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  • Vern Edwards

    Core Competencies? Outsourcing?

    By Vern Edwards

    An article in today's (Sept. 27, 2016) Wall Street Journal, "Amazon's Newest Ambition: Competing Directly with UPS and FedEx," the paper reports that Amazon is creating its own delivery system in response to rising shipping costs. An interesting comment: This seems to be a departure from the business model that developed in the 1980s and 1990s, in which a business identifies and focuses on its core competencies and outsources everything else. https://www.caycon.com/blog/2012/10/focus-on-core-competencies-and-outsource-the-rest/ There has even been talk about outsourcing core competencies. http://www.supplychain-forum.com/documents/articles/Premus & Sanders.pdf Goodness knows, the military has been accused of doing core competencies during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/outsourcing-war/ The government has pursued the outsourcing model (in its governmental way) for three decades now, and not without problems, as reflected in the misguided foray into "performance-based" contracting. Outsourcing has been administratively costly and time-consuming and has produced somewhat dubious results. Does the article about Amazon and its comment about the willingness of powerful tech companies to defy traditional business constraints suggest that we might be witnessing the return of an old business model within some industries? We've had the revolution. Are we seeing the beginnings of reaction? Has the cycle come full circle? Or are we just seeing a bold move by a bold entrepreneur, the kind of thing the government can't do. Say, isn't the OFPP Administrator going to Amazon? Maybe some of you should check to see if she's accepting resumes.
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  1. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act will essentially prevent the VA from developing its own regulations to determine whether a company is a veteran-owned small business.

    Yes, you heard me right.  If the President signs the current version of the 2017 NDAA into law, the VA will be prohibited from issuing regulations regarding the ownership, control, and size status of an SDVOSB or VOSB–which are, of course, the key components of SDVOSB and VOSB status.  Instead, the VA will be required to use regulations developed by the SBA, which will apply to both federal SDVOSB programs: the SBA’s self-certification program and the VA’s verification program.

    In my experience, the typical SDVOSB believes that VA verification applies government-wide, and relies on that VetBiz “seal” as proof of SDVOSB eligibility for all agencies’ SDVOSB procurements.  But contrary to this common misconception, there are two separate and distinct SDVOSB programs.  The SBA’s self-certification program (which is the “original” SDVOSB set-aside program) is authorized by the Small Business Act, which is codified in Title 15 of the U.S. Code and implemented by the SBA in its regulations in Title 13 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  The VA’s separate program is codified in Title 38 of the U.S. Code and implemented by the VA in its regulations in Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

    There are some important differences between the two programs.  For example, the VA requires that the service-disabled veteran holding the highest officer position manage the company on a full-time basis; the SBA’s regulations do not.  Following a 2013 Court of Federal Claims decision, the VA allows certain restrictions of a veteran’s ability to transfer his or her ownership, but that decision doesn’t necessarily apply to the SBA, which has held that “unconditional means unconditional,” as applied to transfer restrictions.  And of course, the VA’s regulations require formal verification; the SBA’s call for self-certification.

    Despite these important differences, the two programs are largely similar in terms of their requirements.  However, last year, the VA proposed a major overhaul to its SDVOSB and VOSB regulations.  The VA’s proposed changes would, among other things, allow non-veteran minority owners to exercise “veto” power over certain extraordinary corporate decisions, like the decision to dissolve the company.  The SBA has not proposed corresponding changes.  In other words, were the VA to finalize its proposed regulations, the substantive differences between the two SDVOSB programs would significantly increase, likely leading to many more cases in which VA-verified SDVOSBs were found ineligible for non-VA contracts.

    That brings us back to the 2017 NDAA.  Instead of allowing the VA and SBA to separately define who is (and is not) an SDVOSB, the 2017 NDAA establishes a consolidated definition, which will be set forth in the Small Business Act, not the VA’s governing statutes.  (The new statutory definition itself contains some important changes, which I will be blogging about separately).

