of the most frequent sources of confusion about coaching is what it is in relation to mentoring. There are some distinct differences, and then some practices that can overlap. The distinction is important, as most groups in leadership development activities typically reverse the true definitions. The key difference is that a mentor usually has some superior knowledge, wisdom or experience, and is able to give helpful, specific information to a mentee. A mentor might understand the politics of the organization, know who’s who or how to get results in the specific, unique terrain of the organization. Coaches more often help clients come to insight about their own needs, actions and situations. This is usually done through open-ended questions, but also with feedback, assessments and other tools. A key difference is that for a mentor, there is usually a right answer or solution “out there.” This means there is some objective element, such as the best way to get things done in the culture, or a great person to talk to in order to get information. With a coach, the process is more about what’s “in here.” This means the values, beliefs, experiences and ultimately choices the client makes. The coach much less often dispenses specific information, but rather helps clients internally clarify and choose. (And part of the clarity may involve finding a mentor who can help the client distinguish fact from opinion.) Where it can become confusing is that some mentors actually use coaching practices. They may stop giving information and start asking questions to help the mentee think things through. And, it is not unknown for coaches to share experiences as a potentially useful way of looking at an issue. However, in almost all cases, the coach will share the experience or knowledge as just one way to look at the issue, not the “solution.” The coach remembers that the client’s context may be different, and such information is usually offered as just one possibility, always with the client choosing what he or she thinks will work best for him or her. This keeps ownership with the...

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Contract Negotiation: The Ambiguous Authority Tactic

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management, Uncategorized | 0 comments

In The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, author LeGette McIntyre offers federal negotiators a host of tactics they can use to get a solid, fair deal for their agency. One of these tactics is the “ambiguous authority” tactic—which we’ve all been subjected to when we’ve bought a car! How do you employ the tactic to get the best deal for the government? Share some experiences with your colleagues and we’ll all be better prepared for the next negotiation!   THE AMBIGUOUS AUTHORITY TACTIC You can use the ambiguous authority tactic when you are the chief negotiator but you don’t have ultimate authority to finalize the deal. You may have to go through an approval process before finalizing the negotiated agreement. You may have instructions to consult with a higher-up before you finalize the deal. These people or committees will be the ambiguous authorities you will defer to if you elect to use this tactic. The most common use of this tactic is in buying a car. You’ve slogged it out with the salesperson all day and finally think you have a deal. But then the salesperson wrinkles her brow, frowns, shakes his or her head slowly, and says those magic words, “I’ll have to talk to my sales manager.” Usually, there is no sales manager. The salesperson simply leaves you in the room to stew and sweat a little bit. You start second-guessing your last offer—and negotiating against yourself.   It’s good practice never to go into a negotiation with unlimited authority to close the deal, even if everyone has given you preapproval to do so. Always have someone you must go back to for approval. If you do have ultimate authority, never let negotiators for the other side know it. Once they find out you are the sole decision-maker, they know you are the only obstacle in the way of the terms and conditions they want. There is just one person to convince. The ambiguous authority tactic is usually employed just before the close of a negotiation. The other side thinks it has a deal, and all of a sudden there is someone else, or even a whole new cast of characters, to deal with. The last thing the other side wants is for this mysterious other person to blow a deal that is so close to being consummated. Negotiators may start to second-guess themselves and be tempted to soften their positions a bit to help you “sell” the deal to the other authority. They actually might start making additional concessions without demanding something in return. In effect, they start bidding against themselves. Always try to keep your ambiguous authority as vague as possible. This prevents the other side from immediately countering your tactic. If you hold out your boss as your ambiguous authority, the other side may simply ask you to bring that person into the negotiation. It’s harder for them to put a face on something vague like “the review committee,” “my finance folks,” or “my customers.” The best way to counter the ambiguous authority tactic is to head it off at the pass. Simply refuse to negotiate with anyone who doesn’t have ultimate authority to bind the company. Remember, you control the process—including setting and running the agenda. When you send the other side...

