Top 10 Questions for Dr. Nick Nayak (former DHS Chief Procurement Officer)

Matt Hastings : Good morning, Dr. Nayak. Thanks for taking the time to talk. So, what are you up to these days?

Nick Nayak: Since leaving DHS a little more than two months ago, I have been and am primarily taking care of family. Many people are aware that my mother experienced a heart attack while I was at DHS. Subsequently, she underwent quadruple bypass surgery and is now on the path to recovery. I’m grateful I have had the opportunity to be there in a time of need for my parents.

Matt Hastings: Glad to hear she’s doing better. With your experience, how would you describe your time at DHS?

Nick Nayak: Every moment at DHS is intense because the bar is set very high for protecting the United States of America every second of every day. My time was no different – events occur, DHS employees respond and evolve based on lessons learned – a few examples were the Boston Marathon bombings and Hurricane Sandy.

Matt Hastings: We all know how important our nation’s security is, especially now. Given your experience as a procurement executive, do you have specific advice for Industry, specifically companies selling to DHS?

Nick Nayak: Yes – DHS is one of the top seven spending federal agencies – together whom spend 90% of the government’s roughly $500B per year. The Agency does well at connecting with all sizes of companies – about 40% of the contract dollars go to large, 30% to mid-sized, and 30% to small businesses. That’s a fairly balanced distribution. There are opportunities for companies to break in and/or team or subcontract with others. Some tips are to have a niche that is reasonably priced and hire help to get the best intelligence prior to spending money to prepare and submit a proposal. Proposals can cost around $100,000 or even more. You can get BD Investigation help well below that cost in order to make better-informed bid/no bid decisions.

Matt Hastings: To continue your point of what companies should do, I’m sure companies would like to know what they shouldn’t do. What was one of the top mistakes you saw federal contractors make while CPO at DHS?

Nick Nayak: Since DHS and most government agencies rely on multiple award contracts (MACs) for many goods and services, one of the top mistakes was companies who won initial awards on a MAC thinking task order contracts would automatically come their way. Winning a multiple award contract (MAC) is when the game actually begins. Companies should think strategically and again, some consulting assistance can be helpful.

Matt Hastings: Spending reports are showing increased initiation and usage of contract vehicles. Do you believe this to be a positive trend for Industry? Can you speak to your experiences with DHS contracting vehicles (EAGLE I & II, TABSS, etc)?

Nick Nayak: Yes, this is a positive trend; it means that Contracting Officers have a faster way to connect with companies to buy things to protect the country. For industry, it means business opportunities for prime contractors, teaming partners, and subcontractors. You have to look at overall government spending. Currently, it’s roughly around $500B, and, unless we constantly remain at war, that number will eventually have to come down – not necessarily for all agencies. Contract spending by agencies is driven by when they receive their budgets and when they have to spend it all. Government-wide, roughly 37% of the dollars are spent in the 4th quarter (from July – September). Large multiple award contracts such as EAGLE II and TABSS are up and off to the races for the next five to seven years.

Matt Hastings: What would you say to contractors that believe Eagle II was not a success because of timing, protests, etc.?

Nick Nayak: I understand your frustration, and it will likely never happen again. Historically, it takes most agencies about 18 months to award large multiple award contracts such as EAGLE II. Initial contract awards were made slightly after 18 months and protests really dragged the process out, however, it led to adding in more companies, and that’s probably a good thing. Those companies who did receive EAGLE II awards will see business opportunities for the next five to seven years. I have more thoughts on how to handle awarding a possible EAGLE III much faster than the standard 18 months – let’s save that for another time.

Matt Hastings: As we enter into FY15, what type of planning should companies consider?

Nick Nayak: This is a great question Matt, and knowing you, I’d bet you have plenty of thoughts on this as well. I think it’s important to reflect on what has and has not worked as a business. Of course, these activities will vary across companies. I think universally, companies should be setting new goals for the new Fiscal Year. I tend to like specific goals rather than phrases such as “let’s double in size” or “win more business”. Once you’ve set a specific goal, you can begin to outline specific activities necessary for achieving those goals.

Matt Hastings: I like that, specificity! Given the nature of the AlphaBrook BD Investigation (BDI) service, we like to examine different assumptions and predictions we made for clients. Basically, asking the question: Did our BD Investigation work lead to effective decision-making? If we thought an incumbent was well positioned, let’s see if they actually won the deal. Over time, we’ve developed great lessons learned by “backtracking” our work and validating our research and assumptions.

Matt Hastings: Given your role in Federal Procurement, where do you see the future growth areas within both IT and non-IT services?

Nick Nayak: Like many, I’ve always believed that the private sector is in a better position to take greater risk and try new things. This is why the government often uses the phrase, “Commercial Best Practices”. You see things catching on in the consumer world like “the sharing economy” – think of Uber or Airbnb. You can see the similarities – consider how IT Departments across Government are developing consolidated models to share resources and cut costs. Of course, everyone also thinks of Cloud Services even though the buzzword has been around for quite some time. That’s actually a good example of an area where Government has taken incremental steps whereas commercial has taken major leaps. However, the private sector has also experienced the additional risk and occasional pitfalls associated with developing a completely virtualized environment. Ultimately, I believe consumer choice and budgets will drive innovation that will continue to shape the future for both IT and non-IT services.

Matt Hastings: Based on your experience, what makes an organization’s Business Development (or sales) function successful?

Nick Nayak: You and I have had past discussions on this. To cut to the chase, I believe it’s the combination of effective leadership that’s capable of hiring A+ players to market their solutions. After that, it comes down to the quality of their delivery personnel, the quality of their solutions, and the quality of their contract vehicles. Contractors that rank high in all of those factors tend to outperform the competition. Sure, it’s not rocket-science, but most people would agree that consistently executing across those areas takes creativity and persistence.

Matt Hastings: When people think about your service within Government, what would you like to be remembered for?

Nick Nayak: I would like to be remembered as an individual who was grateful for all the opportunities provided and who cared about people – my legacy is the positive impact made through others who will continue on in public service.

Matt Hastings: Again, thank you for your time and insight. I hope others find this as enjoyable as I have. Thanks, Nick!

Sara Coit