Federal contractors who don’t get vaccinated can anticipate business complications

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Contractor employees who haven’t done so already need to roll up those sleeves and get a vaccination — that is, if they want to go back on site. That’s fine, but what about those who for one reason or another can’t or won’t get a vaccination? For more on this and other late contractor questions, Federal Drive with Tom Temin turned to federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen.

Interview transcript:

Larry Allen: Tom, the executive order that came out from the White House was pretty specific, in that it absolutely does include contractor personnel that work on site, side by side with federal employees. So if you’re one of those contractors, or if you’re a company that employs one of those contractors, it’s time for you to either get vaccinated or understand what the business ramifications of not being vaccinated include. it poses some interesting questions for employers, Tom, the government, I think, has a little bit of an easier time telling its employees, you work for the government, this is your mission. In order to do your mission, you need to have this vaccination, little bit more difficult for a private sector employer to have that same degree of enforcement, some workers probably already have been vaccinated, particularly in high concentration areas like Washington, D.C., but that may not be the case across the entire country, there are lots of federal installations in states that have low overall vaccination rates. So you know that there probably are a lot of government contractors who are going to have to confront this, how are they going to incentivize and require their people to get this vaccine as a condition of continued employment? And is this something new, that’s added to the performance of a government contract that conceivably caused the contract to be modified? Is there something that an extra cost will be incurred? There are a lot of things that are going to have to be sorted out here from that side, but one of the big ones is the people who work on site, many of them have extraordinary qualifications. Many of them have very specific job skills. What happens if you’ve got a star player two, and suddenly she doesn’t want to get a vaccination, but her work is critical to the agency’s overall mission? Do you make an allowance? What type of situation do you set up? What kind of construct do you develop? Or do you develop on is it either you get vaccinated, or you’re gone? These are the things that are going to keep people in the contractor world busy. Sure, for at least the next six months,

Tom Temin: Then there’s the question of if that person does get the vaccine, and they just feel like they don’t want to be in the building with possible hordes of people that are not vaccinated — masks or otherwise — you’ve got the situation in reverse, but the same effect: I don’t want to be there.

Larry Allen: And that is exactly what you’re going to see, I think, on the other side, too, because the executive order says, look, if you don’t get vaccinated, you have to be tested twice a week. And a lot of people might decide to say,  all right, I’ll be tested twice a week. But others who have been vaccinated — well, wait a minute, do I really want to work in close proximity to a bunch of people who have made this decision not to be vaccinated? Can I go back and work from home where everything was just fine, thank you. These are the types of things generally that you’d expect to see when you have a government workforce that goes back to work after an event like COVID-19. But we’re still during COVID-19. So we don’t really have all of the variables worked out. It’s going to take a little while. If you’re a government contractor, regardless of whether you have an on site employee, this whole process is going to be a distraction for the people that you want to talk to. I would anticipate business discussions going more slowly than they otherwise would because of this.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. And I want to switch gears for a moment. You’re writing this week about GSA schedule and GSA’s continuous efforts over the years — and it’s, I guess, heating up a little bit — to update the schedule process: schedule improvements, getting people onto the schedule getting vendors on. What is the status of that and is that still a priority? Do you think, given everything else in vendor management and category management, that is on GSA’s collective mind?

Larry Allen: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. As you point out, Tom, the leadership at GSA, particularly the new political leadership, they do have their own goals. But one of the goals I’ve been told is that they really want to dramatically streamline the GSA schedule process so that scheduled contracts can be awarded, particularly to small businesses, in a matter of days or weeks, and not multiple months. On the surface that seemed, yeah, hey, that’s a great idea. But then you look at what’s going on now in a lot of parts of the Schedules program. It’s not like schedule rules are high wall all of the time. It sometimes, Tom, lies in how those rules are implemented, or maybe not properly followed inside GSA that creates the significant delays. Also, another factor to consider is whether or not there are enough contracting officers to go to work who have the experience to quickly work on offers. So there are a lot of factors here, but one of the things that I’m writing about is that you can put any policy you want into effect on paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be properly implemented. Right now we see policies in the schedules arena, Tom, that are just not followed. I had a situation recently where contracting specialists wanted to terminate a contract for low sales. And we had to point out to the specialists that there’s a moratorium in place, written by the GSA senior procurement executive, that says thou shalt not cancel contracts for low sales until after September 31. So you know that contract specialist obviously didn’t get the memo. You have other things that are happening, where you have a review board on pricing. And Tom, I’ve been in this business, as you know, for 31 years. I had to go way back to the era where I had hair — at least more than I have now — to remember when review boards were used. And traditionally, they were used for very high dollar volume contracts. And even when they were used, they were used rarely. And for the last 27 years or so, I really haven’t heard them being used at all. Suddenly they’re back in a part of the program. And they’re back in one part as a standard part of the contract award process. That causes delays, it causes confusion. Instead of the contracting officer making the decision, you now have this panel. Does everybody on the panel have a warrant? If not, they have business being on the panel making the evaluation?

Tom Temin: That idea of the review board almost sounds like a Brooks Act era kind of relic coming back to life.

Larry Allen: Well, right. Yeah, that’s a very good point. You know, we’re going to review this. And that takes time to get everybody together, particularly when everybody has leave, and they have other schedules. And the fact is, it’s not necessary. Contracting officers have the warrant. They have the ability to make the best value. the best interest government decisions. That’s what contracting officers do. So the board is largely superfluous, except in very extraordinary cases. My point with all of this is that, before you decide to implement a new process, you need to make sure that the people in your program understand and use the streamline processes that are already at their disposal. If you don’t have buy in from your workforce, this process, the next process, the one after that isn’t going to have much of an impact. You need to make sure that your people know what they’re supposed to be doing, what their flexibilities are right now, and that they make the maximum use of those. That will get you a fast, good scheduled contract award, much more than some new policy that looks good on paper, but has never been tested.

Tom Temin: And just very briefly, what is the status of the consolidation of the schedules into one big one? From your point of view, does it look like they’re done with that or is there still some work to be done?

Larry Allen: Tom, there’s still some work to be done, but it’s in a very specialized area. That area is companies that have three or four or five schedules, they’re all in the process of being consolidated into one master schedule. That work has begun, it’s underway. It’ll probably take another year or two to get it there. But the rest of the schedule is consolidation project is complete. And pretty much everybody I’ve talked to in government and industry thinks it’s a success and gives GSA two thumbs up for that.

Tom Temin: Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners. Thanks so much.

Larry Allen: Tom, thank you and I wish your listeners happy selling.

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