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"Streamlining" the FAR

Vern Edwards

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The FAR has gotten lengthier every year. It never stops growing. I compared the Commerce Clearing House (CCH) edition of the FAR dated January 1, 2016 with the one dated January 1, 2017. The first was 2,208 pages long; the second is 2,296. And so it goes. The deeper that ocean gets, the murkier its depths become.

Now, perhaps in response to Executive Order 13777, Feb. 24, 2017, the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council (DARC) and the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council (CAAC) want to “streamline” the FAR. The DARC has distributed a “case management record” within DOD calling for suggestions:

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We have an opportunity to provide recommendations fro streamlining the FAR and/or DFARS.

If you wish to participate by providing input recommending a deletion or other streamlining recommendation for a specific  portion of the FAR and/or DFARS, please submit your recommendation by April 12….

 

The case management record goes on to say that any recommendations for cuts should state (1) whether a proposed cut implements statute or executive order, (2) the rationale for the recommendation, and (3) any potential cost savings or “burden reductions.”

Good idea. I'm all for it. But the project needs a guiding principle or two. Let me make four suggestions.

  1. Do not recommend cutting or editing anything that implements statute or executive order. It would be complicated and take up too much time in debate.
  2. Delete everything that is merely tutorial or informative, not directive--everything that does not include the words must, shall, or may not  or that includes one of those terms only in connection with a general policy statement.
  3. Delete everything that duplicates rules promulgated by other agencies that have the primary statutory authority to do so and that is already covered in another place in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
  4. Don’t bother clipping words, phrases, or sentences here and there in a lengthy text. Too much trouble. Focus on long passages that don’t require detailed editing.

Now for an example. Consider FAR 16.104, “Negotiating Contract Type.” Here it is, with the text that I would delete in red.

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16.103 Negotiating contract type.

(a) Selecting the contract type is generally a matter for negotiation and requires the exercise of sound judgment. Negotiating the contract type and negotiating prices are closely related and should be considered together. The objective is to negotiate a contract type and price (or estimated cost and fee) that will result in reasonable contractor risk and provide the contractor with the greatest incentive for efficient and economical performance.

(b) A firm-fixed-price contract, which best utilizes the basic profit motive of business enterprise, That  be used when the risk involved is minimal or can be predicted with an acceptable degree of certainty. However, when a reasonable basis for firm pricing does not exist, other contract types should be considered, and negotiations should be directed toward selecting a contract type (or combination of types) that will appropriately tie profit to contractor performance.

(c) In the course of an acquisition program, a series of contracts, or a single long-term contract, changing circumstances may make a different contract type appropriate in later periods than that used at the outset. In particular, contracting officers should avoid protracted use of a cost-reimbursement or time-and-materials contract after experience provides a basis for firmer pricing.

(d)(1) Each contract file shall include documentation to show why the particular contract type was selected. This shall be documented in the acquisition plan, or in the contract file if a written acquisition plan is not required by agency procedures.

(i) Explain why the contract type selected must be used to meet the agency need.

(ii) Discuss the Government’s additional risks and the burden to manage the contract type selected (e.g., when a cost-reimbursement contract is selected, the Government incurs additional cost risks, and the Government has the additional burden of managing the contractor’s costs). For such instances, acquisition personnel shall discuss −

(A) How the Government identified the additional risks (e.g., pre-award survey, or past performance information);

(B) The nature of the additional risks (e.g., inadequate contractor’s accounting system, weaknesses in contractor's internal control, non-compliance with Cost Accounting Standards, or lack of or inadequate earned value management system); and

(C) How the Government will manage and mitigate the risks.

(iii) Discuss the Government resources necessary to properly plan for, award, and administer the contract type selected (e.g., resources needed and the additional risks to the Government if adequate resources are not provided).

(iv) For other than a firm-fixed price contract, at a minimum the documentation should include −

(A) An analysis of why the use of other than a firm-fixed-price contract (e.g., cost reimbursement, time and materials, labor hour) is appropriate;

(B) Rationale that detail the particular facts and circumstances (e.g., complexity of the requirements, uncertain duration of the work, contractor’s technical capability and financial responsibility, or adequacy of the contractor’s accounting system), and associated reasoning essential to support the contract type selection;

(C) An assessment regarding the adequacy of Government resources that are necessary to properly plan for, award, and administer other than firm-fixed-price contracts; and

(D) A discussion of the actions planned to minimize the use of other than firm-fixed-price contracts on future acquisitions for the same requirement and to transition to firm-fixed-price contracts to the maximum extent practicable.

