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RFPs for Commercial Items

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Guest Vern Edwards

I just finished reviewing a 132-page RFP for commercial items. It is not written in the Uniform Contract Format, which does not apply to solicitations for commercial items.

The RFP does not include a table of contents. It's format does not include page breaks at the beginning of each new section. So, for instance, the "Performance Work Statement" begins in the middle of page 58, right after the end of an unrelated solicitation provision.

I have seen many RFPs for commercial items like this one. Using the pdf search feature is tedious and often ineffective, because you have to guess at the wording that the author has used for a topic. Reading such RFPs is like reading long stream of consciousness passages in modern novels.

Why don't contracting officers include tables of contents in lengthy solicitations for commercial items? Is there some rule, policy, or prejudice against it, or is it just a matter of neglect? FAR 12.303 does not mention tables of contents, and unlike SF 26 and SF 33, SF 1449 does not include a table of contents template, but does FAR have to tell people to do every little thing?

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Vern asked: “does FAR have to tell people to do every little thing?”

Me:  Sadly, apparently so.

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1 hour ago, Vern Edwards said:

Why don't contracting officers include tables of contents in lengthy solicitations for commercial items?

Just a guess but it could be that the electronic tool that they use to create a solicitation does have this feature included in it.

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1 hour ago, Vern Edwards said:

Why don't contracting officers include tables of contents in lengthy solicitations for commercial items?

Uncle Sam and his insulated agents do what they can, while industry suffers what it must. 

1 hour ago, Vern Edwards said:

but does FAR have to tell people to do every little thing?

That's a great question, and it depends on the quality of the people. Wifcon members, let's put our minds together to find a way to improve the federal contracting workforce. What's the fastest way to significant improvement? Is it finding the top talent or eliminating the worst dregs? Forget about the fat middle for a moment. 

Some people can only respond to clear instructions and can only function under strict routines. Should such people occupy prestigious, white-collar positions where they manage the negotiation and obligation of millions of dollars of taxpayer money? No, but there they are...

Here's an idea for the weekend. Some frog should design a simple test, a threshold examination, that cannot guarantee brilliance but can totally weed out stupidity. This test could be applied to any potential federal employee. It would be very inexpensive to administer and far more predictive of success than any job interview.

As intelligence is a social construct of the oppressive patriarchy of Western Civilization, this test would not measure intelligence. After all, intelligence tests are discriminatory because they do not produce equal outcomes. Every tolerant person knows this is true. Our renowned, wise, and brave federal courts taught us that tests that produce unequal outcomes are evil and discriminatory (look up the brilliant and vibrant judicial doctrine of "disparate impact"). In their infinite wisdom, the federal courts largely outlawed intelligence tests for employment, including federal employment. Look up the dastardly consequences of the evil Civil Service Exam...for shame! This is not who we are!

"The original civil service test was thrown out by the Nixon administration after a lawsuit in 1972 claimed it was biased ...[REDACTED]...A new test was developed ...[REDACTED]...After another discrimination case, the Carter administration signed a consent decree in 1981 agreeing to abolish it." Full quotation, including what is in the ellipses, is available in this Washington Post article, PepeTheFrog cannot even bear to include the full quotation:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2015/04/02/for-federal-worker-hopefuls-the-civil-service-exam-is-making-a-comeback/?utm_term=.9f7254d54df3 

So, America will keep that dark chapter behind us. Instead, this test would only measure things strongly correlated with intelligence. The test could be called the Civilian Service Vocational Aptitude Battery (CSVAB).

As a model or starting point, use military's test, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which has decades data showing predictive success. Somehow, the federal courts and attorneys left the ASVAB alone. That must mean that the ASVAB is not really an intelligence test in disguise. The lunatic conspiracy theorists say they left the ASVAB alone, and just fiddled with the various thresholds for certain groups, because national security is at stake and many people will die if you put stupid people in the wrong positions in the military, but that's just hate speech. Don't believe that for a second! PepeTheFrog has even seen Russian bots spreading fake news like that on unsanctioned, non-prestigious websites. Very, very un-American speech.

So what do you say, Wifcon? Would such a test improve the federal contracting workforce? 

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This seems more a result of poor communication skills than anything else. If I am generating a solicitation for you (prospective contractor), it is in my best interest to ensure it's organized in a way that is conducive for you to understand and to generate responsive proposals on your end. Poor articulation/presentation of requirements is just asking for confusion, regardless of whichever FAR sections are utilized.

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On 9/28/2018 at 11:37 AM, PepeTheFrog said:

So what do you say, Wifcon? Would such a test improve the federal contracting workforce? 

It would, it would just take a generation to get the full results.  

I believe the new proposal to conduct surveys after solicitations may also get to similar results with the existing workforce.   If used effectively, I'd hope that such surveys would identify both best practices (top 10%) and worst practices (bottom 10%) and address them - maybe not with new regulations, but rather improved tools, training and sharing.    At least at the beginning, it would help identify where the worst pain and best practices are, as identified by everyone involved.

That's the hope anyway, time will tell.  

  

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On 9/28/2018 at 10:37 AM, PepeTheFrog said:

So what do you say, Wifcon? Would such a test improve the federal contracting workforce? 

I do not believe it would.  After a career both in the military and in civil service (30 years combined... and counting), I can tell you that the ASVAB didn't do that good of a job of weeding out people undeserving of higher-level occupational series in the military and I don't think it would with civil service either.  Where the military does weed out most (admittedly not all) of the people that shouldn't be in those positions is with it's full-time training program (aka.. AIT) after basic training.  However, in civil service that would mean that you couldn't have your new employee work on anything until after months of training, and in today's short-staffed environment... that just doesn't work.  

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20 hours ago, Desparado said:

ASVAB didn't do that good of a job of weeding out people undeserving of higher-level occupational series in the military and I don't think it would with civil service either

Fair point, but consider that what you mean by "ASVAB" is "ASVAB with the current minimum thresholds plus certain changes (exceptions) made to increase America's greatest strength, which must never be questioned." 

Don't blame the ASVAB or its equivalents. It's a measurement tool. Raise the minimum thresholds and don't give any exceptions to anyone, for any reason. 

Don't blame the thermostat for your house being hot. Turn up the AC. Raise the minimum thresholds on the ASVAB, or any other test, if it's not giving you the results you want. The critical function of a threshold test is simply to eliminate everyone below a certain level. That's it.

20 hours ago, Desparado said:

I do not believe it would.

Do you not agree that eliminating all average or stupid people from federal employment (at least in contracting) is a good thing?

Imagine a federal contracting workforce with only above-average people. Of course, the drastic changes to the workforce would cause the pitchforks to come out. But a frog can dream! 

@Vern Edwards has suggested splitting the contracting workforce into higher-level contracting officers (focused on market research, negotiation, analysis, critical thinking, etc.) and what PepeTheFrog (not Vern Edwards) is crudely calling "everyone else," who would do the administrative, clerical, and purchasing work. (This is similar to when there was a substantial 1105 job series to complement the 1102 job series.) Why not use the minimum threshold test for the higher-level contracting officers, and use the "everyone else" workforce for the socioeconomic jobs program?

 

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