Vendor Communication Plan: Discussion
Date: April 25, 2014
Section 2: Discussion
2.1. Relationship with Industry
HHS is committed to fostering open communication with industry whenever necessary, practicable, and appropriate. To that end, all HHS acquisition personnel are responsible for: (a) reading, understanding, and the implementing Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s memorandum, entitled “Myth-Busting”: Addressing Misconceptions to Improve Communication with Industry during the Acquisition Process, dated February 2, 2011, and (b) taking necessary steps to counteract the following 10 misconceptions about government-industry communications:
- Myth – “We can't meet one-on-one with a potential offeror."
Fact – Government officials can generally meet one-on-one with potential offerors as long as no vendor receives preferential treatment.
- Myth – “Since communication with contractors is like communication with registered lobbyists, and since contact with lobbyist must be disclosed, additional communication with contractors will involve a substantial additional disclosure burden, so we should avoid these meetings."
Fact – Disclosure is required only in certain circumstances, such as for meetings with registered lobbyists. Many contractors do not fall into this category, and even when disclosure is required, it is normally a minimal burden that should not prevent a useful meeting from taking place.
- Myth – “A protest is something to be avoided at all costs - even if it means the government limits conversation with industry."
Fact – Restricting communication won't prevent a protest, and limiting communication might actually increase the chance of a protest – in addition to depriving the government of potentially useful information.
- Myth – “Conducting discussions/negotiations after receipt of proposals will add too much time to the schedule."
Fact – Whether discussions should be conducted is a key decision for contracting officers to make. Avoiding discussions solely because of schedule concerns may be counterproductive, and may cause delays and other problems during performance.
- Myth – "If the government meets with vendors that may cause them to submit an unsolicited proposal and that will delay the procurement process."
Fact – Submission of an unsolicited proposal should not affect the schedule. Generally, the unsolicited proposal process is separate from the process for a known agency requirement that can be acquired using competitive methods.
- Myth – “When government awards a task or delivery order using the Federal Supply Schedules, debriefing the offerors isn't required so it shouldn't be done."
Fact – Providing feedback is important, both for offerors and the government, so agencies should generally provide feedback whenever possible.
- Myth – “Industry days and similar events attended by multiple vendors are of low value to industry and the government because industry won't provide useful information in front of competitors, and the government doesn't release new information."
Fact – Well-organized industry days, as well as pre-solicitation and pre-proposal conferences, are valuable opportunities for the government and for potential vendors – both prime contractors and subcontractors, many of whom are small business.
- Myth – “The program manager already talked to industry to develop the technical requirements, so the contracting officer doesn't need to do anything else before issuing the Request for Proposal (RFP)."
Fact – Technical requirements are only part of the acquisition; getting feedback on terms and conditions, pricing structure, performance metrics, evaluation criteria, and contract administration will improve the award and implementation process.
- Myth – “Giving industry only a few days to respond to an RFP is okay since the government has been talking to industry about the procurement for over a year."
Fact – Providing only short response times may result in the government receiving fewer proposals and the ones received may not be as well-developed, which can lead to a flawed contract. This approach also signals that the government isn't really interested in competition.
- Myth – “Getting broad participation by many different vendors is too difficult; we're better off dealing with established companies we know."
Fact – The government loses when we limit ourselves to the companies we already work with. Instead, we need to look for opportunities to increase competition and ensure that all vendors, including small businesses, get fair consideration.
To strengthen HHS-industry communications, HHS supports the following best practices:
- Communicate early, frequently, and constructively with industry.
- Develop a stronger partnership between the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) and the acquisition community to facilitate effective communications with small businesses and subgroups thereof.
- Expand competition to include vendors that the agency has not worked with in the past.
- Identify which procurements in the agency’s published procurement forecast (e.g., for mission-critical, complex, state-of-the-art requirements) may require enhanced pre-solicitation communication strategies.
- Protect non-public information, which includes vendors’ confidential information and the agency’s source selection information.
