Installments: Dealing with our government agencies

HomeColumnsInstallments: Dealing with our government agencies

by Dave Stafford

Sooner or later in your quest for sales, you will have an opportunity to do business with a government agency. It may be on a local level, or with a state or federal government agency. Whatever the case may be, there are several key things to remember when the government is involved.

First, there are reams of rules and regulations that cover almost any topic you would encounter in conducting business. Most local government is required or relies on its state acquisition regulations, plus its own addenda. Some states model its acquisition regulations after the federal government’s Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).

Building a successful business in this arena requires you understand the dilemma of government contracting personnel in complying with regulations and restrictions. Often, an ill-timed or poorly phrased question can result in a stony look and complete silence. You will get no feedback at all and worse, you will not have displayed an understanding of his position. If you persist with awkward questions, you may just be told to, “Put it in writing, and we will respond with 10 to 30 days.”

When trying to get information, it is much better to pose unofficial questions rather than an official, written request. Perhaps you ask, “Jim, it seems I haven’t gotten the award on the last several bids, and I’m looking for suggestions on what I can do to improve my chances. Can you offer some ideas?”

If you and Jim have good rapport, he may say, “Well, your scope of work needs to be a little clearer, and you may want to look at cost structure and performance parameters.” Reading between the lines, Jim is telling you that your price has been too high, you have been lax in stating how soon you could complete the job, and you haven’t clearly justified your pricing in the statement of work to be performed.

Even if you are furious about the loss of an award, always try to find out what has happened with a phone call or personal visit. Most likely you will hear, “Joe, we had seven other bids and another bid was superior in overall value, with a lower net price and better delivery schedule.” He has given you some good information; your price was too high and delivery too slow.

If you are not satisfied with this information, you may ask if specific information on the bid, number of bidders, and final bid award number will be provided upon written request. Sometimes the answer is yes, if you were a bidder. Frequently, the name of the low bidder will be disclosed. Unless it was a public opening, other details may not be forthcoming.

The seven-letter word that all acquisition professionals hate to hear is, “protest.” If you believe there are grounds for a protest, do not ever threaten a protest. First, check the time limit to file a protest, i.e., number of days after notice of intent to award, or notice of award, which is usually 10 days. If you are within the time slot, I’d encourage using an attorney that specializes in this area, and discuss the filing of a protest.

You may find you do not have sufficient grounds, which must be specific to that particular bid. If you do decide to file, I believe the chances of one winning a protest are only about 10%. Take that into consideration before you file.

When in doubt, learn from your misfortune, swallow hard, and control your temper. Don’t burn your bridges. Professionals have a long memory for those who file protests, make their work harder, or make them look bad.

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