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Guest Vern Edwards

Funny or tragic? Part I

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Guest Vern Edwards

Every now and then you come across something that you shake your head at, then laugh at, then shake your head at again.

What follows is the full text of a "limited source justification" put out by an Air Force contracting office to support the brand name purchase of 4,000 iPad Air tablet computers. It was posted on October 2. The purchase is to be made from the USAF Network Centric Solutions 2 (NETCENTS-2) agencywide IDIQ contract, not a GSA schedule. The RFQ number is F2MTA24261A001. It is still posted at FedBizOpps as of today.

The justification was signed by the program manager, a master sergeant; the contracting officer, a GG-13; an attorney, a GG-14; the Chief of the Contracting Office, a GG-14; and the competition advocate, a GG-15. (I don't know what a "GG" is.)

Keep in mind that the market for tablet computers is ferociously competitive.

Because the thing is long, I had to post it in two parts. This is Part I. Forgive me for the length, but I couldn't bring myself to deny you a word of it.

Enjoy.

LIMITED SOURCE JUSTIFICATION

I. Contracting Activity

The organizational activity responsible for requesting this proposed contracting action is A2F, I02 Hall Blvd, Ste 115, San Antonio TX 78243-7034.

11. Nature and/or Description of the Action Being Approved

Air Force Cryptologic Language Analysts (CLAs) are required to maintain a minimum global language proficiency at the L2/R2 level and progress to the L3/R3 level in accordance with SECDEF mandated Language Transformation Roadmap. CLAs often lack sufficient access to language training materials to perform required language proficiency training while deployed which results in lower scores on required CLA level testing.

This requixement valued at an estimate( [REDACTED] will include the purchase of 4,000 Apple iPad Airs with 16GB storage and WI-FI using 3400 funds to support A2F linguist functions. This requirement will be awarded on a new firm-fixed-price contract.

III. Description of the Supplies/Services Required To Meet Agency Needs

This requirement is a brand-name only acquisition and under the contemplated contract, Apple, Inc. or an authorized distributor will provide 4,000 Apple iPad Airs with 1 6GB storage and WI­ FI to AF ISR Agency/A2F.

IV. Authority and Supporting Rationale for Limiting Sources and De monstration of the Contractor's Unique Qu alifications to Provide the Required Supply/Service

lAW FAR 16.505(a)(4)(i), "The contracting officer must justify restricting consideration to an item peculiar to one manufacturer (e.g., a particular brand-name, product or a feature of a product that is peculiar to one manufacturer.) A brand name item, whether available on one or more schedule contracts, is an item peculiar to one manufactmer." lAW FAR 16.505( b )(1 )(i), the contracting officer must provide each awardee a fair opportunity to be considered for each order exceeding $3,000 issued under multiple delivery order contracts or multiple task-order contracts, except as provided for in paragraph (b)(2) of this section. The specific circumstance that justifies restriction for this acquisition is IAW FAR 16.505( b )(2)(i)( b ). Only one awardee is capable of providing the supplies or services required at the level of quality required because the supplies or services ordered are unique or highly specialized. Apple is the only authorized manufacturer. However, there are multiple small & large business partners who are on the NETCENTS-2 contract who can provide these products.

Y. Determination by the Ordering Activity Contracting Officer that the Order Represents the Best Value Consistent with FAR 8.404(d)

The Contracting Officer <mticipates pricing received for this effort will be determined to be fair and reasonable and represent the best value consistent with FAR 16.505( b )(2)(ii)( b )(5) either through price competition or price analysis.

VI. Description of the Market Research Conducted Among Schedule Holders and the Results Or a Statement of the Reason Market Research Was Not Conducted

Market Research was performed and the technical specifications compared. Competitors have slightl y bigger screens and higher screen resolutions and appear to have more internal RAM. The iPad Air specification has been determined to be the thinnest and lightest tablet and comes with a new version of iOS, a mobile operating system that many people prefer; owners will have access to vastly more applications than are available for any other tablet. The team researched different models of mobile devices but found that Apple, Inc. and its authorized distributors are the only providers for this mobile device (iPad Air) requirement.

