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  1. Every position was described in the solicitation down to the tasks and duties.
  2. Hi Joel, that is a good find. I am guessing that these parts of the regs could be what triggered the issue if the CO kind of worked through the typical requirements for a labor hour contract without really checking the applicability of the procedures. This is a labor hour contract, but it is one of those special labor hour contracts where the exact number of hours for each position is prescribed by the government in the solicitation. In this case, they also included overtime specifically in the schedule for many of the positions (up to 50% extra hours for some positions). We did not propose any additional overtime use (and included some methods to reduce overtime use). So they have stated that overtime will be used (this was an RFQ not an RFP) while apparently trying to include the procedures you reference (though those clauses are not referenced in the solicitation). So when the government is specifically requiring overtime and including it in the schedule, that would seem to eliminate the requirement that we justify 'eligible' overtime hours for premium pay/rates, or am I mistaken? It still doesn't explain how we were responsible for providing wage determinations though...
  3. Sorry, sloppy on my part, because my question was about price realism. Price reasonableness was checked at the master contract level (and our rates for this TO were significantly discounted from there). The original solicitation had the requirement for price realism under FAR provision, 52.222-46, but they specifically removed that in the amendment. When questioned, they stated that it wasn't in the best interest of the government. This probably created some additional confusion because it is related to professional employees. It really seemed that the agency wanted it both ways, that the employees are all professional enough to be exempt, but not professional enough to have price realism checked. The evaluation criteria also included the following (from the solicitation, which was subsequently removed during the amendment): The Vendors Compensation Plan shall be evaluated to ensure that it reflects a sound management approach and understanding of the contract requirements, such as • The vendor's ability to provide uninterrupted high-quality work. • The impact upon recruiting and retention. • Whether the proposed compensation levels reflect: o A clear understanding of the contract effort, and o The capability of the proposed compensation structure to obtain and retain suitably qualified personnel. Honestly, when they removed that and the 52.222-46 provision, that gave us a pretty good read that the CO wanted to price to be much more important than what was indicated in the original solicitation, which said: Factor 1-Technical/Management Approach is the most important factor and Factor 2-Transition Plan is more important than Factor 3-Past Performance. When combined Factors 1 through 3 are significantly more important than Factor 4-Price. But we built a fair amount of our proposal and team around fair wages, recruitment, retention, and cultivating excellent personnel, and couldn't (and wouldn't) redo our proposal to match a 'read between the lines' low cost objective. It feels like the goalposts were not just moved, but relocated to another stadium during the amendment. Ji, we will include everything but the tech lead/reviewer and their statement. It is up to them to push back on it from the inside if they so desire. In hindsight, shouldn't have even mentioned that here, and I wouldn't ever want to risk getting someone in trouble because it came up in the course of unrelated business that we said that we were disappointed that we wouldn't be working together under that contract, and they indicated that they didn't think anyone got what they wanted. Vern, even after doing this side for several years, I understand that I am a newbie, and hiring someone who knows the business much better than I would be nothing but helpful. Also sometimes, red flags are actually red flags. The CO told us that they awarded based solely on price because everyone received the same acceptable ratings. This was after a very drawn out award process where they did things like tell us that we had to justify overtime rates. All the advice and background information provided here has been super helpful in having a better understanding of how we are missing the full picture in source selection. In this case, though, having someone with much more experience and knowledge of the process probably wouldn't have helped. I am saying this as a logical response to the fact that the other unsuccessful bidder absolutely did have multiple people with extensive proposal and government contracting experience (20+ years) and high win rate (and partnered with the incumbent vendor) on their team, and they had the same result (and same concerns). If you come in with decent pay and overtime, you just aren't going to be competitive if it is awarded on a lowest cost basis.
