What the continuing resolution still leaves unresolved

Chaos in one chamber of Congress threatens passage of the National Defense Authorization bill and the chances for full year 2024 appropriations later on. There ...

For contracting and procurement, life goes on under the CR, but the signs aren’t good. Chaos in one chamber of Congress threatens passage of the National Defense Authorization bill and the chances for full year 2024 appropriations later on. There are some places contractors can focus on in order to help the government keep its normal operations going on. For the details, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin  Larry, you’re saying that it’s probably a wise strategy to focus on existing contract vehicles because there is a wide range of them there.

Larry Allen That’s right. It’s time to dial down the outside noise as much as you can if you’re a government contractor, because there’s plenty of business at hand right now. Not only is there a business to pursue, but there are some major indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts that are either already in motion or about to be in motion. That’s the GSA Oasis Plus contract where offers are due, I think, at the end of this month. That’s going to be a huge replacement contract on the professional services side. So any professional services company really wants to make sure that they’ve got their offer and they understand what’s going on there. But it’s not just services. There are a number of I.T. contracts out or coming out as well. You know, we really haven’t heard very much lately about GSA Polaris Small business contract, but that’s moving apace as well. GSA has issued a couple of amendments to the standing solicitation in order to accept a new round of offers. So that’s going to be a potential contract as well, and an IT small business contract that could get stood up sometime in the next fiscal year. GSA is planning its much larger Alliant 3 contract for I.T. that will be coming out in 2024 calendar year as well. So those are some significant opportunities. But it’s not just GSA. There’s also the National Institutes of Health. Now, know we’ve been talking a lot about the hurdles and problems they’ve been having with their CIO SP4 contract. This is a contract for I.T. Solutions. So services with product. They’ve dismissed all of the protests, handled them all. They’re getting into the down select process for awards. So we’re nearing the finish line on that. At the same time NIH is starting to gear up for the recovery of its I.T. commodity type contract, mostly for products, which is CIO CS. That contract is due to expire sometime in 2025. So during 2024, we’re going to see a lot of the preliminary work that leads up to an RFP and a new round of competition there. So those are the good news items. There’s plenty of business to pursue. There’s going to be business to pursue through those contract vehicles and elsewhere. But as a contractor, you shouldn’t get too distracted by some of the circuses in town in Washington. But if you’re not in Washington, if you’re in Virginia, Maryland or somewhere else, there’s business to be done.

Tom Temin Well, also, too, isn’t it true that these new generation of IDIQs the ones in existence now that are operating, and the ones that are planned once they get past the protests, they have on ramps periodically such that if you don’t get on the original program, you’ll have a good chance to get on there later on. And that’s a marked difference from years ago. Or if you missed out on a big ID IQ or a big GWAC you were out, period.

Larry Allen That’s really an excellent point, Tom, And I think it’s something that every contractor needs to keep in mind. You know, we’ve seen some of the existing contracts have on ramp, but the future iterations, particularly ones like Oasis Plus, they are planning fairly consistent on ramps so that if you’re not prepared the first time or if you don’t make the cut, you don’t really need to file a protest and be concerned that you’re going to be shut out for the life of the contract, because probably in 12 to 18 months you’re going to have another opportunity to get on maybe when you’re a little bit stronger or had a little bit more project management under your belt or whatever. So GSA and NIH and DOD, all the major agencies that manage these indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts, they’re really pushing towards more opportunities for people through the life of the contract to keep competition high and to introduce new solutions.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. And I wanted to ask you about the Air Force and its proposal for a QuickStart program, which means that even if there’s no appropriation, you can do new things anyway. Sounds like kind of a move that puts your neck a little bit out there.

Larry Allen I mean, you would be putting your neck out there a little bit for the Quickstart program. But this kind of caught my eye. And I think it’s really worth talking about. As you mentioned, this is an Air Force initiative, but I don’t think that it really needs to be limited to the Air Force. Look right now, a best case scenario is that federal agencies have nine months of regular appropriations because we never really get appropriations until sometime in December. And it remains to be seen whether we will get them in December, January or February this year. And that doesn’t really allow for a lot of time for planning or implementation of strategic level solutions. And with the Air Force acquisition, personnel are saying is, look, in order for us to keep our national defense posture high and to develop the types of solutions we’re going to need to combat external threats, we need to have more predictability, more stability in our budgeting and spending process. We need the authority to have QuickStart, which the Air Force envisions, would allow them to essentially reprogram up to $300 million in funds that would allow them to start and maintain key defense programs even without an appropriation having been passed. So say we get down to the end of September and there’s no appropriation surprise. The Air Force would still be able to move forward with its critical infrastructure programs that, you know, we’re going to want to have to keep our defense posture high. Extrapolate that across the entire Pentagon time and you can see where a QuickStart capability could really come in handy. And then it’s not too far to go down and look at DHS and some of the other agencies. There’s cyber security. Their cyber functions are critical for things. Also things like Medicare and permanent Veterans Affairs, where they’re delivering really important services to citizens that need them. I think QuickStart is something that is worth a look.

Tom Temin Of course, then you run the danger of outrunning what Congress thinks you should be doing, and that could come back to bite you later on.

Larry Allen Well that explains one reason why a QuickStart is being met largely with the sound of one hand clapping on Capitol Hill. They don’t want to give up the control. They don’t want to give up the oversight and allow on one hand, that’s understandable. And, you know, you do have to operate within the law. I get that. But really, you wouldn’t really be talking about the need for a QuickStart program at all if Congress would do what it’s supposed to do in a timely manner and pass appropriations bills and the defense bill on time, which they just don’t do. So QuickStart is kind of a reaction to a problem that Congress created and ironically, that Congress is the one Tom that would be the first to hold oversight hearings should the Air Force or any other agency fail to have the technology it needs to meet a threat?

Tom Temin Yeah, the problem with all of these workarounds is if you have ways of operating normally and just it doesn’t matter anymore if Congress doesn’t have appropriations on time, the more you rely on the workarounds and they become the norm and there’s even less incentive for regular order over time.

Larry Allen You’re right. The other part of that is that you have workarounds because the system as we know it isn’t working correctly. And there are, you know, I’m not going to place all the blame Congress’s feet, although a good portion of it belongs there. But you look at the senior people in the executive branch who set the budgeting, who set the top line numbers and priorities, and then you look at how they interact with Congress and when. Credit to the people who are working in the trenches to come up with these innovative workarounds. But of the people who are above them and who, you know, held oversight hearings on what they did or failed to do their jobs in a timely manner, we wouldn’t need these workarounds.

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