(v) A discussion of why a level-of-effort, price redetermination, or fee provision was included.

(2) Exceptions to the requirements at (d)(1) of this section are −

(i) Fixed-price acquisitions made under simplified acquisition procedures;

(ii) Contracts on a firm-fixed-price basis other than those for major systems or research and development; and

(iii) Awards on the set-aside portion of sealed bid partial set-asides for small business.

 

The “shall” in the first sentence of 16.103(b) is an example of what I call a nonspecific shall. It does not direct the contracting officer to do anything specific in any given instance, but only instructs him or her to keep a general principle in mind. 

Here is another example of what I would delete, from FAR 15.404-1, “Proposal Analysis Techniques”:

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(b) Price analysis for commercial and non-commercial items.

(1) Price analysis is the process of examining and evaluating a proposed price without evaluating its separate cost elements and proposed profit. Unless an exception from the requirement to obtain certified cost or pricing data applies under 15.403-1(b)(1) or (b)(2), at a minimum, the contracting officer shall obtain appropriate data, without certification, on the prices at which the same or similar items have previously been sold and determine if the data is adequate for evaluating the reasonableness of the price. Price analysis may include evaluating data other than certified cost or pricing data obtained from the offeror or contractor when there is no other means for determining a fair and reasonable price. Contracting officers shall obtain data other than certified cost or pricing data from the offeror or contractor for all acquisitions (including commercial item acquisitions), if that is the contracting officer’s only means to determine the price to be fair and reasonable.

(2) The Government may use various price analysis techniques and procedures to ensure a fair and reasonable price. Examples of such techniques include, but are not limited to, the following:

(i) Comparison of proposed prices received in response to the solicitation. Normally, adequate price competition establishes a fair and reasonable price (see 15.403-1(c)(1)(i)).

(ii) Comparison of the proposed prices to historical prices paid, whether by the Government or other than the Government, for the same or similar items. This method may be used for commercial items including those “of a type” or requiring minor modifications.

(A) The prior price must be a valid basis for comparison. If there has been a significant time lapse between the last acquisition and the present one, if the terms and conditions of the acquisition are significantly different, or if the reasonableness of the prior price is uncertain, then the prior price may not be a valid basis for comparison.

(B) The prior price must be adjusted to account for materially differing terms and conditions, quantities and market and economic factors. For similar items, the contracting officer must also adjust the prior price to account for material differences between the similar item and the item being procured.

(C) Expert technical advice should be obtained when analyzing similar items, or commercial items that are “of a type” or requiring minor modifications, to ascertain the magnitude of changes required and to assist in pricing the required changes

(iii) Use of parametric estimating methods/application of rough yardsticks (such as dollars per pound or per horsepower, or other units) to highlight significant inconsistencies that warrant additional pricing inquiry.

(iv) Comparison with competitive published price lists, published market prices of commodities, similar indexes, and discount or rebate arrangements.

(v) Comparison of proposed prices with independent Government cost estimates.

(vi) Comparison of proposed prices with prices obtained through market research for the same or similar items.

(vii) Analysis of data other than certified cost or pricing data (as defined at 2.101) provided by the offeror.

(3) The first two techniques at 15.404-1(b)(2) are the preferred techniques. However, if the contracting officer determines that information on competitive proposed prices or previous contract prices is not available or is insufficient to determine that the price is fair and reasonable, the contracting officer may use any of the remaining techniques as appropriate to the circumstances applicable to the acquisition.

(4) Value analysis can give insight into the relative worth of a product and the Government may use it in conjunction with the price analysis techniques listed in paragraph (b)(2) of this section.

 

Note the nonspecific shalls in paragraph(b)(1).

The material in red, which is merely tutorial, is already covered in the Contract Pricing Reference Guides, and Government personnel can be made familiar with it in training and directed to it by general reference.

Now, here are two examples of text that needlessly covers ground already covered by other agencies in other places in the CFR:

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19.001 Definitions.

As used in this part—

“Concern” means any business entity organized for profit (even if its ownership is in the hands of a nonprofit entity) with a place of business located in the United States or its outlying areas and that makes a significant contribution to the U.S. economy through payment of taxes and/or use of American products, material and/or labor, etc. “Concern” includes but is not limited to an individual, partnership, corporation, joint venture, association, or cooperative. For the purpose of making affiliation findings (see 19.101), include any business entity, whether organized for profit or not, and any foreign business entity, i.e., any entity located outside the United States and its outlying areas.