Searches were conducted using a variety of search engi nes (i.e. Google, Yahoo, Ask.com). Only mobi le devices simi lar in regards to technical specifications, price, and compatibility with existing language training resources and applications and overall best value were compared. While the other devices do provide the capability to access language training materials, the Apple iPad Air is the only device compatible with applications available and utilized on the Language Portal. The available applications include word processing applications, flashcard programs, and language progran1s. The language applications are self-teaching applications that allow a linguist to either 1) learn a second language; or 2) improve on their current language. AF lSR Agency/A2F's Language Portal provides one-stop shopping for foreign language and culture training materials to CLAs in a variety of formats and across the different learning modalities.

[Continued in next entry.]

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Guest Vern Edwards

Funny or tragic? Part II.

VII. Other Facts Supporting the Justification

AF lSR Agency A2F has previously acquired in excess of [REDACTED] worth of Apple Storage devices to include iPod touches, Laptops, and servers to facilitate language training. To purchase other than Apple would require re-outfitting the intelligence community with a com pletely new system that would conflict with other branches of service usage of Apple products. And in accordance with Intelligence Community Directi ve (ICD) 501 , this purchase of Appl e iPad Airs meets the interoperability requirement and allows for, "responsible sharing and collaboration within an integrated lC." AF fSR Agency/A2F's Language Portal provides one stop shopping for foreign language and culture training materials to CLAs in a variety of formats and across the different learning modalities. There are several applications that can be accessed for foreign language maintenance and enhancement; however, it has been detem1ined that no other brand media storage devices are technically compatible with the existing equipment.

4,000 iPad Airs with 16GB storage and Wi-Fi are required for CLAs to maintain and enhance their foreign language proficiency in accordance with SECDEF mandated Language Transformation Roadmap. Cunently, CLAs deploying to wartime locations arc unable to access foreign language training materials. As a result, their ability to provide support to the war fighter is severely diminished.

This acquisition will provide the Air Force with the capability to provide CLAs access to language and culture training materials while deployed thus maintaining and enhancing their language skills. AF ISR Agency/A2F requires approval of this J&A so members can deploy to combat operations and provide critical support to U.S. and Coalition forces in the area. Without these language skills, vital intelligence will not be passed to the war fighter resulting in possible damage/loss of equipment and lives.

Apple, Inc. is the original manufacturer of this dev ice. They or an a uthorized distributor are the only firms capable of providing the item. Software-based language training products enable the Airman to maintain language skills (reading, listening comprehension) outside and beyond the classroom. These products are a cost effective solution to Air Force language requirements for military deployment or missions where educational language resources are scarce. The iPad Air is an ultra-portable, networked, social artifact that will be a means to this end. Learning a second language is time and resource conswning. While proving to be valuable in military missions, the Airman's language skills are susceptible to degradation over time without regular practice. Purchase of a different device is counterintuitive to standardizing mobile training devices used across the branches of service and within the IC.

VII. Actions the Agency May Take to Remove or Ovet·come Any Barriers that Led to the Restricted Consideration Before Any Subsequent Acquisition For the Supplies or Services is Made

AF lSR Agency/ A2F will continue to monitor the commercial market for cost-effective solutions and promote any vendors to present their product and/or solution for consideration.

IX. Technical/Requirements Personnel's Certification

The signature of the technical and/or requirements personnel on the signature page is certification that any supporting data contained herein, which is their responsibility, is both accurate and complete.

X. Contracting Officer's Certification

The contracting officer's signature on the signature page evidences that he/she has determined this document to be both accurate and complete to the best of his/her knowledge and belief.

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Guest Vern Edwards

Yeah, but the reasoning and justification are much, much worse.

You have to read closely. This is a masterpiece of three-stooges quality thinking.

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Remarkable, it tires me to comment in detail so I won't. I have to do more research on the False Claims Act, public disclosure bars and all that nonsense but my instinct is that if a relator can prevail in a case where a contractor substitutes inferior personnel under the required, contractual labor category, then certainly, an action is warranted where unqualifed Government employees submit a timesheet for payment! Yep, proving "knowingly" or scienter is a problem but I can certainly try.

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This is a mess. For so many reasons. I could see how a brand name justification could be legitimately approved for this at a high level, but at least some coherent supporting facts and assertions would be expected. And parts 6, 8, 16... what is going on???