    The 2017 NDAA then amends the VA’s statutory authority to specify that “[t]he term ‘small business concern owned and controlled by veterans’ has the meaning given that term under . . . the Small Business Act.”  A similar provision applies to the term “small business concern owned and controlled by veterans with service-connected disabilities.”

    Congress doesn’t stop there.  The 2017 NDAA further amends the VA’s statute to specify that companies included in the VA’s VetBiz database must be “verified, using regulations issued by the Administrator of the Small Business Administration with respect to the status of the concern as a small business concern and the ownership and control of such concern.”  At present, the relevant statutory section merely says that companies included in the database must be “verified.”  Finally, the 2017 NDAA states that “The Secretary [of the VA] may not issue regulations related to the status of a concern as a small business concern and the ownership and control of such small business concern.”

    So there you have it: the 2017 NDAA consolidates the statutory definitions of veteran-owned companies, and calls for the SBA–not the VA–to issue regulations implementing the statutory definition.  The 2017 NDAA requires the VA to use the SBA’s regulations, and expressly prohibits the VA from adopting regulations governing the ownership and control of SDVOSBs.  These prohibitions, presumably, will ultimately wipe out the two regulations with which many SDVOSBs and VOSBs are very familiar–38 C.F.R. 74.3 (the VA’s ownership regulation) and 38 C.F.R. 74.4 (the VA’s control regulation).

    Because both agencies will be using the SBA’s rules, the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals will have authority to hear appeals from any small business denied verification by the VA.  This is an important development: under current VA rules and practice, there is no option to appeal to an impartial administrative forum like OHA.  Intriguingly, the 2017 NDAA also mentions that OHA will have jurisdiction “f an interested party challenges the inclusion in the database” of an SDVOSB or VOSB.  It’s not clear whether this authority will be limited to appeals of SDVOSB protests filed in connection with specific procurements, or whether competitors will be granted a broader right to protest the mere verification of a veteran-owned company.

    So when will these major changes occur?  Not immediately.  The 2017 NDAA states that these rules will take effect “on the date on which the Administrator of the Small Business Administration and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs jointly issue regulations implementing such sections.”  But Congress hasn’t left the effective date entirely open-ended.  The 2017 NDAA provides that the SBA and VA “shall issue guidance” pertaining to these matters within 180 days of the enactment of the 2017 NDAA.  From there, public comment will be accepted and final rules eventually announced.  Given the speed at which things like these ordinarily play out, my best guess is that these changes will take effect sometime in 2018, or perhaps even the following year.

    The House approved the 2017 NDAA on December 2.  It now goes to the Senate, which is also expected to approve the measure, then send it to the President.  In a matter of weeks, the 180-day clock for the joint SBA and VA proposal may start ticking–and the curtain may start to close on the VA’s authority to determine who owns or controls a veteran-owned company.


    View the full article

  2. New Overtime Rule Blocked by Federal Judge | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA
     
    Hopefully you had already heard by now that the Department of Labor issued a new overtime rule that would require employers to pay time and a half to employees that worked more than forty hours a week and earned less than $47,476 a year. This raised the minimum earning level by about two times – from the current standard of $23,660 – and would have affected about 4.2 million American workers. The rule also established an automatic updating mechanism that would adjust the minimum salary level every three years. It was supposed to take effect on December 1, 2016; however, this rule has been blocked from going into effect by a federal judge in Texas.

    U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant issued a preliminary injunction on November 22 in a case filed by several states (twenty-one to be exact) challenging the rule against the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. The state plaintiffs argued that that new rule would cause an increase in government costs in their states and would cause businesses to have to pay substantially larger salaries.

    In issuing the preliminary injunction, Judge Mazzant found that the plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits because the rule exceeds the Department’s authority under Chevron. He further found that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction is not granted as agencies operating within budget constraints will have to comply with the rule to the detrimental effect on government services that benefit the public.