“Fair market price” means a price based on reasonable costs under normal competitive conditions and not on lowest possible cost (see 19.202-6).

“Industry” means all concerns primarily engaged in similar lines of activity, as listed and described in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) manual.

“Nonmanufacturer rule” means that a contractor under a small business set-aside or 8(a) contract shall be a small business under the applicable size standard and shall provide either its own product or that of another domestic small business manufacturing or processing concern (see 13 CFR 121.406).

 

The text in red is already (and better) covered in 13 CFR Part 121. Although Title 13 uses the term “fair market price,” it does not define the term, so the definition in FAR 19.001 might be useful and should be retained.

Now look at FAR 19.101, “Explanation of Terms,” which explains affiliates, annual receipts, and number of employees:

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19.101 Explanation of terms.

As used in this subpart—

“Affiliates.” Business concerns are affiliates of each other if, directly or indirectly, either one controls or has the power to control the other, or another concern controls or has the power to control both. In determining whether affiliation exists, consideration is given to all appropriate factors including common ownership, common management, and contractual relationships; provided, that restraints imposed by a franchise agreement are not considered in determining whether the franchisor controls or has the power to control the franchisee, if the franchisee has the right to profit from its effort, commensurate with ownership, and bears the risk of loss or failure. Any business entity may be found to be an affiliate, whether or not it is organized for profit or located in the United States or its outlying areas.

(1) Nature of control. Every business concern is considered as having one or more parties who directly or indirectly control or have the power to control it. Control may be affirmative or negative and it is immaterial whether it is exercised so long as the power to control exists.

(2) Meaning of “party or parties.” The term “party” or “parties” includes, but is not limited to, two or more persons with an identity of interest such as members of the same family or persons with common investments in more than one concern. In determining who controls or has the power to control a concern, persons with an identity of interest may be treated as though they were one person.

(3) Control through stock ownership.

(i) A party is considered to control or have the power to control a concern, if the party controls or has the power to control 50 percent or more of the concern’s voting stock.

(ii) A party is considered to control or have the power to control a concern, even though the party owns, controls, or has the power to control less than 50 percent of the concern’s voting stock, if the block of stock the party owns, controls, or has the power to control is large, as compared with any other outstanding block of stock. If two or more parties each owns, controls, or has the power to control, less than 50 percent of the voting stock of a concern, and such minority block is equal or substantially equal in size, and large as compared with any other block outstanding, there is a presumption that each such party controls or has the power to control such concern; however, such presumption may be rebutted by a showing that such control or power to control, in fact, does not exist.

(iii) If a concern’s voting stock is distributed other than as described above, its management (officers and directors) is deemed to be in control of such concern.

(4) Stock options and convertible debentures. Stock options and convertible debentures exercisable at the time or within a relatively short time after a size determination and agreements to merge in the future, are considered as having a present effect on the power to control the concern. Therefore, in making a size determination, such options, debentures, and agreements are treated as though the rights held thereunder had been exercised.

(5) Voting trusts. If the purpose of a voting trust, or similar agreement, is to separate voting power from beneficial ownership of voting stock for the purpose of shifting control of or the power to control a concern in order that such concern or another concern may qualify as a small business within the size regulations, such voting trust shall not be considered valid for this purpose regardless of whether it is or is not valid within the appropriate jurisdiction. However, if a voting trust is entered into for a legitimate purpose other than that described above, and it is valid within the appropriate jurisdiction, it may be considered valid for the purpose of a size determination, provided such consideration is determined to be in the best interest of the small business program.

(6) Control through common management. A concern may be found as controlling or having the power to control another concern when one or more of the following circumstances are found to exist, and it is reasonable to conclude that under the circumstances, such concern is directing or influencing, or has the power to direct or influence, the operation of such other concern.

(i) Interlocking management. Officers, directors, employees, or principal stockholders of one concern serve as a working majority of the board of directors or officers of another concern.

(ii) Common facilities. One concern shares common office space and/or employees and/or other facilities with another concern, particularly where such concerns are in the same or related industry or field of operation, or where such concerns were formerly affiliated.

(iii) Newly organized concern. Former officers, directors, principal stockholders, and/or key employees of one concern organize a new concern in the same or a related industry or field operation, and serve as its officers, directors, principal stockholders, and/or key employees, and one concern is furnishing or will furnish the other concern with subcontracts, financial or technical assistance, and/or facilities, whether for a fee or otherwise.