  4. Vern, you are correct. There would be no way to really compare. Aside from the CO telling us that the contract was awarded based on lowest price because all ratings were equal, we really just wanted to be able to find out any information FAR 15.506(d)(6) that C Culham shared to ensure that the process was followed. If there were no weaknesses, we could point out some giant red flags that the CO seemingly ignored. The first was the overtime issues. Our team and the other team both included OT (both teams consulted the Department of Labor and a labor attorney, separately). Both vendors were significantly higher (don't know how much higher the other team was, just just said significantly higher than the winning vendor). Both of our teams raised the OT issue with the CO as soon as the CO tried to require vendors prove that positions were eligible for OT. The second was pay reasonableness. During our debriefs, both unsuccessful offerors pointed out to the CO that the winning team would have to cut wages to a number of the employees currently working on contract, which is directly contrary to the technical factor of recruitment and retention. Both teams were told that it was up to the winning team to 'figure it out' in regards to pay and overtime. However, this seems pretty contrary to the technical factors and regulations that seemingly require COs to make sure that employees are receiving overtime if they are eligible and perform a price reasonableness determination. We knew going into the proposal that the technical leads were very concerned about high turnover rates due to already low pay and not just from it being included in the proposal. We no have a pretty good idea that the technical reviewers for this project don't feel like they got to chose the winning proposal (it is a small world). And now we know that many peoples wages were cut and OT wasn't included. I think nearly everyone signed to stay on, but that seems most likely related to their receiving 2 DAYS notice to make their decision. I can guarantee that some of those people are already looking for other work. So I guess a question in my mind follows is: Are CO's supposed to consider price reasonableness (that the winning vendor cannot possibly pay market wages)? Are they supposed to consider whether there is going to be a big hit on one of the primary technical factors that was supposed to be the weightiest component of the evaluation? I know that price isn't supposed to go directly in front of the technical reviewers, so if the CO bothered to consider that, would that end up considered as a weakness? (Based on the CO's responses though, it certainly seems like price was the decision factor even though it undermined the primary technical factors) Regardless, we are following the advice given in this thread. We are going to file a letter with the Ombudsman (the other unsuccessful vendor already did for these same issues) and stay in touch with technical leads. We are considering advising them that if they are unhappy with the how the award was made or is implemented, they should reach out to their regional administrator to follow up.
  5. Vern, I am going to agree with you in principle. However, in this case I think that would have just been additional wasted time and money. We know that in the dozen or so contracts awarded by this office no recipient or our team has received a higher than acceptable rating (even those we won), and always awarded to the lowest price (and all of them were best value solicitations). We know that they had us submit an updated proposal after the prices were set and 3 months after the technical reviews were complete, and therefore (should have) already knew who was going to receive the award, and that the price differential would not have left us in the competitive range. We know that they ignored that the contracted positions are not getting paid overtime even though they are clearly required to be paid overtime rates as determined by the agency themselves in other regions (as well as based on discussions with the Department of Labor and a labor attorney). They even went so far as to try to force companies to justify paying overtime rates (when you are legally required to do the opposite...). This factor alone probably bumped us out of price competition. We know that the CO would not answer questions about the number of strengths and weaknesses from the winning proposal (not exactly proprietary information). After such a inexplicably long process that had almost no communication from the COs and multiple issues, the only response from the COs when we had reasonable process questions was effectively 'trust us, we did the process correctly'. Based on the totality of the available information, the preponderance of evidence indicates that the only winning strategy was price with an at least minimally acceptable proposal. If the solicitation process always worked and awards were always made using the best judgement and practices available, then a protest system wouldn't need to exist. As a vendor, sometimes the only thing left to do is get the best information you can to inform your decision about a protest. I think this has just been a painful part of learning how this particular acquisition office works. However, we will definitely be incorporating all of the good advice that has been shared on this thread!
  6. C Culham, thanks for that! We definitely did not receive some of that information. I would very much like to see unit prices and the overall rankings. We asked about the number of strengths and weaknesses of the successful offereors proposal, which seems like it would fit under # 6, but that one is pretty subjective and they refused stating that it is source selection information pertaining to the awardee's quote and is not releasable. Well, next time, we will have some more specific question for them! Thanks again!
  7. Thanks Joel, we'll take all the luck we can get to even the playing field! C Culham, you are correct. That made it all the more difficult to provide an SCA wage determination to justify paying overtime!
