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Captain22

Why Should Contracting Personnel SEE What They Are Buying?

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We've all been there....we receive a PR for something, send out a solicitation, and process an award document without even knowing what we're really buying.

What is the number 1 (or 2&3) reason you think contracting personnel should physically see/touch/explore what they are buying?

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My situation might be a little different from the majority of 1102s since I work in a very large contracting operation at an Air Logistics Complex. In my opinion, 1102s don't always need to see what we're buying before it's purchased. If anyone should see it up front, it's the engineers and the customer. On the other hand, I do believe it's very important for 1102s to see their purchases in action, whether the users are troops or the general public. It might help keep us focused on why we do what we do, especially when we feel buried in paperwork and policy and when our elected snollygosters miss no opportunity to tell us we're overpaid goldbrickers.

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It isn't always essential that a contracting officer and/or contract specialist be able to see and touch whatever they are contracting for.

However, it can be helpful. A contracting professional's knowledge of the product (or service) and the marketplace from which it is purchased can be very helpful, if others are willing to listen.

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Guest Vern Edwards

What is the number 1 (or 2&3) reason you think contracting personnel should physically see/touch/explore what they are buying?

Price analysis. During the spare parts pricing scandal of the mid-1980s, we learned that visual analysis of a product can be helpful when determining price reasonableness and when negotiating price. See the Contract Pricing Reference Guides, Vol. 1, Price Analysis. Nomenclature and part number are usually not enough to enable you to understand what you're buying. Visual analysis might lead a buyer to ask the question: "Why is this so pricey?" Visual analysis can lead to understanding about the composition and complexity of an item and suggest the kind of manufacturing processes involved in its production. It can also help you think of alternative items. However, access to touching is not practical in most cases.

Professional pride. You can feel like an idiot (or be made to feel like one) when buying something that you don't know anything about. Visual knowledge is extremely helpful. It's pretty embarrassing when seeking quotes to hear someone on the phone chuckle and then ask: "Do you know what that is?" When I was chief of a contracting office my supply buyers would often complain that they had no idea what the thing described in the purchase request really was. When I started buying re-entry "vehicle" research and development, I kept encountering the word "bus," but couldn't understand what busses had to do with nuclear warheads. Pretty embarrassing. The internet has been a boon in this regard.

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I know I once read a protest decision where the source selection authority was being cross-examined as to why they chose to pay more for an item that was rated technically superior than another offered item. They were unable to explain, fundamentally, what they were buying, much less why the Government should pay more for one item over another.

I couldn't find the case, but I know it's out there.

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Reminds me of this young lady I knew back in the day, a contracts person at a defense contractor. I shouldn't name them, but they built a stealthy bomber in SoCal in the 1980's. Anyway, she decided she wanted to see this classified stealthy bomber (this was before it was publicly acknowledged and was deep deep black). Security told her she didn't have a need to know. She argued that "I can't negotiate what I don't understand" -- and she stuck to her story until they finally agreed. So not only did she get a tour of the black aircraft, but she also got a technical briefing about some of its cool capabilities.

H2H

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Guest Vern Edwards

In my experience, at least half of what is classified by our government is known to everybody but us.

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Don, I remember the same protest, but like you, I cannot find it now. As I recall it was a supply contract for some IT equipment.

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Guest Vern Edwards

There have been several such decisions. The one Don mentioned might have been B3H Corp. v. Department of the Air Force, GSBCA 12813-P, 94-3 BCA ¶ 27068, a July 8, 1994 protest decision of the GSBCA when it had bid protest authority.

There were 43 pages in the hearing transcript of the Air Force Source Selection Authority's responses to the cross-examination question: “Would you spell out in specific detail the basis for your decision to select other awardees as opposed to [the protester], going through each discriminator... the one quantifiable and the six nonquantifiables?” The board was not satisfied with the SSA's testimony and held for the protester:

Neither the selection analyses presented by the agency nor the record as a whole demonstrates with reasonable certainty that the added value of the proposals of Aries and LOGTEC are worth the higher prices consistent with the terms of the solicitation. Although mathematical precision or absolute dollar quantifications are neither expected nor required, more than a mere conclusion is required to justify a best value analysis. Consistent with the selection criteria, the rationale underlying the conclusion must support the selection determination with reasonable certainty. Particularly when the agency retains much discretion in obtaining performance by the issuance of individual task orders to any of various contractors, as the dollar differences are greater (such as the approximate 20% between LOGTEC and the protester here) or the technical/management differences smaller (such as between Aries and the protester here), the considerations and rationale must be more detailed in order to justify a best value determination.