The following is a brief description of HHS’ efforts to confront barriers in the future and foster better communications between government-and industry entities:
- Conduct industry days, small business conferences, and outreach sessions (e.g., Veteran Owned, Service Disabled Veteran Owned, Historically Underutilized Business Zone, 8(a) Small Business (VH8 day)), as practicable.
- Conduct pre-solicitation and pre-proposal conferences to promote a common understanding of the procurement requirements, the solicitation terms and conditions, and the evaluation criteria, as appropriate.
- Educate the broader acquisition community (e.g., program management and information technology/security) to openly communicate with industry, especially for large, complex requirements -- seeking Contracting Officer direction, as needed.
- Release draft Request for Proposals (RFPs), including sections L and M, to receive industry input, as appropriate.
- Increase access to industry through collaborative tools, such as use of interactive web-based technology to expand the reach of vendor communications (e.g., live webinar with streaming video to immediately address questions from the vendor community), as available and appropriate.
- Develop dynamic interactive mechanisms for communicating more effectively with vendors about contracting opportunities, if practicable.
- Publicize accurate and timely procurement forecasts to increase small businesses participation.
- Provide industry with incentives to identify opportunities for government cost savings (e.g., prizes/challenges; innovation awards), as appropriate.
- HHS emphasis on the Open Government principles of transparency, collaboration, and participation are embodied in this approach to our work. Crowdsourcing practices coupled with the use of challenges and competitions that award prizes for problem-solving are powerful innovation levers located at http://www.hhs.gov/open/.
- ACT-IAC hosted a conference from February 7-28, 2011 on improving the federal acquisition process. A summary of the dialogue was made publicly available to both industry and the government.
HHS does allow for the limited use of social media and access to social media sites. To regulate the use of social media, HHS issued the Policy for Managing the Use of Third-Party Websites and Applications, dated April 10, 2013.
2.3. Vendor Input on Acquisitions
HHS encourages early exchanges of information about future acquisitions. An early exchange of information among industry, the Program Manager, Contracting Officer, and other participants in the acquisition process can identify and resolve concerns regarding:
- The availability of commercial item solutions.
- Capabilities of small and large business concerns to meet agency requirements.
- Requirements of any laws and regulations unique to the item being acquired.
- The availability of items that contain recovered materials and items that are energy efficient.
- The acquisition strategy -- including proposed contract type, terms and conditions, and acquisition planning schedules.
- The feasibility of the requirement -- including performance requirements, statements of work, and data requirements.
- The suitability of the proposal instructions and evaluation criteria -- including the approach for assessing past performance information.
HHS supports the following techniques to promote early exchanges of information, whenever practicable and appropriate:
- Industry days and small business conferences.
- One-on-one meetings with potential offerors.
- Pre-solicitation notices.
- Draft Requests for Quotes/Proposals.
- Requests for Information.
- Pre-solicitation or pre-proposal conferences, including those facilitated through the use of collaborative technology including webinars and wikis.
- Site visits.
Acquisition plans for high-risk, large-dollar, and complex programs, such as those for major IT systems and for re-competitions that need to attract new entrants to ensure adequate competition, must include a comprehensive vendor engagement strategy that:
- includes at least one industry day or a pre-solicitation or pre-proposal conference; and
- allows for a reasonable amount of one-on-one engagement; and
- allows time for discussions, as needed and in accordance with FAR Part 15, during the proposal evaluation process; or
- requires a written justification to the contract file as to why those steps are unnecessary.
Staff Divisions/Operating Divisions (STAFFDIVs/OPDIVs) are highly encouraged to publish vendor engagement events -- including industry days, small business outreach sessions, pre-solicitation conferences, RFP question and answer sessions, etc. – as far in advance as practicable. These shall be posted and updated regularly using the existing “special notices” function on www.FedBizOpps.gov and other sites identified by individual STAFFDIVs/OPDIVs as being most effective and appropriate.