  8. They were (just) small when the proposals were submitted for the master contract. One of the teams was a joint venture, mentor protege that are now affiliated (this was one of 3 contracts they picked up in 2 years), and the other was a team of a 'small' under the IDIQ ($50 million in revenue now) teaming with a large business that was the incumbent. Both of those teams are more than 70 million in revenue against the size standard of $16.5. But they both qualify for set asides for the life of the IDIQ. So fairly large 'small' businesses then. As far as source selection procedures, you are right that the master contract sets different standards than normal. Now I have to go try to find this specifically, but my understanding is that for contracts over a few million dollars follow standards procedures, while those less than that threshold follow simpler rules for the IDIQ.
  9. Oh, and I wasn't clear earlier. The reason for the amendment requesting updated proposal was because the process had gone on long enough that all of the original quotes had expired. They did request updated cost information and make the tweaks described above, but the stated reason was to extend the price quote duration another 180 days.
  10. Thanks JI. I wish we had thought of that as protestable. We did explain that were concerned about our inclusion of overtime rates potentially pricing us out of competition, and with the language included requiring that the contractor justify paying overtime, that a larger company (with enough lawyers) would be able to bid without using OT rates, and then if forced to pay OT because the employees went to the Department of Labor, they would be in a good position to request an equitable adjustment based on the inclusion of that language. It looks like that was a factor, and getting that affirmatively resolved could have been helpful in significantly narrowing the price gap. Joel I was keeping price vs. cost separate. Because this was a labor hour contract, price is the fully loaded labor rate per hour (unit) by each labor category. They amended the solicitation reducing the number of hours requested, thus reducing cost, but price per unit was unchanged (and no change in price was requested). Thus the resultant change in cost was entirely predictable. They also used the opportunity to remove the requirement for the compensation plan and add the statement requiring the contractor to provide a wage determination to justify OT. That makes it seem as though total cost was a major issue, and maybe we should have been more proactive in trying to trigger discussions about how we could lower prices. My understanding is that entering discussions is dictated by the government, not the contractor. We raised concerns on the requirement for the contractor to justify paying OT rates based on the reasons stated above. I am not sure how this would be considered discussions, but if it was, then there is at least one company that would probably have an issue with that. And I understand that they should absolutely be considering the tradeoffs between price and performance. We have had the situation before where we were rated higher than a competitor, but our cost was somewhat higher and it was awarded to the lower rated, lower cost competitor. That makes sense and is understandable. Our issue is with the blanket and routine issuance of 'acceptable' ratings and subsequent award to the lowest cost bidder. Nowhere else am I aware of any sort of rating system where you would consider a person or company very well qualified with strengths in every component of the most important evaluation factor equal to someone who was minimally qualified. At that point, you aren't actually using a rating system, you are just determining whether a company is technically acceptable. When we received the feedback that was very positive, with no negatives but then just acceptable in all rating factors, it calls into question what kind approach they are using to implement the rating system. It raises further questions when we consider the weirdness about the agency even arguing against SCA/OT for technician level positions and the consistent implementation of the rating system that nearly always results in acceptable ratings that only apply to this particular region (these issues don't exist elsewhere that we have encountered). This makes it all seem as though price was much more important than the technical approach. Which is totally fine if you state so upfront! Finally, we were just also unhappy with the unwillingness to consider alternative approaches that would allow us present better price options without incurring additional risk to a small business. That just seems like bad business planning, but I understand opening the contract to other strategies makes it more complicated, and this contract obviously had enough issues getting off the ground already. If I had to guess, it would be that we ran up (and over) the actual budget for the work, and they didn't feel they had time to enter into discussions, or they felt that we would not be able to come down enough to meet their cost cap. But that is just wild speculation though.
