Alice Wonderly, a contracting trainee, has been given the job of “putting together” a source selection plan and has some questions for her supervisor, Mr. Sagesse, a contracting officer with an unlimited warrant.
TRAINEE: Hi, Mr. Sagesse. May I come in?
SUPERVISOR: Hi Alice. Of course, of course. Always happy to talk to you. Sit down.
A: Thanks. I’ve been told to develop a source selection plan for the Foochi-Minooli Project, but I’ve never done one before. I’ve read FAR Subpart 15.3, and someone gave me an old plan to cut and paste from, but I’d like to understand what I’m doing.
S: That’s commendable. I like a thinker.
A: Well, could you answer a question? What is an evaluation factor?
S: I’m pretty busy right now [stands and begins gathering papers from his desk and stuffing them into his briefcase]. Look, just go to the office of the evaluation team and tell them you need some evaluation factors. When you get them, plug them into the template.
A: Template? You mean the cut-and-paste version?
A: Well, I went to the evaluation team’s office, and they said they’ve never done a source selection, and they asked me to explain the process to them.
S: Just print out FAR Part 15 and give them copies.
A: But, they'll only ask me questions, and I don’t understand FAR Part 15 well enough to explain it to someone else. FAR 15.304 and 15.305 talk about evaluation factors and give some examples, like past performance, experience, and cost or price, but they don’t provide any information about the underlying concept.
S: Concept? What don’t you understand?
A: Well, for instance, what exactly is an evaluation factor?
S: It’s a criterion you consider when you score--oops, I meant rate--and compare proposals.
A: What do you mean by “criterion”? The dictionary says a criterion is a standard.
S: Exactly. A standard.
A: What kind of standard?
S: Something you measure something else against.
A: That's what the dictionary said. But what is it that you measure?
S: That depends on what the criterion is. You measure against the criterion.
A: So we’re back to criterion, but you still haven’t told me what an evaluation factor is in source selection. According to what you’ve said, an evaluation factor is a criterion, and a criterion is a standard, and a standard is a criterion, and a criterion is an evaluation factor.
S: Exactly! Now you’ve got it!
A: But, I’m just right back where I started. I still don’t know what an evaluation factor is. Please, tell me, what is an evaluation factor?
S: It's something like past performance.
A: Well, I know that FAR 15.304 and 15.305 talk about past performance, but that doesn’t help me to understand the concept of an evaluation factor. What kind of thing is an evaluation factor?
S: I just told you--it’s a criterion for comparison.
A: But calling an evaluation factor a criterion or a standard doesn’t tell me what an evaluation factor is. I want to know what it is. What do all source selection evaluation factors have in common that makes them source selection evaluation factors?
S: I don’t understand what you don't understand. Look, it's simple. An evaluation factor is something you consider when you evaluate and compare proposals. But you don't evaluate them by comparing them, except to the evaluation factors.
A: What? Wait...
S. FAR 15.305 explains it all.
A: Not really. Forgive me, Mr. Sagesse, but we’re still going in circles. Do you have another example of an evaluation factor?
S: Sure. Technical acceptability.
A: What is that?
S: Being technically acceptable.
A: What makes a proposal technically acceptable?
S: Being technically good enough.
A: What makes a proposal “good enough”?
S: That depends on what the criteria are for technical acceptability.
S: It’s something that satisfies the requirement by meeting the standard for acceptability.
A: So, being technically acceptable is being good enough and being good enough is satisfying the requirement, which is meeting the standard for technical acceptability?
S: Now you're catching on.
A: So, technical acceptability is proposing to do what the requirement requires, based on the standard for that, which is a criterion, which is an evaluation factor? Is that it?
S: Exactly! Well, that, and explaining how they’re going to do it.
A: So, it’s not enough for an offeror to say that they propose to satisfy the requirement? They have to explain how they’re going to do it?
S: Yes. We’re talking best value, not sealed bidding.
A: So, if they promise to satisfy the requirement, and if they tell you how they’re going to do it, then they’ll be technically acceptable?
S: Yes. Well, assuming that their approach is sound.
A: So, technical acceptability is promising to satisfy the requirement, and describing how they’re going to do it, and having a sound approach?
S: Yes. That’s it.
A: “Approach.” I know you’re busy, so I’ll look that word up in FAR. But what makes an approach “sound”?
S: Being good enough to get the job done.
A: But what makes an approach good enough to get the job done?
S: That depends on the criteria.
S: Well, among other things, a realistic estimate of the cost. That sort of thing.
A: So a sound approach is one that comes with a realistic cost estimate?
S: Well, that, and things like the right kinds and amounts of labor and materials.
A: What makes the kinds and amounts of materials “right”?
S: Well, being right for the job.
A: What job?
S: The job of satisfying the requirement.
A: What does that job entail?
S: That depends on how they’re going to do the work.
A: So, if they promise to satisfy the requirement, and tell you how they’re going to do it, and propose the “right” kinds and amounts of labor and materials, and give you a “realistic” cost estimate, then they’ll be technically acceptable?
S: Yes. Well, assuming that their description of how they’re going to do it will actually get it done.
A: How will we know that?
S: Well, that’ll be up to the evaluators to decide.
A: How will they decide?
S: They’ll compare the proposed approach to their evaluation standards.
A: To their standards?
S: Yes, to their criteria for soundness.
A: To their criteria?
S: Yes--to the evaluation factors. Their evaluation must be based on the factors in the RFP. They can’t consider anything else. Unless something else is reasonably encompassed by the those factors.
A: What? Wait… Oh, never mind. Mr. Sagesse, we’ve come around in a circle again, and I still don’t know what all source selection evaluation factors have in common that makes them source selection evaluation factors.
S: What they have in common is that they will be used to evaluate and score--I mean rate--proposals.
A: Yes, but Mr. Sages, what kind of thing do you use as evaluation factors? What do all evaluation factors have in common?
S: I think you’re being a little argumentative.
A: I don’t mean to be. I just want to understand.
S: Well, I have explained it to you.
A: Okay. I guess I’ll read FAR some more. May I ask one more question?
S: What is it, Alice? I have to get to my car pool.
A: What, exactly, is rating, and how does it differ from scoring?
S: That’s two questions, and I have to go now. You’d better get started on that source selection plan. Just use the template. Can't go wrong that way. [Leaves.]
To be continued...