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IC INDUSTRY DAYS: CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM OR MANURE?

Monday, November 10, 2008
Joe Mazzafro

Read the Current Blog: WHAT PRESIDENT OBAMA SHOULD ASK HIS DNI ON DAY ONE

Since joining the "for profit" private sector of the industrial base associated with the Intelligence Community (IC) in June of 2006 I have found it necessary to go various agency industry days on a regular basis, and to be blunt with the exception of NSA events and the ODNI's second one I am tired of being fed manure in a sugar cone and being told its chocolate ice cream!  Worse, I get the feeling that those intelligence agency officials organizing these industry days actually believe that they are delivering chocolate ice cream, i.e. what the private sector wants to learn at an industry day.

With 70% of the National Intelligence Program (NIP) out sourced to contractors, industry days are not just nice to haves and contractors really are IC partners.  Done well, industry days give IC agencies a controlled venue in which to communicate in a fair and open way what products, services, or capabilities they plan on procuring with all those interested in doing business with them.  They also allow for the sponsoring agency to inform industry about how it advertises its contracting opportunities, how to compete for awards, and who the key points of contact are in the agency for contracting issues.  

This is all essential but not sufficient from an industry attendee's perspective who pay from $350 to $500 a seat to attend an IC industry day, which is rather pricey when salary, travel, and opportunity costs are factored in.  What the private sector is looking for at an IC industry day is information it can use to make business decisions such as:

Ø       Qualifying  opportunities that can be converted to revenue by understanding their funding support

Ø      Learning/discerning what value proposition will resonate with  the sponsoring IC agency  (i.e. what gives a company the best chance to win business it decides to bid on)

There are other reasons why the private sector invests in attending IC Industry Days that may or may not be important to the sponsoring agency:

Ø       Opportunity to meet an interact with the sponsoring agency's influencers and decision makers

Ø      Show their corporation’s support for and interest in the sponsoring agency's mission , issues and challenges

Ø      Assess potential competitors and teaming partners on particular opportunities

While most IC industry days do a good job of providing the contracting basics of how do business with the sponsoring agency along with reasonable access to the agency's leadership and an opportunity to network, they consistently fall short of informing the attendees about  the specifics needed to make business decision.

In addition to a 101 primer on how to do business with the sponsoring agency, what is usually delivered at most IC Industry Days is an infomercial about the agency that presumes most attending do not understand the agency or its mission.  The result is a webpage like presentation on here's why the agency exists and what it does which may or may not include an organizational line and block diagram.  Then there is an overview of the agency’s strategic priorities and the challenges it is facing that they are looking for industry to help solve.  Usually because of classification and the public venue of the industry day no funding information or program association with any of these priorities or challenges is provided, which makes them vacuous from a business qualification perspective.

The obvious solution for coupling funding to programs, and programs to the meeting the IC agency's challenges and priorities that industry reps are interested in knowing is to hold all IC industry days in appropriately classified settings as NSA does.  The problem, of course, with this approach is it would limit attendees to those with security clearances ( i.e. those most likely who are doing or have done work recently for the agency) raising fairness issues but even more importantly  icing out new companies with new products and services that could be of benefit to the sponsoring IC agency.

Assuming, however, that neither the IC agencies nor the private sector can afford to invest in both classified and unclassified industry days what can be done to make IC industry days in public venues more purposeful for at least those paying sizeable fees to attend?  Let me suggest the following agenda to IC Industry Day Organizers:

Ø       Welcome and agency overview by Director/Deputy Director

o        Strategic priorities, optimally in rank order classification permitting

o        Open challenges for meeting these priorities

o        If the agency got a plus up what would the first marginal dollar go to; conversely if the agency took a significant funding cut where would the first marginal dollar come from

 

Ø      Senior Acquisition Officer providing information of how the agency engages the private sector and best ways for industry to engage the agency on opportunities in general as well as specific opportunities discussed at this industry day

o        How requirements are developed

o        Where award criteria come from

o        Set asides and where the agency needs to improve

 

