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Lionel Hutz

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Everything posted by Lionel Hutz

  1. IDIQ Decision

    The GAO Redbook says the following, "GAO has conducted several studies of year-end spending and has consistently reported that year-end spending is not inherently more or less wasteful than spending at any other time of the year. In one report, GAO suggested that year-end spending surges are really symptomatic of a larger problem—inadequate management of budget execution—and that the apportionment process could be more effectively used to provide the desired management." (Vol. 1, Ch. 5, p. 5-17.) Unfortunately, out of the five studies cited, four are from the 1980s and one dates from 1998.
  2. Thank you Vern! I understand that a trade off process would offer an "advantage" in that small business wouldn't have to be referred to the SBA for COC consideration. But, when comparing only an LPTA using "responsibility-type" evaluation factors to a Price only evaluation using Special Standards of Responsibility, it sounds like neither option provides an "advantage" over the other (with regard to SBA COC issues) because both would require referral to the SBA. Is that correct?
  3. The above discussion primarily compares "Special Standards of Responsibility" and evaluation factors used in a best value, trade-off source selection. I have a question about "Special Standards of Responsibility" vs LPTA evaluation factors, which are also evaluated on a pass/fail basis. Under Simplified Acquisition Procedures, assuming the discriminating factors that you want to evaluate are responsibility type factors (e.g. Experience, Adequate Facility, Required Certification) is there a benefit to choosing one type of evaluation over another, i.e., Price only evaluation with Special Standards of Responsibility vs LPTA? I have not dealt with Special Standards of Responsibility much, but it seems that the general process would be similar and the outcome the same. For DoD organizations, the FY17 NDAA requires a limitation on the use of LPTA be included in the DFARS. Would changing LPTA evaluation factors into Special Standards of Responsibility (to the extent you can) be a way of maintaining a similar source selection process without having to deal with the limitations, justifications, and other hurdles that may be implemented in the DFARS? I know we can’t really answer that last question until we see what the regs say. But if anyone has ideas on the matter, I’d be interested in hearing them. Thanks.
  4. Court Order and the FAR

    I'm not sure if the psych exam example you provided is the issue that you are facing. But if it is, I just wanted to point out that DOJ receives a special appropriation for the Fees and Expenses of Expert Witnesses. Further, "Funding allocated to this activity is also used to pay the fees of physicians and psychiatrists who examine defendants upon order of the court to determine their fitness to stand trial." (https://www.justice.gov/file/969041/download) I know that doesn't directly address the question you raised. But, if you are working with DOJ there should be an established process in that office. There is no exception that would remove this acquisition from the FAR. As others have noted, a micro-purchase using a GPC would be pretty darn quick. However, if the cost exceeds the micro-purchase threshold (or even SAT) the procurement can still be conducted quickly. A sole source contract for expert services can be awarded pursuant to the authority of FAR 6.302-3(a)(2)(iii) (“to acquire the services of an expert or neutral person for any current or anticipated litigation or dispute.”) If it is a recurring requirement, and you want to speed up the process, consider issuing a class J&A while maintaining a running list of qualified experts. For an example, see the SEC Division of Enforcement here: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=f293c58f774e1e7b57e85d171881a1bb&tab=core&_cview=1
  5. Unreasonable Price

    Ah well, unfortunately, I do not have time for a proper response as an extra-long weekend is calling my name, and there is work yet to be done. I'll just say I disagree and return the courtesy of leaving you the last word. As always, thanks for the discussion!
  6. Unreasonable Price