    Furthermore, the judge found that the balance of hardships favors the plaintiff because: “(1) the States will be required to spend substantial sums of unrecoverable public funds if the Final Rule goes into effect; and (2) the Final Rule causes interference with government services, administrative disruption, employee terminations or reclassifications, and harm to the general public.”

    In issuing the injunction, Judge Mazzant found a nationwide injunction to be proper as the new overtime rule is applicable to all states, not just the states participating in the suit. Furthermore, it is unclear the duration of this nationwide preliminary injunction. Specifically, Judge Mazzant enjoined the Department from implementing and enforcing the new overtime regulations “pending further order of this Court.”

    In a prepared statement, the Department of Labor stated that it “strongly disagrees with the decision by the court, which has the effect of delaying a fair day’s pay for a long day’s work for millions of hardworking Americans.”

    The statement goes on to read, “The Department’s Overtime Final Rule is the result of a comprehensive, inclusive rule-making process, and we remain confident in the legality of all aspects of the rule. We are currently considering all of our legal options.”

    Read the statement in full or find more information, including Judge Mazzant’s order.

    About the Author:

    Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
    Associate Attorney

    Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

     

    The post New Overtime Rule Blocked by Federal Judge appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


    View the full article

  3. I always thought that the FAR Matrix was a good idea that was poorly executed. To begin with, it's notorious for containing errors. Second, most of the entries in the "Principle Type and/or Purpose of Contract" columns are "A", Required when applicable, which means you have to look up the prescription anyway. Lastly, the matrix isn't going to tell you if your agency deviates from the FAR prescription, which DoD does a lot. As such, I created a matrix that I think overcomes these problems.

    A few things about the matrix:

    • It contains every provision and clause in the FAR, DFARS, and in DoD Class Deviation memoranda.
    • It doesn't have any "Principle Type and/or Purpose of Contract" columns except for a Commercial Items column.
    • It contains the actual prescription of the provision or clause. For readability, I removed the number and title of the provision or clause in the block and just wrote "use this provision..." or "use this clause..." The identifying information for the provision or clause is already contained in the row.
    • For DoD, it contains additional instructions for the use of FAR clauses that is contained in the DFARS or in a class deviation. This information appears in bold. If you work for a civilian agency, just ignore what's in bold.
    • In the "IBR" column (Incorporation by Reference), there are no "N" entries for "no", with the exception of the provisions and clauses prescribed at FAR 52.107. This may cause some people to freak out, so I'll explain. FAR 52.102(c) states:
    Quote

    Agency approved provisions and clauses prescribed in agency acquisition regulations, and provisions and clauses not authorized by Subpart 52.3 to be incorporated by reference, need not be incorporated in full text, provided the contracting officer includes in the solicitation and contract a statement that—

    (1) Identifies all provisions and clauses that require completion by the offeror or prospective contractor;

    (2) Specifies that the provisions and clauses must be completed by the offeror or prospective contractor and must be submitted with the quotation or offer; and

    (3) Identifies to the offeror or prospective contractor at least one electronic address where the full text may be accessed.

    Thus, if the FAR Matrix contained a "Y" in the IBR column, my matrix will also contain a "Y". If the FAR Matrix contained an "N" in the IBR column, or the provision or clause came from the DFARS or a DoD class deviation, then my matrix will contain a "Y*". The key at the top of the matrix contains an explanation for the "Y*" entry. If you're wondering how to incorporate a provision or clause that contains fill-in material or something the offeror must complete, see FAR 52.102(a) and FAR 52.104(d).

    You can see the matrix on the DAU Acquisition Community Connection. I'm open to suggestions for making it better. Also, I would like to think that it doesn't contain any errors. However, if you spot one please let me know. As an incentive, I will add your agency's provisions and clauses (the ones in Title 48 of the CFR) to the matrix if you point out a mistake.

     

  4. An article in today's (Sept. 27, 2016) Wall Street Journal, "Amazon's Newest Ambition: Competing Directly with UPS and FedEx," the paper reports that Amazon is creating its own delivery system in response to rising shipping costs. An interesting comment:

    Quote

    To constrain rising shipping costs, the online giant is building its own delivery operation, setting up a clash with its shipping partners...

