This article is part of a larger piece that was previously published on the Appian Blog. Click HERE to read the original in its entirety.
It is in the best interest of the government to encourage competition between vendors to attain the best prices and spur innovation to develop more advanced products. Competition also reduces fraud. When there are more bidders in a more open bidding process, there is less opportunity for favoritism, corruption, or other unethical practices in procurement.
Beyond improving procurement outcomes, the federal government also aims to increase competition to aid small businesses, including minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned, and disadvantaged businesses.
Today, of the roughly $665 billion in annual federal contracts, more than 75 percent are awarded to big businesses and 59 percent of award winners are located in just a dozen states largely concentrated on the east coast. Another troubling trend is the decline—by approximately 80 percent in the last 15 years—in the number of small businesses that are new or recent entrants to the federal marketplace.
Luckily, there are four steps that program managers and contracting officers can take to increase competition. Taking these steps can boost competition, promote and sustain a healthy competitive industrial base, and provide the best products and prices for the government. They include:
1. Conduct market research.
Program managers and contracting officers should conduct in-depth market research to identify potential new suppliers and solutions that can add value and inform their requirements. This will increase competition among providers, improve requirements, and ultimately improve procurement.
While they shouldn’t limit themselves to the same pool of vendors for every procurement, the GSA schedule and SAM.gov are good sources worth exploring for federally approved suppliers. Program managers and contracting officers may discover more sources they haven’t talked to yet that they can contact instead of waiting for vendors to come to them.
Market research may indicate alternative sources of supply, at least for a portion of the acquisition. Adding new supplier information to the acquisition system increases the pool of suppliers in future procurements.
When market research indicates it’s feasible, program managers and contracting officers should use the Small Business Set-Aside authority to help meet their agency’s small business contracting goal.
2. Inform suppliers of opportunities.
Program managers and contracting officers should issue requests for information (RFIs), promote industry outreach, and frequently communicate about upcoming needs. This might include hosting industry days, providing frequent forecasts to industry partners, sponsoring reverse industry days, or sending push and pull notifications to vendors regarding new opportunities.
3. Make it easier for suppliers to work with the government.
As we know, the acquisition process is rigorous, and complying with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) is no easy task. Program managers and contracting officers should consider simplified procedures for certain commercial products to make the bidding process less daunting for new players, and use other transactions (OTs) to open the bidding to non-traditional contractors.
They should put out draft RFPs and allow vendors to provide feedback. Vendors may inform agencies of new technologies that can better meet their needs. Vendor feedback may also help broaden an unintentionally restrictive RFP and allow for more competition.
The government needs to invest in technology that lets vendors communicate with them in an intuitive user interface for an improved total experience. It also needs an easy way to inform vendors of new requirements that fit an area in which they provide goods and services.
4. Improve planning and inter-departmental coordination.
Requests for proposal (RFPs) should plainly state the requirements and criteria for determining an award decision, enabling vendors to understand precisely what is required to be successful. But poor planning results in poorly defined requirements. Improving collaboration between the program and contracting offices will result in a better requirements document that will make it easier for more vendors to compete.
Streamline government acquisitions.
Program and contracting offices can work together to increase competition in government acquisition by collaborating to develop clear and specific requirements for the acquisition, advertising the acquisition widely to attract more bidders, and considering setting aside a portion of the federal contract for small businesses or other underrepresented groups. Finally, they can streamline the acquisition process to make it easier for potential suppliers to participate and offer their best solutions.