I invite you to participate in a plain language writing contest. To participate, re-write the passage below in plain language and post your entry in the comments section below. Here is the passage:
You may submit more than one entry. I will score your entry for readability using the Dale-Chall Readability Formula.
Your entry must communicate the essential information in the passage to be acceptable. The acceptable entry with the lowest adjusted readability score will be the winner. I will send the author of the winning entry a copy of The Write Way: The S.P.E.L.L. Guide to Real-Life Writing by Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis.
I will also give an award for the most humorous entry. I will send the author of the most humorous entry a copy of The Play of Words: Fun & Games for Language Lovers by Richard Lederer.
The deadline for receipt of entries is December 27 at 4:30 pm Pacific Standard Time. If an emergency or unanticipated event interrupts normal Wifcon processes so that entries cannot be received on the Web site designated for receipt of entries by the exact time specified in the invitation, and urgent requirements preclude amendment of the invitation, the time specified for receipt of entries will be deemed to be extended to the same time of day specified in the invitation on the first work day on which normal Wifcon processes resume.
Assume that you are pricing a firm-fixed-price contract using cost analysis. The prospective contractor has included a contingency of $100,000 in its cost proposal of the type described at FAR 31.205-7(c)(1):
There is a 90% chance that this contingency will occur. If it occurs, there's a 100% chance it will cost $100,000.
The prospective contractor can take Precaution A, which will cost $50,000. If the contingency occurs, Precaution A would reduce the chance of the contingency costing $100,000 to 30% (there would be a 70% chance the contingency would cost $0).
The prospective contractor can take Precaution B, which will cost $75,000. If the contingency occurs, Precaution B would reduce the chance of the contingency costing $100,000 to 10% (there would be a 90% chance the contingency would cost $0).
The prospective contractor is free to take Precaution A, Precaution B, or do nothing.
What amount for this contingency would you allow in the contract price?
You may ask for more facts if you'd like or ask to make an assumption. Do not fight the hypothetical. Enjoy.
To answer the title question--most likely yes, for DoD. A recent DFARS final rule, Procurement of Commercial Items (DFARS Case 2016-D006), added the following definition at DFARS 202.101:
Since small business concerns are exempt from CAS, most small business concerns would fall within the definition. This has significant consequences because the final rule also added the following at DFARS 212.102(a)(iii):
So, DoD contracting officers can use FAR part 12 procedures to buy both commercial and noncommercial items from most small business concerns. I admit that I did not appreciate the scope of this rule when I first read it. I would have expected more dancing in the streets by both small business concerns and DoD contracting officers. Maybe there was and I missed it.
A former student of mine is part of a team conducting a survey to gauge interest in a Mentoring program for Acquisition. If you work in federal acquisition and work for a federal agency (including DoD), please take a few minutes to complete the survey. The more junior you are, the better. From the team:
It's been almost 10 months since the FAR Council issued the last Federal Acquisition Circular (FAC). The streak of inactivity will be broken on November 6 when FAC 2005-96 will be published. The FAC contains a single rule that removes the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rule. But that's not what makes the rule so remarkable. Item 16 of the FAC makes changes to the provision at FAR 52.204-8 as follows:
Notice something strange? See that link to a YouTube Video? That's really there. It's in both the html and pdf versions of the FAC. It is officially contained in the FAR. What is the video? I won't spoil it for you--click and find out.
I always thought that the FAR Matrix was a good idea that was poorly executed. To begin with, it's notorious for containing errors. Second, most of the entries in the "Principle Type and/or Purpose of Contract" columns are "A", Required when applicable, which means you have to look up the prescription anyway. Lastly, the matrix isn't going to tell you if your agency deviates from the FAR prescription, which DoD does a lot. As such, I created a matrix that I think overcomes these problems.
A few things about the matrix:
It contains every provision and clause in the FAR, DFARS, and in DoD Class Deviation memoranda.
It doesn't have any "Principle Type and/or Purpose of Contract" columns except for a Commercial Items column.
It contains the actual prescription of the provision or clause. For readability, I removed the number and title of the provision or clause in the block and just wrote "use this provision..." or "use this clause..." The identifying information for the provision or clause is already contained in the row.
For DoD, it contains additional instructions for the use of FAR clauses that is contained in the DFARS or in a class deviation. This information appears in bold. If you work for a civilian agency, just ignore what's in bold.
In the "IBR" column (Incorporation by Reference), there are no "N" entries for "no", with the exception of the provisions and clauses prescribed at FAR 52.107. This may cause some people to freak out, so I'll explain. FAR 52.102(c) states:
Thus, if the FAR Matrix contained a "Y" in the IBR column, my matrix will also contain a "Y". If the FAR Matrix contained an "N" in the IBR column, or the provision or clause came from the DFARS or a DoD class deviation, then my matrix will contain a "Y*". The key at the top of the matrix contains an explanation for the "Y*" entry. If you're wondering how to incorporate a provision or clause that contains fill-in material or something the offeror must complete, see FAR 52.102(a) and FAR 52.104(d).