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Healthcare.gov and the Impact on P/PM in 2014

Posted by on Jan 2, 2014 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

I know I’ve mentioned this throughout this blog, but we all know that Healthcare.gov has been the hot Federal IT topic in 2013.  This legendary flawed rollout will have ramifications on federal acquisition reform for 2014 and years to come. Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of public sector at the Information Technology Industry Council said yesterday: “HealthCare.gov is critical because it has ignited a discussion on IT acquisition in Washington not seen since the 1980s. There is an alignment of political will on the issue and a healthy understanding of the larger systematic failure in acquisition.” Not only did President Obama himself call for IT procurement reform, but FCW also reported this week that though the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) didn’t quite make it to completion, Chairman Issa (R-Calif.) is likely to reintroduce in 2014. Finally, just before the holidays, my blog announced The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) release of updated guidance (new since 2007) on the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) requirements. The times they are a-changin.  With extremely interested focus on the IT acquisition process as we move into 2014, both Feds and contractors alike will need to be updated on procedures – and aware that the country is watching. How will this impact how you do business?  Do you think we are able to learn from Healthcare.gov, and move on to more successful project implementations in the future?  Or destined for more hiccups in large-scale IT...

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Play Dumb to Get What You Want: The Question Tactic in Negotiation

Posted by on Dec 27, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance, Human Resources, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

Negotiation skills aren’t just for entrepreneurs on Shark Tank. Federal managers can also benefit from mastering these valuable skills. In The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, LeGette McIntyre offers some very specific tactics that could help any fed facing a tough negotiation. Here’s a great example from the book that McIntyre calls “The Question Tactic.” Try this in your next meeting and let us know your results. THE QUESTION TACTIC In any negotiation, knowledge is power. You increase your power relative to the other side as you increase your knowledge about it. Use questions to probe for answers that will increase your information about the other side. Dig for more information about its position, interests, needs, hidden agendas, and so forth. In a negotiation, acting dumb is smart! When you ask questions, you tap into the tendency for people to want to help out folks they regard as less informed or less intelligent than they are. It makes them feel important. So ask questions that make the other side feel superior, such as, “I’m not sure I fully grasp all the intricacies in your proposal. Would you mind explaining them to me again?” Or, “I know the dollars you are proposing are backed up with sound facts, but for some reason I’m just not getting it. Can you explain to me how you came up with these figures?” Notice that you are asking for help in both these examples. Get in the habit of asking that all-important question, “Can you help me…?” That’s almost guaranteed to trigger the human need for the other side to feel smart and superior, and the negotiators will give you information they otherwise wouldn’t have. You also should use questions to test the credibility of the “facts” the other side is asserting. Get good at asking open-ended questions that start with “how,” what,” “what else,” “which,” and “why.” Some examples: “How did you come up with those figures?” They now have to defend their position with additional facts, and remember, any additional information shifts power. “What would you do if you were in my shoes and someone gave you that choice?” This has the added benefit of bringing them around to your side, even if it’s just a little bit. “What is really important to you?” Always follow up with “what else is important?” If they see you as caring for their position, they are likely to be more open sharing information with you. Then, ask them “which of these things is more important to you?” This gives you insight into their “must” and “give” positions. Test their credibility by asking “why do you think that position is fair?” That puts them on the defensive to justify their position. Notice that all these questions are open-ended and can’t be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” or with some finite fact. They require elaboration, which will give you more information. Closed-ended questions run the risk of eliciting a simple answer and nothing more. For example, if you ask, “Don’t you think your price is a little too high?” they may answer with a simple “no.” That doesn’t give you much information. If you ask “when will you be able to deliver?” they can answer with one date. Again, you aren’t gaining useful information....

