A few weeks ago we released the GovTribe API in beta. Anyone interested in mainlining our manicured government procurement and contract data can simply request a free API key, check out the documentation, and begin building an interface into our database.

Not everybody understands how to use an API, of course. They’re typically intended for developers and data miners, not necessarily your average government contracting wonk - a category in which I place myself.

My background is financial and statistical analysis, and I have an intimate relationship with Microsoft Excel. So I wanted to demonstrate a method for interacting with the GovTribe API - and generating useful analyses - using a simple spreadsheet tool. To illustrate what can be done with our data, I decided to answer a fun question we got on Twitter.

"Is there any correlation between government postings of solicitations and the federal holiday schedule?"

This has long been an urban legend among government contractors. We all have our anecdotes about the government dropping a Request for Proposal (RFP) just before a holiday, or making a big proposal due immediately after. And with Independence Day weekend approaching, the poor souls chasing down quals instead of attending a barbecue might be curious just how often this happens.

To investigate, Arnob and I did a little research on how to access our API's JSON data through Google Spreadsheets. By reusing some code we found online, and writing a few simple functions, we were able to pull it together pretty quickly. Here’s a short video walk-through of what we did. (Click through to our Vimeo page to watch in HD.)

The short answer to the question posed above is “probably not.” I looked at five agencies – USAID, Department of State, Department of Commerce, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Army. For four of these agencies, there was no discernible, consistent increase in solicitation postings just prior to holidays. Nor was there a consistent increase in proposals due just after holidays.

Take the Department of State. I plotted the volumes of solicitation postings, proposals due, and awards using time buckets of roughly two-weeks. Each gray line corresponds to a two-week bucket that begins with a federal holiday.

DOS dist.png

There is a clear pattern of significantly increased contracting activity around the end of the government’s fiscal year. Specifically, solicitation postings ramp up between early August and into September. A huge number of proposals are due at the beginning of September. And more contracts are awarded in the last two weeks of September than in the first six months of the fiscal year combined.

No holiday spike though. Results are similar for Commerce, VA, and Army. You can check out the full Google spreadsheet for details, but the take home probably isn't "be prepared to work over the holidays", but rather "triple your dedicated business development support staff from mid July through late September."

USAID, though, had a somewhat stronger holiday correlation.

USAID dist.png

USAID is missing the spike in activity at the end of the fiscal year and procurement activity overall is much lower. But there is a conspicuous increase in solicitation postings just before holidays and in proposal due dates just after.

For example, take a look at 7/4/2012. During the two-week period immediately prior, solicitation postings jump from 15 to 25. Then the period beginning with July 4 has a large jump in proposals due.

You can see a similar pattern on 12/25/2012. That two-week period begins with Christmas and also includes New Years Day. The period immediately preceding had a jump in solicitation postings, and the period immediately following had a large increase in proposals due.

This pattern recurs for other holidays and in 2013.

Keep in mind that I’m looking only at two years of data here and I’m not filtering by project type or size. USAID does primarily complex, multi-year service contract procurements. It may be that, if you looked only at these kinds of contracts for DOS a pattern would emerge. I put the challenge to you. Take this very simple tool and expand it to answer your government procurement questions.

If you want to try it yourself, first request an API key here. Then make yourself a local copy of theGoogle spreadsheet I used for this analysis. Review the video above to learn where to input your key, and how to manipulate the spreadsheet tool.

Don't hesitate to contact us with questions on using the API for your organization. And, if there's a question about the government contracting market you'd like us to investigate for you, submit a custom report request.