You can see the matrix on the DAU Acquisition Community Connection. I'm open to suggestions for making it better. Also, I would like to think that it doesn't contain any errors. However, if you spot one please let me know. As an incentive, I will add your agency's provisions and clauses (the ones in Title 48 of the CFR) to the matrix if you point out a mistake.
It’s time we rethink our approach to the training problem. Our traditional approach is to dictate a blueprint of training classes that must be followed in order to obtain prescribed levels of certification. To put it in acquisition terms, we’ve been using a design specification. What if we were to use a performance specification instead? What might that look like? Before answering these questions, we should identify what it is we are trying to achieve with training.
The purpose of training is to make the trainee proficient in performing one or more defined learning objectives by means of specialized instruction and practice. A learning objective consists of three parts—an action, a condition, and a standard. For example, someone new to federal contracting will likely receive training to select FAR provisions and clauses (action) given a set of facts about an acquisition and access to the FAR (condition) (the implied standard would be “correctly”). It follows that if an individual already behaves in the prescribed way under the prescribed conditions to the prescribed standard, then training would be unnecessary for that individual—they’ve already attained the learning objective.
Under the “design specification” training model that we currently use, there is an implied assumption that an individual cannot attain the requisite learning objectives without following the prescribed blueprint of training classes. Further, there is no method of demonstrating the attainment of the requisite learning objectives prior to the prescribed training classes. As a result, everyone must take the required training classes, regardless of individual necessity. Considering the resources involved in carrying out such a program, this is an expensive proposition.
While the implied assumption of the “design specification” training model may prove true in some cases, a more reasonable assumption would be that some individuals need to follow the prescribed training blueprint and some do not. Those that do not would include those that have already attained the requisite learning objectives by other means and those that could without following the prescribed training blueprint. Thus, the challenge would be to identify those that don’t need a particular training class before requiring their attendance at the training class.
What if we borrowed the thinking behind performance-based acquisition and applied it to the training problem (i.e., a “performance specification” training model)? That is, instead of dictating how the workforce is to attain requisite learning objectives, we specify the requisite learning objectives (performance outcomes) and method of assessment, and let the workforce decide how they are going to attain them. Some workforce members may choose a program of self-study, others may study in informal groups, some contracting offices may develop their own ongoing training programs, etc. Still others may choose to follow the existing blueprint of training classes. Regardless of how one attains the requisite learning objectives, all are held to the same standard using the same method of assessment.
For an illustration of how such a model might look, consider the profession of actuarial science. Beanactuary.org contains the following description:
Like other top-ranked professions (such as law and medicine), one must pass a set of examinations to achieve professional status as an actuary. Unlike other professions, in actuarial science you’ll have the opportunity to work as an actuary while completing the examination process—employers often allow study time during working hours, pay exam fees, provide internships, and even award raises for each exam passed. Though, to get the best start on a rewarding career, many soon-to-be actuaries begin taking exams while still in college. Of those that do, most achieve associateship in three to five years. All candidates acquire a core set of knowledge from required preliminary exams. The preliminary exams and Validation by Educational Experience requirements are the starting points for an actuarial career.
To attain an “Associate of the Society of Actuaries” (ASA) designation from the Society of Actuaries, one must pass exams in probability, financial mathematics, models for financial economics, models for life contingencies, and construction and evaluation of actuarial models. In addition, there is one required e-Learning course and a required one-day seminar in professionalism. After attaining the ASA designation, one typically pursues a “Fellow of the Society of Actuaries” (FSA) designation within one of six specialties: corporate finance and enterprise risk management, quantitative finance and investment, individual life and annuities, retirements benefits, group and health, and general insurance. To attain the designation, the FSA candidate must take 3-4 more exams unique to the specialty, complete four e-learning courses, and attend a three-day case-based fellowship admissions course that requires each candidate to deliver an oral presentation on a topic within the field. In case you weren’t keeping track, that’s a total of four days of required attendance in classrooms to achieve the highest designation in the field. In contrast, DoD contract specialists must attend 32 days of classroom training to attain the lowest level of certification.
What if to attain level 1 certification in contracting, one had to pass exams in, for example: acquisition planning, contracting methods, contract types, socioeconomic programs, and contract administration, and attend a one-day seminar on ethics? After level 1, contract specialists would choose a specialty in which they would pursue Level 2 certification. Specialties would be, for example, major system acquisition, research and development contracting, construction and A/E contracting, service contracting, IT acquisition, acquisition of commercial items, contract administration, etc. To attain Level 2 certification, contract specialists would have to pass a series of exams unique to that specialty. For example, to attain Level 2 certification in service contracting, there would be exams on specification of service requirements, source selection for services, pricing services, and service contract administration. There could also be a Level 2 admissions course where the candidate would have to submit and present a paper on a topic related to their specialty.
If nothing else, use of the performance specification training model would cost less than the design specification model currently in use. I would go as far as to say that, on the whole, the workforce would be at least as competent as it is now.
What’s your opinion? We’d like to know.