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Don’t Forget Your Kids…or Necessary Training! OFPP Updates FAC-P/PM

Posted by on Dec 19, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

You know what else will help avoid Healthcare.gov repeats in the future?  Better equipped Federal project and program managers. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) has just released updated guidance (new since 2007) on the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM) requirements. As Jason Miller, at FederalNewsRadio.com reported, “Under new requirements from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, agency Chief Acquisition Officers (CAOs) no longer have the option to waive all or part of the program and project certification prerequisites.” OFPP Administrator Joe Jordan, who delivered the memo, noted: “While program and project managers are important for all Federal programs, OMB’s Office of E-government and Information Technology has highlighted, through its policies, the importance of strong program and project managers in managing IT programs. The FAC-P/PM builds upon this good work and adds core-plus specialized certifications, the first one being in the area of IT.” Further, Jordan included commentary pushing the importance of leadership skills in our project and program managers: “The FAC-P/PM is only one component of strengthening the program and project managers function. Equally important is selecting the right individuals with appropriate experience and leadership skills who will effectively collaborate and communicate with other members of the acquisition team and other stakeholders within the organization.” Adding fuel to the fire, FCW reported yesterday on a new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, detailing recommendations for the Defense Department to improve the way it buys goods and services. 2014 will be all about changing the way in which government sources, buys, and implements large projects.  Stronger leadership and FAC-P/PM skills will be vital – start looking now for necessary certification updates, refreshers, and required training. Management Concepts has a full curriculum on FAC-P/PM, as well full course offerings in Federal acquisition management. OFPP noted these new FAC-P/PM requirements become effective March...

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Federal Contract Source Selection…Let’s Work Together

Posted by on Dec 11, 2013 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

When involved in Federal acquisition source selection, Charles Solloway, Jr., author of The Government Manager’s Guide to Source Selection, highlights the need for stakeholder consensus as imperative to contractual success. Solloway believes the need for stakeholders to collaborate is not just a business cliché, but rather a vital step in the procurement process.  Any stakeholder can be a showstopper in the effort to reach a timely consensus on how to proceed with an acquisition. Reaching a consensus is no easy matter. Here are his methods behind the madness: Method One: “Throwing Papers Over the Wall” The first method – and unfortunately still used in an acquisition strategy enlists the Project Management Officer to independently develop a strategy and pass those strategy papers back and forth for agreement or comments from a variety of other stakeholders. This can be a time-consuming and confusing process, where revised papers repeatedly are thrown back and forth over various functional area walls until the concerns of the various stakeholders are satisfied—or until stakeholders either compromise or ultimately, surrender their positions. Our Consensus? No go – way too much time and effort on the Project Management Officer; and you’ll be in for the long haul!  Method Two: Collaborative Strategy Meetings A better strategy? Hold several acquisition strategy meetings where all stakeholders are present. Many agencies require such meetings, especially for major procurements. The Project Management Officer, together with the contracting officer, proposes a strategy and gains input from all stakeholders, who then get to voice their concerns and listen to the concerns of others. These meetings include consideration of any planning input previously provided in planning meetings with interested contractors. Our Consensus? These strategy groups are more often able to reach a mutual decision. Agencies have a concrete mechanism for obtaining a final strategy decision from execs within the agency. Choose whichever method works best for your situation and make sure you’re able to keep your acquisition strategy on-course. Which method would you choose?  Which has worked in your agency; and what has not?  Excerpted with permission from of The Government Manager’s Guide to Source Selection by Charles D. Solloway, Jr., CPCM, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library. © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights...

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You’ve Got the “Write” Stuff – Top 10 Pitfalls of Effective Fed-Contractor Communication