Sounds like someone needs an IG audit. Because if this is the quality of what is going out publically, there's some problems in that shop.

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Yes, I am in the correct thread, I would like to sue the named individuals who wrote the BN document and I am contemplating how.

It ain't easy but possible.

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Physiocrat

Good luck with coming up with a theory where you are able to sue, and good luck with any suit you try. I hope you are well versed in how to file a lawsuit, because I cannot imagine any attorney, reputable or otherwise, taking this case.

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Guest jrt132

Hi, Vern.

I agree, wholeheartedly. There are no redeeming qualities regarding the justification.

Yeah, but the reasoning and justification are much, much worse.

You have to read closely. This is a masterpiece of three-stooges quality thinking.

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I began grabbing excerpts to quote, and drafted this long response, only to conclude.....#Hilariously[TRAGIC]!

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Guest Vern Edwards

It contains at least one false statement. Paragraph VI contains this sentence:

The iPad Air specification has been determined to be the thinnest and lightest tablet....

CNET compared tablets this past July and reported these results among the newest tablets with screens 8.9 inches and above:

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.90 -- .31 in. thick, 0.82 lb.

Apple iPad Air -- 0.29 in. thick, 1 lb.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 -- 0.29 in. thick, 1 lb.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S -- 0.26 in. thick, 1 lb.

Sony Xperia Z2 -- 0.25 in. thick, 0.97 lb.

http://www.cnet.com/news/thinnest-and-lightest-large-tablets/

The website photoArena.com also reported the Sony Xperia Z2 to be the thinnest and lightest of the large tablets. An October 7 report at www. redmondpie.com says that Apple claims that its iPad Air 2 will be the thinnest tablet as of October 16. But another website, www.techradar.com, says that information comes from unnamed sources and that it's unlikely that the iPad Air 2 will be thinner than the Sony Xperia Z2. In any case, the justification makes no mention of the iPad Air 2.

It took me less than five minutes to find that information by Googling <thinnest tablet>. So much for their market research.

Read the certifications in paragraphs IX and X.

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AF got the title wrong, it is really a Justification for Exception to Fair Opportunity. Part 6 was my favorite part. The rationale is split up into two reasons: 1) Only the iPad Air will meet their needs because while there are bigger, better, cooler laptops out there, but "many people prefer" the iOS operating system; and 2) the Apple store is the only source that has the Airforce's Language Portal on it.

The first claim is unsubstantiated; as many people prefer other operating systems, as well. The second claim is true, but that is because AF has not provided their applications to the Google or Microsoft application store. In other words, the AF gave Apple an unfair competitive advantage over other stores that resulted in this exception to fair opportunity.

While l commend people for being against this, the AF will get away with this. The going rate plus accessories for those iPads is about $700 each. For 4,000 devices, you are looking at an award easily under $3 million. Per FAR 16.505(a)(10)(i)(B ), this potential order is not protestable because its value is less than $10 million. If a Vendor were to protest, the agency would file an order for dismissal and would win on grounds that GAO does not have authority to review.

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Guest Vern Edwards

I have learned that "GG" as in GG-14 denotes excepted service.

The Air Force won't get a protest, but it won't "get away" with this. I have posted the justification, and if the people who signed it don't care about the poor quality of their work product and don't feel humiliated at having it exposed to other practitioners, then the Air Force is getting something much worse than a protest.

By the way, there might be justification for the brand name specification, but you won't find it in the CO's justification document, which is as shoddy a piece of work as I have ever seen. I would be ashamed to have my name on it. I cannot tell you what I think of the lawyer who signed it.

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To purchase other than Apple would require re-outfitting the intelligence community with a com pletely new system that would conflict with other branches of service usage of Apple products.

There you have it folks. Enough said.

[Waits for same agency to issue [sSJ/JOFOC/LSJ/JEFO] to outfit Mgmt with new innovative iPhone 6s and 6Ps, rather than Android products, cause, well, their 'thinner, and lighter, and better, and stuff like that.']

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Guest Vern Edwards

Well, if we're going to critique, then we need to be serious.

To purchase other than Apple would require re-outfitting the intelligence community with a com pletely new system that would conflict with other branches of service usage of Apple products.

