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Michael11

CPARS comments

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On 11/15/2017 at 4:45 PM, Boof said:

The CPAR system is set up to keep COs from being pressured into changing performance reports.  Once the report goes to the contractor it cannot be withdrawn and changed.  The Contractor makes thier comments and either requests review or not.  I have seen the comments section of an outstanding report read like a multi page advertisment for the company.  All the comments stay with the report.  In the case of judicial action, the Department Point of Contact (DPOC) for CPARS can request the report be placed back in draft for rewrite but this is only done in extreme cases.  If you go to the CPAR website you can find the CPAR guidebook that lays out the whole reporting system.  I believe the guide is before a sign in so anyone can access it.  

You are right in that it is supposed to be, but I am facing a situation now where a bad contractor contested their rating.  As the reviewing official I reviewed what they wrote and the contract file, spoke with the contractor and the contracting officer and then made a decision to uphold the Unsatisfactory rating.  The contractor then proceeded to get political appointees involved and now all heck is busting loose.  Sad, but true.  

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Desparado in my asking around the last week or so I have heard several cases like this. Several big boy contractors leaning on people in high places to get their ratings changed if they weren't happy with them. 

We have been rated exceptional on one contract and then didn't do a single thing differently on another and got satisfactory.

Yes, the contractor commentary follows the evaluation for future source selections. But ultimately that rating, even if it's a very small part of a broader evaluation criteria, means something. It's important. It could be the difference. Contractors shouldn't have to lawyer up to make a case for their CPARS

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1 hour ago, Michael11 said:

I would still be interested in contractor or govt POV for what is considered exceptional work in areas like cost control.

This is from the 2016 CPARS Guidebook (you can Google it):

 

Quote

 

A3.28  Cost Control.  (Not required for Fixed Price type contracts/orders).  Assess the
contractor’s effectiveness in forecasting, managing, and controlling contract/order cost.  If the
contractor is experiencing cost growth or underrun, discuss the causes and contractor-proposed
solutions for the cost overruns or underruns.  For contracts/orders where task or contract sizing
is based upon contractor-provided person hour estimates, the relationship of these estimates to
ultimate task cost should be assessed.  In addition, the extent to which the contractor
demonstrates a sense of cost responsibility, through the efficient use of resources, in each work
effort should be assessed.  Include, as applicable, the following information:

•     Does the contractor keep within the total estimated cost (what is the relationship of the
negotiated costs and budgeted costs to actuals)?
•     Did the contractor do anything innovative that resulted in cost savings?
•     Were billings current, accurate and complete?
•     Are the contractor’s budgetary internal controls adequate?
•     Has the contractor provided a design that can be constructed with the available funds?
•     Has the contractor notified the Government and taken necessary corrective actions when the
cost estimate exceeds available funds?

Evaluation information regarding performance under an Undefinitized Contract Action (UCA),
including letter contracts and actions where price has not yet been negotiated, shall be included
in the annual evaluation.  If the final negotiated contract/order type is not a cost-type, cost
information for the period the UCA was in effect shall be included under the Cost Control element. 
If the final negotiated contract/order type is a cost-type, cost information for the entire period
of performance shall be included under the Cost Control rating element. The narrative shall fully
explain the contractor’s performance during the UCA, including definitization of the
contract/order.  The contractor’s performance under the UCA shall be separately identified but
considered in the overall annual ratings.

 

As ji states, it's in the eye of the beholder, really. When I was Focal Point, if I saw "Exceptional," that was a red flag to me. Even if the contractor deserved it, the narrative rarely supported it. Your best bet, in my opinion, is to learn how to craft a compelling CPARS narrative yourself. That way, when you non-concur, the Reviewing Official (and possibly Focal Point) will see that you're speaking the correct language. He'll have to take you more seriously than if you had just aired your grievances or resorted to superlatives, as many contractors (and program officials and COs) do.
 

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Noting that the government is entitled to strict compliance, in what ways does exceeding contractual requirements to the benefit of the government (exceptional and very good) comport with 31 U.S. Code § 1342, Limitation on Voluntary Services?

Is there a contract administration concern that contracting officers should consider?

http://www.governmentcontractsadvisor.com/gao-treasury-violated-antideficiency-acts-prohibition-on-voluntary-services

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19 hours ago, Jamaal Valentine said:

Is there a contract administration concern that contracting officers should consider?

Jamaal - I have not looked at Limitation on Voluntary Services case law apart from the link you sent, but I don't see a lot of risk here in the context of contractors going "above and beyond" to obtain better performance ratings. For instance, Quality and Schedule expectations could be exceeded simply by exceeding the metrics in the QASP and PWS. In a performance-based environment, the Government wouldn't necessarily be concerned with the path that the contractor took to get there, even if that path were introduced by the contractor mid-performance.

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FrankJon:

On 11/25/2017 at 1:24 AM, FrankJon said:

For instance, Quality and Schedule expectations could be exceeded simply by exceeding the metrics in the QASP and PWS.