    Amazon’s goal, these people say, is to one day haul and deliver packages for itself as well as other retailers and consumers—potentially upending the traditional relationship between seller and sender...

    Inside the company, executives describe, in the words of one senior official, how Amazon “is building a full-service logistics and transportation network effectively from the ground up.”

    Amazon’s push into the shipping sector reflects a willingness among today’s powerful tech companies to defy the traditional constraints of business and leap into new ones.

    This seems to be a departure from the business model that developed in the 1980s and 1990s, in which a business identifies and focuses on its core competencies and outsources everything else. https://www.caycon.com/blog/2012/10/focus-on-core-competencies-and-outsource-the-rest/

    There has even been talk about outsourcing core competencies. http://www.supplychain-forum.com/documents/articles/Premus & Sanders.pdf

    Goodness knows, the military has been accused of doing core competencies during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/outsourcing-war/

    The government has pursued the outsourcing model (in its governmental way) for three decades now, and not without problems, as reflected in the misguided foray into "performance-based" contracting. Outsourcing has been administratively costly and time-consuming and has produced somewhat dubious results.

    Does the article about Amazon and its comment about the willingness of powerful tech companies to defy traditional business constraints suggest that we might be witnessing the return of an old business model within some industries?

    We've had the revolution. Are we seeing the beginnings of reaction? Has the cycle come full circle? Or are we just seeing a bold move by a bold entrepreneur, the kind of thing the government can't do.

    Say, isn't the OFPP Administrator going to Amazon? Maybe some of you should check to see if she's accepting resumes.

  5. A key challenge to improving acquisition is defining what good contracting really is—and the proper skill sets necessary for those working within it. There are many different views on this topic that show up in various legislation, course curricula, job descriptions, and a variety of professional certifications across public- and private-sector agencies, firms, and associations. These include large government contractors; Defense Acquisition University; Federal Acquisition Institute; colleges and universities with supply chain, contract management, and business programs; corporate training criteria; and all manner of nonprofit standards and certifications. Unlike many other professions, there is no universally agreed upon “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” that gives those working in or contemplating entry into contracting a universally adopted set of competencies for today’s acquisition manager. Instead, “good contracting” and its skill sets are defined (if at all) piecemeal, employer by employer, segmented by type and size of organization.

    However, there are models in use today that could be a starting point. For example, the Volcker Alliance recently published a list of fundamental skills and experience required for those responsible for public procurement, based on interviews with procurement officials and academic experts, leveraging their expertise to develop a competency model and evaluate the current public procurement workforce against those competencies. 

    Very close to this model, with perhaps more depth and historical iterations, is the Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK), maintained by the National Contract Management Association. The initial compilation began with a job analysis of functions performed in public- and private-sector contracting. Now in its fourth edition, the CMBOK is a comprehensive standard that includes definitions from within the field, practices and processes, and the procedural steps applicable to contract management generally and to the commercial and government sectors in particular.

    Other organizations related to the field offer certifications based on smaller standards or high-level competency models. How difficult would it be to align these models more closely, recognizing their similarities? Are the basic principles of contract/procurement/supply chain/acquisition so unique to each sector, devoid of any overlap or redundancy? Or is it simply the case that depending on where the function is performed, some competencies require a greater or lesser degree of knowledge, experience, complexity, emphasis, or prominence?

    As is often the case, most organizations consider themselves unique, different, one of a kind, etc. However, aren’t the skill sets required for effective acquisition uniform, regardless of sector or employer? Leveraging the overwhelming numbers working in this field (known as strategic sourcing when involving purchasing power) could create a large, influential “market” of existing and potential professionals. This would drive competency-based education and training at the university level and offer lucrative, flexible career opportunities to entice people into the field earlier and convince them to stay longer.