Posted by on Dec 9, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

OK, So the New Kids on the Block song may be a bit out of date.  (I wouldn’t necessarily still call them “new”).  But having the right stuff in collaborative work environments is still vitally important – specifically with the Fed-Contractor relationship, as it relates to these large-scale (and high profile) projects and programs. But what do I mean by the “write” stuff?  Well, in an era of practically only written communication, if you think about it, (email, text, etc.) everyone – regardless of career – should be effective written communicators. The Federal government is no exception, particularly given these large-scale projects that encompass hundreds of Federal employees and various contractors, all trying to work together to successfully complete projects on time and on budget – there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. In one of our project management books by Jeff Furman, PMP, he outlines some of the issues in written communications we should be all on the lookout for, including: Make sure your subject line aligns with the email content.  Specifically?  Don’t feel the need to keep replying off an ancient email with new discussions Be concise – emails are not epic novels.  Get to the point early and clearly Replying and replying all are two very different emails  – reply to all on the email chain only when it is needed People can tell if you mass email them (i.e. you get an email with the sender BCC’ed), it is worth your time to make your communication personalized to the person you’re asking something from Clearly in your email, line out the necessary action items and who is to take what.  By taking the time to outline this, you will save time in the long run with unnecessary follow ups you could have avoided Spellcheck has been around for ages – please use it.  Sending a note with spelling or grammatical errors make you look unprofessional If you are attaching or linking to something, take an extra second to ensure they work properly.  Recipients can get frustrated if you send these out and they are not working correctly ALL CAPS EMAILS MAKE YOU SEEM ANGRY EVEN IF YOU DO NOT MEAN IT THAT WAY If you forward an email – do so with more than an “FYI.”  Take time to write to that recipient why you are forwarding, and what you expect of them from this email Finally – written communication isn’t always the best.  Learn what kinds of issues, discussions, and topics may be better (and faster) handled by a quick in-person conversation So does your agency have the “write” stuff?  Or, more importantly, do you?  What’s been your most entertaining work-related email discussion to date? Share your thoughts on the pitfalls above – do you agree?  What’s been your experience?  And – keep an eye out.  My next installment will address face-to-face communication...

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99 Problems But a Communications Plan Ain’t One

Posted by on Dec 5, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

As we near the end of 2013 and (hopefully) the end of “Obamacare-gate,” Feds and contractors alike need to get a jump on improving the management and collaborative work of these large-scale IT projects we’re expecting more of in 2014 and the years to come.  A good place to start? Let’s communicate better. In a previous blog, I noted the New York Times wrote about communication issues between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its prime contractor, which failed at effectively communicating all requirements of the Heathcare.gov project lifecycle.  In the PM Answer Book, we note the importance of a communications management plan, which combats this problem. As the program or project lead, here are just a few key questions to ask yourself when thinking you DON’T need a communications management plan: Did one of your team members send information he or she shouldn’t have to a customer? Have two of your stakeholders ever come to a meeting with different versions of the (extremely important and vital to success) project plan or schedule? Did you ever find out (too late) that a customer felt they were receiving too infrequent project updates (Here’s looking at you, Healthcare.gov)? So, as the Washington Post’s Capital Business recently asked – are leaders born or built?  Writer Clawson argues leaders are teachable – I think so too.  In fact, our Leadership and Communication Skills for Project Managers course equips you with techniques to apply to your upcoming projects, such as: Defining and communicating project vision Holding yourself and others accountable Problem solving Decision making Conflict management and negotiation The use of influence and power Building partnerships The role of creativity and innovation in projects What kinds of communication skills have made you a successful leader?  How has a communications management plan helped you successfully complete your project?  Do you think good leaders are born or...

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Stop, Collaborate, and Listen – Fixing Federal Project Management

Posted by on Dec 2, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 1 comment

We’ve seen a lot in the news about the issues (and failures) of large-scale projects coming to successful completion – and specifically, IT projects are at the forefront of high-profile Federal programs.  Obama’s focus on open government to citizens will only require more major IT initiatives throughout agencies.  So, we need to be looking at how to avoid Healthcare.gov repeats.  Our recommendation?  Invest more in the beginning of the project lifecycle. In the Project Management Answer Book, we include the Top Ten Pitfalls to Avoid When Starting a Project: Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can (Currently) Chew – Ensure you’ve allocated the necessary time and resources to new projects Be Specific! – Don’t jump in without a clear project plan; have a clear and realistic budget and deadline Reinventing the Wheel – PMI is a world leader; use their standards My Way or the Highway – Your agency has templates, procedures, and legal guidelines; don’t go rogue History Repeats Itself – Look through lessons learned from your agency and others for best practices to safeguard success Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want – Discuss and ensure you fully understand your customer’s goals, needs, and specifications How Much? – Get on the same page with your contractors; who’s paying for what when? Did I Pass? – Go through – in detail – the metrics associated with the project with all stakeholders; specifically go over the quality, risk, and customer satisfaction needs That’s Mine! – Clarify the team structure and all roles early in the process; this allows the program manager to foster teamwork and positive morale Plan, Plan, Plan – Never start a project without a well-thought out and descriptive project planning document or workflow In essence, it’s about collaborating as a team first to ensure a successful end.  Use your management and leadership skills to develop a strong plan that your team can successfully complete – on time and on budget.  2014 will be all about IT project management reform; we can’t afford another Healthcare.gov, so all projects will be under even more scrutiny.  Don’t get caught in a (Vanilla) Ice storm – what’s your plan for project success?...