Ø      Unclassified presentation on sponsoring agency's budget

o        Approximate percent of budget allocated to salaries, operations and maintenance, outsourcing, and research & development (R&D)

o        Approximate percentage of outsourcing and R&D budgets bracket against meeting agency’s priorities and challenges

o        Pressures that could impact the agency’s budget in the current fiscal year or over the POM period

 

Ø      From unclassified statements of work review schedule for expected Request For Information (RFIs) and Request For Proposals (RFP) for fiscal year (FY)  XX . 

o        Where possible relate RFI/RFP to a program of record, provide milestone dates, type of contract,  and dollar amounts

o        Risk concerns of the agency (e.g. performance, cost, schedule, technology, etc.) for an RFP

o        What could cause a delay or acceleration of an RFP release

 

Ø      Networking Reception

I suspect many in government, who have not worked in the private sector, will read this and say joemaz just doesn't understand why unclassified industry days are the way they are (concerns about classification, FAR issues, general counsel warning, etc.).  Until I hear some compelling feedback, this what I think; what do you think?

Comments

Wow Joe you sure build some compelling arguments here that have opened my eyes to a few things. I think you are also making an argument for a point you don't directly mention-- it would be good to see more folks from industry (like you and 100's other) rotate into government for a while to exert leadership in areas like this and it would be good to see 1000's of govies rotate out into business for a while to see how things are done there. That sort of thing is really discouraged in our current climate (and if done wrong actually would violate parts of the Procurement Integrity Act or other well intentioned parts of the law- so please don't anyone try this without legal council). Anyway, things could be far more efficient, I think, if great ethical leaders on both sides of the government-industry divide could swap places for extended periods of time. There are a few folks who get the chance to rotate like that, but we would be better served if it occurred in much greater numbers, I think.

Cheers,
Bob

By Bob Gourley

Having served in both active duty, federal service and having attended supposed IC venues in the past, I agree with joemazz as to his perception of these "dog and pony shows" as just so much BS.

They serve no one except for those who "host" them, and like the parasites they mimic, do a dis-service to the tax payer who pays twice, once for the attendee, and again when the contract is approved without oversight or a monitored contract!

By Greg OHara

Right on, Joe. The margins out here in industry-land are too thin for "show" with no "go." Your comment about a general discussion of where the "cut line" is and a frank discussion about where the Agencies are in the RFP cycle is what industry needs to meet Government requirements. I've toiled on the BD and line management side of the house now, and all I want is to have a general sense of where we have to expend resources to have an informed shot at meeting the need. There is likely to be a chill wind blowing through the budget, and this will only get more important in the coming FYDP.

By J.R. Reddig

JR, Greg, Bob,

Thanks for your feedback and additional observations/insights!

Yes, Bob I am very much in favor or more back and forth from government to industry to government. Some well intended and necessary ethic/conflict of interest regulations make this a challenge as you point out, but for the narrow topic of industry days IC organizers need only ask what industry is looking for and they will hear it. Don't believe there is ethics/conflict issues preventing this.

thanks again guys joemaz

By joemaz

You make some good points.

I think that part of the problem is that the unclassified industry days are done to satisfy the Agency requirements to reach out to 8A's, SDB's and new players to show that the Agency is taking steps to open up procurement in a fair and open way.

Most of the "70%" money goes to the same primes that an Agency has had experience with. It is rare that some new player swoops in for a major award.

The classified industry days that I have attended have been hit or miss. It seems to depend on the presenter(s).

"Networking" at the industry day is half the value of attending if an individual makes the effort.

Things are sort of stacked for the incumbents. This does mitigate risk to the government. This is not completely unreasonable. If a major SI does a poor job on a large program, it will affect thier business. By the same token, if they do a great job on a major program, more business will come thier way. New players have to earn thier way in and it is possible to do so. It's not as easy as commercial business or civilian agencies but it can be done.