What "system" would have to be "completely new"? Identify. Describe. How will the iPads fit into the system? What would be the hardware and software interfaces?

What does "completely new" mean? Explain. Substantiate. Would every component of every subsystem of the system have to be changed? Even if there would be no interface? Why? In what ways would it have to be changed? You are buying iPads to use for language study. How would using a different tablet require "re-outfitting" the "intelligence community" with a "completely new system"?

"Conflict" how? Explain. Substantiate. What would be the nature of the conflict? What effect would it have on the operations of the "intelligence community"?

What "intelligence community"? Identify.

What "branches of service"? Identify.

This kind of critical thinking could have produced a better justification, assuming that there is a justification. Did the CO ask those kinds of questions? The Chief of the Contracting Office? The Competition Advocate? And what was the lawyer getting paid to do?

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So the justification is rambling, not well organized, and bs facts are thrown around. That's obvious. Get rid of the facts on thiness, they're irrelevant. They should have based the justification on the fact that the AF Language Portal application is only available in the Apple App Store and that requires the purchase of Apple hardware, iPads. Govco's quote is hilarious-- too broad, but I get what they're trying to say. That's just lazy writing and it got through many reviews, wow! It would take all of 15 min to write a better sentence or two.

Meetec, you say "The second claim is true, but that is because AF has not provided their applications to the Google or Microsoft application store. In other words, the AF gave Apple an unfair competitive advantage over other stores that resulted in this exception to fair opportunity."

Why must this Air Force organization develop applications for Google and Microsoft? If they have a hardware infrastructure based around Apple products then why waste time and money developing apps for others providers. The Air Force is not a for profit enterprise like commercial app developers where the goal is to reach the greatest number of people. Developing apps for microsoft, android, blackberry, etc., etc. costs money. The calculus is different.

I'm not clear on the point of the "limited source justification." Is it to justify limiting sources to just NETCENTS primes or is it a J&A to sole source to ONE NETCENTS prime. The use of FAR 16.505 makes me believe they are justifying procuring 4k IPADS directly from one particular NETCENTS prime. I cannot fathom how you can justify that only one prime is capable of delivering iPads. So yes, no protest, <$10M, but wow so bad.

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And let me preempt the expected reply that the Air Force infrastructure is not based on Apple. I'm speaking only about this project or program. It may be based on apple hardware--we do not know.

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Here is the solicitation for the AF Language Portal (it was a FPP 8(a) set-aside using FAR Part 15):

https://www.fbo.gov/?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=4ff0b6d80253db0937d4f5d0559d70a7&tab=core&_cview=1

This was the evidence that I used to come to the conclusion that Apple had an unfair competitive advantage that led to this sole source. You will note that the services to design the language portal included both Apple and Windows environments (few mentions of Android). You will also note that there is not a Justification for Other than Full and Open Competition which states why the agency decided to limit the language portal to only certain manufacturer's products. In fact, Section 2.2.1 of the Language Portal contract stated:

"The Contractor shall integrate and maintain Air Force-provided Cryptologic Skill Proficiency Testing (CSPT) and training materials on the Language Portal. Additionally, the Contractor shall develop and integrate software applications compatible with mobile devices such as the Apple iPod Touch or iPhone and provide compatible functions with operating systems such as iOS and Android."

Lastly, it leads to the question, if the AF developed the language portal for both Windows and Apple products, why is the solicitation for tablets limited to only Apple products?

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Who knows? Maybe a purchase for "windows" (microsoft) and android compatible tablets has already been made. We have no clue--justification lacks a lot of important info.

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Guest Vern Edwards

I'm not clear on the point of the "limited source justification." Is it to justify limiting sources to just NETCENTS primes or is it a J&A to sole source to ONE NETCENTS prime. The use of FAR 16.505 makes me believe they are justifying procuring 4k IPADS directly from one particular NETCENTS prime. I cannot fathom how you can justify that only one prime is capable of delivering iPads. So yes, no protest, <$10M, but wow so bad.

The purpose of the document is to justify the specification of a brand name item.

