Acquisitions impact every aspect of the public sector—every local, state, and federal government agency needs to buy goods and services to achieve mission success. These organizations have established procedures and guidelines to ensure that procurement teams:
While specific guidelines and regulations vary by agency, the government acquisition lifecycle typically includes the following phases:
Each stage in the lifecycle of a government acquisition presents its own challenges. If your role involves managing a program area (e.g., finance, human resources, information technology, legal), you may not be as familiar with procurement processes as your colleagues in contracting, yet you need to stay on top of where the goods and services are. Let’s explore the key facts and advice to beat the potential downfalls and ensure success.
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Requirements management is the planning stage where the program manager defines the acquisition strategy before writing the acquisition management plan. The more accurately and comprehensively the requirements are defined, the better the outcome will be. Define requirements with care and diligence to ensure that all needs are captured and requirements are well defined and appropriately prioritized.
Communicating with key stakeholders is another important aspect of requirements management. The program manager should loop in the contracting officer early and often and clearly communicate with other stakeholders, such as legal and government contractors.
Be aware of your agency’s rules and regulations around procurements to ensure your program remains compliant. Larger procurements are often subject to increased scrutiny. For example, the cost of goods and services may need to include other expenses, such as labor, materials, and indirect costs. Being compliant from the outset reduces rework and work interruptions once contracting has the requirements.
Communicating outside of government acquisition software, such as using phone and email, makes it difficult to track histories of communications with suppliers, contracting officers, and so on. As likely as not, the contracting officer will change sometime during the long lifecycle of your government acquisition. Consistently using a communication tool inside your government acquisitions software is a painless way to keep stakeholders up to date.
The next phase in the lifecycle of government acquisition is the solicitation phase—the process of requesting proposals from potential contractors. This phase involves issuing a formal solicitation document, which outlines the government's requirements and evaluation criteria, and inviting contractors to submit competitive bids.
The solicitation phase provides a fair and transparent process for potential contractors to submit proposals and compete for government contracts. This phase also helps ensure that the government receives the best value.
The contract specialist determines the method by which suppliers should submit their bids, which is usually one of the following:
Invitation for Bid (IFB)
Request for Proposals (RFPs)
Request for Quote (RFQ)
Failing to issue a clear and concise solicitation document can lead to misunderstandings and delays. Make sure your solicitation document clearly outlines your agency’s requirements, evaluation criteria, and any specific submission instructions. It’s advisable to release a draft solicitation to get feedback from the industry to ensure the actual solicitation is the best it can be.
Solicitations must be reviewed and approved by legal and contracting professionals to ensure compliance with regulations and policies and avoid legal and financial risks.
One of the biggest bottlenecks for contracting officers during the solicitation phase is selecting clauses and provisions, which are often subject to individual interpretation. Inconsistent application of provisions and clauses increases the government’s contractual risk and may result in non-compliant contract actions. Clause automation software that suggests the appropriate set of clauses based on your agency’s regulations can accelerate and improve clause selection.
Evaluation is the process of reviewing proposals from potential contractors and selecting the best one based on various factors, including price, technical expertise, past performance, and other criteria specified in the solicitation. The evaluation team typically includes contracting, the program office, technical evaluators, and others. Team members should possess technical expertise in the area the acquisition is focused on as well as a thorough understanding of the requirements outlined in the solicitation.
The evaluation phase involves a significant amount of documentation, including the evaluation criteria, the evaluation plan, and the evaluation report. Ensure that all documentation is accurate, complete, and consistent with the solicitation and with your agency’s rules and regulations.
It is critical to avoid favoritism in the selection process. The evaluation phase should be conducted in a fair and impartial manner, following the rules and regulations set forth in the solicitation. For federal acquisitions, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) prescribes actions to ensure a fair evaluation.
[ Read also: System for Award Management (SAM): 3 Tips for Success. ]
To get the best bids from government contractors and suppliers, make sure the evaluation criteria are clear, specific, and measurable. Avoid vague or subjective criteria that could lead to protests or legal challenges.
Establish a clear and transparent evaluation process that includes scoring methodology, evaluation factors, and weighting of criteria to ensure objectivity in the selection process. Make sure, too, that all evaluators have the necessary technical expertise and acquisition training to evaluate proposals effectively. Training and education can help ensure that evaluators have the skills and knowledge needed to perform their duties.
Avoid conflicts of interest by ensuring that evaluators are not involved in any way with potential contractors. This includes prohibiting gifts or other forms of compensation from bidders. Make sure to establish a process for addressing protests and disputes that may arise.
Based on the evaluation criteria outlined in the solicitation document, the contract award phase determines which contractor will deliver the goods or perform the work and sets the terms and conditions of the contract. The contracting team checks that funding is appropriately allocated and the contractor is eligible to receive the award.
In this stage, the contract team sends the contract through appropriate reviews and approvals based on regulations and notifies the appropriate parties of the award.
The award phase involves a lot of documentation, checks, reviews, and integrations with other systems. Contracting needs a good way of tracking and automating that work to make sure the award is issued on time and the goods or services are delivered when needed. Automation increases the speed and accuracy of this process, which leads to on-time awards and fewer audit noncompliance findings.
The post-award phase is the period after a contract has been awarded and the contractor has begun performing the work. This phase involves contract administration, monitoring contractor performance, and addressing any issues that arise.
The post-award phase ensures that the government receives the goods or services it contracted for at the agreed-upon price and quality and that the contractor meets all contractual requirements, such as delivery dates.
Contract management is critical to ensuring that the contractor meets its obligations and that the government’s acquisition of supplies is in line with the contract requirements. Monitoring contractor performance is necessary to ensure that they are meeting the requirements as outlined.
Prioritize change management to address any changes that may occur during the course of the contract as well as dispute resolution to address any issues.
Be sure to establish clear and effective communication with the contractor to ensure that both parties are aware of their responsibilities.
Conduct regular performance evaluations to check that the contractor is meeting all contractual agreements. Failing to monitor contractor performance can result in poor quality goods or services. It's also important to monitor delivery dates and dollar figures associated with the contract to ensure there are no interruptions to the performance of the contract. Awards management software can help you hold the contractor to deadlines and expected performance.
The five phases of the government acquisition lifecycle aim to promote best practices throughout the entire acquisition process, minimizing risk, costs, and acquisition cycle time. By providing a standardized framework for the acquisition process, the government can more effectively and efficiently acquire the goods and services it needs to support its mission and serve the public.
Faithfully conducting all phases in the government acquisition lifecycle is critical to the successful delivery of your product. Approach acquisitions with care and diligence to ensure that award decisions are fair, transparent, and compliant with regulations and policies.
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