    I’d like to correct something I wrote earlier. I previously stated that “Price reasonableness is a subjective determination.” When I stated that, I meant that a determination of price reasonableness would vary depending on the facts and conditions of the acquisition. I still believe that; however, that is not the proper use of the term “subjective.” The reasonable person standard is an objective, not subjective standard. In an objective standard, the personal beliefs of the party are irrelevant. What matters is what a typical person exercising ordinary prudence would find reasonable. On the other hand, a subjective standard considers the actual beliefs of the party when deciding whether he or she acted reasonably. See the following article for a discussion of The Objective Theory of Contracts. (http://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1301&context=facscholar) which states: The Dimatteo article cited by Vern also makes this same point when it states: Further, I agree that when dealing with professionals, the reasonable person standard is elevated to that of a reasonable professional in that field. A professional has skills and abilities superior to the average person and is expected to utilize those skills/abilities when appropriate. So, for example, a doctor that treats a person with a broken leg will be held to the standard of a typical doctor exercising ordinary prudence, not just a typical person. So, to summarize up to this point: There is not a limit on what can be considered a reasonable price in all acquisitions; it will vary depending on the circumstances. In addition, the whims and subjective beliefs of a contracting officer are NOT considered in determining whether a price is reasonable. Rather, the decision must be viewed from the objective standpoint of a reasonable person. And finally, because we are dealing with professionals exercising skill in their chosen profession, the reasonable person standard is elevated to the standard of a reasonable professional. It seems, the disagreement lies in whether the hypothetical “reasonable professional“ should be the more specific “typical contracting officer,” or the more general “typical business person.” First, with regard to determining price reasonableness, contracting officers are not generally accepted as having skills and abilities superior to business people in private industry, such that they should be considered separate or held to a higher standard. There are highly skilled, intelligent and educated people in both the public and private sector. It may appear that the two groups are at odds in determining price reasonableness if you compare the price at which a typical business person would like to SELL to that which a typical contracting officer would like to PAY. But that is the wrong comparison because the circumstances are not the same (sell vs pay). Rather, the question to be asked is, whether under the same circumstances, a typical business person would PAY the price being evaluated for the needed goods or services. In other words, is the Government getting a worse deal than the private sector would get in the same situation? I see no reason to believe contracting officers, as a class, have superior abilities and make better price reasonableness determinations such that they should be held to a higher standard. Next, the rights and duties of a contracting officer are not inherently greater than that of a private business person. The US Supreme Court stated, “When the United States enters into contract relations, its rights and duties therein are governed generally by the law applicable to contracts between private individuals.” Winstar v. United States, 518 U.S. 839, 895 (1996) (quoting Lunch v. United States, 292 U.S. 571 (1934)). When the Government wants to impose rules, obligations or standards on a contracting officer that are in addition to, or more strict than, the private sector (for example, restrictions on accepting gifts) it does so through specific statutes, regulations, and policy. Absent such a specific requirement, the actions of the Government and its contracting officers are governed by the law applicable to the private sector. Finally, the FAR already allows a contracting officer to rely on what a typical business person considers reasonable in the form of published market prices. See FAR 15.404-1(b)(2) (“The Government may use various price analysis techniques and procedures to ensure a fair and reasonable price. Examples of such techniques include… (iv) Comparison with competitive published price lists, published market prices of commodities, similar indexes…”) There is no caveat that private industry market prices support a determination of price reasonableness only if they also pass another more stringent level of scrutiny. Based on this, I believe that a contracting officer can conclude that a price is fair and reasonable if he or she determines that typical business person, with ordinary prudence, in the same circumstances, would pay the price.
  7. Unreasonable Price

    Jamal, I agree. When examining issues of “reasonableness” the law uses what is known as the “Reasonable Person” standard. It is most often associated with the law of Torts, but is equally applicable to contract law, when it is sometimes called the “reasonably prudent business person” standard. http://injury.findlaw.com/accident-injury-law/standards-of-care-and-the-reasonable-person.html When we talk about whether a price is reasonable, we are asking whether a reasonably prudent business person in a given situation would pay the price in question. This standard is reflected in the advice of the Director of Defense Pricing (quoted in my post above) when he states that the determination should be made from the point of view of “a reasonable businessman or business woman reviewing the data.” Under this standard, it is not be enough for the contracting officer merely to say, “The price is reasonable to me.” Nor is it required that the specific price be reasonable in all situations. Rather, the contracting officer must be able to say, “A typical business person, with ordinary prudence, in the same circumstances I am in, would be willing to pay this price.” When you see examples of unreasonable pricing, it is because it does not meet that criteria. Either, there are other equivalent options at better prices, or the government’s need is not great enough to pay the requested price and it is more prudent to simply go without. For example, under normal circumstances, a contracting officer is not going to be able to determine $10,000 to be a reasonable price for a coffee pot. It does not matter how much he or she subjectively loves coffee. Nor is it enough that an extravagant millionaire might purchase a $10,000 coffee pot as a luxury. There are many options when it comes to purchasing coffee pots, and a typical business person, with ordinary prudence under normal circumstances is not going to pay that price for a coffee pot. A good example in private industry is a television commercial. Without context, $4M for a 30 second commercial sounds unreasonable. And, if a local cable company demands $4M from Pepsi for a 30 second ad during a rerun of McHale’s Navy, it would be unreasonable. The need for any one ad is not that great, and there are other less expensive, equally effective opportunities to air commercials. A reasonably prudent business person would not pay that price. But if FOX demands $4M from Pepsi for a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl, it may be determined to be a reasonable price. The number of viewers plus the potential for ads to go viral and generate “buzz” make the return on that $4M purchase a much better deal. Considering prices at this year’s Super Bowl approached $5M, one might even think Pepsi was getting a good deal at only $4M. The product and price haven't changed, but the circumstances have. Tweak the scenario just a bit more and the price can become unreasonable again. Imagine a company that does not sell products to the general public and is operating at maximum capacity such that a Super Bowl commercial is not going to help generate sufficient revenue to justify the purchase. In that case, even the “bargain” rate of $4M is not a price that a typical business person with ordinary prudence would pay in those circumstances. Keep changing the circumstances, i.e., the data, and you can find multiple scenarios in which the same price for the same item is either reasonable or unreasonable from the point of view of an typical business person with ordinary prudence. If reasonableness of price did not depend on the specific facts of a procurement, then the Government could come out with a universal price list that capped the prices across all government contracts. The FAR recognizes the variable nature of the price reasonableness determination and puts that responsibility on the individual with the most knowledge of the circumstances of the procurement.
  8. Unreasonable Price

    There is no hard and fast definition. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously penned (about defining pornography), "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…" I think the FAR and GAO have taken a similar approach with the definition of a fair and reasonable price. See, for example, Matter of Nutech Laundry & Textiles, Inc., B-291739, February 10, 2003: Here you can see GAO essentially saying, it is up to a contracting officer to determine whether a price is reasonable, unless they think it is unreasonable. While they may render a decision on a case by case basis, they do not try to establish the outer boundaries of reasonableness. Even the Director of Defense Pricing, when discussing price reasonableness in the context of a Commercial Item purchase, does not establish a bright line rule. He writes, http://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/policy/policyvault/USA007164-14-DPAP.pdf On the one hand, it would be nice to have more guidance, but on the other, the more you define and establish hard and fast definitions, the more you limit the discretion afforded to a contracting officer.
  9. Unreasonable Price

    Don, Ha ha. Believe me, I know that consistency is not a strong suit of the FAR Council. My statement was a reflection of a cannon of statutory and regulatory construction. See pages 15-16 of this CRS Report for Congress (pdf pages 19-20) (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/97-589.pdf) : And I don't know that there is an organization more dysfunctional than Congress, yet that is how Courts and administrative bodies statutes and regulations. Yes, sometimes cannons of construction are legal fictions. But if the Courts and GAO use them, they're good enough for me. Finally, I'll just add one last quote from GAO: Granted, that is just one case. But it is a protest in which GAO examined the language of FAR 15.402(a), noted that it said "contracting officer," and concluded that it is a "fundamental requirement" that applies to "a government agency."
  10. Unreasonable Price

