HHS Did What?

The Department of Health and Human Services Program Support Center (PSC) has decided to end assisted acquisition services. Some agencies under the PSC umbrella include: the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Special counsel, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Defense Department (DoD).  (DoD accounts for roughly $1 billion of the $1.4 billion total contract amount under the PSC.) (Federal News Network, July 22, 2019)

It appears HHS stopped offering assisted acquisition services in mid June, just as agencies are preparing for fourth quarter acquisitions. This likely includes the $150 million multiple-award contract PSC was about to award for EPA along with a number of “in-process” contracts for DoD. Additionally, any award for the prior four years must be moved to other agencies or absorbed by the “home” agency by September 20, 2020. (ibid)

So why exactly did HHS decide to stop its assisted acquisition services? In a memo to the civilian agency customers, they said they do not have the internal controls, policies, or procedures necessary. DoD customers received a comparable memo. (ibid)

Why now? Possibly due to the manner in which PSC has handled classified information for DoD and other agencies’ procurements through the self-certification process. The self-certification process is achieved through the DD-254 form. However, a recent audit found that PSC does not actually perform classified work. (ibid)

Unfortunately, this abrupt change is putting a burden on many agencies. Since the decision was made and will affect the fourth-quarter spending, agencies must now scramble to get other assisted acquisition service provider help. The decision also affects vendors, who spend time and money to bid on solicitations that must restart. And the question remains: will vendors lose work from existing contract awards that they bid on and won?

Roughly one-third of all federal spending occurs in the fourth quarter, with one-quarter of the spending in September. Administrators plan to meet with member companies, DoD ,and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to arrive at  a game plan going forward. (Federal News Network, July 22, 2019)

Will this affect a bid you are working on or a recent contract award? If so, give us a call.

Security: Clearance and Cyber

In the world of security clearances, the Senate reintroduced a bill last week to decrease the 570,000 pending security clearance investigations backlog. With this legislation, the National Background Investigations Bureau, which conducts most government security checks, will merge into the Pentagon, which may (or may not(!)) help get the backlog under control. Language within the bill charges the Director of National Intelligence with streamlining the time-intensive, paper-heavy security clearance process. It can take over a year to get a clearance, and that’s once you are in the queue. There is also the Catch 22 of not obtaining a contractor job without a clearance and not getting a clearance without already having the job. (Nextgov, February 2019) Of course, the backlog wasn’t helped by the shutdown.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also has security on the table. Need to keep your non-US citizen tech guru on staff? DHS is with you. They hope to keep tech specialists from outside the country here, and support the Startup Act. The Startup Act would keep foreign-born entrepreneurs and STEM experts in the country to ultimately promote innovation. Seems counter to the current Administration’s stated goals, but kudos to Congress for trying. (ibid)

Meanwhile, Congress is trying to get a grip on how the recent government shutdown affected security, specifically cyber security. Here is a breakdown of the tech and cybersecurity hearings that took place last week:

  • 2.6.19 the Senate Appropriations Services Committee briefed by intelligence leaders on worldwide threats.
  • 2.6.19 the House Armed Services Committee evaluated the Defense Departments counterterrorism efforts.
  • 2.6.19 the House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee explored ways to preserve the open internet for small business and consumers. (Nextgov, February 2019)

Do you have security clearance questions? Wondering how the open internet will affect your small business and its ability to do business with the government? Give us a call at 301-913-5000 and we will try to provide you with answers.

Game Planning, Not a Game

Federal News Network surveyed 100 or so government contractors during the final week of the shutdown about current contracted projects and expectations once the shutdown ended.

