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Planning to respond to that RFI? You just might want to ask yourself 'RF-Why?'

Posted By Guy Timberlake, The American Small Business Coalition, LLC, Monday, May 12, 2014
Updated: Monday, May 12, 2014

Planning to respond to that RFI? You just might want to ask yourself 'RF-Why?'

While it should come as no surprise to anyone, the fact that Industry needs to take a good hard look at when and how it provides information to the Government will in fact come as a shock to many. Specifically when it comes to government agencies conducting market research on Industry for upcoming requirements.

Why you ask?

Time and money for starters. For many small companies everyone or most on the payroll are billable. 'Outsourcing' or having butts on overhead are still down-the-road yet which means responding takes someone off the line and has an immediate impact on revenue and profits. Combine this with the newer much more sophisticated levels of response required for some market research activities conducted by agencies, and what we have is a formula for committing resources to an activity that on paper, will bear no fruit. After all, the standard line in nearly all Sources Sought Notices, Requests For Information and other market surveys usually goes something like "The Government does not intend to award a contract based on this Sources Sought/RFI or otherwise pay for information solicited."

Now this wasn't too painful in the days I was still chasing opportunities as a government contractor, but I could knock out 2-3 of these a day. Today, not so much. Not only has the volume of information increased, so has the specificity. It wasn't too long ago I had a conversation about this in response to my previous blogs about RFI/TMI where current defense and civilian agency Contracting Officers referred to these onerous activities as 'Non-Price RFPs." Here's the bad news. They've progressed from no-pricing and ROM pricing to actually providing a competitive bid response with line item pricing. And for what? They aren't going to make an award from this, remember?

Here's where it will get interesting. They may not make an award, from it, but they most certainly can determine who gets a shot at responding to the RFP, should they happen to go forward with it. That is the down-select agencies can choose to leverage, if they so choose.

Let me step back for just a second so I don't make this too one-sided. There is a need for agencies to conduct market research. It's primarily for the same reasons I tell our companies to be diligent with how they vet opportunities. It's for efficiency, which directly translates to cost-savings and I whole-heartedly agree with that. Except, all good market research requires communication and not just the stuff on the web or in a document and that is what's missing from the Government's aproach in large part.

Generally speaking, the Government is substituting RFP's masked as RFI's for meaningful dialogue with Industry for many right reason, and many wrong reasons.

So the process companies need to add to their market research portfolio or enhance if they already do it, is track how agencies conduct market research and what happens to the information submitted. How many result in 'street' opportunities and how many get added to an existing contract. Hey, it happens.

Here's the other shoe dropping. Small federal contractors not responding will contribute to having to go toe-to-toe with larger companies. Talk about a catch-22.

In the end, small federal contractors need to apply the same amount of due diligence (if not more) to vetting RFI and Sources Sought Notices as they do to RFP or RFQ-based solicitations. Let me put it this way, I've had more than one mid-tier and large company tell me they simply don't respond to these.

Remember. The next time you get your company spun up to respond to agency market research, be sure you have a good business case to answer the question of "RF-Why?"
The Chief Visionary

"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."

Tags:  contracting  government  market research  RFI  small business  Sources Sought 

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Comments on this post...

Michael Anderson, Native American Contractors Assn says...
Posted Wednesday, May 14, 2014
We have been seeing this for at least the past two years. The average small business cannot afford to expend the kind of effort it takes to generate a response some of the RFIs I've seen require! Much less, to do that over and over. Certainly a topic for acquisition reform if we want to keep small businesses at the table. Thanks for getting this concern out there, Guy.
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Eva Freund, The IV&V Group, Inc. says...
Posted Wednesday, May 14, 2014
One particular Sources Sought wanted a complete response in 1 calendar week. It required responses to about 12 items. This is not really doable and especially not over and over. Great topic, Guy.
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