    At the federal level, this might limit the routine attempts to legislate competencies and skill sets only pertinent to the U.S. government, (leaving large and small organizations throughout the nation to figure it out for themselves, depending on a smorgasbord of competency models to choose or ignore).

    An agreed to standard can emanate from existing competency models and professional communities, with the leadership of existing professionals in the field and existing professional organizations. It’s likely that some could view such collaboration as a threat, affecting existing business models and profit centers.  However, aligning the profession together will bring far greater improvement and efficiencies to private and public sector costs of doing business, so the sooner the process begins, the sooner the fruits of this labor will be realized.


    Michael P. Fischetti
    Executive Director
    National Contract Management Association

     

  6. Had you ever speculated on why April Fools’ Day seems to be such an important day for federal acquisition? After all, consider some of the regulatory and policy issuances on that day:

    • The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) became effective on April Fools’ Day (1984).

    • The Federal Aviation Administration became exempt from the FAR on April Fools’ Day (1996).

    • The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) memorandum on “Protests, Claims, and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as Factors in Past Performance and Source Selection Decisions” was issued on April Fools’ Day (2002).

    • Army Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (AFARS) Revision #25 was issued on April Fools’ Day (2010).

    • FAR Case 2010-015 on the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Program was published in the Federal Register on April Fools’ Day (2011).

    No doubt a little research would provide a number of additional examples.

    Frankly, if it were me, April Fools’ Day would probably be the last day that I would pick for issuing important regulations or policy statements. That is one day that I would avoid like the plague. [Note: The last statement is not technically correct, I would go to greater extremes to avoid the plague than to publish an acquisition policy or procedure on April Fools’ Day.] Why not just wait a day, and avoid all the innuendo and snickering? After all, consider, April has 29 other days that are perfectly suitable for issuing regulations, policies, procedures, guidance and information.

    Comparison of Major Contract Types

    For example, on Monday, April 25, 2016, the Defense Acquisition University/Defense Systems Management College updated the Acquisition Community Connection with a revised version of its Comparison of Major Contract Types (i.e., Comparison of Major Contract Types - April 2016). [For those who would like a direct link: https://acc.dau.mil/CommunityBrowser.aspx?id=214513.] The new version better aligns with the terminology in the Contract Pricing Reference Guides, updates the charts on the reverse, and adds a chart on “Achieving a Reasonably Challenging but Achievable (RCA) Target Cost,” one of topics discussed extensively in the new Guidance on Using Incentive and Other Contract Types.

    Over the years, various versions of the “Comparison” have been fairly popular (i.e., 94,863 Page Views and 80,840 Attachments Downloaded. Although, given the number of personnel in the Defense Statutory Acquisition Workforce Contracting Career Field, 29,690 as of the 2nd quarter of 2015, those Lifetime Activity numbers may not be all that high, relatively speaking.

    The April Fools’ Day Announcements for 2016

    So, it can be done. However, this April Fools’ Day (2016) Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy (DPAP) elected to issue two important pieces of procedures/guidance to the Defense Statutory Acquisition Workforce:

    • Guidance on Using Incentive and Other Contract Types (April 1, 1016).

    • Department of Defense Source Selection Procedures (SSP) (April 1, 1016).

    The Guidance

    Both documents have their warts. For instance, the Guidance incorrectly identifies one of the two statutory references for limitations on negotiation of price or fee. The good news is that thee one applicable to the DoD was identified correctly. Running the Spelling and Grammar checker one last time would not have been amiss.

    Warts aside, the results of this Better Buying Power (BBP) are somewhat disappointing. The Specific Action in the USD(AT&L) memorandum “Implementation Directive for Better Buying Power 2.0 - Achieving Greater Efficiency and Productivity in Defense Spending” was, “Director, DP will provide a draft policy guidance document on the use of incentives in contracting to the BSIG for review by July 1, 2013. The starting point for this document will be the DoD and NASA Guide, “Incentive Training (sic) Guide,” originally published in 1969.”

