Dec 16, 2016

Reproduced with permission from Federal Contracts Report, 105 FCR (Dec. 6, 2016). Copyright 2016 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com

Talk More, Fret Less, Proposed Rule Urges Feds, Contractors

Federal acquisition officials are encouraging increased communication between industry and government, in the hope of ensuring a more efficient process for both parties.

An updated regulation would make it clear that it’s in the government’s best interests to talk to industry during all phases of the purchasing process, according to a proposed Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) rule published Nov. 29 in the Federal Register. It bolsters the notion, detailed in procurement policy memos issued in 2011 and 2012, that acquisition officials need to fret less about possible negative ramifications of talking to industry, and instead open lines of communication.

Some government contracts attorneys say they approve of the renewed emphasis.

“For a long time, there has been a fear of communication between agencies and contractors, but that needs to continue to change,” Jeff Chiow, a shareholder with the law firm Rogers Joseph O’Donnell PC in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA. “I think it’s absolutely appropriate.”

‘Must Not Hesitate.’
The proposed rule would mandate that the FAR adopt a section of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which made it clear that agency acquisition personnel are “permitted and encouraged to engage in responsible and constructive exchanges with industry, so long as those exchanges are consistent with existing law and regulation and do not promote an unfair competitive advantage to particular firms.”

The proposed language to the FAR takes this one step further, specifically suggesting that government officials “must not hesitate” to communicate with industry as early as possible in the acquisition cycle to help determine what exactly is available in the commercial marketplace.

The rule also would add language to the FAR ensuring that agencies maximize their use of commercial products and services in meeting their requirements.

The key is that agencies should be broadcasting their plans to all competitors, and then have “frank conversations about what’s needed” with them to help determine if their proposals might be tweaked to fit the government’s needs. “The emphasis should be at the beginning of the process, but communication should be ongoing,” he said.

Not all government contracts attorneys agree on the impact of the proposed rule. Some say it wouldn’t do anything to stop the process from tilting toward larger contractors.

“In my opinion, the proposed rule does not materially change the current government and industry procurement cycle interaction or lack thereof,” Barbara Kinosky, managing partner of Centre Law & Consulting, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mailed statement. “The large companies and those with savvy sales people will always be on the front end of procurements. They did not get to be large businesses by finding out about procurements on eBuy for the first time.”

The rule won’t change a government culture that, as it pertains to smaller procurements, “believes in low price and minimum engagement with contractors,” Kinosky said.

Common Misconceptions.
The proposed FAR rule was spurred by a pair of detailed procurement policy memos titled “Myth-Busting” and “Myth-Busting 2” that discussed “misconceptions” about communication between industry and government during the acquisition process.

The first of the memos, issued Feb. 2, 2011, and authored by Dan Gordon, then the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, addressed what he said were 10 common misconceptions, including ungrounded fears that contractor-government communications are often the source of bid protests, and that because contractors are akin to registered lobbyists, conversations with them should be avoided to reduce disclosure burdens.

“While agencies do not have the resources and are not required to meet with every vendor at every step of the acquisition process, information gathered from industry sources plays an invaluable role in the acquisition process,” Gordon wrote. “For this reason, agencies must develop practices that will ensure early, frequent, and constructive communication during key phases of the process.”
 

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