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Speak Up! Better Requirements Management at the Heart of Federal IT Project Success

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In a recent article, Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, highlights the ongoing issue of government clearly defining what it needs in IT projects, and ensuring the contractor understands exactly what is needed.  Otherwise known as?  A better discussion on requirements – to avoid the Healthcare.gov or SBInets of the future. Particularly difficult are coming to agreements on the large-scale IT project requirements.  Due to the government acquisition process, more often than not the technology itself moves faster than government implementation, causing add-ins and adjustments to requirements along the way.  So Feds and industry must work better together to ensure success. But as government cannot completely rely on contractors, Waldron goes on to say:  “Requirements development has been an Achilles’ heel for 20 years now.  The best, most effective way for the government to acquire high-level, best-value contractor performance in support of agency missions is through improved requirements development.” Top Pitfalls in Requirements Detailed in The Project Management Answer Book, government and its contractors should together remain aware of all requirements throughout a project lifecycle – from the first step through testing to eventual completion.  Some of the top pitfalls include: Not putting sufficient effort into securing the proper requirements from the customer – don’t assume you know what the customer wants; ASK Being too much of a yes-man – be realistic to avoid scope creep Failing to implement a strong change management system – all new or updated projects are in fact, a change.  Change management needs to be a focus throughout the project Not scheduling scope verifications with the customer and performing contractor – both in the initial stages, but also throughout the project; you must ensure everyone is on the same page The New York Times recently highlighted that very issue for Healthcare.gov, noting the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and its prime contractor failed at communicating effectively regarding securing all requirements along the project lifecycle.  This ultimately led to a well-publicized failure at launching (on-time) a successful, completed project that included ALL aspects of the initial requirements CMS provided.  Don’t get caught in a misunderstanding of the vital requirements your project needs for successful completion.  Whether you are a Fed running the project, or the contractor supporting, requirements management is a key skill set to enable you to finish on time, on budget, and without compromise.  Leaders in government have only highlighted that Healthcare.gov is merely one example of the need for better overall success in large IT projects as we move to 2014, and mutual misunderstanding of the requirements has been a major pitfall thus far.  It’s bound to get more intense as we continue this open government focus to citizens – don’t let your agency launch another troubled project; focus on requirements management to get the job done....

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An Agile Approach Will Help the Fed Acquisition Workforce Successfully Chart Their Course

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013 in Acquisition, Leadership, Project Management | 0 comments

In a recent news article, both Feds and industry weighed in on the importance of a strong Federal acquisition workforce to better equip for large-scale IT project success – but that their historical hesitancy to avoid change and risk pits them in a waterfall environment, rather than an agile approach, that has better secured project success.  Moving to agile will enable fewer Federal projects that are running aground. Is your agency ready for an agile approach?  Well the government thinks so.  GAO ran a report in July, 2012 recommending that the Federal CIO Council, along with OMB, move Federal IT projects to an agile environment, finding that it helps reduce the risk of overrun, over budget, or failed projects.  But you should first ask yourself the following: Does your organization have the right structure to support agile? Will your agency culture be an obstacle to agile adoption? Do you have commitment from stakeholders to transition to agile? Will you be able to secure – and keep – executive buy-in and support? Does your agency select the right projects to move to agile? To help answer these questions, we’ve built a quick, five minute Online Agile Assessment Tool to determine YOUR readiness to head away from waterfall. And if your agency is ready, we’re at the helm to show you the way.  Our new Agile Acquisition Course has been specifically designed to show you how to successfully implement an agile strategy – from start to...

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Have You Reached a Negotiation Deadlock? Break Through with the Set-Aside Tactic.

Posted by on Jul 30, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Leadership | 1 comment

Have You Reached a Negotiation Deadlock? Break Through with the Set-Aside Tactic.