    For those of you unfamiliar with the Incentive Contracting Guide, it was the last of a number of such guides published in the 1960s. That particular version of the Guide was 252 pages. By comparison, the new Guidance is 41 pages. About 40 % of the Guidance is devoted to negotiation of fixed-price incentive (firm target) (FPIF) contracts in a sole-source environment a discussion of Reasonably Challenging but Achievable Target Cost (RCA), which go hand-in-hand. The coverage for Time and Materials/Labor Hour (T&M/LH) Contracts amounts to a paltry nine (9) lines. Ask yourself these two questions, “How many sole-source FPIF contracts does the Department award? If ‘T&M is the least preferable contract type,’ where should the emphasis have been placed?”

    For those of you who need guidance on structuring multiple incentive contracts the DOD and NASA Guide: Incentive Contracting Guide 1969 may be a better bet than the new Guidance. The good news is that it is still available on the Defense Acquisition University’s Acquisition Community Connection. [For those who would like a direct link: https://acc.dau.mil/CommunityBrowser.aspx?id=189615.]

    The Procedures

    The updated Source Selection Procedures are more than 505 longer than the previous version. The Procedures would have benefited from fact checking, copy editing and proof reading. Another warts issue.

    Warts aside, for those of you who will be involved in DoD source selections that meet the thresholds in the Procedures, you will want to give it a thorough read. Among other things, you will see some new descriptions of adjectival ratings and a new source selection procedure in APPENDIX B, “TRADEOFF SOURCE SELECTION PROCESS: SUBJECTIVE TRADEOFF AND VALUE ADJUSTED TOTAL EVALUATED PRICE (VATEP) TRADEOFF.” The latter came about as the result of USD(AT&L) memorandum “Implementation Directive for Better Buying Power 2.0 - Achieving Greater Efficiency and Productivity in Defense Spending.” Under the heading of Better define value in “best value” competitions there was a Specific Action, “Director, DP will review the ‘Process Manual’ developed by the joint Service team led by the Air Force and present a recommendation for adoption with any recommended changes to the BSIG by July 1, 2013.” You need to read the entire section to understand the direction. No doubt you will see a good deal of discussion about VATEP percolating up.

    Understand that although the Guidance and Procedures were issued on April Fools’ Day, they are no joke. Read them carefully, and implement them wisely.

  7. The Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 requires the Government Accountability Office (GA0) to report to the U. S. Congress annually when government agencies fail to fully implement its bid protest recommendations. GAO has posted these reports on its website since fiscal year (FY) 1995. Initially, these reports provided little information but by FY 2004, GAO published its "Bid Protest Statistics" covering FY 2004 through 2001. I have added every one of these reports to the fiscal year numbers at the top of the bid protest statistics.

    Beginning in its report for FY 2013, GAO began listing its "most prevalent reasons for sustaining protests" during the FY. This has continued for FY 2014 and FY 2015. Although the information provided does not include cases where an agency took corrective action before a formal sustained decision was reached, it does provided information on 227 sustained decisions. In that sense, it may provide some help whether you are trying to prevent a protest or whether you may protest a procurement.

    Below is my ranking of the most prevalent reasons for sustained protests listed by GAO for FY 2015 through FY 2013:

    1. failure to follow the evaluation criteria (listed 3rd in FY 2015 and 1st in FYs 2014 and 2013).
    2. unreasonable cost or price evaluation (listed 1st in FY 2015 and 4th in FY 2013) and
    3. inadequate documentation of the record (listed 4th in FY 2015 and 2nd in FY 2013)
    4. unequal treatment of offerors (listed 4th in FY 2014 and 3rd in FY 2013)
    5. unreasonable technical evaluation (listed 5th in FY 2015 and 3rd in FY 2014)

    This ranking also requires a caveat because the number of sustained protests varied significantly for FY 2015 (68), FY 2014 (72), and FY 2013 (87).

