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Read this if your agency is planning to procure a services vendor.

In our previous article, we looked at three primary areas we, or a potential vendor, consider when responding to a request for services. In this follow-up, we look at additional factors that influence the decision-making process on whether a potential vendor decides to respond to a request for services.

  • Relationship with this state/entity―Is this a state or client that we have worked with before? Do we understand their business and their needs?

    A continuing relationship allows us to understand the client’s culture and enables us to perform effectively and efficiently. By establishing a good relationship, we can assure the client that we can perform the services as outlined and at a fair cost.
  • Terms and conditions, performance bonds, or service level agreements―Are any of these items unacceptable? If there are concerns, can we request exceptions or negotiate with the state?

    When we review a request for services our legal and executive teams assess the risk of agreeing to the state’s terms and compare them against our existing contract language. States might consider requesting vendors provide exceptions to terms and conditions in their bid response to open the door for negotiations. Not allowing exceptions can result in vendors assuming that all terms are non-negotiable and may limit the amount of vendor bid responses received or increase the cost of the proposal.

    The inclusion of well-defined service level agreements (SLAs) in requests for proposals (RFPs) can be an effective way to manage resulting contracts. However, SLAs with undefined or punitive performance standards, compliance calculations, and remedies can also cause a vendor to consider whether to submit a bid response.

    RFPs for states that require performance bonds may result in significantly fewer proposals submitted, as the cost of a performance bond may make the total cost of the project too high to be successfully completed. If not required by law that vendors obtain performance bonds, states may want to explore other effective contractual protections that are more impactful than performance bonds, such as SLAs, warranties, and acceptance criteria.
  • Mandatory requirements―Are we able to meet the mandatory requirements? Does the cost of meeting these requirements keep us in a competitive range?

    Understanding the dichotomy between mandatory requirements and terms and conditions can be challenging, because in essence, mandatory requirements are non-negotiable terms and conditions. A state may consider organizing mandatory requirements into categories (e.g., system requirements, project requirements, state and federal regulations). This can help potential vendors determine whether all of the mandatory requirements are truly non-negotiable. Typically, vendors are prepared to meet all regulatory requirements, but not necessarily all project requirements.
  • Onsite/offsite requirements―Can we meet the onsite/offsite requirements? Do we already have nearby resources available? Are any location requirements negotiable?

    Onsite/offsite requirements have a direct impact on the project cost. Factors include accessibility of the onsite location, frequency of required onsite participation, and what positions/roles are required to be onsite or local. These requirements can make the resource pool much smaller when RFPs require staff to be located in the state office or require full-time onsite presence. And as a result, we may decide not to respond to the RFP.

    If the state specifies an onsite presence for general positions (e.g., project managers and business analysts), but is more flexible on onsite requirements for technical niche roles, the state may receive more responses to their request for services and/or more qualified consultants.
  • Due date of the proposal―Do we have the available proposal staff and subject matter experts to complete a quality proposal in the time given?

    We consider several factors when looking at the due date, including scope, the amount of work necessary to complete a quality response, and the proposal’s due date. A proposal with a very short due date that requires significant work presents a challenge and may result in less quality responses received.
  • Vendor available staffing―Do we have qualified staff available for this project? Do we need to work with subcontractors to get a complete team?

    We evaluate when the work is scheduled to begin to ensure we have the ability to provide qualified staff and obtain agreements with subcontractors. Overly strict qualifications that narrow the pool of qualified staff can affect whether we are able to respond. A state might consider whether key staff really needs a specific certification or skill or, instead, the proven ability to do the required work.

    For example, technical staff may not have worked on this particular type of project, but on a similar one with easily transferable skills. We have several long-term relationships with our subcontractors and find they can be an integral part of the services we propose. If carefully managed and vetted, we feel subcontractors can be an added value for the states.
  • Required certifications (e.g., Project Management Professional® (PMP®), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) certification)―Does our staff have the required certifications that are needed to complete this project?