    Vern, We can agree to disagree. No problem. I enjoyed the discussion, thanks! My comments that follow are not directed at you or anything you have written. Cheers!
  11. Unreasonable Price

    Don, I understand and respect both yours and Vern's position. But, I think it is a stretch to say that the context of FAR 15.402 "clearly requires a different meaning" to the definition of contracting officer. In fact the express granting of waiver authority to the HCA in the FAR provisions you cited argues against your interpretation. Clearly the FAR Council knows how to grant the HCA authority to waive specific FAR requirements. If the FAR meant for the HCA to be able to waive the requirement of 15.402(a), it would have so stated in language similar to that you identified.
  12. Unreasonable Price

    The FAR says that a person with authority to enter into contract is a contracting officer. (FAR 2.101) Your basketball analogy is not accurate because it assumes (correctly) that there are other people that can be athletic but not play basketball. But that is not the case with contracting officers. People other than contracting officers cannot award contracts. The FAR states that “Contracts may be entered into and signed on behalf of the Government only by contracting officers.” (FAR 1.601) The word “only” couldn’t be any clearer. It does not say “Contracts may be entered into and signed on behalf of the Government only by contracting officers and other people with contracting authority.” When the boundaries of a group (contracting officer) are defined limited by a single characteristic (authority to contract), then the presence of that single characteristic (authority to contract) means the individual fits in that group. To paraphrase Vern’s analysis, in the context of the FAR definitions, all Agency Heads are contracting officers, but not all Contracting Officers are Agency Heads. Whether or not the Federal Circuit distinguishes between the terms “Agency Head” and “Contracting Officer” under the Contract Disputes Act (“CDA”) is a red herring. I agree that that in the context of the CDA, the term Contracting Officer does not include an Agency Head. But we are not dealing with the CDA. The CDA is a different statute with, contrary to your assertion, different definitions. Let me put the relevant portions one after the other, so the difference is clear. First the FAR definition: The FAR definition of a contracting officer is a person with authority to contract. It doesn’t matter how they got that authority. The FAR makes clear that an official can be a contracting officer by virtue of being in a designated position (FAR 1.601(a)), or by being appointed in accordance with Agency regulations (FAR 1.603). Next the CDA definition: This definition is clearly limited to those who have contracting authority arising out of their “appointment in accordance with applicable regulations.” It does NOT include those whose contracting authority arise out of the nature of their position, i.e., Agency Head or other high-level designated position. So, in Morton v. US, when the Federal Circuit held a restriction on an Agency Head does not apply to a contracting officer, it is because the CDA defined those terms to be mutually exclusive. No so in the FAR where the definition of contracting officer encompasses Agency Heads and other high-level designated officials. Based on this I conclude the FAR clearly and expresses contemplates that a contracting officer is anyone that has contracting authority and that the FAR 15.402(a) restriction applies to all contracting officers. Vern, I have to be honest, I’m not sure what you are talking about here. I never mentioned HCA’s in my post. Unless the HCA has deviation authority, he may not authorize payment of an unreasonable price (under FAR Part 15) regardless of whether he is a contracting officer or not. I’m glad that Vern agrees there is no express statutory or regulatory language that authorizes a contracting officer to pay an unreasonable price contrary to FAR 15.402(a). What if agency regulations are silent on the matter, as many (most?) are. Under Vern’s scenario, the mere fact that a contracting office has “referred” a stalemate to a higher authority has satisfied the regulatory requirement. Notice, the regulation does not require that the higher authority “resolve” or “dispose of” anything. It doesn’t even mandate documentation of the disposition, only that it “should” be documented. Does it make sense that a contracting officer, who himself cannot award a contract at an unreasonable price, can authorize another contracting officer under him to award the contract? “I can’t award the contract at that price. But, because you are one level below me and you asked me, sure go ahead, no problem. Just make sure you document it. Or not, if you can’t, no big deal.” I agree completely! But sometimes the academic issues are the most interesting.
  13. Unreasonable Price

