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01 Wednesday, Oct 2014

The most-recent blog posts appear first. For past posts, click on the desired category in the column on the right.

What should be included in unsolicited proposals?

project managementIn olden, golden days if a Federal contractor wanted to get the attention of the acquisition professional they would write an elaborate and unsolicited proposal. Even when accepted there was always a chance that the government may not do anything with the whitepaper but by the FAR Subpart 15.6 definition they must be "innovative and unique". Sometimes these new and innovated ideas found their way into an RFP or if you were really lucky a Sole Source Proof of Concept Contract no matter the cost suggested in the whitepaper.

With Frank Kendall’s Better Buying Power 3.0 announced on 09/19/14 there is shift from "innovative and unique" to a continued emphasis on "cost consciousness" and "understanding and controlling cost as a fundamental definition of success".

The DOD mandate is clear:

  • Achieve affordable programs
  • Incentivize Productivity in Industry and Government
  • Incentivize Innovation in Industry and Government
  • Promote Effective Competition
  • Improve Tradecraft in the Acquisition of Services
  • Eliminate Unproductive processes and Bureaucracy
  • Improve the Professionalism of the Total Acquisition Workforce

For many, this continuation of "do more with less" mentality sounds good on paper, but for anyone in the DC metro area who have owned a home for 15 years or more, the ability to purchase the same level of housing is impossible to achieve even with our Real Estate bubble. Tangible things have a way of costing more in the future than they did the past.

Mr. Kendall’s task is to find a way to "technical excellence" with another round of sequestration looming in 2016.  

Dr. Kendall invites all to join the conversation at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . BBP resource materials can be found at bbp.dau.mil

Good luck with being "innovative and cost conscious" at the same time. My sense is that DoD may need to learn to "do less with less”.


NOAA Pro-Tech Update

ProtechIndustry is still waiting for the long-expected release of the $3 billion Pro-Tech solicitation by NOAA. The September release date on the program web site very likely will be missed. This major vehicle will allow NOAA to strategically source services in the core areas of ocean, satellites, fisheries, meteorological, and enterprise operations. The vast range of potential tasks will require an army of subcontractors. There has been widespread skepticism that NOAA can successfully execute its strategy of procuring all services from small businesses. In areas such as satellites, for example, there are challenges that would normally require a large business solution. NOAA has built a reputation for providing world-class science, and research and public access especially via its weather-related products. Rumor has it that NOAA may be at an impass with main Commerce officials who would like to see a complete small business set aside program rather than a dual track small and large business vehicle.

Update: VA Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology Next Generation (T4NG)

September 24, 2014

Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology Next Generation (T4NG) Procurement Update:  Requirements have been published within the Draft PWS, sources sought, released in late July, and with capability and prior experience statements due on August 28, 2014.  Extensive analysis and market research followed with the VA release of the Virtual Office of Acquisition (AOC) and the Proposal Dashboard, tools for contractor submission. Also, carefully developed analyses of submitted RFIs by the VA, and shared within Advanced Planning Briefing to Industry (APBI) publications, including details on:

  • Product Development – The Big Picture: Dedication, Discipline, Delivery
  • Architecture, Strategy and Design - End-To-End Process Re-Engineering
  • Outpatient Medical Scheduling -  Evolution/Importance of health care
  • Service Delivery & Engineering - System Sustainment, Cost Containment
  • Source Selection - Pre-Award road-map and Evaluation Factors
  • Enhancing Small Business Participation – Meeting VA Goals
  • Budget Execution – Strategic Direction & Top Priorities

Upcoming in October, VA will call for Industry-Day, with anticipated One-on-One collaboration, hosted by VHA and OI&T.  Their goal is the technical demonstration of COTS scheduling application products.  This will be followed by the final solicitation RFP release, Q&A and proposal submission, due likely in November.  Evaluation will be for 12 months, with expected awards in November, 2015.  

What is Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology Next Generation (T4NG) ? 

