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Market Research and Sharing Information with Vendors

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I read a question and answer on the DAU Ask-A-Professor web site as listed below. I was curious as how some of the experts here feel about this answer?

I have a similar situation where I work now. A particular vendor saw, or probably saw, the Performance Work Statement (PWS) for a requirement. If the PWS was revealed, it was done by the technical people as part of their market research to develop an Independent Government Cost Estimate (IGCE). So my question is; is sharing the PWS with a particular vendor (or vendors) as part of market research an acceptable practice, as long as the PWS is included in the reusltant solicitation, which it will be? It seems to me that other vendors could complain that one vendor had advance knowledge of the requirement, and therefore more time to develop a proposal.

Here is what was posted at the Ask-A-Professor site:

Quotes & Proposals

Posted to Pre-Award Procurement and Contracting on 3/11/2009 12:00:00 AM

The Scenario?

My Division CHief says it is OK for techical people in our organizatioon to accept quotes and proposals from vendors as long as we let them know they are non binding.

The Question?

When, if ever, is it ok to receive quotes or proposals from a prospective vendor if you are not a contracting officer?

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Request for Proposals (RFP), Request for Quotes (RFQ), and Invitation for Bids (IFB) have specific meanings in federal acquisition. Therefore responses to them should be the domain of the contracting officer. Government personnel conducting market research may request technical as well as pricing information. Care must be taken during market research to ensure that industry understands the informality of market research.

Also, care must be taken not to share one competitor's information with another. Additionally should any information be provided to one potential competitor that may result in a competitive advantage then that information Should be included in the resultant solicitation.

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Sharing a PWS with a vendor as part of market reserach could provide that source with a competitive advantage. The question is does that information allow the source to craft a better proposal over competitors that won't see it until the solicitation gets issued?

When conducting market research it's always better to communicate needs just in general terms. At that stage, requirements shouldn't be definitive enough for a completed PWS. You really should be looking at things like are there sources capable of responding, could commercial items meet the needs, specific practices of the market, best practices of other agencies and organizations in buying the same or similar things, etc.

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Sharing a PWS with a vendor as part of market reserach could provide that source with a competitive advantage. The question is does that information allow the source to craft a better proposal over competitors that won't see it until the solicitation gets issued?

When conducting market research it's always better to communicate needs just in general terms. At that stage, requirements shouldn't be definitive enough for a completed PWS. You really should be looking at things like are there sources capable of responding, could commercial items meet the needs, specific practices of the market, best practices of other agencies and organizations in buying the same or similar things, etc.

fomerfed, that's my line of thinking too. I just need to change the mindset of some of our technical people. They tend to go out to vendors and ask for pricing in order to develop cost estimates. Their reasoning being the vendor has the capability to determine what skill sets are required, and therfore what labor categories and rates are appropriate to meet the requirement. I think they are just being lazy, and don't want to put much work and thought into developing cost estimates. I have some reservations with the Ask-A-Professor answer that "...any information be provided to one potential competitor that may result in a competitive advantage then that information should be included in the resultant solicitation." If we follow that line of thinking, then we could share the PWS with one vendor weeks before the solicitation is issued, and then say we are OK since the PWS will be shared with all interested vendors when the solicitation is actually issued. Obviously the vendor who saw the PWS initially will have a significant haedstart on developing a response to it. I am new at my present job, and don't know how long this has been going on, or if the Contracting Officer's are aware that it is happening, but will find out shortly what their take on this is.

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Guest Vern Edwards
I just need to change the mindset of some of our technical people. They tend to go out to vendors and ask for pricing in order to develop cost estimates. Their reasoning being the vendor has the capability to determine what skill sets are required, and therfore what labor categories and rates are appropriate to meet the requirement. I think they are just being lazy, and don't want to put much work and thought into developing cost estimates.

Don't be so quick to call people lazy. A person assigned to a certain "technical" function does not necessarily know how to estimate the cost of performing that function. Estimating the cost of a service is not easy and requires some cost estimating know-how, and most "technical people" have been given no formal training in how estimate costs. An electrical engineer does not necessarily know how to estimate the cost of manufacturing a circuit board.

Rather than calling them lazy, find a way to help them solve their problem by getting them the cost information that they need. You could issue a request for information with a draft PWS attached and seek cost estimates, quotes, or estimating advice from industry. If the job is big enough to warrant the effort, you could set up meetings with prospective firms and industry representatives before releasing the RFP in order to discuss cost estimating issues and procedures. See FAR 15.201?.

In other words, instead of being a procurement cop and telling people what they can't do (changing their "mindset"), find ways to help them get the information they want without breaking the rules. If I were a technical person and some new procurement puke came into my office talking about changing my "mindset," I might tell him (or her) to kiss off.

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Vern, point(s) taken. Actually I am a very helpful type of procurement person, even if I do say so myself B) I usually end up working with them to develop cost estimates, and am putting together some training materials now that everyone will hopefully benefit from.

The problem at the moment is by the time I get involved they (the technical people) have already gone to a vendor and got a quote. While they won't admit that they provided the vendor a copy of the PWS, it looks suspicious when the vendor's quote has the same labor category that the customer used in the PWS, which isn't a standard labor caegory. I actually called one vendor and the vendor told me they wrote the PWS and gave it to the government. The real issue I have is the technical person giving me a package with one quote from a vendor, and when I ask them for an Independent Government Cost Estimate (IGCE), they say the quote is their IGCE. So, I have to explain to them the purpose of the IGCE. I certainly don't throw it back in their face and tell them to get something else.

I am aware of industry days, draft solicitations, pre-solicitation conferences, etc. Those may be good if we had time to do something like that. Unfortunately, by the time the customer comes to me with their requirement they are expecting to have their service in place within a month. Also, most of these requirements are under $500K, so may not be worth doing some of the other things.

Lazy was a bad word to use, the problem is the technical people just need educated and trained.

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