In January 1944, the Office of Strategic Services, a wartime intelligence agency and predecessor to the modern Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), issued Strategic Services Field Manual No.3 (Simple Sabotage Field Manual) to its agents to aid the Allied war effort in Europe. The purpose of the classified document was to explain the technique of simple sabotage, outline its possible effects, and present suggestions for inciting and executing it. It introduced the concept of simple sabotage as follows:
The manual goes on to describe two types of simple sabotage: destructive and nondestructive. Regarding the latter type, the manual explains that—
The manual has a section titled “Specific Suggestions for Simple Sabotage” that provides suggestions for how to execute simple sabotage for different targets. There are suggestions on how to innocently start fires in buildings, set off automatic sprinklers to ruin warehouse stock, change sign posts at intersections and forks, dilute gasoline with water, wine, or urine so it won’t combust, and other Dennis the Menace type hijinks. What seemed most familiar were the suggestions under “General Interference with Organizations and Production.” Here are a few:
The manual was declassified in 2008, but I suspect it fell in to enemy hands long before that. The question is, though, why is the enemy targeting Federal contracting offices?
I'm looking for feedback on a tool that I'm creating for DoD. Basically, it would be a single document that would contain the FAR, DFARS, DFARS PGI, and DoD Class Deviations. The concept is similar to that used in the General Services Administration Acquisition Manual (GSAM), where both regulatory (GSAR) and nonregulatory information is integrated into one document and distinguished by shading. The main difference is the document that I envision also contains the FAR. I've attached a sample of what an integrated FAR subpart 1.1, DFARS subpart 201.1, and DFARS PGI subpart 201.1 would look like. Take a look and let me know what you think. I'd appreciate any feedback, but I'm particularly interested in the following:
1. Would you use such a tool?
2. Is there a better way to distinguish between FAR, DFARS, and DFARS PGI text than the use of shading?
3. Do you have any ideas to make the tool better (more useful)?
Consolidated FAR, DFARS, DFARS PGI, DoD Class Deviations.docx
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
--Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
When Better Buying Power (BBP) 1.0 was first issued in September 2010, then Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, & Logistics (USD(AT&L)) Ashton Carter used the word “tradecraft” when describing one of the five “areas” of BBP initiatives. The area was called “Improving Tradecraft in Services Acquisition.” The initiatives that were subsequently identified under this area were:
· Create a senior manager for acquisition of services in each component, following the Air Force’s example
· Adopt uniform taxonomy for different types of services
· Address causes of poor tradecraft in services acquisition
· Increase small business participation in providing services
“Tradecraft” was also used by current USD(AT&L) Frank Kendall in the 2015 Defense Acquisition Performance Assessment:
It would seem that both Carter and Kendall are using “tradecraft” to mean the knowledge and skills for a particular occupation. However, that’s not what “tradecraft” actually means, nor is it commonly used in that sense. According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary (www.m-w.com), “tradecraft” means “the techniques and procedures of espionage”. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online (www.oed.com), gave three definitions of “tradecraft” dating as far back as 1812:
In “’Tradecraft’ Infiltrates the Language” lexicographer Neal Whitman describes the resurgence of “tradecraft” in the language:
Whitman uses a quote from Agent Maya in the movie Zero Dark Thirty to illustrate its most common use:
The article continues:
Regarding the OED definition, Whitman explains:
While it would not seem out of the ordinary to hear this use of “tradecraft” on an episode of Downton Abbey, the broad meaning of the word is virtually dead in Contemporary English. “Tradecraft” has settled into semantic idiosyncrasy. While I’m not above purloining a word from another field if I find no other word as apt, there are plenty of words that could have been used to describe the particular BBP area (“skill”, “expertise”, and “proficiency” come to mind). As acquisition professionals, we have a hard enough time communicating in the language of acquisition without adopting words from other fields (no matter how cool they sound). The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) advises us to “understand your readers and match your language to their needs” (see http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/wordsuggestions/index.cfm). When choosing words, the objective should be to communicate, not to impress. Even if “tradecraft” meant what the authors of BBP thought it meant, its obscurity would still have made it a poor choice.
Eavesdropping, making dead drops, drycleaning--that's tradecraft. Creating senior manager positions in charge of service acquisition, adopting a uniform taxonomy for different types of services, increasing small business participation in service acquisition--that’s not tradecraft.
In a earlier blog entry, I posted a draft version of the provision at FAR 52.212-1 tailored for simplified acquisition procedures and requested comments. First, I'd like to thank everyone who provided comments. I believe the final version (below) is an improvement over the draft. Second, Carl Culham suggested that I include instructions on how to incorporate a tailored version of FAR 52.212-1 into a solicitation. I thought that was a good idea, so I will include instructions in this entry. Third, Vern Edwards tailored FAR 52.212-1 for SAP using plain language. His version is clear and easy to read, which may cause some of your lawyers and policy folks to balk at using it. If that's the case, you may want to refer them to plainlanguage.gov so they can familiarize themselves with the Federal Government's policy on the use of plain language to communicate with the public. Vern's plain language version is also posted below.
