Saturday, January 28, 2012

Outside the Beltway, the Procurement Edition

I have spent a good deal of time in Proposals, responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from various government agencies. But when you delve into the world of proposals, you'll find that most people who provide proposal advice cannot help me all that much.

Let me provide you with an example. John Lauderdale recently wrote something entitled Ten Things You Did Wrong in Your Last (Losing) Proposal Effort. Now that obviously sounds like a valuable thing to read. But I noticed something when I got to item 1:

1. Your Program Manager-Designate was

a.not known by name or face to the source selection official
b.was not assigned full-time to the proposal effort longer than 30 days before the final solicitation hit the street.

Note the use of the word "source selection official." At least Lauderdale didn't say something about not reading Section L carefully.

You see, John Lauderdale works for a company (Organizational Communications Inc.) based in Reston, Virginia. In fact, if you look at any publication from the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), you'll find that a lot of the people associated with APMP are located in Virginia, Maryland, or Washington DC.

Why? Because they all concentrate on Federal proposals. These are the proposals in which the RFP has a "Section L" and a "Section M" and in which the person running the procurement is referred to as a "source selection official." As an APMP member, I had access to a wealth of materials that discuss Section L, Section M, source selection officials, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

And I'm unable to use most of it.

You see, in my particular case, the vast majority of RFPs to which I respond are issued by state and local governments, or by governments in foreign nations. And all of these agencies (I can potentially deal with hundreds, if not thousands, of them who may buy our products) have their own ways of doing things.

If you don't know what you're doing, even locating RFPs from state and local governments can be difficult, as Steif Marco notes:

State and local government bids and RFPs are notoriously difficult to locate. Unlike the federal government, which conducts most purchasing through GSA schedules or, state and local bids are located in a great number of sources throughout the internet -- on government webpages, public works pages, 3rd party contracted websites, and newspaper classifieds.

And all of these agencies format their RFPs differently. Anyone who has only worked Federal proposals and ends up reading a county government RFP is in for a bit of a surprise. You can't assume that particular RFP content is in a particular location of the RFP; you need to read the table of contents to find the location (or possibly locations) that contain your legal terms, your payment terms, your proposal formatting requirements, or what have you.

Now to be fair, the APMP does pay some attention to the needs of people who don't work on Federal proposals. And some lessons from the Federal world may be applied to other proposals. But at the same time, there are a lot of cases where the stuff plain doesn't apply. One time I attended a huge conference closing session in which someone talked about changes to Department of Defense procurement procedures. That's all right and fine...except I don't think that the Calgary Police Service is going to base its procurement policies on what the U.S. Department of Defense is doing.

Now most of the people who will read this post probably don't work in proposals, and may not have realized that there are proposals, and there are proposals - or that things can get really specialized. But that's probably true for any job - my head would probably be spinning if I had to worry about all of the minute little things that you have to worry about in YOUR job. Maybe it's an issue regarding which cable to use with which video camera. Maybe it's something about coffeepot maintenance. Or whatever.

And I bet you that the people inside the Beltway can't help you do your job either.
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