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Recompetes: Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water

“We have great CPARS, the customer loves us and we have been here for 10 years.”  So, why did company x lose their recompete?  Because getting good CPARS just isn’t enough anymore.  Success in the government space revolves around expectations and fulfillment of those expectations, regardless of what the contract says.  Couple this with a dwindling budget, focus on small business and changing requirements and winning that recompete is nowhere as easy as it used to be.


What are typical expectations and how do they change over the course of a contract?  Take Scenario A where the government director has thoughtfully laid out the requirements which are digested through a legal and financial prism and translated via the contracting arm to an exuberant industry base hoping for a win.  Guided by the OSD Better Buying tenets of FFP preference, the industry partner is designing a low risk solution for current requirements.  The win, which is probably a LPTA solution, is awarded and off to work goes the winning team.  Over the course of the predictable 5-year contract, the government director moves on to another job, as does the contracting officer.  New Congressional language and/or a new mission challenge directs a change in requirements but the contracting officer is hesitant to change the contract scope due to the FFP contract structure and efforts at innovative opportunities to support these changes without a fee increase are not easily accomplished.

Meanwhile, the government staff begins to stray to T&M type support requests to the team in the trenches as their need is frequently a here and now mission oriented option and the FFP contract structure becomes a secondary factor to the urgency of the desired work.  The expectation is that the contractor needs to be immediately and consistently supportive, despite unplanned for external influencers (i.e. Congressional or new management policy guidance, mission requirement changes), as well as a mandated less-than-optimum contract structure.  Therein lies the challenge.  What started as an enthusiastic accommodating industry partner is now seen as one lacking innovation, inflexible, expensive and in some cases, less than trustworthy.  Rather than solve this discontent through a collaborative dialogue of options, a restless and disgruntled government customer starts creating a new contract vehicle looking for a better “partner” and waits for the incumbent contract to expire.

So what can be done to meet changing expectations? 

Best practices to retaining meaningful traction for both the incumbent contractor and the government staff includes the following:

#1 Improve executive layered interface and provide meaningful communications

What is executive layered interface?  This is involvement from the top of an organization, or sector in large companies, right down to the technical contact.  For example, this means that the VP does not leave all communications to the PM or Account Director, but instead engages appropriately with their counterpart on the government side, increasing the strategic discussion as the conversations climb the totem pole North.  When Company x learns of a change in strategic requirements as a result of a political policy change, rather than directing the PM to morph an existing product or service into a buzz-word-blanketed concept, there should be a multi-pronged conversation going on;  the industry executives should meet with government executives to understand strategic direction and policy implications, the industry PM should meet with the government PM to understand operational repercussions, the industry technical lead and government technical lead should meet to discuss low cost BPR changes or scaled technology options.  Ideally the executive discussions, coupled with the industry Account Director’s knowledge across a portfolio of existing work will strengthen the individual PM’s opportunity (on both the industry and government side) to hone in on improving existing performance through meaningful change derived from joint industry and government executive layered dialogue.  The expectations will be more fully understood and less biased when digested through a stratified, multi-person interface effort. The Government needs to be more open to these hierarchical discussions.

#2   Create forums for innovative discussion, both for the functional and technical audiences

“They need to show more innovation.”  This is a statement heard across most contracts.  The expectation is that innovation should occur as a by-product of incumbent familiarity with the work environment.  Further, the expectation is that innovation is not necessarily a means of grasping new technological advances for the betterment of an operation, but rather is applied to streamlined processes resulting in less FTE’s and decreased costs. The opportunity for modernization of processes enabled by technological advances is enormous, as is the opportunity to reduce costs in the long run, but the government often does not avail themselves for this dialogue.  For example, when 8B dollars worth of contract engagements were reviewed with the Acquisition Executive at a single Agency, there was surprise that incumbent industry partners – those who understand the environment they are conjoined in with the government – have a hard time getting on the calendar of decision makers in the very organization they are supporting.  How can this be solved?  Government can require innovative forums quarterly as part of their RFPs and industry can provide thought leadership via these forums, pulling in functional as well as technical executive layered counterparts, identified and created via #1 above.

#3  Measure and streamline end to end processes, consider joint governance activities

The government is missing an opportunity to improve the existing work environment by not measuring end to end performance.  Too often, there are RFP mandated metrics measuring the industry partner performance without concern for areas of overlapping responsibility.  Entities that have end to end measurements, documenting true consolidated workforce success, succeed.   By implementing this enterprise view of processes, the government is able to pinpoint areas for improvement as well as identify contractual deficiencies. Further, there should be consideration of a joint industry/government governance structure.  Of course the final governance authority must remain with the government, but isolating decision making in governance forums without industry participation ignores important input from people normally closest to the challenge areas.

Will contract requirements change over time?  Of course.  Is it possible that the industry partner may now have to compete for work that once was theirs?  Yes.  Are recompetes automatically destined for the incumbent?  No, nor should they be. But at least expectations can be better understood and recompete contracts improved when both industry and government embrace the value of executive layered interface, provide opportunities for innovative thought and measure whole team performance.  The key to improved performance, contract retention and eventual financial benefit for all involved in the recompete process requires a collaborative approach from both sides of the equation:  those people doing the work as well as those receiving the work.  Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.