By Kevin A. Switaj
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides great growth opportunities for SDVOSBs. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology (T4) contract and follow on, T4-Next Generation (T4NG). The current 13 SDVOSB holders on T4NG have had chances to grow their business and capabilities under this vehicle, especially in light of the 2016 Kingdomware Supreme Court decision. Multiple SDVOSBs have had over $100M obligated to them on the contract, which has seen over 240 total task orders and nearly $3B in total obligations (per GovTribe).
In some ways, T4NG might be too successful. As SDVOSB awardees continue to grow, they can quickly graduate out of their small business status. In addition, VA has left open the chance to bring on additional vendors to inject new blood into the contract, giving more opportunities to Veteran entrepreneurs.
What Do We Know Right Now?
There are still a lot more questions than answers when it comes to the On-Ramp. It is hard to know exactly what the TAC’s plans are until more information is made public. However, based on talking to others in the field, there are some assumptions we can make.
The initial thoughts were that we would see the first information come from the Government in the March-April timeframe. We now know the draft RFP will be released this month, with the final in November.
Who Will Be a Small Business?
There are many questions still out there about who will be considered an SDVOSB for this contract. SBA and the VA have worked out a common definition of SDVOSB, which helps clarify this for everyone involved. However, the issue right now remains the number of years included in calculating a firm’s size standard. The Small Business Runway Extension Act of 2018 moved the benchmark from 3 to 5 years. However, SBA has specifically said these rules do not apply until they have implemented the change through their “standard rulemaking process.” Whether small businesses decide to challenge this interpretation and force the issue is an open question, and could have a significant impact on T4NG (and beyond).
How Many Companies Will Be Added?
This, of course, is the key question. Will they look to create more competition or just add enough companies to make up for the ones who have graduated out of the size standard? We now know that up to seven are anticipated but the Government can award more if they view it in their interest.
Is It Too Late?
The T4NG On-Ramp will not surprise anyone. Many firms began planning for this when the original contract was awarded. They have locked down teaming partners, charted their win themes, worked on their solutions, and are ready for the solicitation to drop. Anyone who has not begun comprehensive capture on this on-ramp is severely behind the curve.
Does this mean you should not look to qualify and potentially bid? No. However, if you do make such a decision you need to do so with your eyes wide open. Firms behind the curve need to adjust their expectations, risk factors, and probability of win accordingly. To attempt to close the capture gap, firms should look at the following options:
Gather as Much Information on the TAC as Possible
Trying to establish a meeting with the TAC is the preferred option. However, given the timing this may not be possible. Therefore, firms should look to gather as much relevant information as possible using public sources. Look at public documents, including news reports and press releases from winners on T4NG, to gain some insight into the contract. In addition, looking at the task orders awarded and the current TAC forecast will help you better understand expected future RTEPs. Capturing this critical information will help you put together the best possible proposal.
Complete an Honest Assessment of Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Doing a comprehensive capabilities assessment is necessary to see if you want to take the risk at this stage. For this to work, you should be brutally honest with yourself. If you have the qualifications to be competitive, it becomes another item in your “bid” column. If not, you should seriously consider not bidding, and at the very least identify contingency plans for teaming (either as a Prime with significant subcontractor support or as a subcontractor yourself).
Identify a Clear Teaming Strategy
At this late stage, most of the big players are probably already tied to a team. Therefore, you need to come up with an innovative teaming approach. For example, identifying firms who have great technical qualifications elsewhere in the Government (including other health-focused agencies) will help increase your pWin. In order to use your partner’s past performances, you will need to designate them as a “significant subcontractor.”
Per the T4NG solicitation, “Major subcontractors are defined as the three subcontractors, identified in the Management Sub-factor, expected to receive the greatest amount of subcontracted work and for which a CTA exists.” However, there is nothing prohibiting you from mentioning your partners, and their capabilities, in the rest of your proposal.
In addition to partners to support the content of your bid, you should look for potential partners to support the development of your bid. Consultants can help you craft a winning proposal through technical knowledge, domain expertise, and specialization in bid management. Take an honest assessment of your internal capabilities, and look for resources that can help you with proposal management, content creation, graphics, and reviews.
Be willing to make this critical investment – putting together a proposal “on the cheap,” especially when you are already behind the curve, can undermine all the hard work you have put in.
Providing high-quality IT support to help our nation’s Veterans is critical to the mission of many SDVOSB firms. The T4NG vehicle provides a great opportunity to do so while increasing your company’s value and capabilities. Developing and executing a well-thought out plan to pursuing and winning a spot on the upcoming On-Ramp, and understanding the risks involved in doing so, is the best way to position your firm for continued success
About the Author
Kevin A. Switaj, PhD CF.APMP is the President and CEO of BZ Opportunity Management, a consulting firm providing bid management, contracts, and training support. He has over a decade of highly relevant proposal experience, including leading a wide range of efforts in the health IT space. For more information, visit https://www.bzopportunity.com.