A coworker and I discussed the very same thing. We turned on the language "Performance meets contractual requirements and exceeds many/some to the Government’s benefit."

I don't know that expectations are synonymous with requirements. The minimum acceptable metric(s) are the requirements.

To be clear, I don't see much, if any, risk here either. The rating system just seems oddly written in light of the rules. Seems like the only way to achieve more than a Satisfactory rating is to do more than contractually required and more than consideration was provided for. The idea was more watercooler talk than anything. It was interesting enough that I wanted to hear others thoughts.

In my experience, contractors get Satisfactory ratings, without meaningful rationale, unless an official can easily document a different rating (up or down).

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If the Government is serious about streamlining and saving the man hours they are taking away from us in downsizing then they need to scrap the whole past performance system.  The CO would only report performance that is substandard after proving the contractor was given a chance to improve.   I say this because your large contractors have both greatly sucessful contracts and some failures.  Sometimes the failure is only due to picking a poor project manager without good intercommunication skills. When you are on a source selection board you read both good and bad reports on that contractor and it does you little good.  It is unrealistic to expect a contractor who is graded on profitability to increase their costs to give the Government something above what they contracted for (satisfactory). 

All the bad reports would flow to a Government Wide Debarrment Official who would debar any contractor receiving a high percentage of poor performance reports compared to their total contract awards.   All companies would be equal if they have no poor reports. My suggestion would save thousands of man hours in writing and processing CPAR reports, simplify source selections, and eliminate one of the largest protest issues.    

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2 hours ago, Boof said:

The CO would only report performance that is substandard after proving the contractor was given a chance to improve. 

Boof - I like where you're going with this. The past performance assessment system is broken: "Very Good" or "Exceptional" have become the default ratings expected by both sides, narratives are often insubstantial and wildly inconsistent, and most agencies are severely non-compliant in terms of doing assessments when required by the FAR. Something needs to change. I like your idea about requiring evidence for starters. If CORs were required to upload their monthly performance reports, this would help to hold CORs accountable for actually drafting these reports in the first place, and would be a form of documented evidence supporting or contradicting any assertions made in the annual assessment.

2 hours ago, Boof said:

Sometimes the failure is only due to picking a poor project manager without good intercommunication skills.

Isn't this a valid risk indicator, though? All else being equal, wouldn't you prefer the contractor with the better track record of choosing quality personnel? OK, so large contractors have much larger sample sizes to choose from, and therefore maybe an increased likelihood of having negative assessments vs. small contractors with smaller sample sizes. I don't think this is the problem you imply it is. First, the Government conducting the source selection will often never see that assessment unless the contractor points it out. Second, I think (hope?) that your average 1102 will have the common sense to factor sample size into the equation when issuing source selection ratings.

2 hours ago, Boof said:

It is unrealistic to expect a contractor who is graded on profitability to increase their costs to give the Government something above what they contracted for (satisfactory). 

Disagree with this perspective. See my above exchange with Jamaal. Yes, it may be more costly to hire better quality people who are capable of exceeding acceptable quality level (AQL) metrics, but this decision was made to win the contract in the first place, not necessarily with an eye toward getting better past performance marks (although this would be a plausible outcome). Once a contract is in progress, I would imagine that more often than not, the quality of performance is impacted by output of personnel on the ground, not by active business decision-making. Let's say I have a metric in my QASP (and let's say it's the only metric) that states: "Answer telephone within 3 rings 95% of the time." 95% would merit "Satisfactory" for the Quality rating. Any higher would merit "Very Good" or "Exceptional" in my book, and I would ensure my narrative supported this. The ability of a contractor to exceed this metric is completely at the discretion of the personnel chosen to fill the role, not the company.

2 hours ago, Boof said:

All the bad reports would flow to a Government Wide Debarrment Official who would debar any contractor receiving a high percentage of poor performance reports compared to their total contract awards. 

Note that a history of poor performance already is a cause for debarment (FAR 9.406-2(b)(1)(i)(b)). I don't imagine that it's cited very often, though, so maybe having automated "red flags" that trigger agency reviews would be a good practice.

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33 minutes ago, FrankJon said:

it may be more costly to hire better quality people who are capable of exceeding acceptable quality level (AQL) metrics,

This may make good business sense in a best value environment, however, we have DCAA lurking in the background to audit contractor compensation costs.  To DCAA, anything above the median paid by comparable sized firms in the same industry as the contractor, plus 10%, is unreasonable and is to be questioned. 

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On 11/15/2017 at 2:45 PM, Boof said:

The CPAR system is set up to keep COs from being pressured into changing performance reports. 

Boof:

Are you saying that is the purpose of CPAR system? If so, please provide authoritative support for that assertion.

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19 hours ago, FrankJon said:

The past performance assessment system is broken: "Very Good" or "Exceptional" have become the default ratings expected by both sides, narratives are often insubstantial and wildly inconsistent, and most agencies are severely non-compliant in terms of doing assessments when required by the FAR. Something needs to change.