    Other reasons for sustained protests GAO listed include

    • unreasonable past performance evaluation (listed 2nd in FY 2015)
    • flawed selection decision (listed 2nd in FY 2014)

    In addition to listing the most prevalent reasons, GAO also gives 1 example decision for each of the most prevalent reasons it lists in a FY. For example, under unreasonable cost or price evaluation which GAO placed first in FY 2015, GAO lists Computer Sciences Corp.; HP Enterprise Servs., LLC; Harris IT Servs. Corp.; Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., B-408694.7 et al., Nov. 3, 2014, 2014 CPD ¶ 331.

    My listing of each decision that GAO provided as a most prevalent reason with a link to the decision is here.

    To me, the most striking reason for GAO sustaining a protest is inadequate documentation. That can be prevented by a thorough review of what documents are provided in the evaluation and selection decision. If there is something missing, identify it and correct it. You can get more information on the documentation issue by looking at the Wifcon.com protest page FAR 15.305 (a)(3): Technical Evaluation - Documentation.

    Another striking reason for sustained protests is the first that I list--failure to follow the evaluation criteria. One time a friend of mine was sitting on an evaluation panel for a GAO procurement that I had no involvement in at all. He had something extra he wanted to include in his evaluation of proposals and he asked me about it. Although I was stunned at the question, I simply told him that he must follow the evaluation criteria in the solicitation and if he had any questions he should ask the contracting officer--not me.

    Before ending this entry, I will once again remind you that the information provided by GAO only includes sustained protests. These are decisions in which the agency digs in its heels and fights the protest to a final decision. As GAO explains, "agencies need not, and do not, report any of the myriad reasons they decide to take voluntary corrective action." What you see here may be the tip of the iceberg.

  8. The long-standing principle that the federal government had the same implied duty of good faith and fair dealing as any commercial buyer was put in jeopardy by a 2010 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Precision Pine & Timber, Inc. v. U.S., 596 F.3d 817 (Fed. Cir. 2010). There a panel of the court adopted a narrow rule seemingly limiting application of the principle to situations where a government action was “specifically targeted” at the contractor or had the effect of taking away one of the benefits that had been promised to the contractor. Although the decision concerned a timber sales contract not a procurement contract, when I wrote it up in the May 2010 Nash & Cibinic Report (24 N&CR ¶ 22), I expressed the fear that the reasoning would be subsequently applied to procurement contracts.

    My fear was realized in a construction contract case, Metcalf Construction Co. v. U. S., 102 Fed. Cl. 334 (2011). In that decision, the judge described eggregious conduct on the part of the government officials that would have been held to be a breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing under many earlier cases. However, the judge held that under the Precision Pine standard, the contractor had not proved that the actions were specifically targeted at the contractor. In the February 2012 Nash & Cibinic Report (26 N&CR ¶ 9), I criticized this decision but stated that I believed that even if the decision was affirmed on appeal, most contracting officers would not take this as a signal that the proper way to administer contracts was to abuse the contractor.

    Fortunately, a panel of the Federal Circuit has reversed the decision, Metcalf Construction Co. v. U. S., 2014 WL 519596, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 2515 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 11, 2014). The court held that the lower court had read Precision Pine too narrowly and that “specific targeting” was only one example of the type of conduct that could constitute a breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. Importantly, the court also rejected the government’s argument that this “implied duty” only could be found when it was footed in some express provision of the contract. The court concluded that the correct rule was only that the express provisions of a contract had to be examined to ensure that they had not dealt with the conduct of the government; for if they had, they would override the implied duty.

    This leaves us in a tenuous position with regard to the views of the Federal Circuit. We have one panel in Precision Pine stating a narrow rule, another panel in Metcalf Construction stating the traditional rule, and a third panel in Bell/Heery A Joint Venture v. U.S., 739 F.3d 1324 (Fed. Cir. 2014), ruling in favor of the government because the contractor had not alleged facts showing that the government had “engaged in conduct that reappropriated benefits promised under the contract” (which is part of the Precision Pine reasoning). Thus, it is difficult to state where the judges of the Federal Circuit stand. Hopefully, the court will agree to take either Metcalf Construction or Bell/Heery to the full court for an en banc review of the issue.