    Many projects requests require specific certifications. On a small project, maybe other certifications can help ensure that we have the skills required for a successful project. Smaller vendors, particularly, might not have PMP®-certified staff and so may be prohibited from proposing on a project that they could perform with high quality.
  • Project timeline―Is the timeline to complete the project reasonable and is our staff available during the timeframe needed for each position for the length of the project?

    A realistic and reasonable timeline is critical for the success of a project. This is a factor we consider as we identify any clear or potential risks. A qualified vendor will not provide a proposal response to an unrealistic project timeline, without requesting either to negotiate the contract or requesting a change order later in the project. If the timeline is unrealistic, the state also runs the risk that the vendor will create many change requests, leading to a higher cost.

Other things we consider when responding to a request for services include: is there a reasonable published budget, what are the minority/women-owned business (M/WBE) requirements, and are these new services that we are interested in and do they fit within our company's overall business objectives?

Every vendor may have their own checklist and/or process that they go through before making a decision to propose on new services. We are aware that states and their agencies want a wide-variety of high-quality responses from which to choose. Understanding the key areas that a proposer evaluates may help states provide requirements that lead to more high-quality and better value proposals. If you would like to learn more about our process, or have specific questions, please contact the Medicaid Consulting team.

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What vendors want: Other factors that influence vendors when considering responding to a request for services

Read this if you are a bank.

On October 20, 2020, the FDIC Board of Directors voted to issue an interim final rule (the Rule) to provide temporary relief from the Part 363 Audit and Reporting requirements. Banks have experienced increases to their consolidated total assets as a result of large cash inflows resulting from participation in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the effects of other government stimulus efforts. 

Since these inflows may be temporary, but are significant and unpredictable, the Rule allows banks to determine the applicability of Part 363 of the FDIC’s regulations, Annual Independent Audits and Reporting Requirements, for fiscal years ending in 2021 based on the lesser of the bank’s:

  1. consolidated total assets as of December 31, 2019, or
  2. consolidated total assets as of the beginning of its fiscal year ending in 2021.

This Rule provides relief to banks that were going to meet the $1 billion FDICIA internal control audit requirement, or the $500 million management report and independence requirements, for 2021 due to asset growth from PPP loan activity and deposit liquidity. 

Note, a bank may be required to comply with one or more requirements of Part 363 if the FDIC determines that asset growth was related to a merger or acquisition. 

Planning tip

Despite the temporary relief, based on pre-COVID total assets and organic growth, banks could meet the requirements in 2022. Therefore, we recommend banks continue preparing internal control over financial reporting documentation and conduct preliminary testing to ensure a comfortable project timeline and smooth implementation. 

If any questions arise, please contact the BerryDunn FDICIA compliance team. We're here to help.
 

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FDIC grants some banks temporary regulatory relief of Part 363 Audit and Reporting requirements

Read this if you are a renewable energy producer, investor, or installer.

As Election Day approaches, much if not all of the nation’s attention is focused on the global COVID-19 pandemic, the millions of people it has affected, and its effect on the global economy. What haven’t been prominent in presidential election news are the different policy approaches of the two candidates. In the renewable energy sector, the differences are stark. Here is a brief look at those differences and tax approaches of the candidates.

General tax information: Trump 

Traditionally at this time in an election year we’re presented with tax plans from both candidates. While these are campaign promises and may not fully come to fruition after the election, they can shed light on what each candidate plans to prioritize if elected. As the incumbent candidate in this election, Donald Trump has not provided much detail on his tax plans for the next four years, as noted by the Tax Foundation’s Erica York:

“While light on detail, the agenda includes a few tax policy items like expanding existing tax breaks, creating credits for specific industries and activities, and unspecified tax cuts for individuals. The president has also expressed support for other policy changes related to capital gains and middle-class tax cuts. Of note, none of the campaign documents so far have detailed a plan for the expiring provisions under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).”

The president’s main priorities have been growing the economy and creating jobs, both of which have taken a massive hit in 2020 due to the pandemic. President Trump has had little else to say on his plans for a second term other than extending the sunset of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 to 2025, or the end of this coming term. One of the items that could be considered is an expansion of the Opportunity Zone program, providing a tax deferral for investment in specified economically distressed areas.

