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?

Share Your Thoughts:

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

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