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Guest Vern Edwards

See Sumaria Systems, Inc.; COLSA Corporation, GAO Decision B-412961, July 21, 2016.

http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/678748.pdf

This was a competition conducted pursuant to FAR Subpart 16.5 in order to award a task order against a GSA GWACS contract. The task order was for professional and administrative support services and was worth about $50 million. The agency issued the RFP on October 19, 2015 and announced the selection on April 6, 2016.

The GAO denied the protest. I'm sure that the contracting office is congratulating itself.

I wonder what you think about the way the process was conducted.

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Hi, Vern,

As you say, the value of the task order was $50M.  The technical proposal page limitation was 30 pages.  The Air Force dinged one proposer for " [not] discuss(ing anything specific to the Structures support such as items listed in PWS paragraph 3.3.4.8.2".  It sounds like they wanted longer and more detailed technical proposals.  $50M is also lot of money, perhaps worth slogging through a 100 page proposal.

I'm also not comfortable with LPTA for engineering and professional services.  Actually, I thought you could not do that (Brooks Act).

I'm sure you have other misgivings, but those are the issues that jumped out at me.

If Air Force folks are reading, please feel free to set me straight.

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In addition to what appso pointed out, since price was apparently the most important factor, I'm surprised that the agency decided that it wouldn't  evaluate the lower offered prices of the other two firms. COLSA's offered price was $6.4 million lower than Odyssey's.  The total evaluated price for Odyssey was another $1.2 million higher.  Would COLSA's proposal deficiencies have been relatively easy to cure with discussions without raising their price by  the difference between the two ?  It would seem to make sense to me to at least evaluate the price proposal and consider whether discussions could have  saved millions of dollars.  Again, the basis of award makes it clear that price/cost was the most important factor between acceptable proposals. 

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No comment yet on the way the process was conducted.

But the first thing I noticed was that the GAO said the evaluation was done in accordance with the solicitation.  If a prospective offeror objected to the process described in the solicitation, it should have protested before the date set for receipt of offers -- it cannot wait for the evaluation to play out and then, if it is unsuccessful, file a protest.  Thus, I don't know that the GAO would approve the contracting office's approach if were to review it in a pre-aaward protest stuation -- however, since there was no pre-award protest, and the agency apparently followed the solicitation, the agency wins.

I will read the rest of the protest decision shortly.

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I realize that this was a task order competition and that the agency could use simplified evaluation procedures such as the down select process. However, was such a limited, short-cut procedure appropriate for a $50 million service, which must involve a very complex scope ?  If the objective was to place emphasis on price, they effectively eliminated the possibility to be able to obtain the best or better prices through the ability to conduct discussion concerning even minor proposal deficiencies 

I have noticed that this Service extensively uses similar methods such as various "past performance - price trade off" etc. whereby (for expedience?) they simply award to the lowest priced firm that meets a certain threshold "confidence level" , which is, in effect, some variation of the lowest priced technically acceptable procedure.  

It seems to me that this "flies in the face" of the various DoD level "better buying power" initiatives to effectively conduct discussions and bargain for better performance or better pricing, especially for larger and/or complex acquisitions.  

 

 

Edited by joel hoffman
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Guest Vern Edwards

What the agency did was conduct an essay writing contest in order to award a task order on the basis of LPTA. It appears that the agency did not ask for technical "proposals" that constituted a set of promises that would be binding upon acceptance. Instead, according to the GAO, the agency gave the competitors 30 pages in which to demonstrate their understanding of the prospective order by "addressing" 12 major functions described in three main paragraphs in the "performance work statement" (:lol:), one of which included 25 subparagraphs. It is clear from the pre-proposal Q&A, as discussed by the GAO, that several competitors did not understand what the agency wanted. The agency wasn't specific about what the evaluators would have to see in the proposals in order to conclude that a competitor's understanding was "acceptable." All they said--and apparently repeated ad nauseam in response to questions--was that competitors had to "address" the three tasks. It is clear from the page limitation and the number of paragraphs that had to be addressed that the proposals could not have been very detailed, since they had, on average, less than one page per paragraph.

Presumably, since the task order to be was placed against a GWAC, the competitors had previously been determined to be qualified to do the work at hand. I cannot see how the ability to write a 30-page essay demonstrates the ability to provide engineering, professional, and administrative support services (EPASS). The ability to write an essay is the ability to write an essay. That's all. The Government may have paid a $6 million premium for a better essay writing job by a person or persons who might not even be employed on the contract to do the work in question. 

On the whole, that task order competition was a ridiculous exercise in bureaucratic blockheadedness. The process is not redeemed by the fact that the agency won the protest.The people who executed that process showed no inclination to think critically, and no inclination to innovate. Smarter people could have awarded the task order in less time and at less expense, and possibly at a lower price. By the way, did anyone notice that 12 lawyers were employed in the protest, not including the GAO attorneys?

Competition based on the submission of technical proposal essays is not the way to go in the procurement of services. When-oh-when will agencies and their COs snap out of it and try something new--something faster, less expensive, less tedious, and less vulnerable to protest? Based on experience and evidence, the answer is never.

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Guest Vern Edwards

The same agency has posted an announcement for a similar EPASS procurement to FedBizOpps. Search for FA2521-16-R-0007. This time they want proposals limited to 45 pages. Award is to be based on LPTA.

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4 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

...

