The Major Methods of Seeking Government Work

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There are five methods of seeking government work: personal contact, requests for bidding invitations, negotiation, voluntary unsolicited proposals, and wiring yourself to a contract. We'll deal with them one by one.

1. Personal Contact. This method presupposes that your base of operations is in or near an area in which government offices proliferate. The District of Columbia, any state capital, large military installations, or any large offices are good examples. Government employees are generally friendly, they are somewhat garrulous, they love to play up the importance of what they are doing, and they cherish the ear that will listen to their tales of woe concerning their work overload. For the independent consultant who wants to work by the hour, day, or week, it often takes nothing more than dropping by to visit these people regularly with offers to help with the workload-writing reports, doing research, writing procedures, writing training manuals, assisting in training, etc.-to come away with a full workload and excellent income. These are not bidding situations, and free-lancers are retained virtually on the spot. I know of many such people who do this kind of work consistently with no advertising or marketing expense and no over-head. Should there be no work for you on any particular visit, leave your brochure.

2. Requesting Bidding Invitations. The federal government buys everything through appropriate purchasing offices. Consulting services are no exception. We are talking about the formalization of the actual bidding and the purchase order, as well as the authorization for payment. This is so that each department theoretically stays within its budget (which it never does). When making a purchase, which is originated and requested by a particular agency, the purchasing or procurement office sends out invitations for bids. These invitations go only to those consultants on their bidder's lists. So your first step, naturally, is to get yourself on those lists.

You would be well advised to contact the purchasing offices and the agencies simultaneously. Again, always enclose your brochure. The system does not always work in linear fashion, so it is best that purchasing offices and agencies are both constantly aware of you.

Be prepared to receive lots of mail as a result of these efforts. Of all the bidding invitations you receive, you will undoubtedly find that very few suit you; you will also find a great number for which you are unqualified. (Yes, Virginia, the government is imperfect.)

Here is another instance of time and effort the government requires of you. You must answer every invitation. You cannot be passive and remain on the bidder's list. Your response must indicate in writing that you are unable to bid on that particular solicitation but wish to remain on the list. Fail to do this and the government computer will knock you off the bidder's list automatically. This is important, so remember to respond to each and every invitation. You'll be kept quite busy.

One more thing. In filling out government forms, be certain to complete every space, whether you think it applicable or not. All lowly clericals and computers spot empty spaces. An incomplete form does not go through the channels.

If a bidder's list contains many names, the purchasing office may send invitations to only part of each list each time it wants to make a purchase. However, for the sake of equity, this is done on a rotational basis until each consultant has had an opportunity to bid.

In some instances, the procurement office will want bids from a greater number of consultants than appear on its bidder's list. In these cases, the office will seek bids through advertisements in trade and professional publications, notices in post offices, and other publicized means. The most popular medium is the "Commerce Business Daily," a newspaper in classified format, which is published Monday through Friday by the United States Department of Commerce in cooperation with all government purchasing offices. I strongly urge you to subscribe to this newspaper if you are serious about government work. It contains a wealth of information and is worth its price. (Bear in mind that the government makes no profit on its publications.) You may subscribe for second-class or first-class mail delivery. Even though it costs well over $100, take the first-class route. Some of the invitations bear short notice; by the time you get second-class mail, the bidding may be over. 3. Negotiation. Under certain circumstances, which are prescribed by law and applicable regulations, government contracts may be awarded by negotiation with qualified consultants and without formal advertising for bids. For example, a purchase may be made by negotiation if it is not possible to draft adequate specifications or if the project is experimental or developmental.

In purchasing by negotiation, the procurement office makes the routine use of its bidder's list. However, it asks for price quotations and/or proposals, including detailed analyses of estimated costs or other evidence of reasonable prices. These requests for proposals are sent to a number of consultants so that the purchase will ultimately be made on a competitive basis.

After reviewing the various quotations, the contracting officer frequently will negotiate with you further, seeking the most advantageous contract for the government.

4. Voluntary Unsolicited Proposals. Any consultant may come up with an innovative concept, put it into proposal form, and submit it to the government with a request for a contract. It is assumed that you are on the cutting edge of the state of the art of your particular discipline and that your proposal is in fact original.

In the event that your proposal is favorably considered, you should be technically qualified to carry through any program that emanates from your idea; but the technical merit of your proposal will not be based upon your back-up facilities.

Bear in mind that unsolicited proposals are more difficult to pass muster because no government funds have been set aside for them.

There is no specific form required for submitting an unsolicited proposal, thank goodness; but here are some of the items you should include:

a. Your name and address.

b. Number and qualifications of your employees, if any.

c. Description of your facilities, if applicable.

d. Outline of previous work and experience.

e. Your brochure.

f. Title of proposal and name of principal consultants.

g. A brief abstract of the proposed project.

h. Proposed starting and completion dates.

i. A budget.

Any information contained in a voluntary proposal that is considered to be of a proprietary nature should be clearly identified. A differentiation should be made between proprietary data and patent data when one or both are contained in a proposal. Each of the military agencies has a "Policy Agreement for the Evaluation of Articles of Disclosure." This is a statement of the terms under which voluntary unsolicited proposals are accepted. It should be carefully read and understood by the consultant.

5. Wiring Yourself to a Project. Despite my peroration concerning wired government contracts, it is understood that this practice will continue un-abated. Although I do not condone wiring in any way, I would be delinquent in a book like this if I omitted a description of the methods used to achieve this end.

To further dissuade you from attempting what would appear to be sure-fire ways of winning your contract, you should be forewarned that a subsequent investigation could bring you to ruin financially and professionally; you could even be jailed in some instances.

In many cases, wiring seems logical, rational, fair, and even just in the consultant's mind. For example, let us assume that you come up with a brilliant, innovative idea for the government. Let us assume further that you are an acknowledged expert in your field and that you have worked up a comprehensive, cohesive, intelligent plan to implement your brainchild. You submit an unsolicited proposal in two parts. The first part calls for a $4,500 test; the second part, contingent upon the test's success, calls for a $320,000 full implementation of the program. You are immediately given the green light by the agency to proceed with part one, since the dollar amount is below that required for a bidding situation. You make no profit, but you don't mind, because you are eager to test your theories and prove them positive. Additionally, you invest 126 hours of your time without pay. The test is an overwhelming success in every aspect of your original plan. Now comes part two. The $320,000 program will take one year. The budget you submitted with your proposal calls for a profit to you of $46,000 for working on that project during its entirety. The agency is aware of your financial loss in part one. However, you are informed that part two will now go out for bids. A complete description of your program and its implementation, copied from your original proposal (which the government bought and paid for) will be incorporated in the invitation to bid. The invitation will be sent to eighteen companies on the agency's bidder's list. Knowing how the project is to be done, virtually any company can come in with a lower bid than yours. You lose the project.
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