(7) Control through contractual relationships—

(i) Definition of a joint venture for size determination purposes. A joint venture for size determination purposes is an association of persons or concerns with interests in any degree or proportion by way of contract, express or implied, consorting to engage in and carry out a single specific business venture for joint profit, for which purpose they combine their efforts, property, money, skill, or knowledge, but not on a continuing or permanent basis for conducting business generally. A joint venture is viewed as a business entity in determining power to control its management.

(A) For bundled requirements, apply size standards for the requirement to individual persons or concerns, not to the combined assets, of the joint venture.

(B) For other than bundled requirements, apply size standards for the requirement to individual persons or concerns, not to the combined assets, of the joint venture, if—

(1) A revenue-based size standard applies to the requirement and the estimated contract value, including options, exceeds one-half the applicable size standard; or

(2) An employee-based size standard applies to the requirement and the estimated contract value, including options, exceeds $10 million.

(ii) HUBZone joint venture. A HUBZone joint venture of two or more HUBZone small business concerns may submit an offer for a HUBZone contract as long as each concern is small under the size standard corresponding to the NAICS code assigned to the contract, provided one of the following conditions apply:

(A) The aggregate total of the joint venture is small under the size standard corresponding to the NAICS code assigned to the contract.

(B) The aggregate total of the joint venture is not small under the size standard corresponding to the NAICS code assigned to the contract and either—

(1) For a revenue-based size standard, the estimated contract value exceeds half the size standard corresponding to the NAICS code assigned to the contract; or

(2) For an employee-based size standard, the estimated contract value exceeds $10 million.

(iii) Joint venture. Concerns submitting offers on a particular acquisition as joint ventures are considered as affiliated and controlling or having the power to control each other with regard to performance of the contract. Moreover, an ostensible subcontractor which is to perform primary or vital requirements of a contract may have a controlling role such to be considered a joint venturer affiliated on the contract with the prime contractor. A joint venture affiliation finding is limited to particular contracts unless the SBA size determination finds general affiliation between the parties. The rules governing 8(a) Program joint ventures are described in 13 CFR 124.513.

(iv) Where a concern is not considered as being an affiliate of a concern with which it is participating in a joint venture, it is necessary, nevertheless, in computing annual receipts, etc., for the purpose of applying size standards, to include such concern’s share of the joint venture receipts (as distinguished from its share of the profits of such venture).

(v) Franchise and license agreements. If a concern operates or is to operate under a franchise (or a license) agreement, the following policy is applicable: In determining whether the franchisor controls or has the power to control and, therefore, is affiliated with the franchisee, the restraints imposed on a franchisee by its franchise agreement shall not be considered, provided that the franchisee has the right to profit from its effort and the risk of loss or failure, commensurate with ownership. Even though a franchisee may not be controlled by the franchisor by virtue of the contractual relationship between them, the franchisee may be controlled by the franchisor or others through common ownership or common management, in which case they would be considered as affiliated.

(vi) Size determination for teaming arrangements. For size determination purposes, apply the size standard tests in paragraphs (7)(i)(A) and (B) of this section when a teaming arrangement of two or more business concerns submits an offer, as appropriate.

“Annual receipts.”

(1) Annual receipts of a concern which has been in business for 3 or more complete fiscal years means the annual average gross revenue of the concern taken for the last 3 fiscal years. For the purpose of this definition, gross revenue of the concern includes revenues from sales of products and services, interest, rents, fees, commissions and/or whatever other sources derived, but less returns and allowances, sales of fixed assets, interaffiliate transactions between a concern and its domestic and foreign affiliates, and taxes collected for remittance (and if due, remitted) to a third party. Such revenues shall be measured as entered on the regular books of account of the concern whether on a cash, accrual, or other basis of accounting acceptable to the U.S. Treasury Department for the purpose of supporting Federal income tax returns, except when a change in accounting method from cash to accrual or accrual to cash has taken place during such 3-year period, or when the completed contract method has been used.

(i) In any case of change in accounting method from cash to accrual or accrual to cash, revenues for such 3-year period shall, prior to the calculation of the annual average, be restated to the accrual method. In any case, where the completed contract method has been used to account for revenues in such 3-year period, revenues must be restated on an accrual basis using the percentage of completion method.

(ii) In the case of a concern which does not keep regular books of accounts, but which is subject to U.S. Federal income taxation, “annual receipts” shall be measured as reported, or to be reported to the U.S. Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service, for Federal income tax purposes, except that any return based on a change in accounting method or on the completed contract method of accounting must be restated as provided for in the preceding paragraphs.

