How government buys & what industry is doing

Why you should understand the buying process

  • Increase your win rate: Based on our analysis there are an average of 11 bids per award. So, in theory, each company had about a 9% chance of winning. But this isn’t really true:
    • About 3 of those companies each had a 33% of winning
    • The remaining 8 companies didn’t know if, but they had a 0% chance of winning
    • The difference between the 3 and the 8 is their engagement with the government’s buying process
    • So if you want to be one of the 3 that had a real chance of winning you need to know the government’s process and in other classes we focus on what to do during the process
  • If you don’t understand the process customers and partners won’t work with you: If you are a new vendor you need to prove to customers and partners that you know what you are doing and if you don’t understand basic concepts like how the government buys they’re unlikely to work with you
  • Helps you plan & prioritize your work: In our experience new companies don’t starve, they drown. There are so many opportunities to bid on government work that people get overwhelmed, lose focus, and end up drowning in opportunity. Understanding the government’s process helps you:
    • Figure out where a contract is in the process, and by extension whether you can be one of the 3 potential winners
    • Know what you can, can’t, and have to do at each step in the acquisitions process

The acquisitions process phases

  • Planning: During this phase the government is identifying needs, exploring the solution space, and developing a hypothesis for what they want to buy and how they want to buy it
  • Market engagement: During this phase the government is testing their hypothesis by engaging industry and eventually asking for bids that can become contracts.
  • Evaluation: During this phase the government is reviewing proposals and choosing a winner
  • Execution: During this phase industry is performing the work and government is providing oversight

How this process changes

  • At a 30,000 foot level it doesn’t: These basic four phases apply to every government purchase
  • At ground level it can look different: The government can buy through a dozen different acquisitions mechanisms and depending on the mechanism some of these phases are:
    • Abbreviated: Some of the mechanisms simplify acquisitions phases, making them too fast to notice
    • Spaced out: Some mechanisms allow for big breaks in time, for example with framework agreements like IDIQs and GWACs there can be years between Evaluation and Execution
    • Duplication/iteration: Some times the government will go backwards. As we said the planning phase is all about creating a hypothesis for what they want to buy, and if their market engagement makes the government realize that their hypothesis was wrong then they may cancel the acquisition and go back to planning.
  • Differences by agency: Basically every federal agency, sub-agency, and office has to follow this basic acquisitions process. So what we teach you here should be valuable no matter where you sell. But there can be significant differences in how different parts of the government implements this process:
    • Differences by what is being bought: Most civilian agencies have industry counterparts (e.g. the Department of Energy has the energy industry) which allows most civilian agencies to buy commercially available products and services while the DOD doesn’t really have a commercial counterpart which means that they tend to buy custom solutions, which changes the process a bit.
    • Preferred mechanisms: The government has a variety of ways to buy and different agencies prefer different ones
    • Regulations: Depending on what you sell, and where you will be delivering it additional regulations may be triggered (e.g. if you are selling weapons, or if you are providing services overseas) and these regulations may influence the process but they don’t fundamentally change it

What industry can and can’t do

  • Talking to government: There are strict rules related to when the government can and can’t talk to industry, and unfortunately there is a lot of fear and urban legends abound in the acquisitions community about govies losing their jobs over talking to industry. We will address this in more detail in each class but as a rule if the RFP isn’t live then you can talk to government
  • Influence the government: You can make the case to the government that the government should buy a solution that is closer to your solution and make the case that the government should buy through a process that favors you. Hopefully this makes sense intuitively and we have other classes on how to implement this
  • Prepare to compete: As you get more information about what the government is buying and how they will buy it you can start drafting responses and building teams to pursue the work

The FAR and agency supplements

  • The manual: The Federal Acquisitions Regulation (or FAR) is the body of regulations that govern the acquisitions process. These classes are not for govies so we do not spend much time on FAR references but we will include them when it makes sense
  • Agency additions: Most agencies have supplements to the FAR, the most important is the DFAR (the DOD’s supplement).
  • Don’t read the FAR: The FAR was written by lawyers to ensure that other lawyers have jobs, so basically only other lawyers can understand what is going on. When non-lawyers read the FAR they just get confused and angry, so if you have a question go read a class here or google for an answer, you’ll be happier you did