Introduction to Government Contract Management Part II - The Proposal
The Contract Management and Administration function is critical to the success of any government contractor, both large and small. The Contract Manager (“CM”) is responsible for “the business” aspect of the procurement effort from start to finish.
The government procurement process for contractors starts with a formal solicitation from the government and ends when all parties to the procurement (government, subcontractors and prime contractor) have “signed off” on contract completion.
In this second of our multi-part series, we will discuss CM responsibilities in the preparation and submission of a proposal in response to an RFP.
Government Proposal Planning
Immediately upon the company (referred to herein as the “prime contractor”) making the decision to submit a proposal, planning and execution should take place. From this moment forward until the proposal is delivered, time is the enemy. Generally, there will be three key sections to a proposal: 1) technical, 2) cost, and 3) business. These sections can either be in separate “binders” or “books,” or can be combined. Unless proposals are being submitted for specific small business programs (SBIR, STTR, small business set-asides, etc.) the technical section is usually a standalone “book.” It is not unusual for the business and cost sections to be combined into a single book. Each section in the proposal must have a proposal lead responsible for their section, then there is an overall “proposal manager” who is responsible for the entire proposal. In smaller businesses, one person may (usually does) wear multiple “hats.” Once all proposal staffing assignments are completed, a detailed proposal Gantt chart should be prepared and maintained by the proposal manager throughout the entire proposal period.
So, where does the Contract Manager fit in? The CM is responsible for:
Coordinating with the Technical Proposal Lead (TPL)
- Identify and ensure documentation with the TPL for all the assumptions made in preparing the proposal. Certain assumptions are made where there is uncertainty as to what is being requested in the RFP and clarification cannot be obtained. Documentation of assumptions are essential in Firm Fixed Price contracts to mitigate risk where there is uncertainty. These assumptions will become part of negotiations and potentially incorporated into the resulting contract if critical to contract performance by the company.
- Identify and contact all subcontractors and consultants.
- Establish proper relationship with each subcontractor and consultant either through a formal Teaming Agreement, or at a minimum, a Non-Disclosure Agreement (see more discussion of these documents below). In some situations, a Non-Disclosure Agreement is executed where discussions of a proprietary nature take place prior to making a bid/no-bid decision.
- Obtain a Statement of Work from the TPL for each subcontractor and consultant, to include instructions for technical proposal format and level of detail which can efficiently be merged into the prime contractor’s proposal.
- Discuss/determine the most effective type of subcontract (CPFF, FFP or T&M) based on: a) anticipated prime contract type, b) Subcontract SOW and deliverables, and c) subcontract deliverable risk.
- Prepare an RFP for each subcontractor which will facilitate merging into the prime proposal and includes, at a minimum:
- The format and structure for the technical proposal,
- The format (template) and level of detail for the cost section. If the subcontractor is unwilling to provide cost by cost category to the prime contractor, then a sealed package needs to be submitted with instructions for delivery directly to the Procuring Contracting Officer.
- Schedule of due dates (to include time to iterate where submittals are incomplete),
- Primary contact person(s) for questions,
- Prime RFP flow-down requirements, and
- Most likely a full copy (or website URL) of the Government RFP.
- Type of subcontract (FFP, CPFF, T&M) anticipated.
- Continuously track/status all technical proposals from subcontractors and consultants to ensure they are delivered complete, properly formatted and on time. This rarely happens the first time so plan to iterate with subcontractors and consultants who decide not to follow instructions provided in your RFP.
- Review technical proposals with the TPL to ensure realism for staffing and ability to deliver deliverables identified in the SOW.
2. Coordinate with the Government Cost Proposal Manager (CPM)
- In larger companies, this is usually a designated person from the job cost accounting department, in small businesses this is usually the Accountant/Controller.
- Provide the identity of each subcontractor and consultant so the CPM can prepare cost proposal spread sheets that are complete and easily merged into the prime contractor’s cost proposal.
- Establish a cost proposal template, complete with instructions, that will easily merge into the prime contractor’s cost proposal and provide sufficient detail for the cost basis to support negotiations later.
- Identify all specific details and instructions the CPM will need from the subcontractors and consultants for inclusion in the RFPs to be submitted to each subcontractor and consultant.
- Continuously track/status all cost proposals from subcontractors and consultants to ensure they are delivered complete, properly formatted and on time. This rarely happens the first time so plan to iterate with subcontractors and consultants who decide not to follow instructions provided in your RFP.
- Since the CM will be the lead in contract negotiations make certain detailed support for all costs is available (AND ties to the cost proposal exactly) even if not required to be included in the cost proposal. [We’ll discuss this in more detail in future installments.]
3. Final Government Proposal Review
- Map complete RFP instructions to sections within the proposal, technical, cost and business sections to ensure complete responsiveness to the RFP.
- Make certain any exceptions taken to the RFP are adequately supported and the determination has been made by key management that these exceptions will not be such as to disqualify the proposal from consideration.
- Make certain all assumptions in the technical proposal are adequately documented and conveniently segregated to facilitate contract negotiations.
- Although the Proposal Manager is responsible for making certain the proposal books are complete, the number of copies are correct and the delivery instructions are honored, the CM should assist and support this effort, if for no other reason than to have a second set of eyes as insurance. There is nothing worse than spending hundreds of hours on a proposal then not get it delivered properly and have it rejected.
Any time a company has the desire, or need, to discuss proprietary information outside of the company’s employees a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) needs to be executed between (among) the affected parties. The NDA establishes the “ground rules” for maintaining confidentiality of proprietary information disclosed by one party to another (others). NDAs are often used where a company wants to have discussions about a proposal and needs another party to participate in the technical effort. It is then necessary to make sure discussions regarding proposal content and proprietary information are kept confidential by all participating parties. An NDA IS NOT an appropriate document where brainstorming or discussions leading to new inventions might be discussed. Where the possibility of new inventions might be created either by on party or jointly a Joint Development Agreement should be executed to clearly define invention ownership and patent prosecution costs.
Teaming Agreements (TA)
TA's are used where a proposal is being submitted by a team but where one company will be the prime and all the other team members will be subcontractors. This should not be confused with a Joint Venture which is the creation of a separate legal entity. Teaming Agreements usually define the portions of the proposed SOW assigned to each team member. This document binds the prime contractor to subcontract that portion if the award is made to the prime contractor. TA's normally require exclusivity by the subcontractors so a key subcontractor cannot be a proposed subcontractor by a competing prime contractor. This can be very important where a subcontractor has critical and unique skills/background valuable in satisfying the RFP requirements.
In the next piece (third in our multi-part series), we will discuss government contact negotiations and the role the Contract Manager plays in this activity. To learn more about ReliAscent's Government Contract Management Consulting Services for small to medium-sized contractors and grantees, please contact us at any time. We are always happy to help!