(2) Annual receipts of a concern that has been in business for less than 3 complete fiscal years means its total receipts for the period it has been in business, divided by the number of weeks including fractions of a week that it has been in business, and multiplied by 52. In calculating total receipts, the definitions and adjustments related to a change of accounting method and the completed contract method of paragraph (1) of this definition, are applicable.

“Number of employees” is a measure of the average employment of a business concern and means its average employment, including the employees of its domestic and foreign affiliates, based on the number of persons employed on a full-time, part-time, temporary, or other basis during each of the pay periods of the preceding 12 months. If a business has not been in existence for 12 months, “number of employees” means the average employment of such concern and its affiliates during the period that such concern has been in existence based on the number of persons employed during each of the pay periods of the period that such concern has been in business. If a business has acquired an affiliate during the applicable 12-month period, it is necessary, in computing the applicant’s number of employees, to include the affiliate’s number of employees during the entire period, rather than only its employees during the period in which it has been an affiliate. The employees of a former affiliate are not included, even if such concern had been an affiliate during a portion of the period.

 

I would delete the entire section. By statute, SBA gets to define those terms, which are better and more appropriately explained in 13 CFR §§ 121.102, 121.104, and 121.106.

There are several other such texts in FAR. Look at FAR Part 22, in which the DARC and CAAC have sometimes done little more than restate rules promulgated by the Department of Labor, which are already stated in other titles of the CFR. For a specific example FAR 22.1003-4, “Administrative limitations, variations, tolerances, and exemptions.” That material is already covered in 29 CFR 4.123(e).  All that is needed in FAR is a reference to the appropriate regulations and supplemental directives about what contracting officers must do in application and compliance.

Cutting the duplicate text will save the FAR councils from having to revise the FAR every time another agency changes its regulation. As it is now, every time the statutorily responsible agency changes its rules the FAR councils must then publish in the Federal Register to change the FAR, which is needless work. It will also prevent the possibility of conflicts between the FAR and the regulations promulgated by the statutorily responsible agencies and the confusion that is likely to ensue. Cutting the tutorial stuff will save paper. It will also make it clearer that rules are rules, but other stuff is just stuff.

As for cutting the tutorials, the FAR should be a rulebook, not a textbook or guide for the perplexed.

There will of course be people who will argue against such cuts on grounds that it will require contracting folk to look up other sources, and it is more convenient to include the information in the FAR to provide one-stop shopping, so to speak. There is merit to that argument, if you don’t mind navigating an ever increasingly voluminous and sometimes strange mixture of rules and stuff (guidance and tutorials) and if you don’t worry about conflicts in the coverage.

Status quo is always available.

Feel free to comment with your own recommendations.



3 Comments


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I would love for the FAR to be a stand-alone rulebook or simply refer to rules covered by other agencies in other places in the CFR. Just pick one methodology. Either will do.

I prefer FAR eliminate duplicative text by reference for the reasons mentioned above, but also because FAR and the FAR Council seem to provide conflicting guidance on the application of rules. For example:

FAR 1.602-1( b ) states "[n]o contract shall be entered into unless the contracting officer ensures that all requirements of law, executive orders, regulations, and all other applicable procedures, including clearances and approvals, have been met."

FAR Council has stated "[c]ontracting officers under the Executive Branch are required to follow the FAR. In cases where there are inconsistencies between Title 13 (SBA regulations) and Title 48 (FAR) of the Code of Federal Regulations, contracting officers follow the FAR."

Separating the DARC and CAAC could "streamline" FAR by allowing the two entities to move independently at their own speed without regard for coordination with the other.

All that said, I am convinced what they really want is "streamlined" acquisitions. And that is a result of the FAR, as written, being applied in overly burdensome ways - not necessarilly FAR itself.

 

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PepeTheFrog LOVES, LOVES, LOVES this guiding principle, and cannot recommend it highly enough! This should be a guiding principle for any policy or regulation document!

 

"Cutting the duplicate text will save the FAR councils from having to revise the FAR every time another agency changes its regulation. As it is now, every time the statutorily responsible agency changes its rules the FAR councils must then publish in the Federal Register to change the FAR, which is needless work. It will also prevent the possibility of conflicts between the FAR and the regulations promulgated by the statutorily responsible agencies and the confusion that is likely to ensue."

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Vern,

Agree with your proposal and examples.  I would add to your guidance words from the movie "A River Runs Through It".  The pastor, home schooling his son, was teaching a lesson in clear but brief communications.  His words to his son, as he gave him back his essay, "[write it] again, half as long." 

DARC, again, half as long.

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