Dialog with Industry
Too often we see doors close with the issuance of the RFI or sources sought. This is the optimum time for those discussions with industry to be occuring. Agencies use the "we can't talk with industry" reason to close those doors for a variety of reasons, none of which benefit the government.
i whole-heartedly agree with Ron below, the RFI and speaking with potential vendors is a critical approach especially when the nature of how to meet the requirement is experimental or otherwise not clearly established. this is particularly true of IT-related initiatives looking for approaches to solving business problems where the state-of-the-market of how to approach a solution can change rapidly.
It's simply not a lot of overhead for a procurement team (government staff) to put together a process/program thhat addresses the twin caveats: "Do not give a vendor an unfair competitive advantage". And the mechanics of that program are usually good practices for ensuring the "learnings" from those discussions are taken advatage of by the procurement team.
Ronald W. Backes commented
This remark is ironic and unfortunate - the RFI/Sources Sought should be the opening of serious dialogue about a specific government need. The publication serves to protect those who engage in discussions against the impression of secret dealings by sharing information in a public forum. There is little to fear and much to gain from enhanced dialogue with industry provided the government staff keeps in mind the twin caveats: "Do not give a vendor an unfair competitive advantage" and "Do not cause competitive harm through divulgence of proprietary or sensitive information".
Dennis D. McDonald commented
I think this problem extends beyond the acquisition process. I recently asked a Linkedin connection, a senior Federal agency executive with whom I have corresponded over the past several years, to identify for me the name of the company doing collaboration technology work for his agency, my objective being networking in connection with my consulting.
His response was that he would not be able to do so since passing my name along via Linkedin, or providing me a name via Linkedin, might be construed legally as an "endorsement," which is forbidden by his agency.
Given that systems such as Linkedin are used to build relationships of all types, this interpretation of what does or does not constitute an "endorsement" suggests that the "us vs. them" mentality concerning government/private sector relations may be a lot more broken than I had originally thought.
I agree with the sentiment, but industry has a problem, too. For whatever reason, every government contractor thought they could win DHS Eagle II. Industry Days are getting clogged because every company thinks they have a chance at everything. This is poor BD on our part.
If you are good a what you do and the government has a need for it, they'll talk to you.
Jaime Gracia commented
By shutting down dialogue and closing communications, the opportunities for protests increases. Only through open, transparent dialogue can agencies find better relationships with industry, that lead to improved processes and overall better procurements.
Overall, this is a leadership issue. It needs to be encouraged and authorized from the top, and guidance needs to be given to procurement personnel on the parameters of conducting dialogue. Resource constraints are too easy an excuse, and they simply are not believable.
There is just a calcified fear of being somehow "implicated" of ethical violations or lawsuits, an irrational fear that seems to have paralyzed the acquisition workforce. Leaders needs to step up and encourage discussions, provide support for them, and better yet, make them part of work performance and creating a culture of professional buyers.
Cindy Brockwell commented
Back in the "day" a contractor could meet with the government if the current procurement was not discussed - but so the program manager could determine the actual qualifications of the contractor(s) who took the time to meet with the program office...my favorite Doug Allston truism...."people do business with people they know, like, and trust". Granted, if a company is truly on top of things, they will have already met with the program office prior to RFI, etc. but most companies lack the resources to have feet on the street at every agency, for every requirement. In watching things over the past 3 or so years, it almost seems as if we've taken steps backwards vs forward in government/industry communication. Industry Day and Sources Sought are turning into one way dialogs - without the required interaction to ensure a successful procurement. There was a time in recent past when open door policy was embraced but that didn't seem to last long. What happened?
Noah Nason III commented
In the commercial world the closer you get to award the more you talk. Possible incoming contractors should be given everything that is not proprietary to the incumbent. This should include overall what was paid for current services. The more the Government talks to the contractor to more likely the Government will get services it will be happy with and can afford.
Don Arnold commented
To Elaine's comment - a valid concern of agencies. Protests are not always a positive factor in acquisition, and almost never are from the Agency perspective. How can industry expect government to do things that are contrary to their interests? Can we deal with this by offering all interested parties access to 1on 1 discussion? At what cost?
I don not have an answer...
Ed Rinkavage commented
Wholeheartedly agree. Just count the FBO annoncements that note, "phone calls and e-mails will not be accepted."
Elaine Kapetanakis commented
Recently, I met with the small business liaison of a government agency and was told the agency was limiting discussion with industry in order to curtail the claims that some vendors received more information than others. It is incredibly damaging to everyone when industry continues to be so litigious and government limits discussions. In order to provide the best service possible to the government and therefore to the tax-payer, both industry and government must maintain an open communication model.
I have received the comment from both technical and contracts staff that discussions with vendors are cut off with the issuance of an RFI. The market research period is important so that the government can understand what industry has to offer and industry can better understand the government's need. Discussions lead to better RFPs and better proposals.