Strategies for navigating an administration transition

This year’s presidential election offered us more twists and turns than an NBA championship game. But now that the election is over, contractors cannot afford to be spectators during the administration transition. Especially one in which the timing, scope and impact of changing priorities (and some would say the President-elect himself) are unpredictable.

Shifts in budgets, human capital, program priorities and procurement are inevitable during and shortly after a transition. The first six months of a new administration are the most critical. It is during this time that new priorities are revealed to all of the players – new leadership, federal employees and contractors. While many players in the federal contracting community will simply respond to these changes, industry leaders are proactively positioning their firms now to align with new priorities and opportunities.

Navigating a transition successfully requires planning that is both tactical and strategic, near-term and long-term. The transition process will reveal new strategies and fruitful relationships if contractors closely evaluate the health of their programs for potential opportunities and how the incoming leadership may influence procurement decisions for those programs.

Understanding the impact of an administration change can be very much like peeling an onion over several months, though hopefully without the tears.  The impact of a new administration on the contracting community is revealed layer by layer as it establishes new priorities, timelines and plans. While it takes time to gain a full picture of opportunities and risks, there are activities that contractors can be doing now to position themselves for future opportunities.

Help Defend Your Programs

Months before the election, agency leadership began the process of developing briefing books for transition teams and new appointees. The primary goals for program managers and others working on those briefings are to describe and justify essential programs, mitigate weaknesses, performance issues and risk factors, and deemphasize political affiliations. Contractors can assist these efforts by helping program managers validate program information, highlight program achievements, identify alternative approaches and cost saving strategies, and discuss long-term investment implications.

The transition is a balancing act for agency career leaders. They are tasked with trying to standardize processes and procedures, develop measurable benchmarks to address program deficiencies, and perform cost-benefit analyses on controversial programs to guide the “protect or remove” decision, all before the transition. They may be playing catch up on programs impacted by regular continuing resolutions, while working to maintain momentum on current RFPs scheduled for release after the new administration arrives.

Because some of these “program evangelists” – managers who go to bat for programs you support - may not be around after the transition, engagement with other program support staff is critical. It is from that pool that new program champions will emerge. Depending on how the agency handles knowledge transfer, he or she may need contractors’ insight to effectively step into that role.

Reevaluate Corporate Strategies

Administration transitions represent a good inflection point for reevaluating internal strategies and processes. How is your offering portfolio structured? What is your corporate footprint within your customer agencies, and are your sales territory assignments organized in a way that best leverages your best business development talent? How robust are your marketing and teaming strategies? Is your current pipeline healthy enough to sustain momentum until new priorities emerge?

Contractors must be stable enough to deal with potential procurement delays in high profile programs, yet agile enough to respond to new opportunities facilitated by new leadership. Take this time to reevaluate offerings, enhance processes, update intelligence collection methodologies, refresh marketing language, and refine partner criteria. 

Keep an Eye on Leadership

Transitions impact some agencies more than others, depending on the number of political appointees and non-career employees leaving with the Obama administration. As President-elect Trump narrows the field of appointees, a little research on the contenders can help contractors can get a sense of the leadership style, strategic vision and experience levels of incoming agency heads.

Tracking changes within Congressional committees and the dynamics between Congressional leaders and President-elect Trump will also provide indicators about the level of collaboration, and therefore speed, of legislative changes that may impact budgets, new initiatives and acquisition policy.

Focus on Strategic Positioning

Contractors can weather a transition, and even prosper, if relationship-building, intelligence gathering and solid planning are priorities. Building relationships with new agency leaders while communicating with career employees about new or changing focus areas is key. Understanding priority shifts can help contractors focus on opportunities that are either deemed mission-critical and therefore have a lower risk of cancellation or downsizing, or those that are commodity-based but drive measurable efficiency gains and ROI.

Identify KEEPers – Key Experienced Expert Personnel – who are most likely to be invaluable to transition teams and the new administration. These people know where the skeletons are buried and understand the real mechanics of how things work within the organization. KEEPers may be federal employees switching agencies or leaving government altogether, but they may also be contractor staff. These experts could be invaluable to both existing work and proposal wins. If they are yours, keep them. If they are not yours, consider wooing them.

The success of a transition relies on a number of factors outside of contractors’ control, including the level of experience of transition teams and new appointees, the retention of seasoned employees and the impact of leadership voids. The ultimate goal is to demonstrate thought leadership and value that will stand up to criticism, which is something contractors can control.

About the Author

Deniece Peterson, Director, Federal Industry Analysis, is responsible for leading the team that provides Deltek's in-depth member-driven research and analysis of government budgets and spending, market trends, acquisition policy and legislation, and business development best practices.

Prior to her role with Deltek, Peterson was a project manager with a small market research and marketing communications federal contractor, where she was responsible for directing market research and analysis, marketing communications, and training engagements for public and private clients. In this role, she also developed and served as instructor for a government marketing training course.

With more than 15 years of management consulting and research experience, Peterson has extensive experience in developing sales and marketing strategies for IT product and services companies. Her expertise includes performing strategic market research and competitive analysis, and developing strategic plans to assist federal IT vendors in creating an alignment of the best products, markets, customers, messaging, delivery channels and partners.

Her prior experience also includes federal market research, agency profiling, opportunity identification and proposal support as an Independent Consultant.

Peterson holds a BA in economics and an MBA from the University of Denver.

Reader Comments

Wed, Dec 14, 2016 Mel Ostrow

Savvy transition operatives--and Trump has some effective ones regarding DoD acquisition--will also want to know how well the contractors have been doing--cost over-runs, schedule busts, quality problems and failure to meet spec and test and eval standards. The helpful contractor will assist its customer to address these specific items in a compelling way. Transition people are sensitive to cover-ups of poor performance in contracting, from whatever source, so the successful contractors will want to be truthful and above-board.

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