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If a C.O. wants to award LPTA, but the agency doesn't allow it (politics!), instead requiring a time-consuming Best Value analysis where past performance is more important than price, does anything stop the C.O. from very simply determining that the lowest-priced offeror has the highest possible past performance rating and awarding to them without looking at any other proposal?  Considering that if protested, the GAO almost always protects the C.O.'s judgment in their technical evaluation of the awardee so long as a nice and flowery reasonable-judgment memo is done and all that, this is a workable strategy, right?

Even if the memo isn't perfect, it seems to work: Compare Dorado Services, B-401930.3 (June 7, 2010) (finding that the contracting officer's assignment of a "substantial confidence" rating to the awardee was not unreasonable despite the fact that the awardee had received lower ratings and more unfavorable comments from its references and experienced more performance problems under its contracts) than the protestor.  In fact, since the none of the other proposals were evaluated, those offerors won't even have this kind of ammunition.

 

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How lowest-price-technically-accrptable-high-confidence approach?

Evaluate the lowest-price offer for technical acceptability and past performance -- if that offer gets a PASS on technical acceptability and a HIGH CONFIDENCE on past performance, make the award -- that is the best value. 

If not, repeat the process with the next-lowest-price offer, and so on. 

If you get three (or five) technically acceptable and still don't have a high confidence, do a price-past performance tradeoff among the three (or five) lowest-price technically acceptable offers.

 

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17 hours ago, Acquirer said:

If a C.O. wants to award LPTA, but the agency doesn't allow it (politics!), instead requiring a time-consuming Best Value analysis where past performance is more important than price, does anything stop the C.O. from very simply determining that the lowest-priced offeror has the highest possible past performance rating and awarding to them without looking at any other proposal?  Considering that if protested, the GAO almost always protects the C.O.'s judgment in their technical evaluation of the awardee so long as a nice and flowery reasonable-judgment memo is done and all that, this is a workable strategy, right?

15 hours ago, ji20874 said:

Evaluate the lowest-price offer for technical acceptability and past performance -- if that offer gets a PASS on technical acceptability and a HIGH CONFIDENCE on past performance, make the award -- that is the best value. 

@AcquirerI question whether what you and ji20874 are proposing would survive a protest against the terms of the solicitation. If you were buying anything that is truly technical, especially services, for which quality is important, then I think that GAO or the Court of Federal Claims might sustain a protest that what you have proposed is a thinly-disguised attempt to dodge the statutory restrictions on the use of LPTA.

See the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report entitled, "Defense Primer: Lowest Price Technically Acceptable Contracts," Jan. 22, 2021. What bothered Congress about LPTA was the absence of a willingness on the part of the government to make tradeoffs between the quality of what was being offered and the price that was being paid. According to the report:

Quote

Critics of DOD’s use of LPTA argue that by not providing industry with a business incentive to offer better performance, there is no motivation for industry to develop new, improved, or innovative products and services in circumstances where DOD could benefit from better contractor performance. The use of LPTA conditions the government market to offer potentially less desirable goods and services because the incentive structure encourages firms to reduce their prices as long as their product remains above the threshold of technical acceptability. Further, critics argue that LPTA contracts are not always the most effective and efficient approach to ensuring quality and performance in the long term; these analysts argue that the use of LPTA may sacrifice long-term value for short-term savings.

The approach that you and ji20874 have described does not involve quality/price tradeoffs, which is exactly what Congress didn't like about LPTA.

How hard can a past performance/price tradeoff process be?

But there is another way out, and it doesn't involve the use of dodgy source selection procedures. Why not use sealed bidding and treat past performance as a responsibility factor? Sealed bidding is the preferred method of conducting acquisitions valued about the SAT. See FAR 6.401. I used to get a kick out of bid openings. Might be fun.

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Acquirer, you didn't say the requirement was for services or for anything very technical, so I'm not assuming otherwise.  And you want an approach that allows for both LP and TA, so I won't assume LPTA is constrained for your situation.  If you have already concluded that price-technical tradeoffs are not needed for your procurement, I am okay with that for this discussion.

So I want to met you where you are.  The approach I described above is also called Price-Past Performance Tradeoff (PPTO) -- it is easy and honorable, and has been upheld by the GAO.  There are variations in how it is done among agencies and practitioners.  Here's an extract from a NASA document that might help you accomplish what you want to do:

 

Quote

 

• PPTO:

–  Is a simplified best value source selection strategy

–  Permits trade-off between price and performance in reaching award decision

–  Applies to commercial and non-commercial acquisitions

–  Normally, conducted without discussions

• PPTO is NOT:
– Sealed Bidding or Low-Price/Technically Acceptable

  *.    *.    *.    *

Can be used for any competitive negotiated acquisition for which it is unnecessary to distinguish levels of technical merit

  *.    *.    *.    *

Step 5: The Government will evaluate the past performance of the lowest priced offer from Step 4 in accordance with the Section M provision entitled Past Performance Factor Evaluation. The evaluation will continue in order of lowest to highest total price until an offer is assigned a “Very High Level of Confidence” rating, or until all offers are evaluated. Once an offer is rated with a “Very High Level of Confidence,” no additional offers will be evaluated. All offers evaluated under past performance will be forwarded to the Source Selection Authority (SSA).

