A mix of budget uncertainty and the use-it-or-lose-it nature of federal funding leads to a spending rush at the end of the fiscal year at many agencies. The realities of the contracting process and stipulations under the federal acquisition regulation can make this a daunting time for vendors and contracting shops, alike.
During a panel discussion at the annual 930Gov end-of-year conference, Casey Kelley, director of the General Services Administration's Alliant GWAC, said agencies should plan for this months before the fourth quarter arrives. When that's not possible, it's important to have strong relationships with internal contracting shops, as well as GWACs and other government buyers, he said.
"If they have to do it quickly, my recommendation would be for the end user at the agency — if they haven't yet — to quickly build rapport with their 1102s, their contracting shop," Kelley said. "Understand what their workload is, understand what they're looking for in terms of a defined requirement, assistance with developing source selection and evaluation criteria, any insight in terms of what that requirement is and what kind of market research they've done to assist the 1102. Anything to help that contracting officer who now has the pressure to sign their name and execute on behalf of the government."
The September spending spree has become the norm for federal contracting, according to Deltek analysts who broke down monthly awards for the last 10 years. On average, agencies have spent 17.6 percent of their budgets in September for the last five years, compared to between 7 and 9 percent throughout the year.
That trend holds out on the Alliant GWAC, according to Kelley.
"September is our busiest month of the year," he said, noting agencies spent $697 million on 29 task orders in September 2014, $865 million on 24 orders in September 2013 and $1.9 billion on 38 task orders in the last month of fiscal 2012.
Based on sales to-date this year, Kelley conservatively estimated about $500 million will be ordered off Alliant this September.
Kelley also noted there tend to be fewer total task orders in September with higher dollar values on each.
Getting effective competition with a shortened lead time requires preparation and coordination with agency contracting shops.
"We're always, even at year-end talking about relationships … What type of a relationship do you the agency buyer have with your contracting shop?" said Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. "As a buyer you have to understand whether or not your contracting shop has the expertise and bandwidth to do what you need it to do in the timeframe in which you need it done."
"Those who have that rapport work well and are effective," Kelley agreed.
Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.