  11. I want to reiterate that I don't necessarily think we should have won. We don't know how the winning team was evaluated for comparison, and it is totally possible they got many strengths and were cheaper. We just found it very strange that we could have several strengths that the reviewers themselves linked as innovative approaches addressing the components of the most important rating factor and we still received an acceptable. Then we were told that it was awarded on a lowest cost basis because all ratings were equal. This combined with all of the other issues that occurred during the award process greatly reduced our confidence in the process. We did have a pretty good idea of what they are looking for based on working relationships with some people associated with the project, so we weren't going in blind. We addressed issues brought up by project personnel as well as the components of the evaluation factors. Next time we come up on another large proposal contract like this, I will suggest we bring in a professional proposal consultant. Price I am sure ended up being a large consideration. The original solicitation was for a few dozen positions. After the agency performed their reviews and evaluated the price (and extended the proposal process twice), they sent an amendment where they removed 9 positions and removed the requirement for a compensation plan. They did not request any price changes, discounts, or final best offer. So at that point, it seems like they should have known that if our price was higher enough that we weren't in the competitive range, they should not have incurred additional work to us by requesting a revised proposal from us. The difference in price was fairly large, around 25% (but still a 35% or so discount on the approved labor rates for the master contract), although a good portion of that extra cost is because we included overtime rates. For some reason, the previous iteration of this contract has not been paying overtime, and there was a lot of information indicating that there was a strong preference that these positions not be paid overtime. There was an absolute refusal by the CO to request a wage determination for the positions even though in every other region for the same exact positions, the agency is clear that the positions are OT eligible. The documentation included the following: NOTE: If the Contractor determines any labor categories to be SCA applicable, then a Wage Determination shall be provided (in a clarification email, we were told that WE were responsible for providing a wage determination that supported our assertion that these positions were OT eligible). We pushed back on that note because we were very concerned that we would be bidding on the proposal using OT rates and others would not based on the positive requirement that the contractor justify considering the positions OT eligible. We really wanted to be able enter negotiations. We had room to come down because non-labor hour approaches were not allowed to be proposed in our quote, and we wanted to consider a cost plus approach or FFP with Economic Adjustment. Since we were not allowed to do so we had to price out risk by covering the range of market based wages for every position. Being a team of actually small businesses doesn't really allow us to take much risk in our pricing (nor do we want to, we want to pay reasonable wages and limit staff turnover), and we just have to deal with that structural disadvantage and live with competing with large businesses under small business set asides because this is an IDIQ. Hopefully a professional proposal consultant can provide advice on how to address those issues as well. Unless some sort of information comes out that makes it clear that they did not follow the process correctly, we won't be protesting. I am curious if there is some alternative to protest that initiates a review of the process by a relatively independent body, and which might then trigger a re-compete at the option year or something similar if the process did not proceed properly.
  12. Hi Vern, We did not use a professional proposal management consultant for this project. Our team is just on the verge of being able to regularly incorporate that kind of extra support (which this contract would have gone a long way to supporting). However, we have aggressively pursued as much education on federal contracting as we can through PTACs, and the Virginia PTAC specifically (they have provided a lot of high quality trainings), and have worked hard to incorporate any feedback that we do receive during our debriefs. I am sure that would be helpful for all of our proposals in improving the quality. However, in this case, I don't know that it would have helped. We didn't have the adjectival rating definitions until after our debrief (something we now know to ask for during the question phase of the process), and they used a different set of definitions than the other half of their acquisitions division. So we weren't able to address the language in their definitions, and we wrote towards the factors included in the proposal and our understanding of the other set of definitions that we did have access to from that agency. Even still, we got strengths that were described as innovative approaches directly applicable to the criteria contained in the technical/management factor, and they were still not considered significant strengths, even though by the definitions used for this solicitation, they could have been considered as such. We also specifically requested any feedback on how the proposal could have been improved and they were unable to provide any. They were also unable to provide any example of anything that would qualify as a significant strength. I know it can be hard to come up with answers on the fly during a live conversation, so some of the information may just come from that live format and it being really hard to communicate everything effectively during a short period of time. Since we don't know what instructions are provided to the technical reviewers, or how we actually compare in relative strengths and weaknesses, we are totally in the dark as to whether they did consider relative strengths or not. All we have is the statement that they made a lowest cost award during our debrief, which might have just been an attempt to provide a concise answer and they actually did do a full consideration of the relative merits within the rating category. It doesn't help that the CO hasn't responded to any questions since the debrief! So at the moment, we are left without any clarifying information to try to make a decision as to seriously considering a protest or just walking away from a large contract that we are pretty confident that we were going to provide the best service on (but not the lowest price...).