Yes, something needs to change---contracting officers and their COTRs, the people who are responsible for those insubstantial and wildly inconsistent narratives and for noncompliances. Maybe the system isn't broken. Maybe the users are lazy, or incompetent, or lazy and incompetent.

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.... or maybe overworked and understaffed and like all administrative activities, it doesn't receive the priority from management that pre-award and award activities do.  It's all about obligating the money and after that senior management doesn't care unless there is a problem. 

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1 hour ago, Vern Edwards said:

Maybe the users are lazy, or incompetent, or lazy and incompetent.

Vern - Those may be root causes indeed, but then you're talking about human nature (i.e., laziness and variance in intellectual capability). Following along this path, through years of failure, the current system has shown that it does not account for human nature (possible reasons include lack of intuitiveness, high degree of effort, lack of incentive, among others). Any system requiring human interface that does not take into account human nature is not optimized. 

Look, the objective is to have meaningful past performance data to make better buying decisions. How do we get there with the workforce we have? I do not think that traditional approaches intended to "get the horse to drink" are the most effective or efficient means of achieving that objective. I think that rethinking how we go about achieving the objective is the more promising path. Referring back to Boof's post, I think that requiring documentary evidence with each assessment is one of multiple changes that ought to be considered. 

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34 minutes ago, FrankJon said:

Look, the objective is to have meaningful past performance data to make better buying decisions. How do we get there with the workforce we have?

We can't.

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The most obvious problem with CPARS is the policy in FAR 42.1502(b):

Quote

Contracts. Except as provided in paragraphs (e), (f), and (h) of this section, agencies shall prepare evaluations of contractor performance for each contract (as defined in FAR part 2) that exceeds the simplified acquisition threshold and for each order that exceeds the simplified acquisition threshold. Agencies are required to prepare an evaluation if a modification to the contract causes the dollar amount to exceed the simplified acquisition threshold.

That is waaaaay too many contracts, even at the new SAT of $250,000. Whoever set that threshold was an idiot to do so. As a practical matter, the cost of preparing an evaluation for "each contract" above the SAT exceeds the benefits and thus wastes government resources.

The most obvious fix to the system is to limit requirements for CPARS reporting. We should not require a CPARS evaluation for any sole source contract, for any contract terminated for default, for any contract for widely available commodities, for any contract that is part of a competition for system development, for any weapon production contract, for any award fee contract, or for any other contract valued at less than, say, $15,000,000 (an admittedly arbitrary amount--maybe it should be $20M or $50M). If I thought about it for a while longer I would come up with other exclusions. For all non-CPARS reported contracts, COs should be told to assess past performance during source selection simply by calling former government customers.

I don't like Boof's solution at all. COs should report good past performance as well as bad. His statement: "It is unrealistic to expect a contractor who is graded on profitability to increase their costs to give the Government something above what they contracted for (satisfactory)." He apparently isn't thinking in terms of marketing and customer relations on their effect on profitability. That's government employee level thinking. I know of plenty of businesses that deliver more or better than required in order to capture or keep a customer. I'm one of them. Besides, top notch performance does not always cost more.

As for evidence and consistency... get real. I wrote the following last year:

Quote

What an agency gets from past performance evaluation is not THE TRUTH, but a sense of the past, a belief grounded in both fact and opinion, a judgment that is not beyond a reasonable doubt. Nobody knows what really happened. They know only what they believe happened or want others to believe happened.

The key to solving our problems is to develop a truly professional workforce. You get crummy CPARS narratives for the same reason you get crummy price negotiation memoranda and source selection documentation---too many people who don't want to think and write.

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COs have got to stop looking for someone or something else to justify their decision making.  CPARS is the ultimate GI/GO system ever produced, and that's all it will ever be: a dump for widely disparate, ad-hoc, self-selected, perspective-based narratives, written many times by people who can barely string a sentence together (although PPIRS is technically the "dump").  

Every contract failure has a context that is not universal, and needs to be judged on its own, using sound, professional judgement, with a view towards how any past failure applies to the procurement at hand.  No CO worth the paper their warrant is printed on would ever say "There is no need to apply post-award contract surveillance because of the contractor's excellent CPARS assessments", yet centering an award decision on a bad CPARS rating is somehow considered logical.   That's what has to change.  This is not a software problem.

 

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2 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Maybe the users are lazy, or incompetent, or lazy and incompetent.

Vern, one more possibility needs to be added to your list and that is the individual preparing the CPARS is simply venal and wants to inflict needless pain on the contractor.  As a consultant to contractors, I have seen too many instances in which the contracting officer has rated a contractor poorly because of the consequences of the contracting officer's improper actions.  One of the most egregious examples of this was a situation where the government's version of the contract had one set of specifications and the contractor's copy had a different version of the specs.  Because the contractor performed to what was in its contract, it got a poor CPARS because it did not perform to the unknown specs in the government's version. 

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