What if you’re representing your agency in the middle of a negotiation with a contractor and you reach a deadlock? What can you do to keep the negotiation moving forward—and to gain the competitive advantage? In his book, The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation, author LeGette McIntyre offers the “set-aside” tactic as an effective way to keep things moving in your favor. Has this tactic ever worked for you? Is there a chance it could backfire? THE SET-ASIDE TACTIC Deadlocks happen in negotiations, and the set-aside tactic is specifically designed to break deadlocks. Whenever the other side insists on a number or an issue that deadlocks the negotiation, simply acknowledge the contractor’s position and suggest setting it aside for a while and moving on to other issues. Say something like, “I can tell this issue is important to you, and it’s obvious we’re pretty far apart on it. To keep the negotiation moving, let’s set that issue aside for the moment and see if we can’t get some of these other issues out of the way.” If the other side is truly interested in reaching an agreement, it will always agree. Then restart the momentum of the negotiation by getting agreement on many of the smaller (or noncontroversial) issues. This gets both sides into the swing of the give-and-take of the negotiation again. And the more you agree on issues, the more the other side will be under pressure to keep the ball rolling and continue to agree. After you have reconditioned the other side back into the habit of saying “yes,” reintroduce your tabled issue. Chances are, the other side is now more willing to come to some agreement on it—to meet you more than halfway—to continue the momentum of the negotiation. What if the other side uses the set-aside tactic on you? How can you counter the tactic fairly and effectively? First, don’t be too hasty to counter an offer at all. Setting aside the sticky issue may be just as healthy and appropriate for your side as it is for the contractor. You can also reverse the effects of the tactic by simply taking it over. If the other side proposes to set an issue aside, say something like, “Fine. Let’s table this issue until later and see if we can get some agreement on all these other points. Let’s have a caucus and I’ll rearrange our agenda so we can get to these other issues.” Keep in mind the most powerful counter to the set-aside tactic: You are the government, so you control the agenda and the negotiation. Don’t let the other side take away this powerful inherent advantage you enjoy. When a contractor pulls out the set-aside, you get to reset the agenda and now can order the revised agenda to encourage agreement on minor issues to build momentum and create time investment. You can literally hijack the other side’s own tactic! Of course, you can also disagree to set aside the issue and continue the negotiation if you feel it is in your interest to do so. Excerpted with permission from The Government Manager’s Guide to Contract Negotiation by LeGette McIntyre, a book in the new series The Government Manager’s Essential Library. © 2013 by Management Concepts, Inc. All rights reserved....

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Find Out if Your Organization is Prepared for Agile

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013 in Acquisition, Project Management | 0 comments

More and more agencies are transitioning to Agile project management. Management Concepts would like to help you assess whether your organization is ready to adopt an Agile framework. We have a brief assessment that will take no more than 5 minutes to complete. After you complete the assessment we will provide your results, which will tell you how prepared your organization is for Agile. Take the assessment...

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The Sequester is Here

Posted by on Mar 1, 2013 in Acquisition, Financial Management, Grants & Assistance | 0 comments

Barring a last minute compromise, the  sequester will become a reality tonight. In preparation for the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, OMB released a memo yesterday detailing the effect of the sequester on important government functions. Included in the memo is an explanation of how grant funding will be impacted. The excerpt from the memo about financial assistance is provided below. “Given the widespread use of grants, loans, and other Federal financial assistance to non-federal entities (e.g., State, local and tribal, non-profit organizations, and companies), sequestration will impact the funding of these activities. As a general matter, agencies should ensure that any new financial assistance obligations or funding increase under existing agreements are consistent with the need to protect the agency’s mission at the post-sequestration level. In light of sequestration, agencies may also consider delaying awarding of new financial assistance obligations, reducing levels of continued funding, and renegotiation or reducing the current scope of assistance. Agencies may be forced to reduce the level of assistance provided through formula funds or block grants. Should any such steps be necessary, agencies should evaluate the associated costs and benefits of such actions and appropriately engage and inform recipient(s) as early as possible.” A link to the full memo can be found here:...

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