Time after time, I hear business owners saying, “I can never win at that Federal agency. The Contracting Officers (CO’s / KO’s) only want to work with HUBZone, 8(a), Veterans, or (soon) women-owned, businesses they can sole source to.”
Don’t get discouraged; get the facts. USASpending.gov reports that in 2014, only 3% of the total federal spending in any of the small business programs was awarded without competition. In short, what they’re saying isn’t what they’re doing. So what’s going on?
Some business owners don’t hear the Contracting Officers clearly. That’s because CO’s are speaking in code. Here’s what they’re really saying (in the voice in their minds):
“I don’t know you, or your track record, or your partners. You don’t know me. You don’t know my agency. Why would I take a chance on you, and put my project and my career at risk if you fail? I want the sure bet: the people I’ve worked with before. Please go away.”
In other words, even if the Contracting Officer could sole source to you, because you’re in one of those small business programs, she’s not going to. First of all, if you think sole source means less work for you and less paperwork for the CO, think again. Done right, sole source can actually take more work for both buyer and seller.
So what does it take to get a real shot at a sole source? Let’s look at the CO’s point of view, starting with FAR Subpart 6.303, “Other Than Full And Open Competition” (federal-speak for “Sole Source.”).
In addition to describing what she wants to buy, and why the cost and pricing offered is fair, the CO must provide a written justification for the sole source. She and her team must provide and certify that the data supporting the justification is complete and accurate, and get the approvals required.
What exactly does that justification include? The CO must document how “the proposed contractor’s unique qualifications or the nature of the acquisition” requires a sole source acquisition, and why a statement of requirements suitable for full and open competition was unavailable. That’s very demanding language.
The CO usually has to show that she looked for “as many potential sources as is practicable,” document any market research or why it wasn’t done, show efforts to procure competitively, list any other vendors that expressed interest, and often has to publish a notice of her intention to sole source.
If the cost of competing and awarding the requirement to a different vendor would be excessive, or the result harmful to the government, the CO must document that, as well.
CO’s usually have plenty of options to buy competitively. Depending on the agency and the contract vehicle, maybe just a couple of phone calls is all some purchases take. Successful contractors want to make the CO’s life easier. Want a sole source? Start out by showing you’re a good competitor, with unique value and qualifications, unmatchable track record and agency knowledge. Make sure your CO knows you’re working toward earning a sole source project. And start collecting the kind of documentation she’s going to need when the time comes.