Just how well do agencies alert contractors to their fiscal year buying plans?
Employees in public procurement and IT agencies often note how closely they work with the industry. But agencies vary widely in how effectively they forecast their needs for the industry so that contractors can best position themselves to meet those needs. The Professional Services Council, which represents hundreds of IT providers, is not working annual business forecast map. Federal driving with Tom Temin discussed with PSC Executive Vice President of Policy Stephanie Costa.
Tom Tem: Stephanie, good to be back.
Stephanie Costa: Thanks for taking me, Tom.
Tom Tem: And these scorecards, then do what exactly they tell us and how did you get the information?
Stephanie Costa: We at the Professional Services Council, this is an annual cycle, this is the third iteration of our business forecast metrics map. And basically, we looked at 69 different US federal agencies and they are publicly available websites. We have 15 different attributes and go down the list and see if these publicly available websites provide the information that contractors need to do their business planning and be successful.
Tom Tem: And you have an agency that has gotten a perfect result.
Stephanie Costa: This is the first time this has happened. And we are excited to say that the United States Agency for International Development has received a perfect score for 2021. The things we are looking for are the changes they have made. For example, they have now introduced a change log where contractors can see what changes have been made to the forecast and how it will shake at the end of the day. So at the end of the day, the performers are excited about the USAID website, and this is an example that other agencies should follow.
Tom Tem: And the honorary mention went to the Defense Health Agency and the Ministry of Internal Security, two received honorary mentions.
Stephanie Costa: The Defense Health Agency or DHA had a challenging year for its 2020 forecast and they have made great strides. So we were happy to give them an honorable mention of the best of 2021. And DHS introduced something called their acquisition forecasting portal, some improvements to that portal that really made it easier for service providers to do their business planning when they view their DHS customers
Tom Tem: I got it. And some of them didn’t do so well. You have rated, as you say, 69 individual agencies, at the bottom of the list, there are places like the Marine Command, the Fleet Supply Command, the Defense Logistics Agency, which would be unusually low. What do these types of agencies not do very well to get a low score?
Stephanie Costa: So for some of these agencies, they’ve taken their forecasts offline, so we can’t evaluate them if we can’t find their forecast. And so the agencies can turn around and say, hey, it’s there, if you look for it, we looked for it. If it is not there, we cannot evaluate it and therefore they are marked in red. And I come from the background of DoD and it’s a traffic light. Right. And you never want to be red. And so it is remarkable that these agencies have transferred their forecasts offline and therefore very little utility to service providers.
Tom Tem: So orange or red, I guess, the way it is portrayed, no prediction was found or no result was scored. And let’s get back to the good agencies, the Command of Naval Information Warfare Systems ranks very high consistently over the three years, the Medicaid and Medicare Service Center, Education Department, there are many agencies, in general, TSA that deal really good. And what can contractors, if they visit these sites, learn from those who are really good at forecasting?
Stephanie Costa: Providers look at a set of information when making their business decisions, the forecast is only one. So what PSC has done is look at publicly available information, things like do they have a contact email, not just a shared email address where everyone knows it’s something like a black hole, but there’s a real person involved with the opportunity . They list the acceptable NIC codes, list the current one, list the execution period. This is basic information that companies need to plan for their business, what they will offer in solutions or offers and what they might miss. I will say that DHS has generally done quite well with our 2021 performance map, as you mentioned, several of their agencies such as Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard, FEMA, FLET-C, which is the Federal Training Center for law enforcement – They “everything is done very well for 2021
Tom Tem: Excellent list. Look again today, we will have a link to it. We are talking to Stephanie Costa, Executive Vice President of Policy at the Professional Services Council. And I wanted to ask you about the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, where some types of performers feel as if they are really in danger. And DoD is fundamentally changing its policy because there will be no presence, but it is trying to project beyond the horizon, as they say – what do the performers see there?
Stephanie Costa: As early as May, when President Biden announced that we were ending military operations and withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, we joined two other associations by writing a letter to Secretary of Defense Austin, Secretary of State Blinken, and USAID Administrator Ambassador Power requesting coordination. efforts with performers at the time there were tens of thousands of American performers, many of whom were American citizens in the country, what are we going to do next? Unfortunately, the executive did not return to the three associations that wrote them this letter on 13 May. And they continued the pace by renegotiating some contract terms, giving contractors a mandate to perform the support contract. And what does it mean? This means that contractors are moving outside Afghanistan to support Afghan national forces. On the part of the Ministry of Defense, these will be the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces, with things like Zoom support, on the phone, if things need heavy maintenance, if the plane needs heavy maintenance, for example, it will leave Afghanistan and will receive this heavy support outside this country. It makes life very difficult for performers. In addition, if necessary, we must send contractors back to Afghanistan, and the security situation is deteriorating. We still hope that the executive will respond to our inquiry and be able to work with associations and contractors on this. But a few months have passed in radio silence – and we are disappointed that
Tom Tem: Yes, and there is a real physical danger to the people there. This is not just a business issue.
Stephanie Costa: It is a matter of physical danger not only for the performers, but also for the Afghans they train. And the other issue we’ve seen a lot of headlines about is the problem with the special immigrant visa, which is that there are linguists supporting planes, maintaining vehicles, people who have worked with American contractors and the US military for 20 years now. And what their future looks like in Afghanistan, many of them are trying to leave Afghanistan, seeking refuge for themselves and their families in the United States or elsewhere. And contractors don’t get much information about what to do with contract people. Afghan officials or Afghan nationals working for these contractors want to leave, and contractors do not have clear guidelines on how they can support their contractors or employees in this case.
Tom Tem: Okay. And although I have you, I just wanted to ask about CIO-SP4 from NITAAC, can it be fixed at this point after they have to repeat their request? This is not even a protest against a prize.
Stephanie Costa: Yes, this is a confusing situation with the CIO-SP4 capability. For those of your listeners who are unfamiliar with this, this is a $ 50 billion opportunity in 10 years. CIO-SP3 was about 20 billion. So this is a significant increase in the basic information technology CIO-SP4, support for health services and the like. We saw the final version of RFP coming out on May 25th. There are several fixes in quick succession. I believe that the dates were June 22, June 24, July 2 – here is a quick process of change. And this really leads to anxiety and worry among contractors who are trying to collect winning bids. The last amendment and I say I do not know if the amendments come out today, but the last amendment extended the deadline to July 23, which is still not enough time for bids to compile bids that are fully aware of what the amendments in the final RFP, so there are people who would simply prefer NITAAC to repeal this RFP, answer all questions and resubmit it for suggestions. I’m not sure if NITAAC is open to this, but it’s definitely an option to consider.
Tom Tem: I wouldn’t want to be now. Stephanie Costa is Executive Vice President of Policy at the Professional Services Council. Thank you so much.
Stephanie Costa: Thanks Tom for having me.