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Vern Edwards

This is what is wrong with government contracting.

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Here is a 47-page solicitation for the purchase of 12 standard sleeper sofas.

https://www.fbo.gov/index?tab=documents&tabmode=form&subtab=core&tabid=59a333df81617829031f7bb78ebb0de1

I am not posting this to criticize the agency. As far as I can tell they are only complying with the rules as they understand them. No, I am criticizing a national bureaucratic enterprise that has gone completely haywire.

To add a provocative comment, the system is demonstrative of the long-term wackiness of government bureaucracies in large democratic republics, in which politicians seek to coddle contributors and various other special interests and to promote various social and economic causes through the acquisition (procurement) process. The promotion of such social and economic causes makes perfectly good sense at the national level of acvitity, but results in sheer madness when implemented at the level of a single, simple purchase. If you assume that each sleeper sofa will cost about $1,500, which I think is high, then the entire value of this procurement is only $18,000. All the agency has to do to render this acquisition totally insane is to lose a protest.

And the system I'm complaining about is only going to get worse in course of time. It cannot be reformed in any meaningful way. Our kind of government is incapable of such reform. Think about that.

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On September 3, 2016 at 0:01 PM, Vern Edwards said:

Here is a 47-page solicitation for the purchase of 12 standard sleeper sofas.

https://www.fbo.gov/index?tab=documents&tabmode=form&subtab=core&tabid=59a333df81617829031f7bb78ebb0de1

Vern, can you provide the solicitation number? When I click on the link above, I get the FBO Home page. Thx 

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Solicitation number DTFH61-15-R-00023 appears to be a  Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), request for proposals (RFP) for new structures laboratory support services, not for 12 standard sleeper sofas.  I searched the FBO on my phone, using that solicitation number.  I wondered if my phone was not able to access the correct solicitation.The maximum value of the IDIQ contract is $18,000,000 

So, tonight, I performed a Bing Search on my desktop  for "Solicitation number DTFH61-15-R-00023".  Here is a link to the July 21, 2016 GAO Decision of the protest by Professional Service Industries, Inc of the award to Genex Systems, LLC, of Hampton, Virginia.

http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/679456.pdf

I'll let someone else try to figure out what you were referring to in the OP.

 

 

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Sorry about that.

Here's the correct solicitation number: VA26016Q0936. The solicitation was posted to FEDBIZOPS on September 3.

The brand name is stated in the solicitation as follows: Sleeper sofa, Conover Miller, Trundle Bed #70 Mahogany, Enviro Leather Berkshire Basalt BK58

What kind of a system requires a 47-page solicitation--that incorporates, by my guess, at least 500 pages of text by reference--in order to buy a max of $18,000 worth of cheap furniture? It's lunacy. You cannot reform such a system. You've got to destroy it in order to save it, and to save us.

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Having been previously at the VA, I can tell you this is pretty standard for a commercial purchase of a supply.  Sad, but true.  I would have trimmed it down a bit by including 52.212-1 and 52.212-4 by reference which would have cut about 12 or so pages, but the lovely VAAR requires all the extra VAAR clauses.  The contract specialist here did make a few errors but for the most part this is pretty much a standard RFQ for the VA if going name brand or equal. The VA's duplicity and idiotic extra requirements always bothered me when I was there.  For example, why have VAAR 852.211-73 when you already have 52.211-6?

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Even if 52.212-1 and -4 had been incorporated by reference, they still would have been part of the solicitation and part of the ultimate page count.

What we have to recognize is that this kind of craziness is the product of the way our government is organized and operated. We cannot reform the acquisition system until we reform our government.

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Vern,

 

Do we reform it agency by agency or from the top down?

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Agreed

I've always thought of this as akin to driving through a mountain tunnel. 

It took enormous effort to dig the tunnel - effort that far, far outweighs the value of any single trip through it.  As we drive through the tunnel, we barely see the walls or even think of what it took to make it viable.  We just have familiarity with tunnels and our experience guides our effortless passage.  Today, the tunnel requires some maintenance that is relatively small relative to the sum of the trips through. 

If it isn't apparent, the tunnel is procurement regulations and processes.   Each drive through is a procurement. 

Absolutely agreed that 40+ pages (plus references) for a furniture procurement is over the top - but so is the effort expended to blast open a mountain so I can have a Sunday joyride, right?   I'd say the good news is that (presumably) the office issuing the solicitation didn't take too much effort to do so, using boilerplate and such - nor does the bidder spend much time on it.   We've all been through tunnels before and we look for special warning signs...but so long as the circumstances are the typical ones we've seen before, we sail right through without hardly slowing down.

To extend the analogy though: Is tunneling the best way to get from A to B?  Maybe a better path is due.  Maybe 40+ pages for a small procurement is still inefficient by its nature, even if it seemed OK as we drove through.        

Edited by jayandstacey
added strikethrough

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2 hours ago, here_2_help said:

Vern,

Do we reform it agency by agency or from the top down?

Honestly, H2H, I don't know.

I don't think top down will work. Presidents don't think in terms of managing agencies. They think in terms of areas of responsibility: the economy, national defense, foreign policy, social welfare, etc. Congress thinks in terms of managing constituencies. Agency by agency won't work. Some agencies are so vast that I don't think anyone can actually manage them. I don't think any single person can manage the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security in a B-school sense of the word.