By Barry Hebbel

I agree Barry ---- IC Industry Days do appear to be token efforts to say yes, we reached out to industry and told them what we wanted, when in fact what they share with industry is nothing that P&L business decision can be based upon thanks joemaz

By joemaz

Joe, I think you make some truly excellent points and illuminate some very real problems from the industry perspective - but enough of this backslapping, I want to get on to where I think you may have erred. :-)
First this disclaimer: I've only seen this first-hand from the govvie perspective and have no experience looking at it from your point of view. Thus my comments necessarily come from that perspective.
That said, I think there is an unspoken assumption in your piece that the objectives of the government and industry in participating in these "industry days" are reasonably congruent, if not identical. I don't believe this is so.
Industry's fundamental objective is to figure out how to make the best return (revenue) on the investment of their time and resources. This, of course, is a perfectly reasonable objective for industry, but it is not necessarily in the government's interest to go too far to illuminate your path and help you achieve it too easily. It is actually advantageous to the government to make you work for it in at least partial darkness.
The government has different objectives, at least some of which are in partial conflict with those of industry. Fundamental among them is to get the best product for the least money - a perfectly reasonable goal given their mandated requirement to be good stewards of the public's tax dollars. "Best product" means (among other things) encouraging broad competition (providing many options in terms of product and price to choose from). It is therefore not in the governments best interest to make it too easy, by offering too much information, for companies to decide whether or not a given program/challenge is worth their effort. Far better to encourage more companies to think it might be worth their effort to bid and sort it out in source selection.
"Least money" means (among other things) not being too specific about about the characteristics - dollar amounts, program relationships, security, etc. - of the money which is available.
That said, there are many fine lines to be walked here. It is surely a delicate balancing act to give enough to encourage industry participation in the process while giving little enough to ensure the government's goals as described above are met. I think your suggestions for better balancing are quite reasonable and constructive. Thanks for a thought provoking piece.

Tom

By Tom Handel

Tom, thanks for this thoughtful feedback. You are right it is not government's job to make bid and proposal easy for industry ---- but that is not what I am railing at. Its IC agencies providing infomercials about themselves and their missions and thinking that is information the private sector can use to make business decisions. I am pretty engaged with AFCEA, INSA, and event the for profit events planner NCSI and for the most part IC agencies don't do much investigation of what attendees are looking for at an industry day and if they get advice from one of these organizations they tend to disregard it. My issue is not about creating an easy path for industry, but rather that industry days neither waste government or private sector time

thanks joemaz

By Joemaz

Certainly an attention getting analogy Joe. Now I really don't care for chocolate ice cream.
Not sure why you need to imply that profit and not-for-profit enterprises have differing objectives. Most of us are in this business to understand the needs, and to identify the costs and risks of national security plans and programs. As you have so aptly discussed, we must understand what is intended, in terms of resources, technologies, and schedules, to be able to help realize the full potential of "the Intelligence Community".

By Jerry Stump

Jerry, thanks! Strongly agree that guys that retired government intel guy like you and me are more about the mission and the business will come. What I was tryin to get at was the importand legal difference that IC agencies have to operate in the best interest of the government, but publicly held companies have to act in the best interest of their share holders. Since coming to the for profit side of our community, I am not sure those with government only experience understand this and why we can't just give the IC goods and services at cost. joemaz

By joemaz

Joe,
Nicely written. And as Bob wrote, it is so valuable for guys like us that spent careers in Gov't to learn how the other side lives.
I was unable to attend the recent DIA Acquisition Conference in San Antonio due to HQ briefing requirements, but our returning folks said it was a tightly scheduled and hard hitting agenda, and very open for an unclass environment. It is very worthwile when the Government makes the effort to put something like this on, and invites those services like our beloved ONI, which also participated.
See ya at DoDIIS!
Mark

By Mark Ward