VA desires solutions in support of information technology (IT), health IT, and telecommunications.  T4NG is the overarching IT Technical services contract and includes incidental hardware and software for customer requirements across the entire spectrum of existing and future technical environments.  This includes program management and strategy planning, systems/software engineering, enterprise network, cyber security, operation and maintenance and IT facility support.  Key IT services listed within the Draft PWS are outlined as follows:

  •   technical support
  •   program management
  •   services management
  •   strategy planning
  •   systems/software engineering
  •   design and development
  •   integration
  •   implementation support
  •   architecture development
  •    studies and analysis
  •   test and evaluation
  •   modelling and simulation
  •   data migration
  •   training
  •   enterprise network engineering
  •   cyber security
  •   operation and maintenance

Healthcare Priority

Even though there are no specific healthcare identified Key IT services, healthcare oriented Matthew Ginty (VA DoD Health Information Sharing Directorate) has been identified as the lead Contract Specialist. This is in light of recent VA publicity concerning deficiencies from the digital waiting list to woefully inadequate claims processing and appointment scheduling, and culminating with the appointment of Secretary Robert McDonald.  We anticipate hot-buttons for this solicitation effort to include strong and capable HealthCare expertise including the replacement of system for private healthcare claims, electronic medical records improvements, electronic notifications, and telemedicine improvements.  Significant and numerous references to Health-IT are listed in the following sections of the Draft PWS:

  •   1.0          Scope
  •   3.5        Place   of Performance
  •   3.6.4     Connectivity
  •   3.8        Enterprise   and IT Framework
  •   4.2.1     Strategy   and Planning
  •   4.2.5     Studies   and Analyses
  •   4.3.1     Design   and Development
  •   4.3.4     Enterprise   Application/Services
  •   4.3.7     Human-Computer   Interaction
  •   4.3.10   Informatics   Services
  •   4.4        Software   Tech Demo/Transition
  •  Voice   Systems
  •   6.3        Facility/Resource   Provisions

Noted are three of the four top priorities, outlined within the Budget Execution EPBI, include eliminating claims backlog, expanding access to benefits and services, and modernizing VA Healthcare including VistA Evolution.  This is in conjunction with the main priority of improving information security.  Also, one of the strategic directions is healthcare oriented, as to enhance VA’s ability to provide the highest quality medical care to Veterans. 

Proposal Status for Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology Next Generation (T4NG)

Interested contractors should have well-developed capture strategy, covering healthcare associated capabilities in conjunction with their IT and telecommunications expertise.  We recommend the development of competent technical solutions for demonstrating COTS appointment scheduling and claims processing application products.  Furthermore, teaming should focus heavily on SDVOSBs and other small business entities.   These should include top-notch veteran-owned firms, based upon both business expertise and past performance, for best position to win a prime contract position. 

VA Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS)

September 24, 2014VA MASS

The Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of Information & Technology (OI&T) Product Development (PD) on behalf of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has a requirement for a Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS). This procurement comes in light of recent scrutiny by the Congressional VA Oversight Committee, the newly appointed Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, and issues exposed at Phoenix and other VA Medical Centers. As VA has spent over $167 million on a failed VA Replacement Scheduling project, this opportunity has high visibility. There will be much talk on this procurement on Capitol Hill, assuring that VA’s path is consistent with congressional direction. Medical Appointmentt Scheduling System (MASS) may be further impacted this year, as legislation recently passed by Congress (signed by the President) calls on a technology task force to review scheduling systems approach and make recommendations.

We are well into the procurement: Industry-Day having been completed in June, and Q&A completed in July. A draft SOW was released on September 17. According to a VA Press, the Solicitation RFP is anticipated to be released on a full and open basis during September 2014 with Proposals anticipated due 30 days following the Solicitation release, and award made prior to the end of CY2014.

Medical Appointment Scheduling Problem

In FY-2010 approximately 8.4 million of the 23.1 million living veterans in the nation were enrolled in the VA health care system. VHA’s 50,000 users schedule over 85 million appointments a year for this Veteran population. Modernization of the system across the enterprise is required in order to meet ambulatory and patient appointment needs of VHA today. In the current state, clinic grids are inflexible, productivity is not measurable, there is no method for scheduling resources (staff, rooms, equipment) and there are no links between scheduled appointments and ancillary appointments, i.e., lab and radiology. These broken links cause unnecessary bookings and rebooking as well as increased travel costs and patient dissatisfaction with VHA scheduling practices.

Resource-Centric Scheduling

Scheduling application “Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA)” lacks resource-centric scheduling, capacity planning and flexibility to schedule for evolving care delivery. Furthermore VA has just recently adopted an agile environment, and VA’s revamp of VistA will be the biggest project yet attempted under its agile development process. As there will be significant oversight and time demands placed on the project by Congress, implementation of a commercially off-the-shelf scheduling product, replacing VistA will be a challenge. To meet these needs and expectations, this enterprise scheduling business solution must provide consistent, seamless, timely and high-quality scheduling interactions for patients, providers and VHA scheduling oversight staff.

Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS) Demonstration Phase

Solicitation intelligence gathered indicates: VA will be requiring a full-blown proof-of-concept demonstration prior to award. This entails a two-phased evaluation period: The first phase will involve a technical evaluation of each proposal; the second phase will require actual demonstration, where the contractor/vendor demonstrates the capabilities of the system so that VA can actually see a working model. We understand that VA plans to conduct technical evaluations and complete demonstrations by mid-December, just weeks prior to awarding the contract. 

Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS) Proposal Status

Contractors who plan to bid VA Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS) should be concluding their Capture phase of intelligence gathering on client and competition. Effective contractors will have already developed their teams, outlined WIN-Strategy and Ghosting themes, have their technical solution and their proof-of-concept process in place, and make preparations for the final push – the proposal phase.

What Will the Volume of RFP Releases Be in the Fall?

RFP ReleasesSeptember 24, 2014

There is a continuing resolution (CR) to carry government spending into the period after September 30th, 2014.   This means the procurement people will be timid about releasing RFPs in the fall.  They already have the “top line” numbers for FY 2015.  These numbers are slightly higher (1-2%) than 2014.  However, the numbers are not appropriated down to the individual groups in the government.  It is likely we won’t see appropriations until after the federal elections in November.  Analysts predict the GOP has a 60% chance of taking control of the Senate.  If the GOP DOES NOT take control of the Senate, then we will have appropriations probably in December.  If the GOP DOES take control of the Senate, then appropriations will likely not come until February.  That is because the new GOP Senators will not take office until January, and it will take a few weeks for them to do the work on the appropriations.  So the net net is, if the Dems hold the Senate we likely have appropriations in December.  If the GOP takes the Senate, we have appropriations in February.  And this causes a slow down over the normal situation in RFP releases until the appropriations are known and the agencies can make their plans.

DISA Global Network Services (GNS): Consolidates Worldwide Communications

DISA GNSSeptember 24, 2014

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is reissuing its main communication network program but this time in a globally combined format as opposed to previous versions where the networks were separate geographically. Regional contracts included the Americas (North and South America); Europe (including Africa); Pacific; and CENT (South West Asia). The new Global Network Services (GNS) solicitation, scheduled for release imminently in November 2014, consolidates a host of communications programs with an IDIQ cap value at $4.3 billion. This program is of interest to Wired Communication Carriers, Wireless Communication Carriers, and Satellite Communication Carriers and teams that combine these types of communication service companies. The program’s term is a 5-year base with five 1-year options.

An RFI conducted in December 2013 asked industry if the combined format would address the requirements of the solicitation and reduce the contracting burden and fulfill the requirements. DISA recently announced the results of the market research, which indicated that the global format is feasible and is adopted in this new replacement contract. Including these geographical contracts into one global contract combines all services into one contract vehicle and these include: voice, data, video, and network management services.

Worldwide Enterprise-Level Infrastructure

Thus, the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) incorporates unified communications into one enterprise network system that employs common standards and operates over installed infrastructure providing direct support to the warfighter, DOD mission locations, and international defense partners. DISN is DOD's worldwide enterprise-level infrastructure providing end-to-end information transfer in support of DOD operations, primarily including long-haul transport and other services that facilitate national security information resource management needs.

Global Network Services (GNS) includes Atlantic and Pacific transoceanic Optical Transmission as well as regional long-haul communication systems, but also supports the warfighter directly with remote communication services. The award date is anticipated for the fall of 2015 with the provisioning of circuits from current contractors to newly awarded contractors to follow. The contracting office is located at Scott AFB, Illinois.

Interested parties must move quickly to establish teams that can provide unified communication services across significant geography areas. The Industry Day was on July 15, 2014 and proposal teams should be forming to address the November release date.

Department of Energy – Energy Saving Performance Contract (ESPC) IDIQ


The Department of Energy (DOE) ESPC IDIQ first arrived on the scene in 2009 in the heart of the recession.  Since its arrival, some 16 contractors have shared in project financing of a little over $2 billion.  This is a very unusual IDIQ in that the projects are “alternatively financed” not using appropriated capital funding by the Congress of the United States.  DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) runs the program, which consists of energy efficiency studies following by commercially financed projects to construct and install the energy saving programs uncovered by the studies.

The entire activity is thus initially funded by private financing, in cooperation with EERE, and projects typically amortize over a 25-year term.  During the amortization term, the Energy Service Company (ESCO), the holder of the IDIQ and the executor of the ESPC, receives the benefit of the energy savings as payback and profit.  Once the term is fulfilled, the agency where the project was executed then benefits from the energy savings into perpetuity.  This program is designed to promote energy conservative in an attractive package where energy capable industrial firms can improve environmental performance using federal realty and utility assets as test beds.