Step 6: The SSA will make a best value award decision most advantageous to the Government.

 

 

One variation between the approach I described above and this NASA text is the NASA evaluation proceeds until an offeror gets the highest past performance rating and my approach stops at three (or five).  The circumstances of your procurement might suggest leaning one way or the other.

If perhaps you have erred in thinking that price-technical tradeoffs are needed for your procurement in accordance with FAR guidance, as another poster surmises, then you need to go back to square one.  If perhaps you have erred in thinking that the TA part of LPTA is needed for your procurement, and if perhaps you have erred in thinking your agency requires that past performance be treated as more important than price, then sealed bidding is a possibility as recommended by that poster.  But I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on these matters in this discussion.

 

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The requirement is a somewhat complex service with some unique military requirements and systems, but we consider it commercial.

LPTA is a big no-no.  I am ordered to do a best value tradeoff with past performance being more important than price. And then my boss wants to do a quick award to the lowest.

Doing it this way feels a bit unfair (will be throwing away dozens of proposals without looking at them, probably the incumbent, too), but I'm told it's allowed if the RFP says that's what we're going to do.  That is, give the lowest priced offeror a substantial confidence rating and award without looking at any other proposal.  From past experience, it's likely the lowest priced offeror will not be that impressive, often these haven't done any government work, but I'm told to write a good memo and pass them as substantial and no one will question it. 

I found another Wifcon thread where this was discussed and everyone seemed to be fine with it, even the GAO:

http://www.wifcon.com/discussion/index.php?/topic/2910-can-agency-just-award-to-highest-rated-highest-priced-proposal-without-explaining-the-tradeoff-ppt-question/

So, is this a common practice?  Even with other factors being more important than price, we really can just award to the lowest offer we can dress up as substantial confidence and ignore all those other proposals?

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@AcquirerHere is a link to a 2017 14-slide presentation about the method that NASA calls "price performance tradeoff."

https://doingbusiness.msfc.nasa.gov/documents/3128625/3169091/PPTO.pdf/10701f66-2e49-270e-2f95-3dc0f29ba94e

Note this on slide 2:

Quote

Permits trade-off between price and performance in reaching award decision

Of course, tradeoff analysis is what you would like to avoid.

Now here is how you described your proposed method:

18 hours ago, Acquirer said:

very simply determining that the lowest-priced offeror has the highest possible past performance rating and awarding to them without looking at any other proposal?

You said you wanted to do that "instead requiring a time-consuming Best Value analysis where past performance is more important than price," and you expressly asked if that was a "workable strategy."  

ji20874 seems to think that it is:

16 hours ago, ji20874 said:

Evaluate the lowest-price offer for technical acceptability and past performance -- if that offer gets a PASS on technical acceptability and a HIGH CONFIDENCE on past performance, make the award -- that is the best value.

Emphasis added.

If you don't look at any other proposal, and don't compare proposals on at least one nonprice factor and trade it off against price, then I don't see how you can say you've made a tradeoff. And It's the lack of tradeoffs that prompted Congress to restrict the use of LPTA. 

I have speculated that if you use your approach and a protester challenges it as essentially an LPTA prohibition work-around, then you run the risk that the protest will be sustained. I think that's a reasonable speculation. See Inserso Corp., GAO B-417791, Nov. 4, 2019.

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Inserso Corporation, of Vienna, Virginia, protests the terms of request for quotations (RFQ) No. 1369887, issued by the Department of the Air Force for information technology (IT) and cybersecurity services. Inserso asserts that the agency is using lowest-priced, technically acceptable (LPTA) award criteria in violation of section 813(c) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, Pub. L. No. 114-328, 130 Stat. 2000, 2270-71 (2016) (codified at 10 U.S.C. § 2305 note), as amended by the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018, Pub L. No. 115-91, § 822, 131 Stat. 1283, 1465 (2017) (section 813(c)).

According to the GAO:

Quote

The agency asserts that it is not using LPTA criteria to make its award determination because it is performing a best-value tradeoff between price and past performance.

The GAO denied the protest on that basis. I have attached the decision. The protester also challenged the agency's decision to evaluate "technical" on a pass or fail basis, but the GAO rejected that part of the protest as untimely. Presumably, that is still open to challenge in the future. But go ahead and take a risk. That's what they're always telling us to do, so give it a shot. 