Incorporating a Tailored Version of FAR 52.212-1
FAR 12.302(d) contains the following guidance regarding tailoring:
According to the format prescribed at FAR 12.303(e)(2), the addendum to FAR 52.212-1 should be located with the solicitation provisions. The addendum should be clearly identified as such (e.g., "Addendum to FAR 52.212-1"). Carl Culham suggested, and I agree, that there should also be some kind of lead in statement that indicates that the version of FAR 52.212-1 in the addendum supersedes the version of FAR 52.212-1 contained in the FAR (e.g., "FAR 52.212-1 is replaced in its entirety by this addendum"). If using the streamlined solicitation for commercial items discussed at FAR 12.603, then you must include a statement that the provision at 52.212-1, Instructions to Offerors -- Commercial, applies to the acquisition and a statement regarding any addenda to the provision. The addendum should then be included in full text.
FAR 52.212-1 Tailored for SAP
Here's the final version of the provision at FAR 52.212-1 tailored for SAP:
FAR 52.212-1 Tailored for SAP (Plain Language Version)
Here's Vern's plain language version of FAR 52.212-1 tailored for SAP:
I hope some of you will try these provisions. If you do, let us know how it goes.
In Latvian Connection General Trading and Construction LLC, B-408633, September 18, 2013, the Comptroller General denied a protest of a solicitation issued by an Air Force unit in Oman for armored cable to be used at Thumrait Air Base, Oman. At issue was the Air Force’s decision to not automatically reserve the acquisition for small business concerns, which both the protester and the Small Business Administration (SBA) argued was required under the Small Business Act. The protester relied on 15 U.S.C. § 644(j)(1), which states:
[Note: these thresholds have since been raised by the FAR Council. See FAR 19.502-2( a ).]
The SBA implemented this statutory provision at 13 C.F.R. § 125.2(f)(1), which states that contracting officers (COs):
The Air Force argued that the automatic reservation, which is stated at FAR 19.502-2(a), did not apply because the acquisition was outside the United States and its outlying areas. The Air Force relied on FAR 19.000( b ), which states:
The Comptroller General sought the views of the SBA regarding the geographical restriction at FAR 19.000( b ). In its comments, the SBA argued that this regulatory “statement of policy” does not properly implement Small Business Act requirements. Further, the SBA noted that elsewhere the Small Business Act exempts certain provisions from applying outside the United States. Thus, if Congress wanted to place a geographical restriction on § 644(j)(1), it would have done so.
Siding with the Air Force, the Comptroller General stated:
This logic suggests that had the FAR Council exempted Kansas City, Missouri, from the application of § 644(j)(1), that would have been okay, too.
The New SBA Regulations
Fast-forward two weeks to October 2, 2013. The SBA issued a final rule amending its regulations governing small business contracting procedures (see 78 FR 61114). 13 C.F.R. § 125.2 was amended as follows:
Although the amended SBA regulation seemingly put to bed the issue of the geographical restriction stated at FAR 19.000( b ), the FAR Council has taken no action to amend the FAR (see “FAR Open Cases Report” at http://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/dars/far_case_status.html).
Where are We Now?
On July 14, 2014, Latvian Connection, LLC, (Latvian) filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) (B-410081.1) of a State Department solicitation for spare and replacement parts for the United States Consulate General in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Solicitation No. 3458493). One of the bases of the protest was the State Department’s decision to not automatically reserve the acquisition for small business concerns. The Comptroller General sought the views of the SBA. In a letter to the GAO, the SBA explained their position as follows:
[Letter from SBA to GAO, dtd. 25 August 2014, RE: B-410081 Protest of Latvian Connection, LLC]. The letter went on to reference the changes to 13 CFR § 125.2 shown above. The protest against the State Department solicitation was subsequently dismissed on other grounds.
On December 10, 2014, Latvian filed a protest with the GAO (B-410921) of an Army solicitation for the installation of canopy sunshades on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait (Solicitation No. W912D1-15-R-0004). Again, Latvian argued that the acquisition should have been automatically reserved for small business as required by the Small Business Act and the newly amended SBA regulations. Presumably understanding that they would be fighting a losing battle, the Army amended the solicitation to automatically reserve it for small business concerns and the protest was dismissed. The description block of the amendment contained the following statement:
As it stands, overseas COs and small business concerns seeking overseas contracting opportunities are in a tough spot. Overseas COs must deviate from the FAR to comply with the Small Business Act and SBA regulations. Small business concerns seeking overseas contracting opportunities are dealing with contracting officers that are blissfully ignorant of the changes to the SBA regulations due to the longstanding geographical restriction stated at FAR 19.000( b ). It may take nothing short of a GAO protest to get overseas COs to pay attention to the amended SBA regulations.
The ball is squarely in the FAR Council’s court. It needs to revisit FAR 19.000( b ) in light of the amended SBA regulations. If there is a legal argument for keeping the geographical restriction at FAR 19.000( b ), then the Office of Federal Procurement Policy should issue guidance to that effect to agencies. If there is no legal argument for keeping FAR 19.000( b ), then it should be removed. Sitting back and letting overseas COs and small business concerns fight it out solicitation by solicitation is not fair to either party.
