Insight by Technomile

A former fed’s perspective on 3 capabilities that help businesses succeed as government contractors

Here’s a little secret that government contracts lawyer Rob Burton shared: “The government, even though it’s big, is smaller than you think. The agencies actually speak to one another.”

And that matters because it impacts a business’s reputation. Yes, there’s the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), but that does little to help agencies identify risks associated with working with a business, he said, because almost every contractor has “satisfactory” performance ratings in CPARS.

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Differences in Federal Contracting versus the Commercial Industry

“I have been surprised in today’s world that some contractors simply don’t have compliance programs. They don’t have automated monitoring systems with respect to what contract clauses are required.”
— Rob Burton, Partner in the Government Contracts Group, Crowell & Moring

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Federal Contract Management Best Practices

“You’re going to have to show that you are at the cutting edge of innovation. It just goes with the turf now.”
— Crowell & Moring Partner Rob Burton

Here’s a little secret that government contracts lawyer Rob Burton shared: “The government, even though it’s big, is smaller than you think. The agencies actually speak to one another.”

And that matters because it impacts a business’s reputation. Yes, there’s the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), but that does little to help agencies identify risks associated with working with a business, he said, because almost every contractor has “satisfactory” performance ratings in CPARS.

Agency officials therefore pick up the phone and talk to one another, Burton said. “If it’s a contractor they are not used to dealing with, or they don’t have a history of dealing with that contractor, they’re going to check out the contractor.”

Burton should know. A partner in the Government Contracts Group at Crowell & Moring, he advises companies that want to break into or expand their business with the federal government. But before moving into private practice, he spent 30 years in government, including his last position as the deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget.

Given Burton’s perspective from both inside and outside the government contracting world, Federal News Network asked him to share insights about what makes businesses successful as government contractors. “I’ve really seen the types of issues and challenges that both large and small companies face when dealing with the federal government,” he said. Here are three difference makers Burton identified.

Difference Maker 1: Data

Having the ability to gather, use and provide data is critical, Burton said. Agencies want to use data to make more informed decisions more quickly. They also need data to ensure vendor compliance. For both those reasons, businesses that work with the government need to be able to both gather and easily share information with the agencies they work with, he said.

“The government lacks data, and they look to contractors to bring them the data,” Burton said, adding that “contractors are under enormous pressure to have data at their fingertips for the government.”

Reporting on compliance is a key element because compliance is more unique in the federal landscape than it is in the commercial world. And compliance equals less risk for an agency, Burton pointed out. He said that he advises the businesses that he works with that the ability to track, manage and report on compliance is essential for success.

“I have been surprised in today’s world that some contractors simply don’t have compliance programs. They don’t have automated monitoring systems with respect to what contract clauses are required and to what extent they are in compliance with those clauses,” Burton said. “All of this is automated for many of the contractors I work with.”

Difference Maker 2: End-to-end automation

Ultimately, tapping into and expediently using data hinges on technology and digitization. “You have to be in the technology game,” Burton said. “It’s not a question or a choice. You eventually have to move into that world, if you really want to continue to grow as a federal contractor.”

Businesses that have automated the contract lifecycle process from beginning to the end — from market research through contract award, audit, and contract closeout — are more efficient, he said. “I’ve been amazed at the savings these companies have realized.  I’ve talked to companies that have saved up to 30% in administrative costs through the automation of the contract lifecycle process.”

Automation helps these businesses perform better and drive additional work, he said. Burton recalled how one contractor helped a single division within an agency automate its acquisition processes, which in turn led to additional work across the agency. “That can probably be quantified in dollars,” he said. “But the bottom line is automation results in more time for the federal acquisition workforce, which is already overworked.”

Difference Maker 3: Innovation

Beyond automating processes, it also pays to invest in innovation, Burton said. For example, once a business has great data practices, it can implement artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.

“You have to distinguish yourself. You’re going to have to show that you are at the cutting edge of innovation. It just goes with the turf now,” Burton said.

While there are pockets of excellence within government, many agencies are looking to industry to help gain efficiencies and help them better use their data by applying machine learning, he said. This is a new area for agency acquisition programs, Burton said.

“The government is looking for contractors that have this ability, especially when the agencies may not,” he said. “They’re relying more on contractors to provide automated technologies and solutions.”

To read more articles in the Leading Voices in Federal Contract Management series, click here.