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Our organization has expressed an interest in contracting for a company to assist it with strategic planning.  The contractor would assist a group of Government employees (i.e. leadership) with identifying strategic objectives and associated criteria to evaluate progress.  This information would be compiled into a document and provided to the Government for further development of its strategic planning.  Performance will occur over the course of a week long meeting by Government personnel, with a minor amount of time dedicated to gathering data prior to the meeting and compiling information after the meeting.  The contractor would not assist with the development of policy or contribute to decision making.  In short, the contractor would "coach" the Government during this process.

We are unfamiliar with this type of requirement and uncertain as to whether one might consider this consulting, advisory and assistance services, or simply a commercial service.

Because of our unfamiliarity, I want to ensure we are not overlooking a critical requirement associated with contracting for this type of requirement. 

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Based only on what you wrote above, I would support not calling it advisory and assistance services.  I wouldn't call it consulting or coaching services, either -- how about meeting or planning facilitation services?  You want a contractor to facilitate a week-long strategic planning meeting.  I bought this type of service for a prior agency as a straight-forward service.  The contractor would be expected to have some knowledge of facilitation and strategic planning, but no specific knowledge of your agency, your agency's operations, or the market sector in which your agency operates.  I assume you will pay a firm-fixed-price for the entire effort?

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Guest Vern Edwards
3 hours ago, krusem said:

Our organization has expressed an interest in contracting for a company to assist it with strategic planning.  The contractor would assist a group of Government employees (i.e. leadership) with identifying strategic objectives and associated criteria to evaluate progress. This information would be compiled into a document and provided to the Government for further development of its strategic planning.  Performance will occur over the course of a week long meeting by Government personnel, with a minor amount of time dedicated to gathering data prior to the meeting and compiling information after the meeting.  The contractor would not assist with the development of policy or contribute to decision making. In short, the contractor would "coach" the Government during this process.

Emphasis added.

krusem:

See FAR 2.101:

Quote

“Advisory and assistance services” means those services provided under contract by nongovernmental sources to support or improve: organizational policy development; decision-making; management and administration; program and/or project management and administration; or R&D activities. It can also mean the furnishing of professional advice or assistance rendered to improve the effectiveness of Federal management processes or procedures (including those of an engineering and technical nature). In rendering the foregoing services, outputs may take the form of information, advice, opinions, alternatives, analyses, evaluations, recommendations, training and the day-to-day aid of support personnel needed for the successful performance of ongoing Federal operations. All advisory and assistance services are classified in one of the following definitional subdivisions:

(1) Management and professional support services, i.e., contractual services that provide assistance, advice or training for the efficient and effective management and operation of organizations, activities (including management and support services for R&D activities), or systems. These services are normally closely related to the basic responsibilities and mission of the agency originating the requirement for the acquisition of services by contract. Included are efforts that support or contribute to improved organization of program management, logistics management, project monitoring and reporting, data collection, budgeting, accounting, performance auditing, and administrative technical support for conferences and training programs.

(2) Studies, analyses and evaluations, i.e., contracted services that provide organized, analytical assessments/evaluations in support of policy development, decision-making, management, or administration. Included are studies in support of R&D activities. Also included are acquisitions of models, methodologies, and related software supporting studies, analyses or evaluations.

(3) Engineering and technical services, i.e., contractual services used to support the program office during the acquisition cycle by providing such services as systems engineering and technical direction (see 9.505-1(b)) to ensure the effective operation and maintenance of a weapon system or major system as defined in OMB Circular No. A-109 or to provide direct support of a weapon system that is essential to research, development, production, operation or maintenance of the system.

The service you want to buy is the very essence of advisory and assistance services, subdivision (1). Read FAR Subpart 37.2 and comply as appropriate. It's not a big deal.

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Thank you for the in-depth response Vern!  I should have reviewed FAR 2.101 in addition to FAR 37.2, as the definition is quite expansive.  There was some concern that our requirement might be prohibited IAW FAR 37.203(c)(1).  I am not certain that our requirement aligns with FAR 37.203(c)(1), as it is our intent for the contractor to assist the Government in this effort and the contractor would not participate in policy, decision making, or etc. 

If I may, let me ask a follow-up question.

Is the determination at FAR 37.204 specific to contractor personnel performing evaluations or analysis of proposals?  

In reading FAR 37.204 and the Source Selection Answer Book (thanks Vern!), that is my understanding, but I do not understand the need for such a determination if contractor personnel are not performing such a service (such as with my requirement).

