Working with a consultant in federal contracting can make a difference in many ways. Sometimes, a consultant can make the difference between success and failure with:
- changes to an RFP
- problems in a contract
- a dispute
- a protest
- an audit
- negotiating indirect cost rates
- the Authority to Operate (ATO)
- settlement claim.
These are just some of the many areas where a consultant can help a contractor.
Who qualifies as a consultant? Well…pretty much anyone who wants to call themself a consultant (except for those who just left their previous employer “…to pursue other opportunities.”) For the purposes of this article, I will use the word “consultant” in a very broad sense, to mean anyone with areas of expertise that can help an organization become a successful federal contractor. They come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on the requirements, a consultant could be: an attorney, an accountant, a management consultant, a physician, an IT specialist, an expert in cybersecurity, a statistician, a company, etc. A consultant can be anyone from a single individual to a Fortune 500 company with thousands of employees.
In our experience, regardless of the area of expertise, consultants tend to work with clients in one of two basic approaches memorialized in that famous proverb attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu: Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime. (Actually, when I checked the origins of this quote, in addition to Lao Tzu, the phrase was attributed not only to Lao Tzu, but to at least 10 other great philosophers, including: Socrates, Pluto, Descartes, Kierkegaard and Yogi Berra.) Basically, the difference in approach boils down to whether you want to: 1) pay someone to do it for you; or 2) want to learn how to do it yourself. I make no judgment about which way is better. There are truly excellent consultants in each category.
This blog provides a couple actual examples from our own experience that demonstrate how, as a consultant, PHA added value and made the difference.
In this example, the Army issued an RFP for certain highly specialized medical services as a small business set-aside. Our client was a large, university-affiliated medical center in Texas that wanted to bid on the contract, but was ineligible as a large business. Within a matter of hours, we completed market research using several databases (e.g., FBO, FPDS, etc.) demonstrating that there were not at least two qualified small businesses with the capability to provide the required services. Shortly after we submitted our research to the Contracting Officer, the solicitation was amended to rescind the set-aside and release it for businesses of all sizes, thus allowing our client to bid. Interestingly, the client had millions of dollars of federal research contracts with the Army in Texas, but still didn’t understand how to challenge a set-aside decision. (After the amendment allowed them back into the game, the consultants saddled up, rode west on horseback into the setting sun, looking for the next opportunity to make a difference…).
In another example, the VA issued a solicitation for medical services in Las Vegas as a set-aside for Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business. When the award was made, we quickly gathered information on the awardee and found that while they were a VOSB, they were not an SDVOSB. Furthermore, they could not comply with FAR 52.219-14, Limitations on Subcontracting. PHA’s market research also demonstrated that at least two small businesses could not be found in the Las Vegas catchment area with the qualifications necessary to provide the services required. When we presented this information to the CO, not only was the SDVOSB set-aside rescinded, but it was amended to allow for full and open competition, enabling our client to win the contract. Another example where a consultant made a difference.
In a third example, the VA issued a solicitation for one or more contracts for inpatient medical services in upstate New York. The VA already had a long-standing academic affiliation with one of the area medical schools, and the word on the street was that the contract was wired to the hospital operated by the medical school. Our client was another local hospital system that was completely unaware of the opportunity, but very interested when we brought it to their attention. In addition to the technical proposal, we developed an innovative pricing strategy in their business proposal. Not only did the VA award our client a contract, but they also awarded them the only contract for all the business, completely shutting out the academic affiliate. As the consultant, our experience and expertise clearly made the difference.
In this final example, PHA worked with a client who had never held a federal contract, but wanted to capture a new, five-year, first-of-its kind contract to be awarded in the geographical area they covered. As a consultant, PHA helped them work through a 150-page RFP, plus over 1,000 pages of attachments, including a Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan, key policy directives, and a whole lot of critical FAR clauses (like FAR 52.223-18, Encouraging Contractor Policies to Ban Text Messaging While Driving…one of my favorites.) In this case, our involvement clearly made a difference, having helped a client with no previous federal contracting experience capture a multi-million dollar award the first time they bid on a federal contract.
Wait; hold on; we’re not done making a difference for this client…
Here’s where the plot thickens and things get interesting: Somewhere in the first option period the business office realized it was not getting paid for services provided, amounting to well over a million dollars. When management questioned the individual responsible for receivables, he said, basically: “Don’t worry; we can recover it by filing a dispute.” Contract language, however, included two very different kinds and meanings of the word “dispute”, with one needing to take place before the other. Unfortunately, the same individual was referring to the second kind of dispute, and completely unaware of the other dispute process that was supposed to take place first. PHA was very much aware of the difference and implications for recouping the amounts in question and could have made a difference; a big difference…if only the client told us earlier what was going on.
The number of instances where a company can benefit from a consultant who makes the difference is endless. In this last case, the client did not use a consultant, and paid the price. A consultant could have made a difference…and a big one, had the client told them about the issue when it first arose. The bottom line: carefully consider the requirements of a federal contract, when you can go it alone, and when the need to “consult the consultant” arises.