Presumably, since the task order to be was placed against a GWAC, the competitors had previously been determined to be qualified to do the work at hand. I cannot see how the ability to write a 30-page essay demonstrates the ability to provide engineering, professional, and administrative support services (EPASS). The ability to write an essay is the ability to write an essay. That's all. The Government may have paid a $6 million premium for a better essay writing job by a person or persons who might not even be employed on the contract to do the work in question. 

...

I can't see how satisfying GSA's bar is sufficient to give the warm fuzzies to the folks at Wright-Pat.  Though, I agree the 30-page essay doesn't really do it, either.

Can we really conclude the government is going to pay a $6M premium?  I couldn't find the break-out between FFP and CPFF.  If it's more the latter than the former, then I would question any such conclusion.

I suspect this is another staff augmentation requirement with, at best, a veneer of performance based contracting.  It's hard to write a good RFP under such conditions.

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Guest Vern Edwards

My point is that essay evaluation is not a sound basis for contractor selection, no matter how long the essay, unless you're hiring an essay writer.

As for the premium, all I know is what the GAO reported in its decision.

According to the successful competitor, the order entails the provision of 71 FTEs.

I don't think it's hard to write a good RFP if you know your job. What's hard, apparently, is discarding the FAR Part 15 process model and habitual contractor selection practices.

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Maybe they did their market research and concluded that they'd be happy with any of one four or five different contractors.  There was no compelling reason to believe that any one contractor would do the myriad tasks substantially better than any other, or that any one could provide the required services for substantially cheaper than anyone else--over a five-year period.  Therefore, they picked a method that precluded an artificial cost-technical tradeoff, got an acceptable guy, and GAO approved.  Good for them.

Or maybe it was a completely different situation.

Vern, I hear your objections, and I'm not really disagreeing with you in principle.  But, given the Swiss cheese of facts in this story, I can't really condemn.

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One of my concerns with LPTA is the often absence of anything to define acceptable.  To me, there is a difference between unacceptable for failing to meet requirements and unacceptable for being at the lower end of a quality continuum -- yet we seem to use the adjectival rating "unacceptable" for both.  And when it is the latter, we usually don't recognize or define unacceptable until after we start reading the proposal to which we intend to apply that rating.

 

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Guest Vern Edwards
57 minutes ago, David Bodner said:

Maybe they did their market research and concluded that they'd be happy with any of one four or five different contractors.  There was no compelling reason to believe that any one contractor would do the myriad tasks substantially better than any other, or that any one could provide the required services for substantially cheaper than anyone else--over a five-year period.  Therefore, they picked a method that precluded an artificial cost-technical tradeoff, got an acceptable guy, and GAO approved.  Good for them.

Or maybe it was a completely different situation.

Vern, I hear your objections, and I'm not really disagreeing with you in principle.  But, given the Swiss cheese of facts in this story, I can't really condemn.

I don't condemn them for going LPTA. I condemn them for the essay contest. That use of that method is unintelligent. I can't stand unintelligence. The only nonprice factors they needed were experience and past performance. The whole evaluation process should not have taken more than 60 days from submission deadline to decision.

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33 minutes ago, ji20874 said:

One of my concerns with LPTA is the often absence of anything to define acceptable.  To me, there is a difference between unacceptable for failing to meet requirements and unacceptable for being at the lower end of a quality continuum -- yet we seem to use the adjectival rating "unacceptable" for both.  And when it is the latter, we usually don't recognize or define unacceptable until after we start reading the proposal to which we intend to apply that rating.

 

We can blow the "unacceptable" call.  But, in my experience we have a greater tendency to be overly lenient than overly severe when we get toward the bottom of the ratings scale.  If the folks evaluating the technical proposal have serious and honest doubts about the ability of a offeror to be successful, I have no business giving that offeror a contract.  And I want to give the government maximum leeway in making that call.  So, I'm not going to specify "unacceptable" to the nth degree.  In reality, evaluators probably do fine-tune the ratings criteria as they read all the proposals.  I recognize that's not the ideal, but I'm OK with that.  As long as the evaluation is consistent with the RFP, I don't want to put roadblocks in the way of evaluators using their intelligence, judgment, and good sense.

39 minutes ago, Vern Edwards said:

I don't condemn them for going LPTA. I condemn them for the essay contest. That use of that method is unintelligent. I can't stand unintelligence. The only nonprice factors they needed were experience and past performance. The whole evaluation process should not have taken more than 60 days from submission deadline to decision.

So, fewer evaluation criteria.  I'm on-board with that.  Unfortunately, I've had very little success in convincing my customers of that.  That may not be one person's stupidity as much as cultural inertia.

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It properly organized, oral presentations work wonderful for most complex solicitations.  Much better than a writing contest.    Probably a lot less effective in selecting staff augmentation where a lot depends on the companies recruitment methods and how much the Government is willing to reimburse for the workers labor. 

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Guest Vern Edwards
6 hours ago, David Bodner said:

So, fewer evaluation criteria.  I'm on-board with that.  Unfortunately, I've had very little success in convincing my customers of that.  That may not be one person's stupidity as much as cultural inertia.

It's both. A thinking person would see the readily apparent defects in the essay contest approach. If enough people would think, they could overcome inertia.

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On ‎8‎/‎3‎/‎2016 at 2:05 PM, David Bodner said:

So, fewer evaluation criteria.  I'm on-board with that.  Unfortunately, I've had very little success in convincing my customers of that.  That may not be one person's stupidity as much as cultural inertia.

I don't think Vern is arguing for "fewer evaluation criteria," but rather evaluation criteria that are actually discriminators (whether that means agency's utilize more or less - depending on the situation).

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