Another item is how Net Operating Losses (see our prior blog post on this topic) will be treated and whether or not the TCJA or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act rules will be the ones used in the future. With the recent New York Times article detailing the president’s tax filings and showing how he took advantage of the NOL rules, it’s still a guess as to how that could impact the tax policy around NOLs going forward.  

Trump energy plan: fossil fuels first

In the energy sector, Trump’s focus has been on bolstering the oil and gas industry, while also trying to revive the flagging coal industry, and it appears his focus will continue in that vein. His proposed budget continues to provide tax breaks for fossil fuel companies, while planning to repeal renewable energy tax credits. Prior to his election in 2016, the renewable energy sector was somewhat hopeful that the benefits of increased jobs provided by the industry would be appealing to the President. This hasn’t played out over the last four years and with current energy credits scheduled to phase out and unprecedented unemployment, the jobs being provided by this sector may be part of the formula to help sway the administration to extending or expanding these programs.

General tax information: Biden 

Biden, as the challenger, has a much more detailed tax plan laid out. As expected, it is very different from the direction the Trump presidency has taken regarding taxes. A brief summary of his plan:

Raise taxes on individuals with income above $400,000, including:

  • Raising the top individual income tax bracket from 37% back to 39.6%
  • Removing the preferential treatment of long-term capital gains for taxpayers with income over $1 million
  • Creating additional phase outs of itemized and other deductions 
  • Instituting additional payroll taxes related to funding social security
  • Expanding the Child Tax Credit up to $8,000 for two or more children

Biden’s plan would also raise taxes on corporations:

  • Raising the corporate income tax rate from 21% to 28% 
  • Imposing a corporate minimum tax on corporations with book profits of $100 million or higher.

According to the Tax Foundation’s analysis of Biden’s tax plan:  

“[Expectations are that it] would raise tax revenue by $3.05 trillion over the next decade on a conventional basis. When accounting for macroeconomic feedback effects, the plan would collect about $2.65 trillion the next decade. This is lower than we originally estimated due to the revenue effects of the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.”…“On a conventional basis, the Biden tax plan by 2030 would lead to about 6.5 percent less after-tax income for the top 1 percent of taxpayers and about a 1.7 percent decline in after-tax income for all taxpayers on average.

Taxpayers earning more than $400,000 a year, and investors who have enjoyed preferential treatment and lower tax rates on capital gains will certainly pause at this proposal. While Trump’s tax policy has been to lower taxes in these areas to spur investment in the economy, Biden’s plan shows the need to generate tax revenue in order to cover the massive amounts spent during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Biden energy plan: renewables first

Joe Biden’s energy policy is focused on climate change and renewable energy. In addition to ending tax subsidies for fossil fuels, his platform proposes investing $2 trillion over four years for clean energy across sectors, recommit to the Paris agreement, and achieve 100% clean energy by 2035.

Other Biden initiatives include:

  • Improving energy efficiency of four million existing buildings
  • Building one and a half million energy-efficient homes and public housing
  • Expanding several renewable-energy-related tax credits
  • Installing 500 million solar panels within five years 
  • Restoring the Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and the Electric Vehicle Tax Credit

Indeed, over the past decade the Democratic Party has been a proponent of investment in and expansion of renewable energy technologies. While increased taxes will certainly cause many business owners and investors to pause, and any changes will need to be passed by Congress, it is encouraging to the renewable energy sector that Biden’s policy platform states goals related to increasing renewable energy in the United States.

As one might expect during this era of the two main political parties being so far apart from each other on policy, the proposed tax plans of both candidates also stand in fairly stark contrast, as does their approach to the United States’ energy sources in the coming decade. There are benefits and consequences to both plans, which will have an impact beyond the 2020 election.  
 

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The presidential election: two different approaches to energy

Read this if your agency is planning to procure a services vendor. 

