WT Business Beat

Incumbents and the risk of the lost recompete

The life of an incumbent has never been tougher, so you can imagine how attentive the audience was for the program portion of a dinner I attended Wednesday night.

The National Area Chapter of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals pulled together a panel that included Kristin Dufrene, vice president of proposal development for Engility Corp., Bob Lohfeld of Lohfeld Consulting and a Washington Technology columnist, and Nigel Thacker, a U.K.-based consultant who specializes in helping companies win recompetes.

The night’s topic: How to win your next recompete. And moderator Mark Amtower (also a Washington Technology columnist) started with the question that probably causes the most consternation for senior management: Why do incumbents lose?

The frank response from Lohfeld and Dufrene was complacency and the perception that recompetes are easy. “They think it’s a layup,” Lohfeld said.

“You know too much,” Dufrene said, “and you don’t think out of the box.”

Thacker agreed and said another way to look at the question is to not only ask why you lost a recompete, but when.

“You lose in three places – submission, preparation or during the contract itself,” he said.

If you aren’t looking forward toward the recompete during the contract, “you’ll find yourself behind the eight-ball,” he said.

Amtower’s second question was probably his most entertaining: What is the stupidest move they’ve seen an incumbent make?

Thacker told the story of reviewing a proposal where the incumbent didn’t mention they were the incumbent until answering question 13 of the solicitation. Question four had asked for them to describe similar work, but they didn’t talk about the current work they were doing for the customer.

“There’s a lot of dumb to go around,” Lohfeld said. Then he told the story of an incumbent on a $2.5 billion contract that several months before the recompete laid off their five most expensive employees on the project in a move to improve margins and look like heroes to shareholders.

That was on a Friday, and by Tuesday, the five former employees were in Lohfeld’s office.

“We took away that $2.5 billion contract,” he said.

In answer to the question about what it takes to win, all three spoke of the importance of shaping the solicitation. Because of the close relationship the incumbent has, they are in the strongest position to influence the customer and advise them on the requirements that go into an RFP.

“Instead of resting on your relationship, you need to leverage it,” Dufrene said.

You have to have good customer relationships and good performance to be in a position to shape the requirements, Thacker said. “If you don’t have that, you won’t win,” he said.

Some other tips for recompetes included conducting gap analysis on what you bid the first time and what you actually delivered.

It is also important to remember that customer needs change, so it is critical to know what needs are changing and how address them during the life of the contract.

Lohfeld cautioned against the common trap of overestimating your performance on a contract. “We sit in a sea of mediocrity,” he said.

Posted on Mar 20, 2014 at 6:54 AM3 comments

Is OMB wrong to set so many performance goals for agencies?

I read with interest Jason Miller’s Federal News Radio story about the performance goals the Office of Management and Budget is setting out for agencies to achieve.

I won’t argue with the intent of the goals. It’s good to have goals, and I agree with the need for agencies to be evaluated on their performance.

But 100 specific performance goals? Fifteen cross-agency priority goals?

Maybe I’m feeling cynical today, but aren’t we overthinking it? Does OMB need to be that prescriptive?

I remember when Vivek Kundra came out with the 25-point plan. I heard comments that there were too many even then. Why not focus on four or five?

To me, 100 performance goals shifts the focus away from what everyone says they want – better outcomes – and puts it on the process. Such a large number just makes everything seem out of reach.

People will lose focus and nothing will be accomplished because it all seems so complicated.

What the government needs is simplification. Only four goals or guiding principles are needed when taking an action or making a decision:

1. Will it lower my costs?

2. Will it improve the delivery on my mission (in measurable terms)?

3. Does it lower costs and improve delivery?

4. Does it improve the security of my operations?

If you can answer yes to any one of those questions, you probably should move forward. If you can answer yes to more than one, then you definitely should move forward.

If you are contemplating an action, and you don’t know the answers to any of those four questions, then you'd better stop.

For contractors, the flip side should hold true: Does your product, service, solutions, etc. deliver lower cost, improve the mission or increase security?

If you can answer those in the affirmative, then you know you are on the right track.

The message needs to be simple and straight forward; otherwise, it is too easy to ignore.

Posted on Mar 19, 2014 at 9:39 AM0 comments

Battle continues for $165M State Department contract

ManTech International and URS Federal didn’t like it the first time the State Department awarded its $165 million Vanguard 2.2.3 contract to DynCorp, and they don’t like it the second time, either.

Both companies have lodged protests with the Government Accountability Office over State again awarding the contract to DynCorp.

The department wants to use the contract to modernize how it buys, receives and integrates IT equipment by installing a new supply chain management solution.

ManTech and URS Federal filed protests after State awarded the contract to DynCorp in July, which led to the department pulling back the award to DynCorp and reopening the bidding.

DynCorp prevailed the second time as well. State announced the award on March 7. On March 14, ManTech and URS Federal filed their protests. A decision is due back from GAO by June 23.

That’s almost a year after the original award and really points to a source of frustration for many over the delays caused by bid protests.

From a time perspective, the best case scenario is that State’s decision is upheld by GAO in June, and it can proceed with the contract. So, that’s roughly a year after the contract was originally awarded.

But if State pulls back the award for another corrective action, or if GAO rules in favor of ManTech and URS Federal, then the start will get pushed back even further.

It seems to me that because DynCorp has won the contract twice, there should be a limit to the protest rights of the losing bidders. The current system seems too wasteful of time and resources.

I guess you can argue that ManTech and URS Federal have not had their day in court, so to speak, because the first protests were dismissed without any ruling on their merits when State took its corrective action.

But their proposals have had two rounds of evaluation at State, so perhaps there is some other course of action other than a full-blown protest.

ManTech and URS Federal are well within their rights to protest, so I'm not criticizing their decisions. This is real money after all. But I think the evidence is mounting that there is a need for real reform of the bid protest process.

Posted on Mar 18, 2014 at 11:23 AM1 comments

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