The IDIQ ceiling for the deal is advertised at $20 billion with an individual ceiling per company of $5.5 billion.  Companies must meet strict qualifications to bid on the IDIQ, including a size standard of $14 million in revenues and a portfolio of energy-related projects either federal or commercial.  Typical capabilities of successful companies include industrial grade energy competences, such as boiler plants, building and energy management control systems, lighting, refrigeration, electric generators, utility distribution systems, and energy generation systems.  Two fully described energy savings programs must be identified in the proposal, with supporting evidence of the cost / benefits of the program and its environmental impacts.

This is a ten-year term IDIQ, so for all companies who qualify and want into the program, action in the immediate future is required.  Candidates for bidding include not only the national energy companies with household names, but also large regional energy companies that have significant federal facilities within their service sphere.  Companies that do not have significant engineering study capability should partner with an independent engineering consulting firm, capable of in-depth studies, measurement, and oversight of energy construction and rehabilitation projects.  While the IDIQ may be delayed, our best guess is that the RFP will be out in late 2014, with an award date around May 2015. 

What Did Walt Disney Contribute to the Proposal Process?


Love them or hate them, storyboards serve as an indispensable tool to help organize proposal sections. I was surprised to learn that storyboards originated in the studios of Walt Disney in the early 1930s. At Disney, storyboards allowed the company to get control over the movie making process in a setting where costs are high. The storyboard provided a sketch story line and illustrations of what the scene should look like. This vital tool enabled the director, cameramen, writers, actors, and editors to prepare a scene that told the story in the way envisioned by the producers.

In 1944, Disney first used the storyboard approach to develop a short feature called The Three Little Pigs. In 1939, Gone with the Wind was the first full length film to be shot based on detailed storyboards. Shortly after the success of Gone With the Wind storyboards became a standard for film production in Hollywood.

Proposals are like movies in that the preparation process is complex and expensive, and the quality of the product has large financial repercussions. There is a clear two-sided argument about the effectiveness of storyboards online. While storyboarding can be a tedious process, it can help develop the argument in ways usually not possible without it. Therefore, some professionals would ask, why does anyone still attempt to prepare a proposal without storyboards? In an industry where every ounce of persuasiveness is golden, why aren’t more teams using storyboards to lower risk?

One of our customers had personnel who were afraid of storyboards. Their solution was to give storyboards a different name, so the tool wouldn’t seem so scary to the authors. Thus far no one has discovered a way to ensure that the authors develop each proposal point in a persuasive and conclusive way without storyboards.

A seasoned proposal manager told me once, "Give me three minutes, and I can tell you if a proposal was written with or without storyboards. The government reviewers also know. The ones that didn’t have storyboards are usually not the winners."

Are you for or against storyboards? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!



Counting Error Costs Five Companies Shot at $20B Contract

counting errorPublished August 7, 2014

NASA nixed the proposals of five companies bidding on the $20 billion SEWP V contract because their proposals exceeded the page limit set in the solicitation.

In their protests, the companies argued that NASA shouldn’t have counted certain pages, but the Government Accountability Office agreed with the agency, and now those five companies are left out of the contract as it heads toward awards later this month.

The big lesson, and a painful one for these five, is to pay attention to the solicitations requirements and stick to them.

It might seem like a minor snafu, but it’s a big deal because the request for proposal is explicit about what the agency wants in its proposals. Violate those requirements, and you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in.

The five protesters in question are: IMPRES Technology Solutions, Metis Intellisystems LLC, Futron Inc., Patriot Comm and Ideal Systems Solutions Inc.

NASA’s request for proposals said that volume two of the proposals should not exceed 90 pages, excluding a cover page and indices, deviations and exceptions, and tabs one and three. I’m not sure what is included in tabs one and three.

Any pages that exceed the 90-page limit would not be evaluated. What got these companies in trouble is that in tab six, they included 60 pages of letters of support from their suppliers. Tab six covers commitment to supply chain management and supply diversity.

The contracting officer counted these pages to determine compliance with the 90-page limit. When the CO hit 90 pages, she was only midway through the letters of support, so the CO didn’t consider the rest of tab six as well as tab seven (post award support and service) and tab 8 (management plan.) To make things worse, tab 8 was the most heavily weighted tab in volume two.

With those other sections kicked out, the CO determined that the proposals “contained a material omission,” so the proposals were deemed unacceptable and excluded them from further evaluation.