In answer to the question you asked, I don't think your strategy is workable if protested. But who knows?

As for sealed bidding, why not? You say that you want to buy a complex commercial service with military applications, but you are apparently willing to do it without technical/price or even price/past performance tradeoffs and without discussions. If you are willing to forego tradeoffs and to award on the basis of what you call "high confidence" past performance, without comparing the offerors on any factor other than price, and apparently without conducing discussions, why not cut all Part 15 procedural "hassles"? In fact, looking at FAR 6.401, how can you justify doing anything but sealed bidding? Instead of verifying "technical acceptability" you would verify "responsiveness." See FAR 14.301(a). You can establish special past performance and experience standards in accordance with FAR 9.104-2. (Always, always, always evaluate experience.)

I'm very serious about sealed bidding. I don't know exactly what what you're buying, but the government used to buy all kinds of services using sealed bidding until CICA gave a boost to the "best value' craze in 1984. I have seen no evidence that "best value" Part 15 source selection has resulted in better contract outcomes overall. In fact, I know of no attempts by the government to verify that it has. We award contracts based on speculation about 'best value" described in "technical proposals" that may not constitute promises. I don't know of any post-performance analyses to determine whether we actually got what we hoped to get.

Of course, we buy things today that we didn't buy in the 1980s, and not all can be specified adequately for purposes of sealed bidding or LPTA. But some can—presumably yours, if all you want to do is determine technical acceptability, consider past performance without tradeoffs, and award on the basis of price and past performance of sufficient quality.

If you were to show that sealed bidding could result in the selection of a competent (responsible) contractor at a fair and reasonable price without all the hoorah associated with Part 15, and in less time, you would be an acquisition culture hero. It all depends on what you're buying and your ability to specify it. 

B-417791,B-417791.3.pdf

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Wow, Vern.  I truly appreciate your gracing my question with your attention.  Your knowledge, deductive reasoning, and advice is unparalleled, as always. 

I don't really want to do this thing.  I'm in a position where I set up awards but also get subbed, and I didn't want someone to do this to me someday.  Having to tell offerors or to be told: "Yeah, I didn't even look at that offer you spent weeks writing, but don't feel bad, I didn't look at anyone else's, either."  Peer pressure: "Why waste your time, do it and lets go get a beer.  Everybody's doing it.  The GAO doesn't care."

Sealed bidding was clean, honest.  Will try to work that in.

Thanks.

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@AcquirerI should warn you—most will react to any suggestion of sealed bidding as madness.

What's funny is that LPTA is basically an efficient variation of two-step sealed bidding, which is described in FAR Subpart 14.5. But very few persons in contracting offices today have ever participated in a sealed bid acquisition, and they have been conditioned to think that the tradeoff approach is the only sane way to award contracts. But the government has used sealed bidding in the past to award contracts for some very complex projects. The biggest advantage of negotiated procurement is the ability to conduct discussions. But the default procedure described in FAR 52.2i5-1 is award without discussions. So go figure.

The key to both sealed bidding and LPTA is the ability to specify your requirements in a contractually enforceable way. In fact, that kind of specification is very difficult to do for most service requirements, but the government does not recognize that fact. If it did, service contracting would be very different than it is now.

Most source selection decisions for service requirements are based on so-called "technical proposals," which in many if not most cases are little more than sales pitches, often with little or no discernible or distinguishable promissory content. See Administration of Government Contracts, 5th ed., the discussion of "promissory language" in pages 154-156:

Quote

An initial step in the [contract] interpretation process is the determination of whether the words of a contract are promissory words that bind a party using the words.

In our legal system, the courts make a distinction between promises and statements of intention, opinions, and predictions. What we mostly get in the technical proposals that I have seen are statements of intention, opinions, and predictions.

What's funny is that uneducated contracting officers think that incorporating technical proposals into contracts turns non-promissory language into promises. It doesn't. They think that because they do not receive quality contract law education. Too many of today's acquisition managers think they can rely on agency lawyers to protect the government's interests. Too many no longer think of COs as anything more than administrative personnel—signatures to keep the paper moving.

The key distinction between LPTA and the tradeoff process is tradeoffs. Any Part 15 procurement, especially for IT services, in which the government announces its intention to award without making nonprice/price tradeoffs faces the prospect of a protest based on FAR 15.101-2 and DFARS 215.101-2-70, until the positions of the GAO and the Court of Federal Claims are clear.

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Something is contradictory in the objectives. You seem to say that you are being told that price is the most important factor but also that past performance is more important than price??

if price is the most important factor, then you can make it the most important factor and, per 15.305(e)) “also state, at a minimum, whether all evaluation factors other than cost or price, when combined, are— 

...(3) Significantly less important than cost or price (10 U.S.C. 2305(a)(3)(A)(iii) and 41 U.S.C. 3306(c)(1)(C)).”