    Good discussion! Let me refine my thoughts... “Contracting Officer” is defined in the FAR. It includes anyone “with authority to enter into … contracts and make related determinations and findings.” See FAR 2.101. Further, FAR 1.601 states, “Contracts may be entered into and signed on behalf of the Government only by contracting officers. In some agencies, a relatively small number of high level officials are designated contracting officers solely by virtue of their positions.” It seems pretty clear that when the FAR says “contracting officer” it means anyone with authority to contract on behalf of the government. Unless defined differently elsewhere, a mandatory FAR requirement directed at “contracting officers” is not limited to working level contracting officers. FAR 15.402 then states that contracting officers (i.e., anyone with authority to contract) “shall … Purchase Supplies and services from responsible sources at fair and reasonable prices.” Per FAR 2.101, “Shall means the imperative”; in other words, it is required. There is no exception in the regulation. Therefore, contracting officers, including high level agency officials, may not purchase supplies and services at an unreasonable price. UNLESS, as Matthew points out, a deviation is authorized. FAR 1.403 provides that an Agency Head may authorize an individual deviation. That authority is then delegable pursuant to agency procedures/regulations. In addition, the FAR requires that the contracting officer “document the justification and agency approval [of the deviation] in the contract file.” FAR 1.403. This documentation requirement fits in nicely with FAR 15.405’s requirement that “Disposition of the action should be documented.” FAR 15.405 does not list every potential “disposition” of a referral because there are a myriad of potential outcomes. The higher level authority could agree that the price is unreasonable and cancel the procurement; negotiate a lower price that is reasonable; determine the price is, in fact, reasonable; discuss changing the requirements with the requiring activity; refer the matter even higher in order to seek an individual deviation; etc. The fact that the FAR does not list every possible course of action available does not mean that a course of action otherwise prohibited is now authorized. Finally, Vern made a great point that this requirement is not found in Title 41 or 10; it is only a regulatory requirement. As such, it is limited to the scope delineated in the regulation. In this case, we are discussing a FAR Part 15 requirement that only applies to the award and modification of FAR Part 15 negotiated contracts, as well as “modifications to contracts awarded by sealed bidding.” FAR 15.400. In other words, it does not apply to the award of FAR Part 14 contracts, the award of contracts under FAR Part 13, or the modification of contracts awarded under FAR Part 13. Based on all of this, I conclude that contracts can be awarded at an unreasonable price; however, it is not FAR 15.405(d) that provides such authority. Either, there is no restriction in the first place (e.g., FAR Part 13), or a higher level authority must approve an individual deviation waiving the requirement of FAR 15.402. There may be others that think a higher level authority can always approve award at unreasonable prices and that a deviation is never needed. And as a practical matter, a contracting officer probably has little personal or professional exposure if a high level agency official tells him it is okay to award without an official deviation. But in the end, such a position is not supported by the language of the regulation.
  14. TEP = Sum of Labor Rates

    If I understand the situation correctly, the agency is requesting hourly labor rates but is not factoring in the estimated usage of each labor category when calculating the TEP. Such a method of calculating TEP is not acceptable as it does not reflect the expected cost to the government and could produce a misleading result. See for example the protest of R&G Food Service, Inc., d/b/a Port-A-Pit Catering, B-296435.4; B-296435.9. (http://www.gao.gov/decisions/bidpro/2964354.pdf) It states, in part: (Citations omitted.)
  15. Unreasonable Price