When the bidders were informed of this, they went to GAO, arguing that the pages with the letters of support were not numbered and should not have been counted toward the 90-page limit. The RFP said that pages needed to be numbered, and since these were not numbered they shouldn’t have been counted.

The letters of support were meant to be extra documents supporting the proposal, the companies argued.

In rejecting that position, GAO cited NASA’s response in the Industry Questions and Answers document it published as it was developing the RFP. (See recent OCI blog posting on tips to handle Q&A at https://www.ociwins.com/Proposal-Writing/3-tips-for-effective-handling-of-questions-and-answers-qas-from-government-handle-with-care.html.)

A question was posed asking if bidders could supply an appendix of referenceable documents that would be outside the page limits.  NASA was clear in its answer: “No, reference documentation is included in the page limitations.”  GAO agreed with NASA’s position that the protesters arguments would render the RFP’s page limitation superfluous.  GAO also said, “An agency is not obligated to sort through an offeror’s proposal to decide which pages should or should not be counted toward that limitation.”

The protesters argued that NASA should have talked to them before rejecting their proposals. But GAO also rejected this argument as well because NASA isn’t required to allow bidders to revise proposals after they are submitted. The RFP made it clear that clarifications are to be limited and only in cases where NASA is planning an award.

GAO also said that the intentions of the bidders were not clear, given the RFP and the proposals themselves.

NASA SEWP is one of the more successful contracts for IT hardware and related services in the market. This is a definite disappointment for these unsuccessful bidders.

But their loss and the GAO decision offer a powerful lesson and reminder to the rest of the market: Pay attention to the RFPs requirements. If they say 90 pages, it’s 90 pages. If they say blue paper, print it on blue paper.

Don’t count on the agency to interpret what you mean or what you intended.

In this case, NASA was evaluating 233 proposals, so compliance is critical. Exceeding the page limit is low hanging fruit for a contracting officer looking for ways to narrow the field.

You have to make every page count, but you also have to count your pages.

SEWP V is still in source selection; awards are expected this month.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Aug 07, 2014 at 9:48 AM

Note:  This story provides a small example of a reason why it is in the interest of companies to use consultants in completing their proposals.  Based on their experience and judgment, they can help guide companies around pitfalls like this.

Avoiding Costly Pitfalls in Federal Contract Bidding

money drain8/28/14

After reading about the recent ouster of several companies on the $20-billion NASA SEWP competition, I was reminded of some experiences I have had in my 30-plus years as a proposal manager.  While the NASA SEWP example is about small businesses overlooking fundamental page count instructions, the mistakes that befall bidders are not limited to small companies.  Large businesses make their share of mistakes that could be avoided mostly by working with a competent consultant.  “The most expensive thing you can do is lose,” I often tell my clients.  A few examples follow.

Compliance and Incumbency Arrogance:  Some years ago, during my first week with a large Beltway contractor, I was asked to attend a “Lessons Learned” meeting after a big loss of one of its primary programs in a re-compete.  After asking questions and listening for a half-hour, it became clear to me that this company had bid the job as they were operating it every day, and not by responding to the requirements as written in the solicitation.  Result:  Low score while other companies who knew less responded to the solicitation, including the winner.  Moral:  Don’t confuse doing the job with winning the job and ensure that you respond to the requirements whatever your program knowledge.

Small Business Graduation:  Probably no other bidder needs assistance more than companies that have just graduated and now need to bid “Full and Open Competition.”  One company I knew took this attitude by saying, “Oh, we are the agency’s darling – and they will hire us.”  Well, as a small business, yes, you may be their darling; but now you are trying to win a major Beltway IDIQ or single-award bid where the competition is intense and the solicitation is under public scrutiny.  Result:  No agency will favor any one bidder, and in many cases company names are redacted until after award.  Moral:  You must compete scrupulously to win Full and Open competitions.

Proposal Process and Production Quality:  I have seen so many failures of these two issues; it is hard to pick one.  A typical manner in which OCI gets hired is after the bidder runs into trouble well into the proposal schedule and then shouts “HELP!”  Process is vital to the delivery of a high quality proposal, and OCI uses a standard process, including the “Color Reviews” that drive compliance, content, and production.  A proposal is a “marketing document” and its production should be treated as a statement of credibility and as an example of the quality of work after award.  Result:  Without process control and production quality, low win probabilities.  Moral:  Hire a competent consultancy to help keep you honest, on schedule, and compliant; maximizing the opportunity for winning.

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