Is my understanding completely off on this?

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Once again, I realize that if I read a bit more thoroughly I would likely find the answers to my own questions.

Thank you very much Vern!  You're always a great source of knowledge and your willingness to help is greatly appreciated.

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19 hours ago, krusem said:

or simply a commercial service.

Your need if determined to be A&A, as supported by market research  could also meet the definition of commercial item of FAR Part 2, noting that your contract type will play a role as well.  If your need does then using entities off of GSA FSS or use of simplified acquisition procedures could be great options.

Routes you may already be aware of, just mentioning due to the title of your post and the above quote from details of your post.

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Thank you for the information.  I am currently reviewing guidance on that very topic.  Initial market research indicates that this is a service commonly performed in the private sector, but further research is necessary to determine whether there is published catalog pricing or established market pricing.

In addition, I am also reviewing guidance on PBSA as it relates to A&AS.  My initial belief was that developing a PWS would not be an issue, but in giving it more thought, maybe I was a bit naive.  This is certainly something I will have to discuss more thoroughly with my customer.

Thank you very much!

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25 minutes ago, krusem said:

further research is necessary to determine whether there is published catalog pricing or established market pricing

krusem,

Why do you care about published catalog or market prices?  For the definition of commercial services, the standard is established catalog or market prices.  Prices may be established even if they are not published.

Are the services you need closely related to the basic responsibilities and mission of the agency?  Your original posting made me think not.  But if yes, it makes sense to call them advisory and assistance services.

Words matter.

I recommend you consider a statement of objectives (SOO) approach instead of a PWS approach.  You can identify the outcomes and the constraints well enough.

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The commercial item definition "published" catalog prices and "established" market prices; thus, the reasoning behind the wording.  My concern was whether this particular requirement, believed to be sold competitively in substantial quantities in the commercial marketplace, is done so based upon "established" market prices that can be substantiated through competition.  

In regards to the services, the contractor would assist the Government with strategic planning.  The purpose of strategic planning is to develop organizational objectives for a wide array of mission-related areas.

In reading management and professional support services described in FAR 2.101, it would appear that the excerpt below aligns with our requirement.  Do you disagree?

FAR 2.101

Quote

(1) Management and professional support services, i.e., contractual services that provide assistance, advice or training for the efficient and effective management and operation of organizations, activities (including management and support services for R&D activities), or systems. These services are normally closely related to the basic responsibilities and mission of the agency originating the requirement for the acquisition of services by contract. Included are efforts that support or contribute to improved organization of program management, logistics management, project monitoring and reporting, data collection, budgeting, accounting, performance auditing, and administrative technical support for conferences and training programs.

Thank you for the feedback.

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You're right -- here I am talking about words matter, and I read too quickly.

I am pretty certain there are established market prices for services to assist with strategic planning efforts -- companies that are in this business do it all the time, on a firm-fixed-price basis -- you define the parameters (outcomes, expectations, and constraints) up front, and firms will give you FFP quotations.

Regarding your last point, para (1) has three sentences.  Vern emphasized the first sentence, and you emphasized the third sentence.  I'm looking at the second sentence.  That's why I wrote in my first posting, "The contractor would be expected to have some knowledge of facilitation and strategic planning, but no specific knowledge of your agency, your agency's operations, or the market sector in which your agency operates."  Your original posting made me think the services you need are not closely related to the basic responsibilities and mission of the agency.  However, if the services you need are closely related to the basic responsibilities and mission of the agency, then I understand where you're coming from.

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8 hours ago, krusem said:

published catalog pricing or established market pricing.

And as an add on I would note that a search of GSA FSS contracts, which are commercial item acquisitions, lists advisory and assistance services as being available under said contracts.  You may not have to invent the wheel to get to a commercial item determination.

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Guest Vern Edwards

I think advisory and assistance services (A&AS) of the kind that krusem has asked about are clearly commercial items with market prices as defined in FAR 2.101. It's not like he's not asking the Aerospace Corporation to advise a source selection evaluation board about the viability of proposed military space technology or Rand Corporation's Project Air Force for input to military air strategy development. Even those might be of a type that are commercial items.

I also think that seeking advice and assistance about strategic planning is "closely related" to his agency's mission. If advice and assistance in the development of an agency's strategic objectives and establishment of criteria for progress evaluation isn't closely related to an agency's mission, what is? A prospective A&AS contractor need not already be familiar with a specific agency's mission to provide A&AS.

