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I read a lot of RFPs, and I have noticed something that seems strange and is very aggravating. Most agencies issue RFPs of 100 pages or more without tables of contents. The table of contents on Standard Form 33 is inadequate for such documents, and other solicitation forms do not include even that.

I just read a 145-page Army RFP for commercial cyber services that is not written in the Uniform Contract Format and has no table of contents. The PWS in the RFP is 58 pages long and it has no table of contents. In order to know what is in the RFP and where it is you must go through it page-by-page. It is very unprofessional, but it is very common.

What is up with that?

And why not include a brief (one-page) executive summary describing the acquisition?

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Ah, yes. One of the frustrating aspects of electronic contracting. At least with paper copies, one could quickly thumb through or otherwise learn how to flip pages quickly to review a whole document or to find a specific page or section. Easier to speed read too.

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If you asked the contract specialist issuing the RFP, they likely will respond with something like “the system did it.” 

Most “systems” though easily allow the generated RFP to be converted to a Word document so things like page numbers, table of contents, an introductory cover letter with brief highlights on what the acquisition is about, and proper formatting can be added. While this might be above what some contract specialists know how to do, the office needs to have others proficient in document preparation to provide this support.

Just another example of the lack of professionalism today.

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15 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

Why no TOC?

Lost art, dumb FAR guiding principles that lead to the demise of a TOC.  Lets have a UCF that facilitates a TOC, no wait you don't have to for construction and A-E (services but wait not so in the FAR), and then comes along commercial item and the 1449, no UCF and therefore a TOC.  And yes even the electronic systems designed not to facilitate the acquisition process but the accounting process.

The overriding ideal of the FAR was to have a consistent approach to Federal government contracts in form to make it easier for everyone to easily pick up a solicitation and resulting contract document and turn to an area to find something.  In the 38 years since innovation, ingenuity, my CO practice and just plain poor practice have kicked the ideal to the curb.

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Question:  When there is a table of contents in a contract, wouldn't that need updating if the contract is modified?  That may be easy if there is a systematic way to generate solicitations and contracts.  I don't see why folks are not following the guidance in the FAR when it comes to setting up contracts (UCF vs commercial); one would not really need a ToC in those cases.

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Even if a solicitation/contract is written in the UCF, you should have a table of contents more detailed than the one on SF33 for a long document. See, e.g., MIL-HDBK-245E, Preparation of Statement of Work"

Quote

Table of Contents. The document should contain a table of contents providing the number, title, and page number of each titled paragraph, figure, table, and appendix. For data in a database or other alternative form, this information should consist of an internal or external table of contents containing pointers to, or instructions for accessing, each paragraph, figure, table, and appendix or their equivalents.

 

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Reading and using contracts electronically is like using an e-reader compared to a paperback book; it is a whole different experience.  Beyond the SOW’s required ToC, why should we give a table of contents for this electronic experience when 1. it will become inaccurate in the conformed copy after the first mod, and 2. you are better off using the CTRL+F find function in this brave new world?

Note, do not call me unprofessional for this, I am merely investigating your thoughts.

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30 minutes ago, Voyager said:

Reading and using contracts electronically is like using an e-reader compared to a paperback book; it is a whole different experience.  Beyond the SOW’s required ToC, why should we give a table of contents for this electronic experience when 1. it will become inaccurate in the conformed copy after the first mod, and 2. you are better off using the CTRL+F find function in this brave new world?

I don't understand your question. The FAR at acquisition.gov is a 1,992-page digital document. It has several tables of contents that are linked to the coverage. When the FAR is downloaded as a pdf, it also has a table of contents linked to the coverage. You could do that for a solicitation and contract, with the TOC linked to headings. There is all kinds of guidance on the internet about developing TOCs for digital documents.

Why should you provide a table of contents for a digital document? For the same reason you would for a paper document.

A TOC tells you what is in a document and where to find it. It makes a large document more accessible and saves time.

I use CTRL+F to search for particular words or phrases.

I'll you what I think is unprofessional. It is issuing a lengthy, complicated public document, on paper or digital, without a table of contents, and telling companies that they have to meet a deadline for submitting a response or be eliminated from consideration.

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BTW, the so-called "performance work statement" in the solicitation for commercial services that I mentioned in my opening post includes a section entitled, "Applicable Publications (Current Editions)," which begins as follows:

"The Contractor must abide by all applicable regulations, publications, manuals, and local policies and procedures."

("abide by"? Somebody should have consulted a dictionary.)

It then lists 46 government publications. There are no indications of tailoring. (So much for commercial services.)

The very first item on the list is an 88-page Army doctrine publication. It is available in E-reader and pdf.

It has a table of contents.

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Another pet peeve of mine is lengthy PWS’s and SOO’s.  They defeat the intended purpose of allowing offerors to propose different approaches.  In the case Vern mentions of a 58 page PWS for commercial services, it must be very prescriptive.  Why not do a detailed statement of work instead and call it what it is?

Voyagers suggestion of using Ctrl+F to find something instead of having a TOC isn’t practical in most instances.  What some people do though is use the Navigation pane function which opens up a column of the left side of the document showing the organization of heading and subheadings.  But that doesn’t replace a TOC.  It’s so easy to create a TOC in Word if someone knows what they are doing.  There really isn’t an excuse to not have one. 

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The pdf FAR and DFARS have bookmarks in that navigation panel on the side. I find these much easier to use than the TOC at the beginning. It's also easier to create bookmarks in a pdf document than to create a TOC in a Word document. Of course, that may be a personal preference. Nevertheless, I agree there's no excuse today for not creating a document that can be navigated.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Yep, this could be a contract writing system issue. Most systems have a feature than allows for the easy creation or generation of a TOC within the RFP. In Momentum, all it takes is a few minor formatting steps, and the document is created with a TOC. Some offices still build their docs in Word, manually, which is mind-boggling to say the least.

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