    I’ve never been sure why the Department of Justice has so vigorously argued that the government should not be held to the same standards of conduct as a commercial buyer. Of course, persuading the courts and boards that a narrower standard should be applied to the government is a way to win litigated cases. But, in my view, encouraging abusive or non-cooperative conduct hurts the government as much as it hurts its contractors. I have taught for many years that in the long run the government benefits from actions that show industry that it is a fair contracting partner. A line of published judicial decisions that demonstrates that the government is not such a partner is one more of the many messages that tell companies they should sell to the government only when they can find no other customer. Surely, this is not the message that government agencies in need of products and services on the commercial marketplace want to convey to companies that can provide those products and services.

    Many years ago when I came to Washington to work in the field of government contracting, I concluded that there was one major advantage to being on the government side of the negotiating table. That advantage was that I was under no pressure to extract money from the contractor by unfair bargaining or unfair contract administration. To me fairness was an integral part of the job of a government employee. I still believe it and teach it. Thus, no matter what the outcome of the good faith and fair dealing litigation, I will continue to urge government employees that fair treatment of contractors is the only way to go.

    Ralph C. Nash

  9. When I get older, losing my hair

    Many years from now . . . .

    When I'm Sixty-Four

    John Lennon, Paul McCartney

    Shortly after we celebrate our country's independence on July 4, 2013, Wifcon.com will end its 15th year on the internet. With much help from the Wifcon.com community, I've raised a growing teenager. When I started, I was 49 and my hair was so thick that I often shouted ouch or some obscenity when I combed it. Wifcon.com has existed in 3 decades and parts of 2 centuries. During that period, I've updated this site for every work day--except for the week or so when I called it quits. I remember the feeling of relief. I thought it was over. However, many of you convinced me to bring it back. Yes, just when I thought I was out, many of you pulled me back in.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, someone once told me that Wifcon.com was my legacy. I once had great hopes for a legacy. Perhaps, a great saxophone player belting out a solo in front of thousands of fans and seeing them enjoying themselves. Instead, here I sit in my solitude looking for news, decisions, etc., to post to the home page. For many years, my dog Ambrose kept me company. Now, my dogs Blue Jay and Lily stare at me and look for attention. With my sights now set realistically, I accept that Wifcon.com is my legacy. It's the best I could do.

    Every now and then, I receive an e-mail from someone thanking me for Wifcon.com. They tell me how it helped their careers. These e-mails keep me and Wifcon.com going.

    Send me a postcard, drop me a line,

    Stating point of view

    Indicate precisely what you mean to say

    Yours sincerely, wasting away

    Give me your answer, fill in a form

    When I'm Sixty-Four

    John Lennon, Paul McCartney

    The thoughts in these e-mails won't let me quit. I still search each night for something to add to the site in hopes that it will increase your knowledge. If I find something new, I still get excited. Often, it feels like a self-imposed weight around my neck. What started as a release for my imagination has evolved into a continuing and daily addition to the contracting community. In the evenings, it is as if I'm Maillardet's automaton. I head over to my office, sit before the computer, and update. Then I send the updated pages to Virginia where it is accessed from around the world. Maybe I'm addicted to Wifcon.com; maybe I was born with the Wifcon.com gene.

    If you haven't added the numbers, I'm 64 now. Wifcon.com and I are showing our age. I can comb the top of my head with my fingers. The ouches and other obscenities caused by my once thick hair are gone. A recent upgrade to the discussion forum requires that I turn the "compatibility mode" off on my browser. In that mode, I realized that Wifcon.com is ugly. I have current software for the needed future redo of this site.

    I am Wifcon.com; Wifcon.com is me. It is my legacy and my albatross. As always, thank you for your support.

    You'll be older too,

    And if you say the word,

    I could stay with you.

    When I'm Sixty-Four

    John Lennon, Paul McCartney