    Yes. Price reasonableness is a subjective determination. A higher level authority may have greater/different knowledge, perspective, or understanding that allows him or her to determine a price is reasonable in a certain situation. No. FAR 15.405 says nothing about authorizing purchases or providing exceptions to other FAR requirements. You can't just read an exception into the FAR because it seems practical to do so. The contracting officer or higher authority should find the price to be reasonable. Why would it be a lie? What is a determination of price reasonableness if not a subjective opinion? There is no mathematical equation that tells you something is reasonable or not. I'm not saying any price can be justified to be reasonable. But, as ji20874 explained above, what is unreasonable in one circumstance may be reasonable in another. And, in an extreme case where lives are on the line and only one product can save those lives, the contracting officer would have a lot of leeway to find an otherwise high price to be reasonable. I'd like to see the audit report that says x number of lives are only worth x number of dollars and paying more than that represented paying an unreasonable price. No, but a federal regulation stating that a contract "shall" be awarded at a fair and reasonable price is an express prohibition against awarding at an unreasonable price. If you want to argue that there is an exception to that requirement, the burden is on you to identify it. But, nothing in 15.405(d) suggests that it is providing such an exception.
  16. Unreasonable Price

    The portion I'm referencing is the exact portion that Jamaal asked about in the original question: I was explaining what that passage meant. You know, actually answering the question asked. I never said it authorized making a purchase at an unreasonable price. In fact, I said just the opposite:
  17. Unreasonable Price

    15.305(a)(1) provides that "Normally, competition establishes price reasonableness." 15.403-1(b)(1) then states that obtaining certified cost and pricing data is prohibited when there is adequate price competition. The last sentence of paragraph (c)(1)(i)(B) is addressing the unusual situation where despite competition, the contracting officer finds the prices to be unreasonable. In such a case, the contracting officer must document the determination that the price is unreasonable and have that determination approved at a level above himself/herself. In other words, the higher level approval is not to permit award of a contract at an unreasonable price. Rather, it is to permit a contracting officer to find a price unreasonable despite the existence of otherwise adequate price competition.
  18. I'm not saying its prohibited, and I do not know what a court would decide. But, that would not be my practice. I just don't see the benefit and only potential downside. What if the contractor does object and the contracting specialist misfiles the letter, or the contracting officer forgets, or someone else does the debriefing? What if the contracting officer usually uses such a statement in the solicitation but the statement mistakenly gets deleted without his/her knowledge? If you really want to include line item/unit pricing in the debriefing, why try to rely on some type of an implied waiver that a court may or may not recognize? Simply and directly ask the awardee whether its pricing is confidential and/or a trade secret? The difference in treatment is in the language of the regulations. Part 14 requires the public reading of items and prices. Conversely, Part 15 debriefing procedures prohibit release of information exempt from disclosure under FOIA, including at times line item pricing. Whether that makes sense from a policy perspective, is a different question.
  19. I agree that in the context of a FOIA request you should not assume a unit price is, or is not, exempt. Redacting otherwise releasable information can lead to a FOIA law suit. That is why the FOIA regs provide for the submitter notice process where the third party gets to assert whether or not the info is trade secret/confidential business information. But in the context of a debriefing, there is no required submitter notice process. Nor do I think such a requirement should be added to the debriefing process. I've seen the "notice of intent to disclose unit pricing" in some solicitations. However, I would not want to be in the position of having to argue, without any affirmative statement by the contractor, that the contractor waived its statutory rights under the Trade Secrets Act. I'm not saying it wouldn't work, but until I see a see a federal court decision upholding such an implied waiver, you are risking potential financial liability. If you release unit pricing that is protect by the TSA, you have violated a statute with injuntive and monetary remedies (however unlikely it may be that they would be assessed). If you withhold unit pricing that turns out not to be confidential/trade secret, there is a much less risk/dowside. The adequacy of a debriefing is not a protestable issue.
  20. I agree that when the unit price can be calculated by simply dividing a known unit quantity by the total contract price, then the unit price should not be treated as confidential or a trade secret. But, I don't agree with this example: In that case, (if I'm reading the example right) the total contract price is $6.6M. However, is not immediately clear to an outside party how much of that total is attributable to the "cost" portion and how much to the "fee" portion. The amount of fee a contractor negotiates/charges for any given work could be a trade secret and could certainly cause economic harm should it be divulged to a competitor. The FAR states that the debriefing shall include "the overall evaluated cost or price (including unit prices)..." FAR 15.506 (d)(2). But, that section also states, the debriefing shall not reveal any information exempt from release under FOIA, including "Trade secrets" and "Commercial and financial information that is privileged or confidential, including cost breakdowns, profit, indirect cost rates, and similar information..." FAR 15.506(e). Read in context with each other, I conclude that unit pricing should be included in a debriefing unless it would be considered a trade secret or confidential commercial or financial information. Unless the unit pricing is immediately apparent (the first example here) or otherwise publicly available (on the contractor's website or marketing materials for example) a contracting officer should presume that unit pricing is confidential commercial or financial information and should not include it in a debriefing. (Of course, if you really want to include such info in the debriefing, you could contact the contractor and ask them whether they object to the disclosure of the unit pricing. But, I don't think that is necessary, and the contractor is unlikely to consent anyway.) Finally, whether or not unit pricing has been released in a debriefing is not controlling when determining whether it should be released in response to a FOIA request. An accidental or improper release of unit pricing to one party in a debriefing does not absolve the Government of its responsibility to guard against future public release of confidential contractor information.
  21. Meaningful debriefing

