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 meeting with industry and it shouldn’t be revealed to industry partners during the requirements gathering process.
Are these steps for government and industry collaboration only beneficial for creating RFQs for firm fixed price (FFP) procurements? No. While the preference may be to create RFQs for FFP procurements, there is not a one size fits all solution for every acquisition. The benefits of the collaboration process can be utilized in RFPs and best value determinations. With the information attained from the collaborative process, the Contracting Officer (CO) is in a much better position to make this determination.
Aren’t the SOO, the RFI and the RFP the tools for industry collaboration? Yes. These are tools designed for the CO to enlist industry collaboration in requirements gathering. Sometimes these tools are adequate and sometimes they result in a longer, more muddled process. The purpose of the best practices is to provide an alternative when traditional tools aren’t the best tools for accomplishing the goals.