As for the contracting system, I don't think we can look at it in isolation and as ourselves how to fix it. I think we have to look at it as part of the bigger enterprise of government, and I think that government is just a terrible mess. I am very pessimistic about our government's ability to function effectively except in times of national emergency, when we toss the rules out, at least at the beginning. I think that's generally true of all the Western democracies. They remind me of George Kennan's description of America in his book, American Foreign Policy:

Quote

But I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath—in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat.

I wish I could say that I know what to do about the acquisition/contracting mess. But I don't know. I think it's up to the young people to figure it out, if they can.

I'm reading books about bee-keeping and thinking of writing a horror novel.

Vern

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Ill considered legislative schemes (think Severeid Effect, whereby so many of today's problems in Washington, DC first started out as yesterday's solutions) amount to an enormous "incumbency premium". This  premium is paid in a myriad of ways, but ultimately at great cost to both government and society.  Maybe if more of us start seeing this for what it is...we might eventually run more of government on a best value basis. 

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Guest Jason Lent

In one experience, I was smothering contracts with clauses, as required by leadership to "protect the Government's rights" without any specific reference to which rights we were concerned about. The resulting contract for a micro-purchase was in excess of 20 pages, despite the desperate pleas of FAR 13.

I think micromanagement (an especially wrong type of micromanagement where the "management" part came from people who don't understand contracting) is a significant player in the nonsense I experienced as well as what was shown in the OP.

Granted that in the contract linked to the in OP, 15 of those pages are representations and certifications, but at least it only was one clause by reference spent encouraging contractors to discourage texting while driving. :lol:

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So now we have created yet another contract clause to try to enforce already existing laws...

In  construction contracting, that would (should) be a topic for safety meetings and should be addressed in contractors' hazard analyses, not by adding another clause. 

There are already over 150 pages (!) of contract clauses that would be applicable in a construction contract, as of a few years ago. 

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These problems affect other more high-profile areas (e.g. taxation, war-fighting, private sector hiring, land use, etc.), and we may benefit as free riders from whatever progress they make in those areas.  People in other areas are generating ideas like the House of Repeal.  Such a thing, were it to come to pass, may help us here. 

(Thought I should offer *something* hopeful since I'm a Pollyanna at heart).

Quote

I'm reading books about bee-keeping and thinking of writing a horror novel.

These are two diverse interests just begging to be merged together!  Some of this field has already been plowed, though unsuccessfully.

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Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and LBJ: Goodbye, American federalism. Hello, George Kennan's leviathan state.

21 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat

Does anyone believe that America has her best days ahead of her, rather than behind her? That's a serious question, so please don't answer using any of the following words or concepts:

diversity, satellites, cell phones, Internet, amazing selection of ethnic restaurants, spreading democracy, social justice

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PepeTheFrog,

Some of us follow Jim Wright, CWO, USN(R), on Facebook and on Twitter and on his website (www.Stonekettle.com). He is optimistic about America and explains why. On the other hand, he has less optimistic things to say about certain politicians and certain special interest groups, and says those things in a way consistent with his military service -- i.e., his language is definitely NSFW. This is by no means an endorsement ... just responding to your serious question. PM me and I'll send you a link.

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51 minutes ago, PepeTheFrog said:

Does anyone believe that America has her best days ahead of her, rather than behind her? That's a serious question...

It may be a serious question, but it's not the right question.

The right question is: What can each of us who work in contracting do to conduct sane contracting processes?

I have to get back on task now. We're going to Paris week after next, and I've been tasked to research activities for seniors who've seen all the museums and shopped everywhere. Would it be unseemly for a 70 year old to hang out in a gypsy jazz joint in Montmartre? Is there a curfew for old guys?

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Vern,

Absolutely not! Montmartre deserves to have a cool 70 year old like yourself hanging out all night long listening' to jazz...no curfew!!! Enjoy Paris - it's one of my favorite cities. Cheers.

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20 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

I have to get back on task now. We're going to Paris week after next, and I've been tasked to research activities for seniors who've seen all the museums and shopped everywhere. Would it be unseemly for a 70 year old to hang out in a gypsy jazz joint in Montmartre? Is there a curfew for old guys?

I would caution that you and your group to be extra vigilant in Paris.  I saw this yesterday about Paris:

"Arrests made after car containing gas cylinders found near Paris's Notre Dame" http://www.france24.com/en/20160907-arrests-car-gas-cylinders-notre-dame-paris

Enjoy Paris - it is on my travel list - but be alert - safe travel!

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Thanks, policy guy. I saw that, too. We'll be alert. We generally avoid tourist sites and large evening venues. The gypsy jazz clubs are very small.

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To preface, I will say that I am an Intern with just a little over a year of experience in contracting. I came into this career field having no past history of contracting or the fact that 500 trees that must die in order to complete a SAT purchase. I think my first solicitation I posted, I was flabbergasted that it came out to be 73 pages. Of course, being my first solicitation, there were errors that needed to be fixed within. So, I printed it off again. After my KO approved said solicitation, I needed to print off yet a third copy, but this one with out the draft watermark. According to my math, that is 219 pages of paper I used just for the solicitation. By the time I made the award, I can't remember off the top of my head the exact page number for it, but for the sake of a conversation let's just say it was 50 pages, I used 319 pages for COTS items that cost roughly $65,000. The total price per item was anywhere from $25 to $150 so it's not like these parts even fell under DFARS 252.211-7003.

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On 9/21/2016 at 1:42 PM, apsofacto said:

Hello, NavyBuyer,

I'd happily torch a few acres of rainforest to get a few laws repealed and corresponding regulations removed :D

apsofacto,

Which laws would you like to see repealed?  Which regulations would you like to see removed?

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