Where are we going with proposals – federal contracting trends

There are definite trends I have been noticing in the direction the government contracting and proposal world has taken as of late. Here are a few recent occurrences I have observed that may be common:

  • One small business contractor had three DOD contracts cancelled, and it is now on life support struggling to survive.
  • A few other contractors spent precious resources on proposals only to have the opportunities cancelled 7-10 days before submission.
  • Others have seen most of the opportunities they were tracking slip to the right.
  • Most who have been busy writing proposals at the end of this fiscal year are working to preserve their existing work.

I have been talking to government employees about it, and here is what they report:

  • Many agencies had to self-cut their budgets.
  • Most everything that is not absolute core mission work has been removed. Existing projects are the ones that are being rebid.
  • Most of these projects are moving to IDIQs or GSA and VA schedules.

In a nutshell, the government is trying to award faster, with fewer headaches because they don’t have much time to dilly-dally with extended procurements and a higher possibility of protest. In response, companies are working diligently to move their existing work to IDIQs where they prime, while their competitors play a tug-of-war looking to move them to other vehicles. Procurements that were once stand-alone are now task orders, with some exceeding $800 million.

Industry-wise, my personal crystal ball is telling me that the most stable areas are going to be security, cyber, and intel, as the world is not getting much safer and some areas (lifecycle logistics, or operations and maintenance) just cannot be eliminated very easily.

While all of this is from personal conversations, here is some data to show that this multiple award trend is real.

As of August, there was roughly a $132 billion ceiling for IDIQ contracts in the soon-to-be-ending 2011 fiscal year (FY) according to a quick ballpark in Centurion Research’s pipeline tool. This represents a 27% increase from FY 2010. It would be interesting to see how many task orders are issued under this ceiling come the end of this fiscal year. USASpending.gov stated over a year ago that more than 50% of government procurement is now moving to multiple award contracts. Once bidders are qualified for the IDIQ vehicle, the award could take just a couple months instead of the normal 6-18 months. It streamlines competition, reduces protests, and provides the government with better buying power and greater efficiencies.

The government itself doesn’t know how many IDIQs it has across all the agencies, but it has been trying to keep the number down. There are rumors on the street that some large ones that people already have bid on might be cancelled, with the work moved to the existing vehicles.

Obviously, all of this has implications for your bid and proposal strategy. Most players in the federal contracting arena see IDIQ contracts as a main strategic element of their revenue growth, even in this shrinking market. Those who are nimble enough to adapt will navigate through this environment successfully. Those who fail to adapt may be beyond life support shortly.

The first reaction may be to bid on more IDIQs. “Collecting” IDIQs is only half the battle, and it won’t help you much, especially if you are not the prime on a vehicle. It certainly adds flexibility and portability for different contracts, but doesn’t guarantee revenues.

The secret is not only to have enough IDIQ and schedule vehicles (or all the right vehicles in your industry), but also to leverage them to the maximum extent possible. Although the ceiling value of each IDIQ often reaches hundreds of millions or a few billion, you need to “crack the code” of each vehicle to make actual money.

Every IDIQ is different. It has its own personality, patterns, and ways of getting ahead. It takes thorough preparation with a passionate and well-calculated approach to each task order. Unfortunately, many companies fail to crack this code.

Here are some of the mistakes many companies make:

  1. Mistake: No task order response manual and processes created prior to, or after award; no single belly button responsible for IDIQ capture management; and no tools to implement anything consistent.
    Result: Lack of organization and leadership after IDIQ award – no one knows how to prepare for the task orders, how to react quickly in order to bid, and how to go about winning, leading to the loss of momentum, skepticism, and lack of support from the team.
  2. Mistake: Responses barely make the deadline because business developers learn about majority of Task Order Requests only when they are released.
    Result: Lack of planning and preparation in submitting a winning proposal by the deadline that leads to throwing a hastily written document “over the wall” and hoping to win on price (and “hope” is not a strategy).
  3. Mistake: Difficulties in getting the team to follow a task order response process – many think task order proposals should be inexpensive and easy because of time and page limitations.
    Result: Lack of discipline or structure to meet the submittal deadline, and as a result, pasting general boilerplate and marketing text that won’t win, instead of presenting a condensed, hard-hitting approach to how the job will be done.

What have you observed as trends? Do you agree with my assessment? Have you experienced any of these pitfalls at your own company?

Speaking of mastering IDIQs and task orders – we have an upcoming class that shows you exactly how to succeed at both – with all the “how-to” details including the latest best practices from the most successful companies, process charts, tools, and the roadmaps to dominating the IDIQs you are on. The Preparing Winning Multiple Award and Task Order Proposals course will take place on September 22-23, 2011 (Bethesda, MD). I will be teaching this course myself. The early bird price is only good for two more days – until August 26, 2011.

Learn more at www.ostglobalsolutions.com/multiple-award-proposals. There is limited seating in this small class where you will get to ask all the questions specific to your situation. We are already one-third full, so don’t put it off.

Best,

Olessia Smotrova-Taylor
President/CEO

OST Global Solutions, Inc.
Your resource for Capture and Proposal Management
…Because there is no second place in proposals!
301.384.3350
www.ostglobalsolutions.com

One thought on “Where are we going with proposals – federal contracting trends

  1. I, too, have noticed more and more firms getting into the Federal market, or at least trying to do so.

    Larger firms are going after smaller and smaller work. Tough to be a large firm with lots of past performance, qualifications and resources. But what I seen is that the larger firms sell the A team in the proposal, but send in the C team to do the work.

    More small firms are trying to break in but their tactics seem to be throwing proposal after proposal over the fence and hoping for a good result. Hope is never a good strategy in this market.

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