Alan Chvotkin, Executive Vice President and Counsel of the Professional Services Council (PSC) discusses government proposal activity from October 2020 through May 2021.

That well-known government contract analyst Yogi Berra said that “predictions are difficult, particularly when they’re about the future.” It is even more so when trying to assess the federal government’s proposal environment in these uncertain times. In my view, three factors are significant wild cards in assessing the proposal environment from October 2020 through May 2021.

Three Factors Affecting Federal Proposal Activity

The first and most significant is the outcome of the presidential election, although the timing for knowing the winner is relevant. The second is the next phase of appropriations following the December 11, 2020, expiration of the Continuing Resolution (CR). The third is the outcome of control of the Congress – and more specifically whether there will be a change of control of the U.S. Senate.

The Election and Federal Spending

Total Federal spending, including on federal contracts, set record levels in fiscal year 2020, particularly because of the increased federal spending responding to the Coronavirus pandemic. Although proposal activity associated with COVID-19 did not significantly spike, nor did it crowd out other federal spending activity. As such, many companies and proposal support organizations saw strong proposal activity throughout the first eight months of calendar year 2020. I doubt that pace will continue for the rest of this year until the presidential and congressional election outcomes are declared.

If President Trump wins reelection, an extension of the current CR, possibly through the balance of the fiscal year unless there is a change in party control of Congress, would seem likely, and proposal activities to support pre-existing agency contracting plans would continue. However, if the Senate changes control, Democrats likely would only support a CR through late February/early March to ensure their newly granted greater role in future federal spending decisions – and that would chill “normal” agency, and thus company, proposal activity.

A New Administration?

If the President does not win reelection, there is little time or likelihood that the traditional proposal activity lifecycle would run its full course. Rather, I would expect a flood of interim regulations, executive orders, and agency policy changes to embed as much as possible of the Trump policy agenda across federal agencies prior to Inauguration Day. While potentially disruptive, these actions are also subject to being overturned by the incoming administration. Thus, only necessary federal spending should be expected, and few new long-term acquisitions will be started or significantly advanced.

Under a newly elected Biden administration, except for a few high visibility cabinet department secretaries who could be conditionally confirmed by the Senate even before Biden is formally sworn in, it could take weeks or months for presidentially-nominated and Senate-confirmed officials to take office and adjust policy and spending plans. It is unlikely that there would be a jolt in “traditional” federal spending activities in the first few months of the new president’s term. Rather, action would be focused on his new policy initiatives and reversing Trump’s.

How Does COVID-19 Fit in the Picture?

Not on my list for contingencies is the impact of the coronavirus. Despite the tragedy associated with the pandemic, COVID-19 has not significantly adversely affected the normal federal contracting processes, and any further response and recovery plans would not likely alter other spending plans. Large dollar value multiple-award contracts remain on the bid board with evaluations still scheduled and awards posed to be made, although additional delays are possible if and when there is an indication of a presidential change. The elections outcomes may also affect whether and how Congress and the next administration respond to the potential continuation of the pandemic and how the bureaucracy proceeds with a “business as normal” pace of other pending solicitations and contract awards.

What Should a Government Contractor Company do Now?

Push agencies hard to complete the proposal process, do the evaluations and make award decisions on the “pipeline” for key acquisitions. Agencies had a need for the goods and services before the election and that agency need probably remains after the election. In addition, companies should keep their proposal team in a “ready state” to be able to respond to emerging needs as they arise. Finally, use the intervening time to perfect past performance ratings, update capabilities statements, and develop the themes that align with the company’s market and growth targets.

Alan Chvotkin is Executive Vice President and Counsel of the Professional Services Council (PSC).  He is a subject matter expert (SME) on the federal procurement process.