I recently gave a course on simplified acquisition procedures where I was again confronted with the use of the provision at FAR 52.212-1 Instructions to Offerors--Commercial Items in requests for quotations (RFQs) issued pursuant to FAR part 13. (We discussed this issue in the Wifcon forum before here and here). The problem is that the provision was not designed for use in RFQs under FAR part 13. To begin with, the provision requests "offers"--not quotations--which are different (see the definition of "offer" at FAR 2.101). The provision also includes elements that don't apply when requesting quotations under FAR part 13 (e.g., a minimum offer acceptance period, the dreaded late proposal rule, instructions on how to withdraw offers, a statement of intention to award without discussions, debriefing information, etc.). Although the FAR permits tailoring of FAR 52.212-1, it is typically just incorporated by reference without tailoring. I've wanted to create a version of FAR 52.212-1 tailored for SAP for a long time and I promised my last class that I would. As such, I submit my first draft to the Wifcon community for comment below. I've also created a side-by-side comparison of the untailored version of FAR 52.212-1 and my draft version that you can access here.
Please provide comments and questions below.
In a recent DoD IG report, the Army Contracting Command was cited for its failure to perform "component assessments" on 23 contracts subject to the Buy American Act (see DoD IG Report No. 2015-026). The report states as follows:
Not having ever heard of such a requirement, I checked the reference to this requirement, which was allegedly located in DFARS 252.225-7001( a )(3)(ii)(A). DFARS 252.225-7001 is a contract clause entitled "Buy American Act and Balance of Payments Program". The clause does not contain "( a )(3)(ii)(A)", but it does contain a paragraph "( a )". Paragraph ( a ) defines, for purposes of their use in the clause, the terms "Commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) item", "component", "domestic end product", "end product", "foreign end product", "qualifying country", "qualifying country component", "qualifying country end product", and "United States". The paragraph does not require the contracting officer to do anything. In fact, it doesn't require that anybody do anything--it merely defines words and terms. The balance of the clause imposes an explicit requirement on the contractor in paragraph ( c ) and an implied requirement on the contractor in paragraph ( d ):
Nothing in the entire clause requires the contracting officer to do anything. The terms "contracting officer" and "component assessment" do not appear in the clause. The term "component test" appears once--in paragraph ( b ) (see above). No duty of the contracting officer can reasonably be inferred.
When read together with the provision at DFARS 252.225-7000, it is clear that any assessment of end item components should be done by an offeror when determining how to complete the certification in DFARS 252.225-7000( c ):
I assume that the Army Contracting Command pointed out the flawed assumption that the IG had made when responding to the audit. Let me just check their response to this finding to be sure:
Oh, well. Get ready ACC contracting personnel--you will soon be receiving a policy memo requiring you to take CLC 027 Buy American Act. And no, it does not contain guidance on how contracting officers are to perform "component assessments".
Section 1331 of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 (Pub.L. 111-240) recognizes the significant opportunities that exist to increase small business participation on multiple award contracts and the ability of set-asides— the most powerful small business contracting tool—to unlock these opportunities. Under Section 1331, Federal agencies may: (1) set aside part or parts of multiple award contracts for small business; (2) reserve one or more awards for small businesses on multiple award contracts that are established through full and open competition; and (3) set aside orders under multiple award contracts awarded pursuant to full and open competition that have not been set-aside or partially set-aside, nor include a reserve for small businesses.
You can download the article "Section 1331 Authorities: A Primer" by clicking here.
I have recently noticed an interesting phenomena regarding how the term "statement of work" is being used and understood in practice. If what many of my students are being taught in their contracting offices is any indication, "statement of work" (SOW) has come to mean a work statement that is not performance-based--the opposite, if you will, of a "performance work statement." Why is this happening? The definition of "performance work statement" (PWS) at FAR 2.101 could not be more clear:
A PWS is an SOW--an SOW for performance-based acquisitions.
In researching the origin of this phenomena, I came across the "A COR's Guide to Statements of Work, Performance Work Statements, and Statements of Objectives". Citing nothing, the author asserts the following regarding SOWs:
The guide goes on to explain the difference between the SOW and the PWS:
Sigh. Believe it or not people were charged for this misinformation--the fine print of the guide says that it is part of a subscription service. Ironically, the article refers the reader to the "Seven Steps" library, which also contains the DoD Handbook for the Preparation of Statement of Work (SOW) (MIL-HDBK-245D). Paragraph 3.1 of the Handbook contains the following description of the purpose of the SOW:
The truth is that some SOWs are performance-based, some are not. We refer to those that are as PWSs.
In a recent blog post, Steve Kelman took issue with GSA for the way they intend to evaluate past performance under the One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS) procurement (see “GSA is Saying What?"). Specifically, the evaluation scheme in the draft request for proposals (RFP) shows that GSA intends to weigh past performance with federal customers more heavily than past performance with nonfederal customers (the draft RFP is available for viewing on FedBizOpps). Kelman says that GSA’s approach is “not a good idea” and is hopeful that the OASIS program will “rectify this mistake.”
Kelman seems to acknowledge the uniqueness of the Government as a buyer and describes the accompanying problems as follows—
Further, Kelman states—
Kelman’s argument boils down to this—nontraditional Government contractors (what Kelman terms “commercial firms”) would be just as good, if not better, than traditional Government contractors (what Kelman terms “government-unique” contractors) at performing the work. That may be so, but it would be naïve to ignore the risk posed by an offeror with no Government contracting experience. Such an offeror will be faced with having to comply with a plethora of rules and regulations that would be new to them. In a blog post, Vern Edwards describes the situation as follows (see “Tips for the Would-be Clueless Contractor”):
As a buyer, there is value in an offeror having sold to you before—if for no other reason that the parties have a better idea of what to expect from each other. If this were not true, preferred supplier programs would not be so popular with the “commercial firms” that Kelman advocates for. If you are an extraordinarily unique buyer, like the U.S. Government, there is even greater value in an offeror that has sold to you before.
I don’t fault GSA for having a preference for offerors with more Government contracting experience. This is especially true given that the OASIS contracts will be noncommercial and will provide for orders on a cost-reimbursement basis. GSA did not make Government contracting as complicated for contractors as it is. If we want to criticize the procurement system, there’s plenty to talk about. But we shouldn’t react with feigned surprise and indignation when an agency is taking reasonable steps to operate within it.
This morning I read two different threads in the Wifcon forum. In the first thread, the discussion centered on late Government payments. (See “Significant Delays in voucher review/approval”). Some of the participants shared stories of how the Government does not consistently respect contractual payment due dates. Because some contractors are reluctant to enforce their rights under the payment clauses of their contracts, the Government continues to take advantage of them. One poster put it this way:
I was embarrassed for the Government after reading this thread. Then, I read the following advice (from a different poster) in a thread dealing with how the limitation on subcontracting clause is applied (see "Small bus Set Aside 50%, can pass part of that to another Small?"):
The underlying message: “it’s ok to take advantage of the fact that the government does not enforce this right under the contract.” After reading this, it became clear that Government personnel really aren’t that different than contractor personnel. On both sides, there will be those that respect the rights of the other party under the contract and those whose behavior is guided by what they can get away with. I think we should all strive to be included in the former group. Those in the latter group have little right to cry foul when they find themselves on the opposite sides of a contract.
I read a lot of rules—proposed rules, interim rules, final rules, second proposed rules, second interim rules, etc. In fact, I decided a year or so ago that I would read all new rules in the Federal Register that affect the FAR or DFARS (I’m only a few rules behind as of this writing). In my reading, I noticed a strange phenomenon that went unexplained in the Federal Register notices—the letters “P” and “S” were getting smaller. That is, citations to FAR parts and subparts were being changed from “FAR Part X” and “FAR Subpart X.1” to “FAR part X” and “FAR subpart X.1” (Notice the lower-case “p” and “s”). I wondered what was going on. Who decided that lower case “p” and “s” were now correct? Why wasn’t the FAR Council following its own rules in the FAR Drafting Guide or at FAR 1.105-2( c)(3) (recently amended—more on that later), which both showed the correct way to cite a part or subpart is with an upper-case “P” or “S.”
I also submit a lot of public comments. My comments usually are usually technical in nature—I don’t get into whether this or that policy is good or bad for the Government. They are usually of something like “If you mean this, then I suggest you say it this way.” As such, I started pointing out that use of the lower-case “p” in “part” and “s” in “subpart” was inconsistent with both the FAR Drafting Guide and FAR 1.105-2( c)(3). Yes, important stuff. I was convinced that there was some unreasonable bureaucrat in the labyrinthine review process of FAR rules who would arbitrarily withhold approval until the “p” and “s” were lower-case. All they had to do was simply read either the FAR Drafting Guide or FAR 1.105-2( c)(3) and they would be forced to relent, I thought.
Eventually, I found out that there was more to the story. The change from upper-case to lower-case could be traced back to the 2008 version of the Government Printing Office Style Manual. The manual contains an entire chapter of capitalization rules (Chapter 3). Rule 3.9 states as follows:
The list of examples following Rule 3.9 (or is it “rule 3.9”?) contains the entry “part I”. Chapter 4, which contains a list of capitalization examples, contains the entry “part 2, A, II, etc.; but Part 2, when part of title: Part 2: Iron and Steel Industry”. Ok, so there was no unreasonable bureaucrat to blame. However, the GPO Style Manual was inconsistent with both the FAR Drafting Guide and FAR 1.105-2( c)(3). “What a crisis!”, I thought.
This brings us to a technical amendment published in Federal Acquisition Circular 2005-60 (77 FR 44065) that formally amended FAR 1.105-2( c)(3) to illustrate the “correct” way to cite a part or subpart of the FAR:
Crisis averted. However, there still is a lot of text within the FAR that uses upper-case when referencing parts and subparts. These co-exist in the FAR with citations of parts and subparts that are lower-case. For example, FAR 4.1402( b ) starts with:
The very next paragraph, FAR 4.1402( c) states:
It’s fair to say that my prodding probably had something to do with the change in FAR 1.105-2( c)(3). However, in retrospect, I’m not sure that the desired result—consistency—was achieved.
It seems that every few months we see a new article, report, or hear testimony predicting a mass exodus of "experienced" 1102s from the Federal workforce. Citing workforce data, the conclusion that is commonly drawn is that a "crisis" will result. If we just look at numbers it would seem that this would be a reasonable conclusion. However, has anyone given any thought to the caliber of the 1102s that are leaving the Federal workforce and those that are entering? Do we really need one new 1102 for every 1102 that leaves?
Consider the fact that one must now have a college degree to even be considered for an 1102 position, whereas most of the "experienced" 1102s that will soon be leaving did not have to meet such requirements. Many "experienced" 1102s entered the Federal workforce as clerks, typists, secretaries, etc., and stuck around the organization long enough to move into an 1102 position. That's not to say that these folks did not work hard or that they don't deserve their positions. I'm sure each office has its own success story to share in this regard.
In my experience, I have worked with "experienced" 1102s and I currently teach newbie 1102s. To generalize, the newbie 1102s are smarter, more motivated, and have more respect for the laws and regulations that govern their agency's acquisitions. Give me an office full of 1102s with less than 10 years of experience and we will work circles around an office of "experienced" 1102s with twice the staff. Our processes will be more streamlined, our employees more productive, and our acquisitions fully compliant with law and regulation.
Nothing is more discouraging than to hear stories of how newbie 1102s return to their offices after training, intent on making the necessary changes to ensure that their acquisitions comply with the FAR, only to effectively be told by "experienced" 1102s "I don't care what the FAR says, this is the way we've always done it and we're not about to change." I say good riddance to those folks.
To be fair, there are some "experienced" 1102s who are excellent--the Government will suffer when these folks leave. However, I would not place the majority of "experienced" 1102s in this category. When I hear about the impending exodus of "experienced" 1102s and the ensuing crisis, I'm reminded of a line from an REM song..."It's the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine." How do you feel?
I recently heard from a contractor regarding an experience he had with reverse auctions. A federal agency was conducting a reverse auction using FedBid and he decided to compete (FedBid, Inc., provides a service whereby federal agencies can conduct reverse auctions). Although he submitted several bids, he ultimately lost the reverse auction. When he checked to see who had won, he was surprised to see that the federal agency that was in need of the required items was the low bidder. In other words, the federal agency was submitting bogus bids in an effort to get the contractor to reduce his bid price. The federal agency then contacted him and offered to purchase the items from the contractor at his lowest bid price. Feeling that he had been duped, he told them to get lost.
The tactic employed by the federal agency, called phantom bidding, is not new. Many view the practice as unethical while others see it as a legitimate tactic. In regular auctions, the legality of seller participation in bidding varies from state to state. For those states that allow it, sellers typically must disclose that they reserve the right to participate in the bidding.
In any case, should the Federal Government be allowed to place phantom bids in reverse auctions? Would your answer be different if the disclosure of the practice was required prior to the reverse auction?
NOTICE: The table originally posted contained an error in Step 4 of the HUBZone Program Decision Table. The entries for "Yes" and "No" were reversed, which implied that a HUBZone sole source was only permitted below the simplified acquisition threshold. In fact, the opposite is true. This has been corrected.
I created a Small Business Decision Table to help navigate the new small business rules contained in the FAR. Note that there is a lack of clarity on some issues in the interim rule on Socioeconomic Parity (implemented at FAR 19.203) and, as a result, I had to make some assumptions until these issues are clarified (hopefully) in the final rule. Specifically, I assumed that when the FAR says that the contracting officer "shall consider" course of action A before proceeding with course of action B, that means that course of action A would be required if the conditions permitting both course of action A and B were present. For example, FAR 19.203( c ) states:
I interpret that to mean that if a contracting officer can satisfy a requirement using the 8(a), HUBZone, SDVOSB, or WOSB Programs, then she must do so?she has no discretion to bypass these programs and proceed with a small business set-aside because she thinks doing so would be in the best interests of the Government.
In public comments submitted to the FAR Councils, the Professional Service Council criticized the use of "shall first consider" at FAR 19.203( c ) as follows:
I would prefer that the FAR Councils not attempt to define "adequate consideration," but instead cut to the chase. If the intent is to require use of the 8(a), HUBZone, SDVOSB, and WOSB Programs if possible, then state the rule using unambiguous language. For example, FAR 19.203(d) states:
Nobody is going to argue over what that means.
Lastly, there is an error in FAR 19.203 in that it implies that the SBA rule that once a requirement is in the 8(a) Program it must stay in the 8(a) Program only applies over the simplified acquisition threshold. That's wrong?it applies regardless of dollar value. The SBA regulations make no such distinction regarding dollar value. I'm told that this will be corrected in the final rule.
An interesting aspect of the new socioeconomic parity rules issued in Federal Acquisition Circular 2005-50 (see 76 FR 14566) is that we now have some scenarios where a contractor is better off not being a small business concern. The Discussion and Analysis section of the Federal Register notice contains the following statement:
This policy is implemented at the new FAR 19.203( c ). Further, the new FAR 19.203(d) states the following:
Thus, for acquisitions over the simplified acquisition threshold (SAT), an agency must first consider the 8(a), HUBZone, SDVOSB, and WOSB programs (the latter recently being added by FAC 2005-51). If a requirement can be satisfied under one of these programs, the agency must use one of these programs. The agency is free to choose which of the four programs to use. If a requirement cannot be satisfied under one of these four programs, then the agency must consider a small business set-aside. If the requirement cannot be met by means of a small business set-aside, then the agency may solicit offers on an unrestricted basis.
Let?s assume the following scenario. There?s a requirement over the SAT and under the threshold for a HUBZone sole source (currently $6.5 million for manufacturing and $4 million for other acquisitions) that can be satisfied by three potential offerors. We?ll call them Offerors A, B, and C. Offeror A is a HUBZone small business concern and Offerors B and C are plain old small business concerns. Pursuant to FAR 19.203( c ), the agency would be required to proceed with a HUBZone sole source, since the HUBZone program takes precedence over small business set-asides. Offerors B and C would not have a chance to compete for the requirement.
Now let?s assume the same scenario, except Offerors B and C are large businesses. In this case, the agency would not be required to proceed with a HUBZone sole source. Offerors B and C would have an opportunity to compete for the requirement, if the agency chose not to proceed with a HUBZone sole source. FAR 19.203 gives priority to HUBZone sole source over small business set-asides, but is silent on the relationship between a HUBZone sole source and full and open competition (ditto for 8(a) sole source and SDVOSB sole source). FAR 19.1306 simply states:
According to FAR 2.101, ?may denotes the permissive.? ?May? is also used at FAR 19.1406 regarding SDVOSB sole source awards.
It would be reasonable to infer that competitive 8(a), HUBZone set-asides, and SDVOSB set-asides take precedence over full and open competition, because the conditions permitting any of these would imply that the conditions for a small business set-aside were present. However, the same cannot be said for HUBZone or SDVOSB sole source. The conditions permitting either a HUBZone or SDVOSB sole source do not imply that the conditions requiring a small business set-aside exist.
So there you go. Sometimes you?re better off being large. It will be interesting to see if the FAR Council will leave things as they are when the rule becomes final. If they do, we can expect this to be the next great debate in small business program policy.
In one of my earlier blog entries, I inferred that the FAR Councils interpreted the definition of ?contract? at FAR 2.101 to include task and delivery orders based on their answer to a question about the applicability of TINA to task and delivery orders (see ?Commonly Understood? I Think Not). Well, there is no reason to draw any inferences anymore. In a recently published final DFARS rule, the DAR Council unequivocally stated that the definition of ?contract? included task and delivery orders. The following exchange appears in the Background section of the final rule for DFARS Case 2010-D004 (72 FR 76296):
Save this, because it?s unlikely that the definition of ?contract? at FAR 2.101 will ever be changed to explicitly include task and delivery orders.
In addition to the DAR Council, the GAO has also interpreted the definition of ?contract? to include task and delivery orders. In Delex Systems, Inc., B-400403, October 8, 2008, the GAO stated:
While it?s nice to have more clarity on the status of task and delivery orders, there remains ambiguity on how to apply clauses in indefinite delivery contracts. Should they be applied at the ?whole contract? level, the task or delivery order level, or both? The FAR Councils routinely receive public comments asking how a new requirement is to be implemented in an IDIQ contract. Consider the following from the final rule implementing the current version of the clause at FAR 52.232-10, Payments Under Fixed-Price Architect-Engineer Contracts (75 FR 13424):
Apparently, the ?right? way to implement this clause was at the task order level, not the ?whole contract? level. How a contracting officer is supposed to just know this is beyond me. The FAR Councils have declined to clarify this policy in the clause.
So should we applying all clauses at the task and delivery order level? Apparently not. Contracts that are set aside for small business concerns are required to contain a limitation on subcontracting clause. FAR 52.219-14( sets forth the limitations as follows:
By operation of the clause at FAR 52.202-1, Definitions, the applicable definition of ?contract? would be the one located at FAR 2.101:
It would seem that since both indefinite delivery contracts and task and delivery orders meet this definition, so one would think that the subcontracting limitation applied to both. However, that?s not how the GAO interprets the clause.
The decision in Lockheed Martin Fairchild Systems, B-275034, 17 January 1997, stated the following:
Thus, the GAO determined that this clause was applicable at the ?whole contract? level, and not at the task order level. There?s no discussion on why this is necessarily so.
What about the clause at FAR 52.232-20, Limitation of Cost? Do the notification requirements apply at 75% of the estimated cost of the task or delivery order, or at 75% of the estimated cost of the indefinite delivery contract? What about the clause at FAR 52.216-8, Fixed Fee? Does the $100,000 fee withholding limitation apply to each task or delivery order, or to the whole IDIQ contract? The questions are endless. Contracting officers have answers to these questions, but they are not all the same. Without a clear set of rules, it?s hard to argue that anybody is wrong.
Fortunately, some clauses are clear on this point. For example, the clause at FAR 52.216-23, Limitations on Pass-Through Charges, states the following reporting requirement:
Some of the newer FAR rules recognize the potential confusion caused in the case of indefinite delivery contracts and have adapted. That?s encouraging, but it doesn?t help us interpret the older rules. The FAR Councils could clarify things by adding an interpretation convention at FAR 1.108 stating at which level (whole contract, task order or delivery order, or both) requirements of clauses in indefinite delivery contracts apply, if not otherwise specified. Probably won?t happen. I can hope.