Every published request for services aims to acquire the highest-quality services for the best value. Requests may be as simple as an email to a qualified vendor list or as formal as a request for proposal (RFP) published on a state’s procurement website. However big or small the request, upon receiving it, we, or a potential vendor, triages it using the following primary criteria:

  1. Scope of services―Are these services or solutions we can provide? If we can’t provide the entire scope of services, do we have partners that can?
    As a potential responding vendor, we review the scope of services to see if it is clearly defined and provides enough detail to help us make a decision to pursue the proposal. Part of this review is to check if there are specific requests for products or solutions, and if the requests are for products or solutions that we provide or that we can easily procure to support the scope of work. 
  2. Qualifications―What are the requirements and can we meet them?
    We verify that we can supply proofs of concept to validate experience and qualification requirements. We check to see if the requirements and required services/solutions are clearly defined and we confirm that we have the proof of experience to show the client. Strict or inflexible requirements may mean a new vendor is unable to propose new and innovative services and may not be the right fit.
  3. Value―Is this a service request that we can add value to? Will it provide fair compensation?
    We look to see if we can perform the services or provide the solution at a rate that meets the client’s budget. Sometimes, depending upon the scope of services, we can provide services at a rate typically lower than our competitors. Or, conversely, though we can perform the scope of services, the software/hardware we would have to purchase might make our cost lower in value to the client than a well-positioned competitor.

An answer of “no” on any of the above questions typically means that we will pass on responding to the opportunity. 

The above questions are primary considerations. There are other factors when we consider an opportunity, such as where the work is located in comparison to our available resources and if there is an incumbent vendor with a solid and successful history. We will consider these and other factors in our next article. If you would like to learn more about our process, or have specific questions, please contact the Medicaid Consulting team.
 

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What vendors want: Vendor decision process in answering requests for services

Read this if you administer a 401(k) plan.

On December 20, 2019, the Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act was signed into law. The SECURE Act makes several changes to 401(k) plan requirements. Among those changes is a change to the permissible minimum service requirements.  
 
Many 401(k) retirement plan sponsors have elected to set up minimum service requirements for their plan. Such requirements help eliminate administrative burden of offering participation to part-time employees who may then participate in the plan for a short period of time and then keep their balance within the plan. Although plan sponsors do have the ability to process force-out distributions for smaller account balances, a minimum service requirement, such as one year of service, can help eliminate this situation altogether.  

Long-term part-time employees now eligible

The SECURE Act will now require that long-term part-time employees be offered participation in 401(k) plans if they are over the age of 21. The idea behind the requirement is that 401(k) plans are responsible for an increasingly larger amount of employees’ retirement income. Therefore, it is essential that part-time employees, some of which may not have a full-time job, have the ability to save for retirement.  
 
Long-term is defined as any employee who works three consecutive years with 500 or more hours worked each year. This new secondary service requirement becomes effective January 1, 2021. Previous employment will not count towards the three-year requirement. Therefore, the earliest a long-term part-time employee may become eligible to participate in a plan under the secondary service requirement is January 1, 2024.  

403(b) plans not affected 

Please note this provision is only applicable for 401(k) plans and does not impact 403(b) plans, which are subject to universal availability. Furthermore, although long-term part-time employees will be allowed to make elective deferrals into 401(k) plans, management may choose whether to provide non-elective or matching contributions to such participants. These participants also may be excluded from nondiscrimination and top-heavy requirements.  
 
This requirement will create unique tracking challenges as plans will need to track hours worked for recurring part-time employees over multiple years. For instance, seasonal employees who elect to work multiple seasons may inadvertently become eligible. We recommend plans work with their record keepers and/or third-party administrators to implement a tracking system to ensure participation is offered to those who meet this new secondary service requirement. If a feasible tracking solution does not exist, or plans do not want to deal with the burden of tracking such information, plans may also consider amending their minimum service requirements by reducing the hours of service requirement from 1,000 hours to 500 hours or less. However, this may allow more employees to participate than under the three-year, 500-hour requirement and may increase the employer contributions each year. 

If you have questions regarding your particular situation, please contact our Employee Benefit Audits team. We’re here to help.

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New permissible minimum service requirements for 401(k) plans