    If the solicitation only called for services to be performed at a minimum service level, then there is no set number of people that must be provided. It is up to you to determine the number of people needed to perform the services at (at least) the minimum level. If you can clearly and realistically demonstrate how the services can be provided at the minimum service level with fifteen people (or 10 or 6 or 1), your proposal should be found technically acceptable. If there was a minimum number of people required, that should have been stated in the solicitation. If an offer that otherwise met the criteria for providing the services at the minimum service level was found unacceptable based on an unstated criteria of x number of people, that would be a protestable issue. However, offering more people than you need because you think there is an unstated minimum and then losing because you are not the lowest price is not protestable. Follow up with the contracting officer. If you have not been given an opportunity to ask questions, point out that FAR 15.506(d) states, "At a minimum, the debriefing information shall include- ... (6) Reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations,and other applicable authorities were followed." Directly ask if there was a minimum number of required people to be considered acceptable. However, in the end, the adequacy of a debriefing is not a protestable issue (at least at GAO). On the next similar procurement, ask the contracting officer prior to submitting your offer whether there is a minimum number to be considered acceptable. If you get a cryptic response in return, you will have to decide how much of a thorn you want to be. If you are getting shut out of awards and communication is not forthcoming, you may decide you have nothing to lose. If so, follow-up and explain that he/she has not answered the question. I'm sure people will disagree, but I find that when an offeror includes a statement along the lines of "I do not want to have to file a protest to get an answer," it does wonders in getting a more forthcoming response.
  22. Oxford Comma

    Well, that's the grammatical intent. I doubt most readers, including myself, would make a conscious distinction between the two. Personally, in a longer piece of writing, I prefer to mix longer and shorter sentences because I think it creates a better "flow" to my writing. But that does not make another approach wrong. I assume you're joking. Either way, although I have read the New Yorker, I am not a regular reader. I think everyone here can attest to the fact that you are an effective writer. Rules of grammar are meant to assist a writer clearly convey thoughts; they are not immutable laws of science. Once you’ve reached a certain point of literacy in your writing, blindly adhering to a rule of grammar simply for the sake of following a rule seems silly. I ignore rules of grammar all the time, both knowingly and unknowingly.
  23. Oxford Comma

    I'll play along. Use a semicolon if you want to create a link between the two statements, usually when the statements are related to or contrast with one another. For example, I run five miles every morning; it invigorates me and prepares me for my work. Each of those statements could be its own sentence; however, by using a semicolon I've gramatically reinforced the relationship between the act of running and the invigorating benefits.
  24. Oxford Comma

    Well, as we all know, the semicolon's most important use is in the "winky face" emoticon. ; ) But, when it comes to lists, if any of the items in the series contain a comma, separate the items with a semicolon. I invited Vern; Bob, who is Vern's friend; and Don to the St. Patrick's Day party.
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