Contractors find some ‘buying forecasts’ better than others

Contractors trying to plan ahead often turn to procurement plans that agencies post on their websites. An annual assessment shows some are actually excellent.

Contractors trying to plan ahead often turn to procurement plans that agencies post on their websites. An annual assessment of the forecasts shows that some are actually excellent, like at Homeland Security. Others are terrible, like the one at the Army. For more on this, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with the President and CEO of the Professional Services Council, David Berteau.

Interview transcript:

David Berteau  This is really a valuable resource, not only for contractors, but of course, it’s vital for the government. Because if the government can do a good job of forecasting, what it thinks its contracts will be, then companies can do a better job of preparing for those opportunities when they come along, and the government will get better, more competitive, more responsive bids than they would otherwise get. So it’s really a benefit to both the government and to industry. PSC has done this now, this is our sixth year and putting out this annual scorecard on business forecasts. And we do this analysis, we really start almost at the end of the cycle, we start for the next year. We do this based on a selection of key attributes. And they’re in our report, and we’ll give you the link to that so you can post it. But let me just highlight a couple of those key attributes. Because this is really why it’s important. Number one is actually to have, and you’d be amazed that not everybody does, a searchable document. A searchable spreadsheet, not something that’s just a PDF that you’d have to print out and go through and circle the items that you’re interested in, etc. So having something that’s searchable is really key. Because if you don’t have something searchable, then it makes it much harder for companies. By the way, this is equally important to both large businesses and smaller businesses, because nobody has an infinite amount of bid money that they can spend, they have to pick and choose what they work on. The second is, we want to know is the data modified? Is it updated? Is it once a year? Is it every six months, some of our top performers update theirs on a monthly basis. And so these are some of the attributes that come into play here.

Tom Temin  And also, it’s worth noting, too, the exhibit 50 threes and some of the other evidence of what they were going to do just don’t exist anymore, correct?

David Berteau  That’s correct. And of course, those were never searchable. Those were just PDF documents, if you were lucky, maybe just only a printed version. I think that’s a good point, the data available actually from the budget side of the house, and from the White House, and OMB and the agencies, as well as from the appropriations committees of what they’re doing. We don’t get nearly as much information, and it’s often way late. When you don’t get your appropriations until March 23, as we did this past year for six of our Cabinet departments. It’s pretty hard to plan what you’re going to be doing when there’s only six months left in the fiscal year to get stuff done.

Tom Temin  All right. And this year, you have given green good ratings to a lot of agencies, starting with the Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, the Navy, not so much the Army. What makes a good site besides searchable? Is it the completeness of the data in detail?

David Berteau  It’s the completeness of the data. It’s things like how much money do you have? What’s the anticipated solicitation release date? What’s the anticipated award date? Is it going to be of set aside? Is this a new start? Or is it a re compete with an incumbent? All of these are factors that enter into whether or not a company might decide, Okay, that looks like something that we know a lot about, we have a good relationship with the customer, we’re gonna get our oar in the water early here. And we need all of this information. You might even need the contract vehicle, for instances. There is going to be a blanket purchasing agreement, a multiple award contract is going to be open source, full and open competition. Those are the kinds of things that come into play here. It also allows companies to perhaps have a discussion with the agency. If you expanded the NAICS codes that you would make available for here, you might get more competition, because as you well know, Tom, you’ve had a number of guests on the show over the months, the federal government’s really interested in bringing in non traditional suppliers, new companies, there’s a concern about a decline in the number of prime contractors across the government. So a good forecast not only helps the companies that are already in play here, it helps other companies say yeah, we might have something to bring into bear there. So we rate these agencies, and I’ll come back to the green in a minute here.

Tom Temin  Okay. And some of them are needs improvement. And it’s pretty consistent that year after year, the same agencies roughly get the same scores. But there’s a few, the Air Force, the Army, well, they’re all DoD agencies that simply don’t have sites.

David Berteau  They don’t have sites or maybe their sites are kind of buried. They’re fine if you know where they are. And you can go to them. And here again, you may have an advantage for incumbents who are already part of the system. Whereas folks who aren’t part of the system might want to have something to offer here and have a harder time getting at it. You do point out, and our scorecard tracks your back I think the graphic goes back to 2020. So you have five years worth of data in there. And we do see that agencies both take our scorecard seriously, and oftentimes will try to improve themselves there and you’ll see in our scorecard a number of agencies have improved dramatically. You mentioned the Navy Marine Corps, for instance, there systems commands there. They were actually not found just a few years ago. If we can’t find them easily. We don’t think companies can find them easily. So that’s part of our criteria.

