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09.01.2005 Avoid Random Acts of Bidding on Government Contracts
09.2005
It is said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The lucky contractors who win government contracts are those who are prepared and create opportunities for themselves.

Selling to the government, either to agencies of the federal government or to public bodies of the Commonwealth of Virginia, differs from selling and contracting with commercial customers. Because of its sovereign powers (to levy taxes and take property, for example), the government is a unique customer. By definition, the government is immune from lawsuits for breach of contract.  Both the federal and state legislatures have enacted special laws to assure private contractors that they will be able to enforce their rights under contracts with the government. Also, by law, the government is obligated to contract on a competitive basis utilizing a system that is transparent and fair. Against this backdrop, successful contractors are prepared to make a sale when opportunities arise and endeavor to stimulate opportunities for themselves—within the limits of the law.

Being prepared to win a government contract means having the right team in place to offer the best bid. This team should include employees, consultants, and prospective subcontractors who can assemble a convincing argument that the offeror's technical capability and price present the best value for the government customer.

Creating opportunities for your business requires active participation in the government customer's acquisition planning process. At various steps, the government acquisition process allows, and often invites, contractor participation. All too often, contractors fail to take advantage of these opportunities and simply wait to see the government's solicitation when it is published in final form. Contractors should continually monitor various websites where government contract opportunities are advertised, review agency budget plans that are available to the public, and seek opportunities to interact with government purchasing personnel. A sampling of the depth of information available on the web can be found at:  FedBizOpps (www.eps.gov), Navy Electronic Commerce Online (www.neco.navy.mil), and the United States Air Force Small Business site (www.selltoairforce.org).

Contractors should be especially responsive to agency announcements of presolicitation conferences and release of draft solicitations for public comment. These represent important opportunities for contractors to learn about and influence the agency's acquisition plan. Small businesses can encourage the government to exclude large businesses from the competition, innovative companies can encourage government to open the competition to more than one solution, and competitors seeking to unseat an incumbent can request that the government disclose information about the existing contract to level the playing field.

Although they should endeavor to exploit every opportunity to learn about the agency's plan, prospective offerors also should be cautious not to be overzealous and wander into the realm of activities that are prohibited by law, such as providing gratuities to government employees. The procurement process, when used to its full extent by both government buyers and competing contractors, provides ample means for lawful exchanges of information that make the use of underhanded means to gain a competitive advantage ineffective. In the long run, the contractor who builds the best team and works within the bounds of the law to create opportunities for itself will be the lucky one.

"Avoid Random Acts of Bidding on Government Contracts" as reprinted from the September-October 2005 issue of Oyster Pointer.