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Guest Vern Edwards
22 hours ago, krusem said:

In addition, I am also reviewing guidance on PBSA as it relates to A&AS.  My initial belief was that developing a PWS would not be an issue, but in giving it more thought, maybe I was a bit naive.  This is certainly something I will have to discuss more thoroughly with my customer.

krusem:

Set aside thoughts of performance-based acquisition for a moment and ask yourself these questions:

Who and what do you want to be different after the contractor has performed?

Different in what ways?

Your office is about to undertake strategic planning. You want advice and assistance. About what? The nature of strategy? The nature of objectives? The nature of “strategic” objectives (as opposed to other kinds of objectives)? The nature of planning? The process of planning? The product(s) of planning?

When the contractor is finished giving advice and assistance, do you want your people to know something that they didn’t know before? If so, what? To be able to think about something in a way that they hadn’t thought before? If so, how? To be able to do something that they couldn’t do before? If so, what? How? To be ready to undertake strategic planning? Ready in what ways?

There is nothing more frustrating to a serious consultant, or rewarding to an opportunist consultant, than a client who cannot articulate what they want from you. They’re like the people who post a scenario at Wifcon and then ask, “Thoughts?”. They’re too lazy to think their inquiry through, so they want someone to do it for them. That's a lousy way to buy A&AS.

Before trying to write a statement of work (or a performance work statement), see if you or your "customer" can complete a sentence like this:

The contractor’s work will be successful when we

  1. know, or
  2. think, or
  3. are able to do, or
  4. are prepared do

X, which we didn’t know, think, were able to do, or were prepared to do before.

Until your office can complete that sentence in a way that makes sense to a third party, and provide clear answers to questions about it, it is not ready to buy A&AS. If your office goes forward anyway, planning to make it up as they go along after the contractor is on board, chances are they will waste their money. The funny thing about consulting is that it doesn't work for the clueless, it just takes their money and makes the consultant richer.

A while ago you said:

21 hours ago, krusem said:

In regards to the services, the contractor would assist the Government with strategic planning.  The purpose of strategic planning is to develop organizational objectives for a wide array of mission-related areas.

If I were to sit you down, right now, in front of a group of strangers and ask you to explain to them what you mean by "strategic planning," "organizational objectives," "wide array" and "mission-related," with examples, what would you say? Right now. Are you ready?

Would you be ready to answer those strangers' questions about what you say? What do you mean by "strategic"? What is strategy in your context? How is "strategic" planning different from other kinds of planning? What do you mean by "organizational objectives"? Give us some examples. "Mission-related" "areas"? Not mission "areas," just "areas" related to the mission? What do you mean by "areas"? Give us some examples. Are the "areas" related to the mission in the way that military logistics is related to combat operations? Some other kind of relation? 

What do you mean by "assist"? What would be the product (output, result) of the assistance? How would the assistance change the individuals or the organization that would be assisted, or their work, or the products of their work? Should they have answers to questions or just be able to ask intelligent questions and answer them?

Go off into a quiet corner, away from a phone and a computer, with just a pencil and paper, and think about the above.

That is the kind of thinking that makes contracting worth doing and that makes contracting people valuable to their organizations. It's what the truly great contracting people do.

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Guest Vern Edwards

krusem:

To continue with the notion of thinking things through:

On 4/27/2017 at 0:31 PM, krusem said:

Performance will occur over the course of a week long meeting by Government personnel, with a minor amount of time dedicated to gathering data prior to the meeting and compiling information after the meeting.

What "performance"? What kinds of activities do you envision as constituting performance?

A "week"? Why a week? How did you decide on a week? Five days or seven days? All day or just a few hours each day?

"Meeting"? What do you mean by meeting? What kind of meeting? What's to happen at that meeting? On-site or off-site? (If you don't do off-site you'll never get everyone to attend all sessions or to stay for all of any particular session. On Friday, you'll lose at least a third of the people who attended on Monday, assuming they hadn't already left by Wednesday.) What's to be the result?

"Government personnel"? What kind of personnel? How many?

"Data"? Gathering what data?

"Minor" amount of time? How do you define minor? Did you mean "minimum"? What minimum? Why only a minimum?

I realize that when you posted you did not expect to be asked those kinds of questions, and I'm not asking your for answers. in fact, I don't want answers. I'm just prompting you to think deeply about your office's requirement. That's where the fun is in contracting.

Again, find a quiet corner, and think.

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