Tom Temin  We’re speaking with David Berteau, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council. And in looking at these agencies, who is the best source within an agency for this data? Does it generally come from the tech staff, the CIO channel? Or is it some other the financial?

David Berteau  It varies by agency, we interact mostly, in fact, I should step back a minute. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the White House has embraced and supported our scorecard every year. And they actually promote participation in this and encourage agencies to improve their score to expand their adherence to the criteria that we put in there. So it actually has support from within the government. Frequently what we deal with here are the heads of contract within the agencies and the components within those agencies. You point out DHS, for instance. Yeah, as you know, DHS is many different entities united under a common cabinet department there. And so sometimes you have to go to multiple sources, that brings you down and your score, if you’ve got a more integrated package across the board, that brings you up in the score. The federal government’s huge Tom. Millions of contract actions a year. So this is a lot to ask agencies to do. But we’ve seen tremendous improvement in the six years we’ve been doing it, and we’ll continue to push for that improvement. Because we think, again, it benefits both the government and the companies.

Tom Temin  And the Professional Services Council itself had a recent conference. What are members cranky about?

David Berteau  Our conference is our annual federal acquisition conference. And of course, that’s where we rolled out the scorecard. There were some very interesting exchanges, it’s mostly government people on the stage. In fact, I think it was almost all government people, except for the moderators of the panels. We had a keynote from the head of procurement in the Treasury Department. This is all on the record for attribution. And we had a wrap up keynote from the Secretary of the Air Force. A couple of interesting takeaways there is we find that the procurement folks, the acquisition folks in the federal government, really are keenly interested in expanding the communications with industry. But it’s been tough Tom, you look at for example, since COVID, a lot of people aren’t in the office anymore, that you used to be able to go see them. Now you can see them, but you’re only gonna see them in a little square on your computer, not in the office. So what have we done to substitute that face to face communications, which by the way, has limits in terms of scope and capacity. Not everybody can meet everybody all the time. So I think we’re seeing some agencies that are really wrestling hard with what is a, I don’t know if it’s post COVID, because I’m not sure when post is, with respect to COVID. But the current situation, what’s the dynamic by which you can have that kind of exchange between government and industry. How do you maximize that? It really focuses a lot on the question of market research. The way that a lot of agencies approach this, now. You do your market research, then you do your solicitation, your evaluation, your award. So your market research is kind of stale by the time you get to the award. So how do you keep that current going long way without discriminating against some bidders or in favor of other bidders. These are kinds of dialogues that was really useful to have between the government and the folks in the room.

Tom Temin  Yeah. And one way to make sure that that all stays fresh is to have a good, getting back to the procurement forecast websites. That way people know what’s going on in the latest bidders and the newest companies and those innovators can know what’s going on in bid.

David Berteau  Absolutely. We also had a very vibrant discussion about what I would call the additional requirements being levied on contractors. Every administration likes to use the federal procurement process as a catalyst to advance its other initiatives, whether it be diversity or greenhouse gas emissions reporting, or compliance with other regulations and requirements. And these are additional burdens, not only on industry, but also on the contractors. And the contracting process inside the government for the contracting officers. One of those is a push for greater use of small businesses. And one of the very interesting discussions we had was, who decides whether or not, for instance, the Rule of Two? If you’ve got two potentially responsible in qualifying the small businesses, then you make it a set aside. Who’s responsible for determining that capability? Ultimately, the procuring contracting officer has to make the present responsibility determination before awarding the contract. But you don’t want the, at least some of the agencies talking to us there, said they don’t want the contracting officer dictating whether or not it should be a small business set aside. That should be determined by the program office based upon the ability to meet the requirements. This was a really important message to be sent out not only to us, but to the government folks as well.

Tom Temin  All right, so you’re keeping their feet to the fire sounds like.

David Berteau  It’s a partnership. And of course, it’s a partnership that always has a little bit of an arm’s length relationship that has to come into play as well. But the more that we can focus on the Partnership for the common goals and objectives and creating the ability and capacity and the capability to achieve those goals, the better off both industry and the government will be.

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