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Alliant 3 to those in the know, this is the name of the promising new government-wide acquisition contract for technology services. The request for proposals is now out and open for comments. One move by the General Services Administration threatens the whole deal in the view of our next guest. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with federal sales and marketing consultant, Larry Allen.

Interview transcript: 

Tom Temin: Larry, there was something GSA did with respect to Alliance 3, which the entire industry has been anticipating, the draft RFPs, what did GSA do or maybe not do?

Larry Allen: I think the GSA Alliant 3 team is batting a solid 500. First, make no mistake, they did a really good job about getting a draft RFP out and put together in a very short period of time, a short period of time that they needed to work in because Alliant 2, the existing contract, has proved to be very popular. And that means that people are expecting great things for Alliance 3 as well. So why not batting 1000 Tom? They’re not batting 1000 because GSA, at least for now, has made the decision that they’re not going to have a one-on-one discussions with industry. Keep in mind that we’re in the draft RFP stage, the time when agencies go out to collect information from industry. They want to make sure that they have an acquisition vehicle that does the things that it should that meets the expectations. They also want to make sure that from an industry point of view, there aren’t any significant hurdles that would make this program as successful as everyone wants it to be. And yet, the Alliant 3 team has said we’re not going to do one-on-one meetings with companies right now. Because we feel that that would give people an unfair advantage. Well, you certainly can see their point, if this was the actual RFP when people were putting together bids, but we’re not at that stage yet. And if you contrast that against what GSA’s sister team is doing with the Oasis-Plus contract for services, the Oasi- Plus team during the formation of their draft RFP, which we expect any day now, they have had abundant discussions with industry for over a year, leading up to this point, getting lots of industry input and shaping the RFP accordingly, so that when the draft comes out, it should already fairly well reflect what’s going on. The Alliant 3 team hasn’t had the time to have those discussions prior to the issuance of this draft. So this is the only time really that they’re going to be able to have them now.

Tom Temin: Well, that’s kind of strange, because this is all happening under the Federal Acquisition Service, one wing of GSA. So what could be behind the inconsistency in approach here?

Larry Allen: I’m not really sure, Tom, I think that sometimes what we’ve been told by contractors is that government acquisition professionals generally not just at GSA, are a little bit more reluctant to have discussions with industry, even in the pre-acquisition phase than maybe some others or maybe than they have been in the past. But it’s not just that industry doesn’t have a chance to have those discussions. And in a one-on-one discussion, you can talk about things that you wouldn’t talk about with a group of competitors. That’s what makes them so important. It’s that evidence has shown over and over again, that you get the best acquisition outcomes by having communications with your industry partners when you can have them. Conversely, not having good conversations can lead to protests. It can lead to industry making less optimal responses then they otherwise might, because they have to kind of guess, at what it is the government’s asking for. So I’m perplexed by this decision. It’s not consistent with what other parts of GSA have done just recently, and it’s not consistent with what’s kind of become an established best practice.

Tom Temin: Yes. You wonder whatever happened to Mythbusters,  remember that?

Larry Allen: Right. Mythbusters that not ironically, GSA’s acquisition policy team had a large hand in drafting.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Larry Allen, he is president of Allen Federal Business Partners, and also coming up all of the sudden, is the contractor vaccine mandate question. It’s been a little bit in limbo for a couple of weeks because of the limitations on an injunction in a district court that came down. And so the administration is trying to figure out what their guidance should be. And something just changed late last week.

Larry Allen: It did Tom and it looked like this was going to be a Halloween present from government to industry, with the reinforcement of the vaccine mandate on contractors and inside government contracts. There was substantial speculation, beginning of this week that OMB would issue guidance to contracting officers saying, hey, we want to try to enforce the vaccine mandate in these areas where we can, because the 11th circuit court of appeals had narrowed the scope of a ban that the district court had put on the vaccine mandate. But the 11th District Court is not the only legal case, Tom, there are multiple other legal cases before different appellate courts right now. And there are bans in place that may not affect the entire country, but in fact, substantial parts of it. So this is a real patchwork of even if it wouldn’t be flipped the switch, you know, it could be effective in one state and not the two states right next to it, or vice versa, all of which I think led OMB to smartly issue a directive late last week to contracting officers saying, don’t take any action now to enforce this. Even though the contract clause may be in some contracts, we don’t want you to move forward to enforce it now. And we want you to think twice about putting the clause in new contracts that you issue. I think all of this time is a nod to reality. There are multiple court cases that have yet to be resolved. I think most people, including myself, expect that this issue will end up before the Supreme Court, or with the withdrawal of the executive order. If we get to a point where the administration decides that COVID-19 is not the threat that it once was. So I think OMB is initial directive to have the acquisition community sit tight and not take any action is definitely the right way to go.

Tom Temin: Yeah, the question is, you know, fundamentally, if you are not vaccinated, you may be susceptible to COVID. But that’s your problem. That doesn’t mean you’re gonna give it to everybody else around you.

Larry Allen: Right, you’re not gonna give it to everybody else around. And I think there’s also the question, the central question is whether or not the President overstepped his authority via the Procurement Act, by saying the Procurement Act gives me the right to require that everybody who works for a government contractor, get this vaccination. And that’s really what the legal wrangling is over.

Tom Temin: That’s kind of a fundamental question each administration deals with in its own way, maybe a little bit more aggressively in the Biden administration, relative to say, Republican administrations, but that is what rights does the buying power of the government give over other areas of contractor life? I mean, really, that’s that’s the real question here more than vaccines, in other words, because we buy from you, you have to go rob a bank? Well, that’s not clearly something any administration would have the power to enforce. I make an absurd example to illustrate the bigger point is, what is the reach of the government into operations of contractors by virtue of being a client, customer?

Larry Allen: And, Tom, I think you’re on the right track there, even though that is, you know, the outstanding type of examples. These are the same types of questions that judges in the various appellate courts have asked the administration to show why it’s reasonable, why it’s within the bounds of a Procurement Act. And procurement is important. It’s certainly important to people like you and me, but hey, let’s put it in perspective, procurement is procurement, right? And it shouldn’t be able to dictate how people live their lives in ways that don’t really impact the performance on a government contract.

Tom Temin: Yeah, they could say, well, because you’re a contractor, you have to change the white lines in your parking lot to yellow lines, or blue lines, or whatever the case might be. I mean, there’s a million things you can think of,  or the whole energy question, what your energy profile, energy consumption should be, by virtue of being a contractor? I don’t know the answer, but it seems like a question that never quite gets resolved.

Larry Allen: I think the answer is that they should have to give 10% of their gross profits; 5% to Tom Temin, 5% to Larry Allen.

Tom Temin: Well, we’ll put our transfer numbers online and anyone that wants to send money can do so.

Eric White: Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners.