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"Commonly Understood"? I Think Not.

I was recently perusing some of the recent final rules issued by the FAR Council when I came across a statement that I found interesting. In responding to a comment concerning the applicability of TINA to task and delivery orders, the FAR Councils stated that TINA applicability is to be determined when negotiating a basic IDIQ contract, as well as when negotiating subsequent orders under the contract. A description of the comment that they received read as follows: The Councils' response was as follows: (See FAR Case 2008-012, Clarification of Submission of Cost or Pricing Data on Non-Commercial Modifications of Commercial Items (75 FR 13414)). My initial reaction was "Good, they got it right." However, I was not satisfied with the complete lack of explanation other than that this information was "commonly understood." "It is commonly understood?" is the equivalent to saying "Well, everybody knows?", which is not an answer that I would accept from a student nor is it one that the public should be accepting from the FAR Councils. Further, the FAR Councils' use of "commonly understood" raises the question: Commonly understood by whom? Based on my experience, "commonly debated" would be a more apt description. Task and Delivery Orders are "Contracts" By stating that TINA applicability determinations must be made at the task and delivery order level, the FAR Councils have, perhaps unwittingly, admitted that task and delivery orders are "contracts" as defined at FAR 2.101. Consider the requirements for obtaining cost or pricing data at FAR 15.403-4(a)(1): If TINA applies to task and delivery orders, then task and delivery orders must fall into one of the three enumerated categories. A task or delivery order issued by the Government is certainly not a subcontract, so (ii) is out. A task or delivery order under a contract is not a "written change in the terms of a contract", so they do not meet the definition of "contract modification", thereby eliminating (iii). Thus, task and delivery orders must be "contracts." However, one cannot reasonably describe this information as "commonly understood" either. Consider the following statements made in FEATURE COMMENT: Contesting Task And Delivery Order Awards At The COFC--Policy Implications Of A Choice Federal Courts May Soon Have To Make (51 NO. 20 Gov't Contractor ? 174). In discussing the automatic stay provisions of CICA, the author writes: The author, seemingly indecisive, also writes: This author is not alone. In FEATURE COMMENT: Acquisition Reform Revisited--Section 843 Protests Against Task And Delivery Order Awards At GAO (50 NO. 9 Gov't Contractor ? 75) the authors put forth the following argument: I agree with the first author's assessment of the potential controversy that would ensue if the FAR Councils were to redefine "contract" to include task and delivery orders. If the FAR Councils were to propose such a rule, I would estimate that they would receive no less than 100 public comments. Where's the Cost or Pricing Data Clause for Task and Delivery Orders? If it's "commonly understood" that TINA applies to task and delivery orders, why isn't there a standard FAR clause for use in task and delivery order contracts that compels the submission of cost or pricing with a task or delivery order proposal when applicable? There's a standard FAR provision at FAR 52.215-20, Requirements for Cost or Pricing Data or Information Other Than Cost or Pricing Data (Oct 1997), that can be used to compel offerors to submit cost or pricing data when submitting offers for a basic IDIQ contract. There's also a standard FAR clause at FAR 52.215-21, Requirements for Cost or Pricing Data or Information Other Than Cost or Pricing Data?Modifications (Oct 1997), that compels submission of cost or pricing data when pricing contract modifications (if applicable). Where is "Requirements for Cost or Pricing Data or Information Other Than Cost or Pricing Data?Task and Delivery Orders"? Why not have offerors agree to submit cost or pricing data (if applicable) with subsequent task and delivery order proposals? TINA Yes, CAS No The Councils' response in the publication of this rule reminded me of an earlier response pertaining to the applicability of CAS to task and delivery orders accompanying a final rule on CAS (70 FR 11743-01). In that response, the Councils reached the opposite conclusion. The exchange was as follows: Thus, a determination of CAS applicability is made only when placing the basic IDIQ contract. If an IDIQ contract is subject to CAS, all orders under the contract are subject to CAS. If an IDIQ contract is not subject to CAS, none of the orders under the contract are subject to CAS. So, according to the FAR Councils, a contracting officer must determine applicability of TINA when awarding a basic IDIQ contract and issuing any subsequent orders, but need only determine the applicability of CAS once?when awarding a basic IDIQ contract. This raises another yet another question?how is a CO supposed to know this? Consider the rules for determining CAS applicability at 48 CFR 9903.201-1: By asserting that CAS determinations are not made at the task or delivery order level, the FAR Councils must be using a definition of "contract" that is different than what appears at FAR 2.101. What definition are they using and why does that definition exclude task and delivery orders? I don't get it. Recommendation If the FAR Councils believe that task and delivery orders are "contracts" as defined at FAR 2.101, then they can clear up a considerable amount of confusion by including these types of orders in that definition. If they do that, why not add a standard FAR clause compelling submission of cost or pricing data (when applicable) with task or delivery order proposals? While they're at it, how about an explicit statement in the FAR stating that TINA applicability determinations are made at the task and delivery order level and another statement that CAS applicability determinations are not? Probably too much to ask.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

COs: Follow OMB?s Guidance at Your Peril

There has been a considerable amount of controversy over the last year or so in the area of small business programs. In International Program Group, Inc., (B?400278, B?400308, 19 September 2008) the Government Accountability Office (GAO) held that HUBZone set-asides took priority over service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) set-asides and SDVOSB sole source acquisitions. This was unsurprising given the clear language in the FAR. In Mission Critical Solutions (B?401057, 4 May 2009) (also see reconsideration), the GAO held that the HUBZone set-asides took precedence over the 8(a) program. This was surprising given the clear language of the FAR. Of note in both cases was that the GAO solicited and rejected the Small Business Administration's (SBA's) interpretation of the applicable statutes, which was that there was parity among the 8(a), HUBZone, and SDVOSB programs. It was after the latter case that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stepped in with a memorandum advising agencies to disregard the two GAO decisions and providing the following guidance: Remarkably, this guidance 1) assumes that contracting officers had been following the parity policies implemented in SBA's regulations and 2) implies that, henceforth, contracting officers are free to treat HUBZone, SDVOSB, and 8(a) contractors as equals. There is no acknowledgement of the fact that there were no pre-existing "parity" policies in the FAR. Prior to the GAO decisions, the FAR Council issued a proposed rule that would have implemented parity among the three programs?something that clearly did not exist in the FAR. See 73 FR 12699. As of today, the FAR Case dealing with Socioeconomic Program Parity (2006-034) has been tabled. As such, any contracting officer subject to the FAR that thinks that they have been given the green light to disregard the FAR and treat all three programs the same should think again. Consider the following scenarios: Scenario 1: The conditions for both a HUBZone set-aside and a SDVOSB set-aside (or sole source) exist for a particular acquisition exceeding the simplified acquisition threshold. The requirement cannot be satisfied through the 8(a) program. In this scenario, FAR 19.1305 requires a HUBZone set-aside: If a CO chose to pursue a SDVOSB set-aside (or sole source) in this scenario, he or she would be deviating from the express requirements of FAR 19.1305. However, a CO subject to the FAR does not have the authority to deviate from the FAR without approval from the agency head (see FAR 1.4). Further, we already know from International Program Group that the GAO would sustain a protest if an agency were to pursue a SDVOSB set-aside (or sole source) when the conditions for a HUBZone set-aside existed. While we don't know for sure how the Court of Federal Claims would decide such a protest, it would be surprising if they were to find that a HUBZone set-aside were not required, given the clear language of the FAR. On the other hand, proceeding with a HUBZone set-aside would be compliant with statute, the FAR, and the SBA regulations (which allow a choice of programs). Scenario 2: The conditions for a HUBZone set-aside exist and the requirement can be satisfied through the 8(a) program. FAR 19.800(e) provides for a "soft" priority for 8(a) as follows: While FAR 19.800(e) doesn't mandate that an acquisition be offered to the SBA under the 8(a) program if it can be, the implication is that there should be a good reason for not doing so. (FAR 2.101 defines should as "an expected course of action or policy that is to be followed unless inappropriate for a particular circumstance.") Thus, it would be unwise to simply ignore FAR 19.800(e) and proceed with a HUBZone set-aside?there should be something in the file that evidences the contracting officer's compliance with FAR 19.800(e). The same would be true if the conditions for a HUBZone sole source, SDVOSB set-aside, or SDVOSB sole source existed. The Department of Justice Opinion Responding to a request from the SBA, the Justice Department provided a legal opinion pertaining to the SBA's interpretation of the relevant statutes. The opinion found as follows: I can't wait to see how DOJ's reasoning holds up in the Court of Federal Claims (assuming we'll see a case). For argument's sake, let's assume that the opinion is correct. Does this mean that contracting officers can now ignore the FAR and treat all three programs equally? I don't think so. The opinion did not say that the FAR is wrong. It says that the SBA did not misinterpret the statute. Thus, the SBA has permissibly given agencies the discretion to choose among the three programs. The FAR Council has already made the choice for contracting officers?HUBZone takes priority over SDVOSB and 8(a) takes priority (albeit a "soft priority") over HUBZone and SDVOSB. The FAR Council may give this discretion to contracting officers, but the FAR would have to be changed to do so. My Advice In its memorandum, OMB stated that the results of its review of the legal basis underlying the GAO's decisions were expected this past summer?still no word from them as of Black Friday. Any further guidance issued by OMB should acknowledge the priorities that exist in the FAR and explain how contracting officers are to proceed. Merely stating that contracting officers are free to abide by SBA's "parity" policies without acknowledging the rules of the FAR will be most unhelpful. In the meantime, contracting officers that find themselves in Scenario #1 above should proceed with a HUBZone set-aside. Contracting officers that find themselves in Scenario #2 above should document compliance with FAR 19.800(e) before proceeding to any other type of set-aside or sole source.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Calculating Cost Impacts on CPAF Contracts: A Reasonable Assumption?

When taking a class on the Cost Accounting Standards (CAS) last year, I came across a DCAA rule that made perfect sense to the auditors, but left some of the contracting officers scratching their heads. The rule deals with how to calculate the cost impact of a CAS noncompliance or accounting change on a cost-plus-award-fee (CPAF) contract. Chapter 8 of the DCAA Contract Audit Manual (CAM) contains guidance on how to evaluate cost impact proposals submitted to the Government as a result of a CAS noncompliance or cost accounting practice change (see CAM 8-503). The CAM outlines a five-step process, which is shown in an abbreviated form below: Step 1 Compute the increased/decreased cost estimates and/or accumulations for CAS-covered contracts and subcontracts. Step 2 Combine the increased/decreased cost estimates and/or accumulations within each contract group. Step 3 Determine the increased/decreased cost paid by the Government for each contract group, using the net impact on cost estimates, accumulations and profits/fees. Step 4 Determine the increased costs paid by the Government in the aggregate by combining across contract groups the increased/decreased costs paid by the Government for both contract groups, as determined in step 3. Step 5 Negotiate a settlement with the contractor. The guidance stated under step 3 for determining increased costs to the Government states the following: There is a similar guidance for determining decreased costs to the Government. Thus, the assumption is that the Government would have negotiated a lesser fixed, target, or incentive fee but for the contractor's CAS noncompliance or accounting practice change that caused the cost estimate to be higher than it should have been. For example, let's say a contracting officer negotiates a cost-plus-fixed-fee (CPFF) contract for an estimated cost of $1,000,000 and a fixed-fee of $100,000. The contractor completes the contract and is paid the fixed-fee of $100,000. However, it's later discovered that the contractor used a noncompliant estimating practice that caused the cost estimate to be higher than it should have been. If the contractor had used a compliant estimating practice, their estimated cost would have been $900,000. It is assumed that had the contracting officer known this, he/she would have negotiated a fixed-fee of $90,000. This may not be true in some cases, but it is reasonable as a general assumption. This guidance is based on an interpretation in the FAR Appendix at 9903.306( c ), which states: So far, so good. What's puzzling is the guidance stated in the last sentence of the above-quoted paragraph from the CAM: Thus, the assumption is that, in the case of CPAF contracts, a contractor's cost estimate has no effect on the amount of award fee that a contractor is eventually paid. To illustrate this, let's say a contracting officer negotiates a CPAF contract with an estimated cost of $1,000,000 and an award fee pool of $100,000 (assume no base fee). After performance, the Government determines that the contractor is entitled to 100% of the available award fee and pays the contractor $100,000 (the typical practice is to determine award fee entitlement by applying the earned percentage to the award fee pool?this is a required practice in DoD). It is later found that the contractor used a noncompliant estimating practice which caused the cost estimate to be higher than it should have been. If the contractor had used a compliant estimating practice, their estimated cost would have been $900,000. In this case, it is assumed that had the contracting officer known this, he/she still would have negotiated an award-fee pool of $100,000. This may be true in some cases, but it is curiously inconsistent with the assumption made when calculating the cost impact on a CPFF contract. Is it reasonable to assume that a contractor's estimated cost has no affect on the size of the award fee pool that a contracting officer negotiates? While it is true that a structured approach to developing prenegotiation fee objectives, which relies heavily on prenegotiation cost objectives, is generally not required when developing a prenegotiation award-fee pool objective, it's quite a stretch to assume that prenegotiation cost objectives have no effect on the prenegotiation award fee pool objective (or the size of the award fee pool negotiated). Official guidance on negotiating award fee pools acknowledges that estimated cost can be a consideration. The Air Force Material Command Award Fee Guide offers the following guidance for establishing the award fee pool: [bold added]. The Navy-Marine Corps Award Fee Guide offers almost identical guidance. In my experience, as well as that of some of my colleagues, a contract's estimated cost was a significant factor (if not the most significant factor) in negotiating the size of award fee pools in CPAF contracts. I would be surprised if my experience were atypical. I'd be interested in hearing to what extent my readers consider estimated costs when negotiating an award fee pool for a CPAF contract. Let me know your experience.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Magnetic Properties of Metals with Partially Filled 4f Electron Subshells

Did you ever wonder about the type of debate that goes on before an acquisition rule becomes final and is incorporated into the Federal Acquisition Regulation System? This information can be found in the Background section of the final rule when it appears in the Federal Register. I make a point of reading this section whenever a new rule comes out because it tells the story behind the rule?who the rule is going to affect, who is happy about the rule, who is upset about the rule, who thinks it should be scrapped, what the rule makers were thinking when they created and revised it, etc. This section is also a valuable reference when you are trying to interpret a rule in the FAR System that is unclear or ambiguous. Typically, the comments received range from pointing out errors in the rule to blatantly self-serving statements from private parties either praising the wisdom of the rule or explaining how the rule will inevitably bankrupt small business concerns, cost the Government more money, and lead to a widespread malaise in the country. The rule makers' responses to the comments range from nonresponsive or evasive to well-written explanations of why the comment is or is not valid (I've generally had good responses to comments that I have submitted for consideration). DoD recently issued a final rule revising the existing rules on the restriction on the acquisition of specialty metals (DFARS Case 2008-D003). The rule contained a straightforward definition of "high-performance magnet" in the new clause at DFARS 252.225-7009, Restriction on Acquisition of Certain Articles Containing Specialty Metals, as follows: Apparently, the Background statement pertaining to this definition that accompanied the interim rule drew criticism from a number of interested parties. The comments received went so far as to suggest that the definition, as written, would pose a threat to national security: DoD's response to these comments brought me back to high school physics class (God bless you, Mr. Michel). Here is an excerpt: I don't know if that is right. However, I did learn a new word (anisotropy) and I now know something about the magnetic properties of rare earth metals and transition elements that I didn't know before. You may ask: "what good is knowing this?" Other than trying to make someone think that you are smarter than you actually are, there may be no value. However, as evidenced by the discussion in the Background section of the rule, there was a great deal of deliberation about the final definition. A contracting officer may encounter situations where he or she needs to apply the new rule and knowing that the definition of "high-performance magnet" is very narrow will help. Take a look at the Background section of an acquisition rule the next time one comes out (FAC 2005-036 was just issued last week). Not only will it add some life to the rule as it appears in the regulation, you may learn something.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Funding UCAs that Cross Fiscal Years

The end of the fiscal year is always a good time to start brush up on fiscal law?particularly the bona fide needs rule. Contracting offices may soon face questions of fiscal law that have already been answered in Volume I, Chapter 5, of Principles of Federal Appropriations Law (GAO Red Book). One interesting case of fiscal law, which you won't find in the Red Book, deals with funding undefinitized contract actions (UCAs) that cross fiscal years. Consider the following scenario: A DoD activity issues a UCA in late fiscal year 2009 with a not-to-exceed price of $1,000,000. In accordance with DFARS 217.7404-4(a), the agency obligates $500,000 of the not-to-exceed price (the DFARS limit is currently 50% of the price ceiling, or 75% if the agency is in receipt of a "qualifying proposal"). The agency does not get around to definitizing the UCA until early FY 2010. When they do, the contracting officer and the contractor agree to a final contract price of $950,000. The unfunded balance is $450,000 (assuming actual costs prior to definitization were $500,000). Assuming the contract is funded with annual appropriations, which fiscal year's appropriation must be charged to fund the additional $450,000? Believe it or not, fiscal year 2010 funds must be used. A number of people that I have spoken to are befuddled by this, because they believe that the definitizing contract modification would be fulfilling a bona fide need of FY 2009, which would thus require the use of FY 2009 funds. However, this is incorrect. The Comptroller General answered this question in Obligating Letter Contracts, B-197274, September 23, 1983. In that case, a procurement official from the Department of Justice requested guidance on how to fund letter contracts that crossed fiscal years. Agency practice had been to record an obligation for the amount of the price ceiling and include a clause that limited the liability of the Government to 50% of the price ceiling. In other words, they would overrecord their obligation. The procurement official described his dilemma as follows: The Comptroller General responded as follows: Following the initial example, the $450,000 to be added to the contract when the definitizing contract modification is executed covers a bona fide need of fiscal year 2010. This need was originally a bona fide need of FY 2009, but it went unsatisfied within the time period available for new obligations. As such, the bona fide need was carried forward to FY 2010. UCAs have become a hot topic in contracting, particularly in DoD. In response to a GAO report that found a significant number of UCAs still undefinitized beyond the 180-day window imposed at DFARS 217.74, the DFARS was recently revised to include more rules pertaining to UCAs. However, I never saw any discussion about how to fund UCAs that cross fiscal years (maybe everybody already knows the rule ). Based on the GAO report, I'm willing to speculate that a good number of UCAs are left undefinitized until the fiscal year following their issuance. For UCAs funded by annual appropriations, I wonder what fiscal year's funds are being obligated when the UCAs are definitized. My guess is, in most cases, the same fiscal year's funds that were obligated for the UCA.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Myth-Information: Price Analysis is Always Required

There seems to be a closely held belief by some in the Federal contracting community that the FAR requires the contracting officer to perform a price analysis before awarding any contract. CON 111 used to contain the following statements: A number of my colleagues, both practitioners and instructors, would agree with those statements. Further, I have had a number of students pre-programmed by their contracting offices to believe that price analysis is always required. What does the FAR say? Subparagraphs a(2) and a(3) of FAR 15.404-1 discuss the requirements for the performance of price and cost analysis: Note that a(2) qualifies the requirement for price analysis with the language "when cost or pricing data are not required." To interpret a(2) to mean that price analysis is always required would render meaningless the qualifying language in the statement ("when cost or pricing data are not required"). Such an interpretation would be inconsistent with the fundamental principle that statutes and regulations must be read and interpreted as a whole, thereby giving effect to all provisions. See Waste Mgmt. of North Am., B-225551, B-225553, Apr. 24, 1987, 87-1 CPD ? 435 at 5. Subparagraph a(3) sets forth the requirement for performing cost analysis (i.e., when cost or pricing data are required) and contains the statement that "Price analysis should be used to verify that the overall price offered is fair and reasonable." Does this statement require price analysis when cost or pricing data are required? To answer this, we need to review the definitions of "should" and "shall" in FAR 2.101: Thus, when cost or pricing data are required, the contracting officer is 1) required to perform cost analysis and 2) expected to perform price analysis unless it's inappropriate for a particular circumstance. That's different than stating that the contracting officer must perform both price and cost analysis when cost or pricing data are required. The implicit acknowledgement that price analysis could be inappropriate in a particular circumstance (and thus, not required) contradicts the assertion that price analysis is always required. Why the Confusion? I'm not sure why some folks think that price analysis is always required. Perhaps they haven't read the FAR carefully. I recently had my students read subparagraphs a(2) and a(3) and asked them whether it was true or false that price analysis was always required. They were split about 50% true 50% false. When I had the students who answered "False" re-read a(2) and a(3), I was able to get the split to about 15% true 80% false and 5% I don't know. I can live with that. A more likely reason behind the existence of this myth is that an uncomfortably large number of people in our field do not know what the FAR says because they do not read it. Instead, they are guided by, and they repeat, rumors.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Small Business Order of Priority Table (HOLD THE PRESS!)

WARNING: OMB issued a memorandum on July 10 directing executive agencies to temporarily disregard the two GAO decisions discussed below until a full review can be conducted. Until such a review is conducted, do not use the table. Depending on your point of view, two recent GAO decisions have either clarified or muddied our understanding of the rules pertaining to the order of priority for small business programs. In International Program Group, Inc., B-400278; B-400308, September 19, 2008, the GAO held that HUBZone set-asides take precedence over service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) set-asides and SDVOSB sole sources (a highly criticized decision). In Mission Critical Solutions, B-401057, May 4, 2009, the GAO held that HUBZone set-asides take precedence over the 8(a) program. In both cases, the GAO sought, and disagreed with, the SBA's interpretation of the relevant statutes. Based on these two decisions, and the current rules that in FAR Part 19, I have created a table to assist in determining the order of priority for small business programs. Instructions and relevant references are provided in the table. The table assumes that the acquisition exceeds the simplified acquisition threshold. Take a look and let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Inconsistent Decisions?

In TYBRIN Corporation, B-298364.6; B-298364.7, March 13,2007, the GAO held that an offeror's cost estimate that indicated that it would not perform 51% of the contract work on a small business set-aside rendered the offer unacceptable, even though the offeror did not explicitly take exception to the solicitation's limitation on subcontracting clause (FAR 52.219-14) and the SBA granted the offeror a certificate of competency. The GAO reasoned as follows: As a result, the Air Force reopened discussions with offerors and sought revised proposals. This action was unsuccessfully challenged in the Court of Federal Claims (see The Centech Group, Inc., v. U. S. and Tybrin, Inc., 07-513C, Filed December 7, 2007, Refiled December 13, 2007) and unsuccessfully appealed to Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (The Centech Group, Inc., v. U. S. and Tybrin Corporation, No. 08-5031, February 3, 2009). Thus, it would seem that we have a general rule that if information in a cost estimate indicates that an offeror will not comply with a material term of a solicitation, then the offeror has implicitly taken exception to that term of the solicitation, which would make their offer unacceptable (or nonresponsive). However, in Group GPS Multimedia, B-310716, January 22, 2008, the opposite conclusion was reached. In that case, the successful offeror submitted a cost estimate that contained a proposed labor rate that was below the labor rate stated in the Department of Labor Wage Determination (the contract would be subject to the Service Contract Act). The protester argued that this gave the awardee an unfair price advantage. The GAO held as follows: This raises several questions. Why wouldn't a cost estimate that contains proposed labor rates below the SCA-minimum labor rates render an offer unacceptable, but a cost estimate that shows an offeror performing less than 51% of the contract work on a small business set-aside would? In neither circumstance does the cost estimate indicate compliance with a material term of the solicitation (the Limitation on Subcontracting clause and the Service Contract Act, respectively). Yet, we have different results. Is compliance with the Limitation on Subcontracting clause a special case? If so, why? Or is proposed compliance with the SCA (as evidenced in a cost proposal) a special exception to the rule? If so, why? Any ideas?

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

GAO Issues Apology to DoD

In a remarkable statement issued today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) apologized to the Department of Defense for what it called "decades of unwarranted and unsubstantiated criticism." The admission came in the wake of the release of a March 2009 GAO report titled Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs that claims that for 2008 programs, research and development costs are now 42 percent higher than originally estimated and the average delay in delivering initial capabilities has increased to 22 months. "Who knows if any of that stuff is true" said the author of the study. "We write these reports years in advance when there are no data. Last month, I completed documenting my 'findings' for a 2010 report on DoD's mismanagement of 2009 stimulus funding." He added, "From what I do know of DoD, they are a stellar organization." GAO also recanted recent Congressional testimony that stated: "That was a gross mischaracterization and we regret those statements. Truth be told, DoD's weapon system programs, in particular the Future Combat Systems program, are models of responsible program management. They represent the Federal Government at its best" said the GAO. When asked what motivated today's statement, a GAO spokesperson responded that "we can't keep up with the demand for this type of criticism. The DoD-bashing crowd is insatiable. It's getting to the point where we are ignoring some real problems in other agencies, like NASA", an obvious reference to the recent expose of former astronauts at the space agency. GAO had painted DoD as a largely dysfunctional, overinflated, and wasteful bureaucracy in numerous reports dating back to the 1970s. One retired GAO auditor, who now runs a Web site dedicated to Federal contracting, added some insight: "DoD wasn't half as bad as what we wrote about them, but nobody wanted to hear it." DoD has yet to formally respond to the GAO's apology.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Myth-Information: Communication is 93% Nonverbal

The myth about communication being 93% nonverbal probably didn't start in the contracting field, but we are partly responsible for its spread. This is especially true when it comes to the subject of contract negotiation. The course manual for CON 100 used to state that communication was 90% nonverbal as a matter of fact. A speaker at a recent conference that I attended used a figure of 93% in a presentation on contract negotiation. The current Contract Pricing Reference Guides contain a variation of this claim in a chapter titled "Nonverbal Communication" (Volume V, Chapter 5): Whenever this claim is made, it's almost always accompanied by a statement that it is supported by "research", but what "research"? Well, there actually was a research study done in 1967 that found that 93% of communication was nonverbal...under very specific conditions. The following excerpt from The Virtual Handshake explains just what the study found: Mehrabian's exact words appear in a description of his book "Silent Messages" -- A Wealth of Information About Nonverbal Communication (Body Language): For a thorough debunking of this myth, see Contributions of Different Modalities to "Content". Nonverbal communication is important in a contract negotiation. Eye-rolling usually communicates disagreement. A long sigh usually communicates frustration. Busting out laughing at the other party's counteroffer can be an effective way of communicating your intent to consider it. However, unless the parties intend to discuss their emotions in lieu of contract terms, they shouldn't go in to the negotiation thinking that 93% of the message they are sending is nonverbal. If they do, they'll find themselves focusing too much on the form of the negotiation instead of the substance. As contracting professionals, we all need to do our part to stop the spread of this common communication myth.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Myth-Information: Proposal Rating

Myth-Information: When discussing the evaluation of competitive proposals with my students, I make a point of asking the following two questions (in order): 1. Are agencies required to evaluate proposals? 2. Are agencies required to rate proposals? Usually, students respond affirmatively to question #1 and are able to support their answers by citing FAR 15.305(a), which states "An agency shall evaluate competitive proposals and then assess their relative qualities solely on the factors and subfactors specified in the solicitation." However, confusion sets in when I follow with question #2 and students read the very next sentence of FAR 15.305(a), which states "Evaluations may be conducted using any rating method or combination of methods, including color or adjectival ratings, numerical weights, and ordinal rankings." Clearly, the language regarding use of a rating method in conjunction with an evaluation is permissive, not mandatory. "What's the difference?", "Why wouldn't you rate proposals?", "How do you decide who is the better value if you don't rate the proposals?" are typical student responses. These are all good questions. Evaluation v. Rating A good way to understand the difference between evaluation and rating is to look at a typical article in Consumer Reports (CR). Here?s an example of a summary evaluation of a new car?s ?Driving Experience? (model name omitted): ?Driving Experience? was one evaluation factor under the heading ?Road Test.? CR also evaluated ?Reliability?, ?Safety?, and ?Owner Satisfaction?, to name a few. According to the Web site, there were over 50 different tests and evaluations performed on the car. Presumably, this produced a mountain of data. However, the typical car buyer does not have the time to peruse the data, nor do they fully understand it. As such, CR established a 100-point scale and a set of predetermined criteria to translate test and evaluation results into scores on the scale. In addition, they partitioned the scale into quintiles and assigned an adjective to each (Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, and Excellent). Using this rating method, the car described above received a score of 74 and an adjectival rating of ?Very Good.? In this case, CR used a combination of rating methods (numerical scoring and adjectival rating) to translate complex evaluation results into an easily consumable format for its readers. But Teach, Why Wouldn?t you Rate Proposals? First, it's not required. Besides that, the results of the evaluation may not be particularly complex. For example, let?s say I used price and performance risk as my evaluation factors in a source selection. Performance risk had two subfactors?past performance and experience. In the solicitation, I instructed offerors to submit a one-page write-up and customer point of contact for each of their relevant contracts. The evaluation of performance risk consisted of an assessment of the write-ups as well as interviews with the customer points of contact to validate the offeror?s claimed experience as well as to ascertain how well the offeror performed. The evaluators then wrote an evaluation of each offeror?s performance risk, documenting the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. Why would it be necessary to translate this information into a rating? How would this aid my decision-making? I?m not going to be faced with volumes of information. Another reason I would avoid the use of ratings is when I was dealing with evaluators that didn?t understand them. In my experience, when ratings are used, ratings are all you get. I can recall receiving technical evaluations that had nothing more than the word ?Excellent? (when I used adjectival ratings) or ?95? (when I used a numerical rating). I wanted an evaluation and I got a rating. How do you decide who is the better value if you don't rate the proposals? The answer is the same way that you would if you did rate proposals?by performing a comparative assessment of proposals against all source selection criteria in the solicitation. A source selection authority (SSA) relies on ratings to make their source selection decision at their peril. See, for example, Si-Nor, Inc., B-282064, 25 May 1999, where the source selection authority based her decision to award to a higher-priced offeror on the fact that the offeror had a higher past performance rating. One of the reasons the protest was sustained was because the SSA did not describe the benefits associated with the additional costs, as required by FAR 15.308. ?Because they had a higher rating? will typically fail to meet this requirement. So we shouldn?t use ratings? Not necessarily. The point is that you have discretion to use or not use ratings. Most people don?t know why they use ratings other than the fact that it?s traditional where they work. The decision to use (or not use) ratings should result from thoughtful deliberation, not a successful copy and paste from your office mate?s old source selection plan. A wise man once said ?Tradition is the hobgoblin of mediocre minds.?

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Myth-Information: Neutral Past Performance

Some of you were confused when I classified the following statement as myth-information in the Federal Contracting Myths thread: Let me explain where I was coming from. In April of 1994, OFPP used a variation of the word neutral with the term "past performance" in a Federal Register notice soliciting comments on their proposed pilot program to increase the use of past performance information in source selections. The notice stated: In November of 1994, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) (Public Law 103-355) amended 41 USC 405 to include a new subsection (j) implementing the Government's policy of considering past performance in source selections. (j)(2) contains the following language: The FAR Council attempted to "plain language" the statute when it came time to implementing the new policy. In a proposed rule implementing the past performance information policy, FAR 15.608(a)(2)(iii) contained the following statement: When the final rule came out in March 1995 (FAC 90-26), the proposed rule was changed to read as follows: The background statement of the FAC stated that the final rule "clarifies that firms lacking relevant performance history shall receive a neutral evaluation for past performance." (60 FR 16718-01) However, since there is no discussion of the comments received in response to the proposed rule, it is unclear why the proposed rule needed clarification. Apparently, the FAR Council thought that the rule needed even further clarification and proposed the following definition of a neutral evaluation in the first proposed FAR Part 15 Rewrite: However, this only muddied the waters. The background of the second proposed rule provides the following explanation: The second proposed rule also contained a valiant attempt to define a neutral past performance evaluation as follows: This language failed to clarify anything, so in the final rule the FAR Council said the heck with it, let's just parrot the statute: This final rule gave us the rule as it is stated now at FAR 15.305(a)(2)(iv): So the FAR Council took the language of the statute, attempted to clarify it by introducing the term "neutral past performance evaluation", tried again to clarify it by defining "neutral past performance evaluation", confused a lot of people, then gave up. "Neutral past performance" was removed from the FAR over 11 years ago after a brief and infamous appearance. Despite this fact, it remains popular in the federal contracting vernacular.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Myth-Information: Obligating the Minimum in IDIQ Contracts

If the preconceived notions that our students are bringing to the classroom is any indication, there's a good deal of myth-information being spread regarding indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts. The one belief that I want to focus on today deals with obligating the contract minimum upon award of an IDIQ contract. This belief usually stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between creating and obligation and recording an obligation. The difference is explained in Chapter 7 of the GAO Redbook (p. 7-8): [bold added]. When a contracting officer awards an IDIQ contract, she has obligated the Government to purchase the contract minimum. She has created an obligation. When that same contracting officer cites a long line of accounting (containing the appropriation citation) and a dollar amount on the award document, she has recorded an obligation (when she distributes the award document to her accounting office, they will record the obligation in the agency's books). Let's say that the contracting officer awards the IDIQ contract, but does not record the amount of the Government's obligation on the award document. What has happened? An obligation has been created, but has not been recorded. Is there a problem with that? (Yes, go back and read the bolded sentence in the citation that I provided above). The problem is that the contracting officer has caused her agency to violate the ?recording statute,? 31 USCA ? 1501, which sets forth the criteria for recording an obligation as follows: In the second example I provided, there exists a binding document that meets the criteria of (1)(A) and (B.) (the IDIQ contract), but no obligation would have been recorded. The agency would have underrecorded its obligations. That's bad. Chapter 7 of the GAO Redbook (p. 7-6) states the following regarding under- and overrecording of obligations: I always urge my students to take a course in Federal Appropriations Law at some time in their career--the sooner the better. Unlike Federal Acquisition Law, where the acquisition team is permitted to "assume if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority", there is very little flexibility when it comes to applying the rules Federal Appropriations Law.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Myth-Information: Exchanges with Offerors

First, I'd like to thank everyone that contributed to my thread seeking myth-information in federal contracting. I culled another 20 pieces to add to the seven that I was able to come up with. If you come across any or are able to think of any more, please add to the thread or send me a message. Second, I'd like to comment on something that Retreadfed wrote in the aforementioned thread: While I hadn't thought about it, I like the distinction that Retreadfed made. Myth-information exists due to ignorance of the rules. If you want to read about stupidity, there's an excellent compilation of it in DoD's Encyclopedia of Ethical Failures (don't miss the 2008 update). Now, back to the point of this entry. Vern Edwards contributed the following nugget to the misinformation thread: No doubt this belief is the result of overlawyering and/or taking the "better safe than sorry" approach to source selection. Let's take a look at what the FAR says concerning this subject. FAR 15.201(f) states: [bold added]. As you can see, the scope of the information that must be shared with all offerors when it is shared with one offeror prior to receipt of proposals is much narrower than "anything that you say." However, it is common practice at some contracting activities to record every question received and answer provided regarding an RFP (no matter how mundane) in an amendment and issue to all prospective offerors (the better safe than sorry approach). While such an approach is compliant, it is not required and makes for long amendments and the excessive provision of information. Regarding what can be said during discussions, FAR 15.306(d)(1) states: [italics added]. Tailored. This necessarily means that you are not required to discuss the same areas with each offeror. In Trident Sys., Inc., Comp. Gen. Dec. B-243101, the rule was stated as follows: Exchanging information with offerors involves thoughtful judgement and discretion. Unlike some other areas of contracting, it is not a mechanical exercise governed by a simple mandatory rule. Those who shy away from using their judgment and discretion (probably to avoid criticism) are always in search of mandatory rules (even if none exist) such as "During a source selection, anything that you say to one offeror you must say to all other offerors." This contributes to the persistence of myth-information. Don't be one of those people.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Delivery Orders Not Binding? Huh?

I read something that I found remarkable in the recently published GAO decision Master Lock Company, LLC, B-309982.2, June 24, 2008. Bob posted the decision on the Wifcon home page. The protester argued that the agency's evaluation of the awardee's past performance should have taken into account the fact that they had declined a delivery order under a different IDIQ contract. In response, the agency argued that a delivery order was not binding and the GAO agreed. Here's an excerpt: "During the course of this protest, Master Lock also argued that the agency?s evaluation of Evergreen?s past performance was unreasonable. As discussed above, Evergreen declined to accept order No. 2745, which was issued under a different contract. DLA acknowledges that it did not consider these events in its evaluation of Evergreen?s past performance. AR at 8. The agency contends, however, that it was not required to do so because the submission of a quote by a vendor under an ID/IQ contract does not result in a binding obligation. Thus, the agency argues, because Evergreen did not accept the order, there was no contract performance for the agency to evaluate. The agency is correct that neither the submission of a quote by a vendor nor the issuance of an order by an agency results in a binding contractual obligation. Rather, the government?s order represents an offer that the vendor may accept either through performance or by a formal acceptance document. M. Braun, Inc., B-298935.2, May 21, 2007, 2007 CPD ? 96 at 3." [italics added]. However, the case that the GAO cited as support for their position did not deal with a task or delivery order under an IDIQ contract--it was a purchase order using simplified acquisition procedures. There's a big difference. FAR 16.506 requires the inclusion of the clauses at FAR 52.216-18, Ordering, 52.216-19, Order Limitations, and 52.216-22, Indefinite Quantity, in an IDIQ contract. Here's what the Indefinite Quantity clause says regarding the contractor's obligation to perform: "Delivery or performance shall be made only as authorized by orders issued in accordance with the Ordering clause. The Contractor shall furnish to the Government, when and if ordered, the supplies or services specified in the Schedule up to and including the quantity designated in the Schedule as the 'maximum.' The Government shall order at least the quantity of supplies or services designated in the Schedule as the 'minimum.'" [bold added]. Now, what in this required FAR clause would give the contractor the right to decline an order, provided that the order complies with the Ordering and Order Limitations clauses? I don?t see it. The decision includes the following statements further on in an attempt to clarify: "Although the work required under any task or delivery order will only become a binding obligation on the parties if the vendor accepts the order, the underlying ID/IQ contract may itself have obligations. For example, a contract may require a vendor to accept orders placed by the agency within certain parameters.? This is conceptually incorrect. IDIQ contracts do require (not ?may?) the contractor to accept orders placed by the agency within certain parameters (stated in the Ordering and Order Limitations clauses). The only instance where a contractor?s acceptance of a task or delivery order would matter would be if the agency?s order was not within the stated parameters in the Ordering and Order Limitations clauses. Furthermore, an arrangement where the Government was required to order a minimum quantity and the contractor would not be required to perform would arguably lack consideration and, thus, not be an enforceable contract. The main problem with this decision is that it characterizes the exception to the rule (i.e., situations where the contractor may decline a task or delivery order under an IDIQ contract) as the rule itself. It also fails to recognize the distinction between purchase orders made in the open market and task and delivery orders under IDIQ contracts.

Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

 

Myth-information in Federal Contracting

"You can't be distracted by the noise of misinformation."
-James Daly

In my career as a contracting professional and now an educator, I have come to appreciate the growing body of misinformation in Federal contracting. Contracting misinformation is pervasive. You can see it in the popular press, periodicals dedicated to the contracting profession, in posts at the Wifcon forum, internal policy memoranda at a Government agency, etc. As I'm writing this, somewhere a senior contracting professional is imparting misinformation on a newbie, and the newbie is believing him.

A certain amount of misinformation is understandable in Federal contracting, given the volumes of regulations and case law that govern Federal acquisition. I can accept that (it keeps me employed). However, certain contracting misinformation seems to resist any efforts to eradicate it. This class of misinformation has its origins in the operational contracting offices of the Federal Government and is usually created in the form of rules that have no basis in law or regulation, but sound like they do (especially when spoken by senior contracting professionals, legal counsel, or contract policy office personnel). It is this class of misinformation that is most aptly described as contracting "myth-information."

As a service to my profession, I will attempt to bust some of the more popular contracting myth-information that I have heard. I've created my own list of myth-information and am collecting more from participants in the Wifcon discussion forum (thank you to those that have contributed). I'll try to debunk at least one myth per blog entry. If you think you have heard some contracting myth-information and would like to share with others, please contact me and I will include it in the blog. Think of the blog as a clearinghouse for busted contracting myth-information.


Don Mansfield

Don Mansfield

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