WHO SHOULD BE PRESENT AT VENDOR MEETINGS?
CAN DIVISIONS MEET/ OR CONDUCT MEETING WITHOUT OAGS OR PROPER REPRESENTAION OF A CONTRACTING OFFICER?
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There is guidance on when and how government staff can meet or host meetings with vendors. Also, meetings are only allowed during certain phases of the acquisition. Vendors cannot meet with requirements owners and other acquisition team members during the solicitation stage once the RFP has been posted to FEDBIZOPPS, except the Contracting Officer. The goal when engaging with industry is also to protect as well as modernize key capabilities while cultivating a competitive environment. As federal employees, ethics and procurement laws must be followed IAW Far Part 3; however, when following the proper rules and regulations, industry can provide the latest information and modernization to increase the industrial base. Therefore, officials should not be reluctant to engage with industry. The dialogue can be frequent, fair and transparent as appropriate. In a memo signed by the Deputy Director of Defense dated 2 March 2018, provides seven (7) mythbusters in attachment A of the memo. Myth #1: “DoD officials should never hold individual meetings with a defense contractor.” The Fact is DoD officials may hold individual meetings with a defense contractor as long as the government official take into account the topics to be discussed (i.e., can this meeting be held with ALL similarly situated entities, any pending matters involving the contractor (procurements, claims, audits, etc.), or any other appearance of impropriety.) Of course, group meetings, such as “industry days” are always a safe way if you really do not need an individual meeting. Industry can reach out to the government to demonstrate their capabilities; and, they can reach out to the requirements owner, engineer, contract specialist, contracting officer, small business professional as well as the senior leader of the organization. Early, frequent, and constructive communication between the government and industry is the foundation to the planning and execution of a successful acquisition. Acquisitions begin at the point when agency needs are established. The acquisition process includes the description of requirements, solicitation and selection of sources, award of contracts, contract financing, contract performance, contract administration, and those technical and management functions directly related to the process of fulfilling agency needs by contracting.
Early engagement with industry is a critical aspect of acquisition planning, describing agency needs, developing an overall acquisition strategy, and identifying the terms, conditions, and practices appropriate for what is being acquired. It improves market research, which results in a greater understanding of the possible products, services, and technologies that exist to support the government’s needs, as well as the costs, benefits, and limitations of different procurement approaches. It allows the government to define their requirements clearly within the market environment, and develop realistic expectations regarding risk, cost, schedule, and performance management. When requirements are well defined, industry can write quality proposals and deliver solutions that address gaps in a timely and cost effective manner.
If the government is reaching out to industry seeking information to shape the acquisition strategy, which can be part of market research, key personnel should be engaged (Contracting Officer, Program Manager and your Small Business Professional as a minimum). The key here is also not allowing one vendor to receive information about an acquisition that has not been published for other vendors to review for interest. FAR Part 3, FAR Part 5, FAR Part 10, and (FAR) 15.201, “Exchanges of information among all interested parties, from the earliest identification of a requirement through receipt of proposals, are encouraged” covers this information. If meetings are shaping the acquisition strategy, the team should be involved. Do you have a market research strategy to engage industry in inreach (briefing industry on your acquisition to allow questions and answers) or outreach (industry day or vendor meetings to explore their capabilities)? Your small business office will be key to internal and external stakeholders by providing information or helping you engage with industry. Conflicts of Interest, procurement integrity, trade secrets, impartiality, use of nonpublic information are some issues that would not be part of a vendor meeting and all team members should be aware of any of these issues.
Remember industry engagement is encouraged early on to gain better product and service information particularly during the pre-solicitation phase of the acquisition. Remember, once a solicitation is posted in FedBizOpps, a vendor can only contact the Contracting Officer for questions regarding that specific acquisition. As long as the vendor is not trying to discuss an acquisition in the solicitation phase with the requirements owner, the vendor can meet with other officials as long as the rules shared above are followed. The benefit includes greater clarity early-on of the agency requirements, increased awareness of industry capabilities, potential for increased competition, small business subcontracting opportunities as well as the use of small business set asides, and fewer performance problems with proper communication exchanges and meetings with vendors. Public engagement can also include in addition to industry days, small business outreach sessions, pre-solicitation conferences, and Draft RFP question and answers from industry posted in a single portal of information for interested firms (FedBizOpps).
The latest PDF files regarding guidance on how to engage with industry including industry information on how to engage with DoD are attached in the links below. DoD Provides guidance for functional experts (Contracting Officer, Program Manager, Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR), General Counsel, Office of Small Business Programs (Small Business Director or Professional) procedures in how to engage with industry in the DoD Communication Plan. See PDF file attached https://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/dars/pgi/docs/DoD_Vendor_Communication_Plan.pdf along with the latest Mybusters Memo dated 2 February 2018 https://www.ngaus.org/sites/default/files/2018.03.02%20DoD%20policy%20on%20Engaging%20With%20Industry.pdf. Also, the DoD Acquisition memo provides in paragraph 16 to vendors how to reach out to DoD offices “Doing Business with the Department of Defense (DoD): https://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/cpic/cp/docs/Doing_Business_with_DoD_(16Nov16).pdf