As a general matter, the purpose of a justification of any kind is to demonstrate that an actual or prospective course of action is in accord with applicable norms of proper conduct. In this case the norm is stated in FAR 16.505(a)(4)(1) as follows:

(4) The following requirements apply when procuring items peculiar to one manufacturer... Brand-name specifications shall not be used unless the particular brand-name, product, or feature is essential to the Government’s requirements and market research indicates other companies’ similar products, or products lacking the particular feature, do not meet, or cannot be modified to meet, the agency’s needs.

Logically, then, in order to show that the specification of a brand name item is justified, the CO must (1) describe the agency's need and (2) show that only one product (not one firm) can meet that need.

Reading the justification, the only references to a need are in Sections VI and VII, which say "the iPad Air is the only device compatible with the applications available and utilized on the Language Portal" and "it has been determined that no other brand media storage devices are technically compatible with the existing equipment." Thus, the need is for compatibility with applications and equipment. This must be understood on the basis of a vague implication. The justification does not identify the applications and equipment with which compatibility is necessary or say what is required in order for a product to be compatible with them. There is no substantiation of the CO's assertions, either that compatibility is necessary or that the iPad Air is the only compatible tablet. One would be a fool to put their name on the justification as written and then publish it at FedBizOpps so that all can see their name. It is an insult to the intelligence of their peers, industry, and the general public, and raises questions about their attentiveness, competence, and good faith. Or maybe they just don't care what anybody thinks.

Apple is not among the firms listed as contractors at the NETCENT-2 website, so the product will be purchased from a distributor or reseller, not Apple. The justification makes no mention of the Apple App Store.

It was the end of the fiscal year. The agency wanted to spend the money and acted with no concern about critical thinkers. Nobody gave a damn.

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This sounds like a good wifcon blog. Calling out poor J&As or other publically posted docs, placing on wifcon, and critiquing. The new form of social accountability. Yes, No? Public humiliation. Good idea or bad idea?

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Guest Vern Edwards

I'm not sure it's a good idea. I stumbled on the justification I posted here. I don't even remember what I was looking for when it popped up, but I was shocked by what I read and then disgusted. It was so bad that I posted it for comment, but it hasn't prompted very many. I'm not sure I'd do it again.

I think that the quality of contracting thinking and output has reached a very low point. It's very discouraging.

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"I think that the quality of contracting thinking and output has reached a very low point. It's very discouraging."

I don't believe the decline in critical thinking skills and output is limited to just our partiticular field. I think it's part of a general decline I see nearly every single day, at work and in my personal life.

I'm frequently frustrated by the many questions I get at work that could be easily answered with a couple of minutes of research. I don't mean research the FAR, either. I mean type in one or two words on the Google searchbar and click enter.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a debate about the DFARS rule about paying small business subcontractors in 15 days. Our standard policy was to pay all vendors in 45 days and I thought it should be changed in light of the DoD policy. I was challenged to provide a regulatory justification for my position. So I did a 10 second search and found a link to the interim rule. I sent an email to the participants with the link attached.

Nobody, not a single person, bothered to click the link and read for themselves what the rule said. Nobody bothered to determine whether I had been right or wrong. Instead, they simply asked Legal for an opinion. (FYI, Legal's opinion was that the rule only applied to contracts that were issued after the interim rule came into effect. So now we are going to have a two-tier payment policy for small businesses. Indeed, we may be paying the same small business at different speeds based on the contract they are billing under. I'm sure our Accounts Payable department is going to love that.)

That is but one example. I would post others but they might veer into the political, and I know that's not appropriate for this forum. My point is, Vern, that you see it in a microcosm here but it is a macro problem. Very few individuals receive promotions and rewards for engaging in critical thinking, innovation, and thought leadership. Instead, such individuals tend to be viewed with suspicion by leadership, because the first word in "critical thinking" is "critical" and nobody likes the person who rocks the boat.

Is there a positive side to this phenomenon? For those leaders with the perspicacity to see, thought leadership is valued. As my friend (who's a senior leader at a Tech Company) says, "When you hire a yes man, you've just made one of you redundant." People who think and write and lead are valued in the marketplace, and they can take their skills wherever they want to go. It's a rare commodity these days, and that makes it valuable.

H2H

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"When you hire a yes man, you've just made one of you redundant."

We have a very high level of redundancy in all bureaucracies.

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