Not surprisingly, 71 percent said projects would be delayed and 40 percent believe it would take more than four weeks to get up to speed. Respondents also thought high costs would accrue during the re-start. Comments included the following:

  • Significant costs associated with re-start include rescheduled travel, reworked program plans, and employee hiring
  • Security clearance waits
  • Awaiting payment of invoices submitted before the shutdown
  • Permanent loss of employees to commercial firms due in part to fear of future shutdowns. (Federal News Network February 2019)

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requested that agencies move swiftly to pay contractors along with federal employees. However, agencies themselves are experiencing payment backlog, as several of the government’s invoice processing agencies had large portions of their own workforces furloughed. Before they returned, contractors’ unpaid invoices had been stacking up, awaiting formal acceptance and payment since 22 December 2018. (ibid)

We are hopeful that Congress passes legislation to make contractors ‘whole’ once future shutdowns ends, but we’re not holding our breath. Prudent contractors should plan for fiscal management upon another shutdown, possibly as early as 15 February.

Questions about your payments? We can try to help at 301-913-5000.

Open. Shut. Ajar?

By now, everyone is acutely aware that the government experienced the longest shutdown in US history. Doors opened on Monday but it is hardly back to business as usual. Contractors face countless bottlenecks as well as hurry-up-and-wait scenarios. Has the stop work order been rescinded? Does the contractor’s badge still work? If not, is a new clearance necessary? When work starts up again, will all employees be in place and ready to go? While it took no time at all to close the doors, opening them and getting back to business, as usual, is likely going to take some time. This, coupled with the looming possibility of yet another shut down, adds to the already less than perfect predicament in which government contractors finds themselves.

Homeland Security offered expectations with the re-start. Soraya Correa, chief procurement officer at DHS issued a notice stating, “If the particular RFP or RFQ established a deadline for submission of a proposal or quotation after Dec. 21, 2018 and the DHS funding lapse is not resolved prior to the deadline established in the RFP, then the proposal or quotations shall be due within seven business days following the resolution of the DHS funding lapse.” Correa also wrote, “If the particular RFP or RFQ provided for the submission of questions, comments or other forms of inquiry after Dec. 21, 2018 and the DHS funding lapse is not resolved prior to the deadline established in the RFP for this type of submission, then the submission shall be due within five business days following the resolution of the DHS funding lapse and resumption of business operations.” She explained that responses to RFIs are due three business days following the resumption of DHSs business operations. (Federal News Network January 2019)

OMB revised its guidance to agencies on 22 January, suggesting a recall of workers in order to pay contractors who billed the government before the 21 December shutdown. (ibid) Small businesses need those payments as soon as possible, whereas larger contractors have a little more room to work with as their pockets are deeper. Whether large or small, the pain is real and expected to last for a long time to come.

Hopefully, should the government shut its doors again, agencies are more prepared with notices to contractors. Setting expectations could relieve at least some of the panic.

Are you trying to figure out how to navigate through this trying time? Give us a call at 301-913-5000, We can help.

 

Dancing the Limbo … Still

The government shutdown is now the longest in US history, costing around $200 million per day or nearly $1.5 billion per week. This just compounds as the days and weeks drag on. (Nextgov January 15, 2019)

Business size makes the difference in the shutdown’s effect on employees.  Large companies with government contracts generally have the ability to shift employees around (with agency approval), give them training opportunities, or allow them to take vacation time, personal time, or sick leave. All with the knowledge that they will have jobs once the government doors reopen. (ibid)

Unfortunately, though, contractors large and small cannot maintain payrolls when their customers fail to pay, and employees feel the brunt with layoffs. These employees will likely have a hard time finding work, even after the government reopens. It’s the smaller government contractor that will have the hardest time holding on, and the longer the shutdown continues, that harder it gets.

Planning for the future during the shutdown also seems dire because RFPs without functioning agencies languish. This bottleneck stalls the process, task orders stop, and ultimately everything comes to a complete standstill. Hurry-up-and-wait turns into wait-and-wait and, again, layoffs can be the only answer for the small government  contractor. We, with you, hope for the shutdown to end. Now.

Do you have questions about which agencies are open for business and what you can expect? Give us a call at 301-913-5000 and we will help you out.