* * *

There must exist, in support of the selection determination, more than a mere conclusion that the selection is in the Government's best interest. The source selection authority here recognized the differences between the proposals. The testimony referenced by the dissenting judge, Transcript at 253-75 and 320-63, restates what is readily apparent from the evaluations and from the working group's additional analysis. What is lacking in the record as a whole is a reasoned basis leading to the conclusion that the benefits of the awardees' proposals are in fact worth the apparent extra costs. To restate a conclusion multiple times does not make the conclusion any more credible.

B3H was controversial and prompted some discussion within the legal community about how much discretion agencies have in "best value" source selections and what SSA's have to present in order to justify a tradeoff decision. The GSBCA was a demanding tribunal.

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Vern, was the B3H Decision overturned? Our organization initially lost a September 1994 or 1995 GSBCA protest based upon the B3H decision because we didn't quantify the trade off decision to pick a higher priced offer for a Utility Control and Monitoring System (UCMS) upgrade at Ft Riley Hospital. At that time GSBCA took jurisdiction over all protests for such systems. GSBCA's position was that these systems included Federal Information Processors or "FIP". HVAC controls include microprocessors and the system we bought included a IBM type desktop computer.

We had to change evaluation boards and the source selection authority and reevaluate the initial proposals. The replacement officials drew the same conclusions as the first group and ( I think) somehow quantified the relative advantages of the same winner - only to be protested again. Our HQ lawyers were able to prevail by convincing GSBCA that the these mechanical and electrical control systems weren't FIP. Whereupon, the loser went to court and lost. Seems like Comgress repealed the Brooks ACT that covered FIP and stripped the GSBCA from jurisdiction shortly thereafter. The fiasco took about a year to resolve only to end up with the same firm we initially picked. That was the most frustrating source selection that I was involved with and our initial KO quit over it. It was our first encounter with GSBCA. The losing firm filed the protest within an hour or two of notification of the award. We didn't know that EVERY such competition was protested. It was apparent to us that the protestor's attorney used a "canned" protest letter, listing reasons that they had no knowledge of.

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Guest Vern Edwards

Yes, it was reversed in part by Widnall v. B3H Corp., 75 F.3d 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1996), which said that the GSBCA should have deferred to the SSA.

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Yes, it was reversed in part by Widnall v. B3H Corp., 75 F.3d 1577 (Fed. Cir. 1996), which said that the GSBCA should have deferred to the SSA.

Thanks, Vern Some of those details are coming back. I now remember that not even 43 pages of testimony by the SSA was sufficient to satisfy the GSBCA.

In our case, even after discussions, or ember that the protestor's proposal was disjointed, contained numerous contradictions and required what I would characterize as translator computers at every interface with the existing Johnson Controls system at the Hospital. As a result, it would have greatly complicated the overall control system for only a relatively small cost savings.

I remember asking our HQTRs Counsel to urge the USAF to appeal the B3H Decision of the GSBCA. Here is a link to the Court Decision.

https://casetext.com/case/widnall-v-b3h-corp

But to address the original post in this thread, our KO (the SSA) had zero knowledge of the systems being acquired and completely broke down during the deposition. To my knowledge and ( admittedly poor recollection) the SSA didn't fully comprehend the technical proposals but merely agreed with the evaluation and trade-off analysis that the staff had performed.

The Chief of Contracting was SSA during the re-evaluation. He had been a USAF KO in an "earlier life".

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I know of at least one reason and situation that the Contracting Personnel should see what they are buying; you might be buying nothing more than fraud.

Long story:

In my case, the PM would send us specs to solicit in an IFB, refuse to answer my questions on the documents and then get the KO to release them anyway. The contractor with the lowest price had won nearly all of the previous competitions which had been processed before I took over the program. Several weeks later we issue the notice to proceed and a week after that I visit the work site.

In that visit, there was no lay down area, no signage, no contractor vehicles. Two weeks go by and I send an email to the PM about progress and he states that the project is on schedule. Again I visit the work site with no contractor activity in sight. I verified the bldg. number and went back to my office. I called the PM and asked him to take me to where the work was being conducted and he refused. I brought this up with the KO and he told me to "relax". I went to his boss and she told my KO to "resolve this issue". Later then next day the PM, the KO and myself had a meeting and I asked again where the work was being conducted and for the PM to show me the work. He refused and said that I was "too ignorant of construction methods" to even look at the work. I then had to be pulled back from punching him by the KO who pulled me back across the table.