  13. Thanks JI. We are trying to set up a follow up meeting with the CO to make sure there were no miscommunications during the debrief on how the process was implemented. We are obviously not happy with receiving an acceptable rating, but in theory that could still be okay if they considered the relative merits of the proposals. Unfortunately, we can't get any additional information about the relative strengths and weakness of the winning team, so there is no way for us to tell if the winning team also had a bunch of strengths or if the agency did just weight the ratings the same and then make a lowest cost decision. We are also pretty sure that even after the extensions, they were still not quite ready to make the award as they announced the week before that they intended to extend the existing contract by a month, but that didn't work out and they made the award 2 business days before the start of the contract. Sometimes things just don't go smoothly at all, and this definitely seems like one of those times!
  14. Good Day All, A rather grueling and rather long award process just concluded after three separate 3-month extensions to the award process. We were one of three teams competing for the contract. We did not win. The contract was for technical support under a labor hour contract. The solicitation stated that the technical and management components of the project, followed by transition plan, and past performance were significantly more important than price. No negotiations were held. During our debrief, we found out that our proposal had 7 strengths for the tech/mgt approach, and 6 of those were specific to the 4 elements described in the evaluation factors. We had one strength for the transition plan. We had no weaknesses or deficiencies. The technical reviewers specifically included that the companies and key personnel for the proposal were well qualified for each of their roles. Our team and the winning team both received acceptable on all rating categories. We assume the third team received acceptable as well, because if they had received good or better, they should have won. We were told in the debrief, because all teams received the same rating, it was awarded based on cost alone (we were more expensive). Our question comes from this: the adjectival evaluation guidance ranged from Outstanding to Unsatisfactory. However, to achieve outstanding or good, a proposal had to receive a 'significant strength' which feels a little amorphous to start (stated as significant cost savings or efficiency for the government, and many regular strengths do not add up to a significant strength). However, based on the adjectival criteria, our 8 strengths would be rated exactly the same as any team who had few or no strengths so long as strengths and weaknesses offset. But for the specific requirement of 'significant strengths', our technical factor should have been outstanding (strengths significantly outweigh weaknesses) or at the very least good (strengths outweigh weaknesses). There are not many ways to achieve significant cost savings or efficiency on a labor hour contract where the function of that contract is to put people at their facility for a specific number of hours. And specifically, one of the major concerns included as an evaluation factor was recruitment and retention, which for the most part necessitates paying market wages. Thus cutting costs to offer very low prices is antithetical towards this goal. So for this specific proposal, it feels very much like there wasn't a way for any vendor to achieve a good or outstanding rating based solely on the requirement for significant strength (you can only cut costs by subverting one of the technical factors). This effectively means that every company ends up with an acceptable rating, and the proposals are then just evaluated on a cost basis. Is there a way to avoid this situation? This was for a fairly large award, and to spend quite a bit of effort to develop a proposal that had very little room for improvement (there was no feedback on how we could have improved our proposal, and we received detailed positive feedback on several elements) only to have it awarded as a lowest cost proposal is very frustrating. A lowest cost award is a much different animal and much less expensive to develop, so if that is the ultimate goal, then we would much rather that be clear up front. All of this comes with the caveat that obviously we don't know how the winning teams strengths and weaknesses broke out, we only know that we were told it was awarded based on cost. I appreciate any input or advice!
  15. Sorry for the delay, my notification emails got buried. C Culham, - yes, I am aware that it is based on receipts rather than awards. This business first self certified as large right after the contract was awarded (then went back to small for about a year because of the rule change allowing companies to use a 5 year average of receipts instead of 3). There isn't any debate by anyone as to whether they are currently large or not, they blew right past that with some exceptional growth. Retreadfed - They did become large after they submitted their proposal and after the contract award for the IDIQ/master contract. After the info from Vern, it is clear that they will remain small for the remainder of the contract unless a CO requests a re-representation for a specific task order. We also managed to talk it out with the agency so that everyone is on the same page. Obviously we are still not happy about seeing so much money go to a large business under small business set asides, but at least we are clear now on the framework we are operating under. And at least the rule change should reduce this issue for future IDIQs. I appreciate everyone's time on this!
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