Communication with Industry

I have helped a lot of companies build and execute communication plans with the Government. This is a very important part of a company’s business development process, especially if the company is trying to enter a new market or building awareness of a new product. I have heard many questions and misinformed statements when considering communications with the Government, but three most notable questions are: 1) What can and cannot be discussed, 2) When does the Government restrict communication about a procurement, and 3) Should I respond to Request for Information or attend Government conferences?

The Government is encouraged to communicate with industry. FAR 15.201 outlines the Government’s exchange with industry and states in FAR 15.201 (b), “The purpose of exchanging information is to improve the understanding of Government requirements and industry capabilities, thereby allowing potential Offerors to judge whether or how they can satisfy the Government’s requirements, and enhancing the Government’s ability to obtain quality supplies and services, including construction, at reasonable prices, and increase efficiency in proposal preparation, proposal evaluation, negotiation, and contract award.”

Communication with the Government is most effective when the discussion is focused on a future solicitation being issued from the organization. Government officials promote early communication with vendors about acquisitions in the pre-solicitation phase, especially for high dollar or more complex procurements. It is important to note here exchanges with vendors can be extremely beneficial, but the Government must ensure sensitive or proprietary information is protected for both the Government and venders alike during communication. FAR 15.201(c) describes, in very good detail, the concerns the Government is trying to solve when communication with industry. I highly recommend all vendors read FAR 15.201, but specifically Section c, when preparing their campaign plan on a specific opportunity. Some positive topics of conversation with the Government are:

  • Clarity and feasibility of requirements – this is your time to understand and possibly influence requirements
  • Possible acquisition strategy, including contract type, set asides, and acquisition schedules
  • Market place capabilities – discuss how your products and services can help meet requirements
  • Business decisions by your company about private sector investments in products or services – basically your time to tell them about your company
  • If you are a small business, greater use of small business set asides for a procurement, or if you are a large company, why the opportunity should go to a large company
  • Better understanding of deliverables and the quality and costs of the deliverables for the procurement

Keep in mind, there are topics not open for discussion with the Government. Some of the information the Government may not exchange with industry are:

  • Contractor bid or proposal information
  • Specific weights of evaluation factors and subfactors
  • Names of the source selection authority, panel chairpersons, and evaluation team members
  • Proposal evaluation plan details, including worksheet forms
  • Any information for which release is inconsistent with procurement integrity

Early dialog with the Government, before acquisition strategies are developed or draft Request for Proposals (DRFP) are released, allow greater access to Government personnel and result in more open communication. FAR 15.201(f) states, “After the release of the solicitation, the KO must be the focal point of any exchange with potential Offerors.”  Most local agencies define when communication is restricted to the KO. PEO STRI, for example, has a local document titled Acquisition Instructions (AI) 016, Communication with Industry. In paragraph 7.g. (page 8) of this document, PEO STRI defines issuance of a DRFP as the release of the solicitation because it includes contract sections L, Instructions to Offeror, and M, Evaluation Factors for award. They go on to say all DRFP documents are treated in accordance with FAR 15.201(f) and the KO is the only point of contact between industry and the Government. It is important to note here, information provided to a vendor about a proposed acquisition after the release of the solicitation must be made available to the public as soon as practicable to avoid competitive advantage. In addition, the Government is not allowed to disclose information provided by a potential Offeror if it would reveal the potential Offeror’s confidential business strategy.

The Government uses several means to communicate with industry other than one-on-one discussions. Request for Information (RFI), public hearings, pre-solicitation or proposal conferences, market surveys, industry or small business conferences, and draft RFPs are some of these means. Publication of engagement events are posted and updated regularly using the “special notices” function on Although responding to RFIs or attending industry conferences are not required, we highly recommend potential Offerors response/attendance these events because they can have a significant impact on a procurement’s acquisition strategy and requirements. Materials distributed at conferences should be made available to all potential Offerors upon request but they don’t replace your ability to enter into discussions with decision makers in the Government. Conferences or RFI’s are your chance to influence requirements and acquisition strategy or even help the Government make the decision to pursue procurements.

A great example of the Government using a RFI in this way is when they wanted to learn how fast a terrain database (TDB) for virtual simulators could be developed in the early 2000’s. At the time, it took a year to build a TDB for a virtual simulator at a cost of over a million dollars. Through the issuance of an RFI and a pre-solicitation conference the Government learned the technology was available to build a TDB in less than a week and there was enough competition to ensure a reasonable price. In this case, responses from this RFI and attendance at the conferences not only helped build requirements and an acquisition strategy but helped the Government make the decision to pursue this procurement. Based on this and many more examples, it is essential for industry, especially small business, to attend and/or respond to these engagement events.

Some helpful inks to other DoD references for communication with the Government besides FAR 15.201 include:

Let us know how we can help you succeed in this or any other business effort!

-J. Michael Courtney