Lessons Learned From Government Service: A Consultant’s Perspective

Introduction

When government officials complete their service, it is not uncommon to enter the private sector as a consultant. As part of its support to clients who seek work with the federal government, XPRT has engaged former government officials in various capacities: as a Subject Matter Expert (SME), to assist with capture strategy and compliance assessment, and as writers in support of proposals.  The insights gained from government service can be invaluable to clients, giving them the perspective of the very client from whom they are seeking work.

This article provides the lessons learned from one such former government official. The author has over 25 years of direct federal service, including Program Management, QA/QC responsibilities, and serving as a Contracting Officer.

Overview

After working for the federal government in various capacities for more than 25 years, there are some lessons that are not taught but are accumulated through experience only. Pursuing work with the federal government can be a daunting, complex, and at times frustrating process.  It begins with the understanding of the government’s procurement process (outlined in detail in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), as supplemented by various agencies).  The FAR, however, is just the beginning.  Practitioners know that they have to do extensive advance planning, get to know their customer (what we call “customer intimacy”), and engage resources that can successfully navigate through the procurement process.

Until I left government service and began working for a major federal contractor, I didn’t appreciate why private sector companies have difficulties understanding and following the process that government officials, myself included, thought was straightforward. After my federal service, I joined the private sector and worked as a Program Manager on a federal contract.  This combination of experience, seeing both sides of the fence, has taught me lessons about the differing perspectives on each side of the procurement process. These lessons learned might seem to be just plain common sense. But each of us – regardless of whether serving as a federal Contracting Officer, Contracting Officer’s Representative, or a private sector contractor’s Program Manager – must remind ourselves of these lessons and do so on a frequent basis.

Here are some fundamentals on proposing to and then contracting with the federal government.

Proposing to the U.S. Government:

1.      Proposal organization is key. Follow and use the organization pattern from the Request For Information (RFI), Request For Proposal (RFP), or Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). The objective is to make the proposal as simple to review as possible.

2.      Whether you agree with the organization of the RFI, RFP, BAA or not, and whether you think there is a “better way” to present your capabilities, the government had a specific purpose and organization in mind.  Your objective is to “answer the mail” in the way they have requested the information.

3.      When proposing, make it as easy as possible to identify requirements’ compliance. We strongly recommend the creation of a detailed a compliance matrix by someone who understands how this is done.  At a minimum, your proposal must directly refer to a requirement number in the text of the government’s document.

4.      Understand the scoring to be used – if a requirement is 10% of the score, then give it 10% of your written response.

5.      If you recommend that the Contracting Officer (CO) or the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) track specific work or metrics, your proposal must also track the same work or metrics, This will assist and enable you to verify or dispute the CO’s/COR’s metrics when/if there’s an error. Alternatively, if the CO requests this same metric from you, you will be able to respond quickly and without backtracking to get the data.

Contracting with the U.S. Government:

1.      Be prepared to provide a draft Task Order or to offer constructive comments on a proposed Task Order from the CO/COR. Be careful about providing too many specifics or attempting to address unknowns if the Task Order is not clear; ambiguities can be addressed through further discussion with the CO/COR. If these discussions with the CO/COR do not clarify the Task Order, you may want to allow as much up-front ambiguity as possible. This approach will allow for expansion of the work details when the task is better defined without writing a new Task Order, which would then add work for you and the CO.

2.      Know the contractual requirements for the (government) CO/COR reporting on the contract, and be prepared to also provide the report or necessary data to support the reporting requirements. This will assist you and the CO when reporting progress and ensure accurate reports.  It will also demonstrate to the CO/COR that you are a team player and you are willing to go the extra mile to make both the government and your company successful.

3.      Don’t provide more data than necessary or requested. This will only beg more questions from your CO, and you do not want more questions that require collecting and providing more data.

4.      If you need information that may be sensitive, politically or otherwise, as a general rule do not put your request in writing. Ask for it verbally and in person. You will be much more likely to get the information sought if there’s no track record of the request or the response. More importantly, you will build rapport and trust with your COR.

5.      Remember that the COR provides technical or other information to the CO for management of your contract and is, effectively, your advocate within the government. Don’t put the COR in a difficult position, especially in public but also in private.

6.      The more you assist your CO/COR, the more motivated that the CO/COR is to assist you.

Conclusion

The bottom line of these recommendations is using common sense.  The government has a specific mission when it issues the RFI, RFP, or BAA: getting the best possible contractor to achieve the agency’s mission.  The contractor also has a specific mission: to win the opportunity, and then to be successful. This requires a two-way dialogue, where both sides are responding to what the other side wants and needs.

XPRT has the resources, including former government officials to help your company be successful in winning and supporting federal contracts.  For more information contact us at844 332 9778.