I brought this problem up with my KO's supervisor, the HCA, the Contract Attorney for the office and the local investigations office. Nothing was done or said so several weeks later I resigned from the Civil Service for a job in the private sector. Before I left I put evidence and copies of all messages along with a memo to file with my suspicions that the project was a fraud against the Government inside the contract folder. I also made copies digitally and put them on a disc which I enclosed in an unmarked envelope inside the contract folder.

Later on, after I had been gone a few years, I found out that the PM had been indicted and found guilty of defrauding the Government for millions. His sister in NY who owned the contractor company also won herself a trip to Club Fed. The KO was allowed to retire and his supervisors all had some kind of negative actions applied to their careers.

Short story: Know what you are buying because going to jail, losing your job and/or facing financial penalties is not a good thing for Contracting personnel, even when it is not your fault!

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The advantages of seeing what you are buying are that you will have superior knowledge of that product/service.

That is also an advantage of Category Management as discussed here:

http://www.wifcon.com/discussion/index.php?/topic/2954-category-management/?hl=%2Bcategory+%2Bmanagement

I don't know if a hypothetical Category CO would get to actually physically inspect the product/service being purchased, since they would be purchasing on behalf of multiple agencies. Would their innate knowledge of product/service overcome this disadvantage?

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Guest Vern Edwards

I once bought satellites, rockets, and re-entry vehicles. Seeing them was fun, but you didn't learn very much about them that way. You had to read a lot of stuff in order to make sense of what you saw. So, while seeing things is good, it is not always enough to gain "superior knowledge."

If you buy F-35s, seeing them must be great! But if you aren't a pilot or aeronautical engineer, what do you really learn, other than size, shape, etc.?

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I thank God for people like DWGerard1102!

I also thank God for being able to work for an organization that trained and trusted others and me to analyze, evaluate and negotiate new contracts, changes, claims and other construction contract matters as someone who was generally familiar with construction operations as well as cost and pricing and construction litigation, etc.

It was rare for the engineers who designed the projects to ever see them built or under construction; it was even rarer to see a contracting person on any of my job sites working for the Army. There were two exceptions - the KO that I worked for three years ago in Sacramento, CA was on the job site every day and one of the two best I ever worked with or for. He had previously worked in industry.The other was my future Chief of the Contracting Office in Mobile, AL while he and I served in Dhahran during the first Gulf War. After we got back he was promoted to Chief of Contracting.

When I was an Air Force civil engineer, one of my best buddies was a TSgt who was our contract administrator. He visited the site often but both he and the KO let me lead change order negotiations. All negotiations were subject to the KO's approval and/or supervision.

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Guest Vern Edwards

DWG: Why didn't you contact the IG? Why just put stuff in the contract file folder, from which one of the crooks could have removed it?

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Vern,

I did contact the base IG, they did nothing with the information. After I left the KO did take all the paper documents out of the contract file, but he did not think to remove the unlabeled CD in the envelope stapled inside the contract folder. The break in the case came when the PM's sister bragged about her "projects" to another contractor, who then contacted the IG in DC. The investigation came from DC, not the base where the contracting office was located at.

I left because not one of the leaders in the office cared about possible fraudulent activity, the legal staff did not care, the base IG did not care and the Commanding Officer did not care (or at least his gate keepers did not care because they kept me from talking to him personally about the matter). I left because the corruption and corruption through non-action was unsurmountable to me, a non-supervisory low level GS employee, without destroying my career. I did what I could and left with honor, refusing to just play along and leaving enough information for anyone who cared to put the case together.

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No, not so shocking after you've been around. IGs aren't as independent as they could be. They still sit inside of these agencies, and serve a role in the agency's self-preservation. They can be encouraged to look the other way, (nothing to see here, move along), or to not mention certain details in their reports that might attract too much Congressional attention at an inopportune time. If this ended up in a prosecution, I will guess the IG did get involved at some point, but probably only after the right person asked for the investigation.

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If you work for the Army or Air Force and have evidence of criminal type activity, if the IG won't investigate, I suggest contacting the CID office (Army) or OSI (Air Force). As far as I know, the agents are primarily military not civilians and, in my experience, they are zealous at trying to uncover fraud and corruption in contracting.

Their weakness, in my opinion, was in the depth of their knowledge of contracting ( construction) business practices. But enthusiasm - no shortage of that.

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