If technical factors (like previous experience) and past performance are also important, you can make price the number one factor but also state that:

“all evaluation factors other than cost or price, when combined, are—

(2) Approximately equal to cost or price”.

Either way, price is identified as the most important factor.  If you choose (e)(3), the trade-off decision can be pretty easy. You should get a good price but can pay more if higher qualifications at a price close to the lowest price would justify it.

If you choose (e)(2), price is still stressed as the most important factor but provides more flexibility in the trade-off (more complicated than (e)(3)).

We’ve also seen in prior Forum threads, an approach similar to what ji is proposing.

Sealed bidding is fine too, except that - if “substantial confidence” is a requirement and some minimal experience is a minimum requirement, I’m not sure that you can do that - unless you use the two-step sealed bidding process. 

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Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, sealed bidding and two-step sealed bidding were the default methods in my experience for Fed. government CONUS services and construction.

I had some experience with two-step Sealed bidding in the Air Force. That was during Viet Nam, where we were constantly under funded - much of the Defense budget went to weapons and The Viet Nam War. It was during the draft and before the All Volunteer Force (AVF). The AVF required DoD to provide better facilities and benefits to attract and retain a volunteer force. The project was for design-build military family housing. The contractor was well qualified but the duplex housing units looked like barns and only had to meet HUD 235 (subsidized housing) quality requirements. 

We successfully used sealed bidding for non-Federal and non government services and construction during my four years in between my Air Force and  Corps of Engineers.

When I joined the Corps in 1980, large low bid projects attracted good contractors.  However, we frequently ended up getting dirt bag contractors on smaller low bid projects. We couldn’t get rid of them. I hated attending many of the post award conferences, having to face the same troublesome companies.

When we switched over to competitive negotiated, best value acquisition, we quickly weeded out the dirt bags and those hard to get along with contractors quickly became cooperative and much less confrontational.

We rarely ended up with dirt bags with LPTA, too. 

 

 

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  Joel:  What happened is that the agency head demands that it be done as "best value where technical is more important than price," or to write that in so it looks that way, but those lower in the food chain don't have the time or patience to review a bunch of proposals (main reason) and also want the lowest price.  So, by determining that we have "substantial confidence" in the lowest-priced guy, we basically do both, awarding as IF it were LPTA even though it's not, and we only have to evaluate just that one proposal and dump the rest.  To be honest, the lowest guy isn't really "substantial confidence" material at all, but it gets justified that way so that no one can argue against it in a post-award protest.  As Vern mentioned, someone could maybe argue it pre-award, but once we get to post-award we're apparently home free.

The language in the evaluation criteria goes like this:

Offerors are advised that the Government may not evaluate the past performance proposals of all offerors under this RFP. The government will first review the total evaluated price of all proposals received. The past performance proposals of those offerors whose pricing is determined by the Contracting Officer to be most competitive may be reviewed prior to, or instead of, other past performance proposals received. Based on the initial review of these past performance proposals, the government may not evaluate the past performance proposals of other offerors, whose total evaluated pricing was higher than that of one already evaluated and already assigned the highest possible past performance rating. This would occur when the Contracting Officer determines that any possible past performance superiority of an unevaluated (and higher priced) past performance proposal, over (a lower priced) one that was already evaluated and assigned the highest possible past performance rating, would not warrant any additional price premium.

In practice, the timeline typically looks like this: (1) Solicit with the language above as best value where technical is more important than price; (2) memo that the lowest-priced offer (or one of the lowest) has the highest possible technical rating, even if it's hard to keep a straight face about it; (3) ignore all the other offers (based on the verbiage above); (4) award to that lowest guy; (5) debrief everybody else that their offer wasn't fully evaluated because their price was higher than an offeror that had the maximum possible confidence rating.

It's been done successfully before, and there seem to be quite a few cases where the GAO basically said the SSA can do whatever they want regarding the technical rating and it can't be questioned, so long as a good memo (I hate to say it, but good BS) about relevancy is done.  No one can say there was unequal treatment because no other proposal was evaluated.  And the evaluation criteria (above) was followed to a T.

I don't see any cases where a contractor's protest didn't get denied.  It looks like they're right and the GAO is fine with all this.  As Vern said, for now, anyway.   I wish I had a better argument to make for others to stop doing this, but I haven't found anything.

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3 hours ago, Acquirer said:

  Joel:  What happened is that the agency head demands that it be done as "best value where technical is more important than price," or to write that in so it looks that way, but those lower in the food chain don't have the time or patience to review a bunch of proposals (main reason) and also want the lowest price.  So, by determining that we have "substantial confidence" in the lowest-priced guy, we basically do both, awarding as IF it were LPTA even though it's not, and we only have to evaluate just that one proposal and dump the rest.  To be honest, the lowest guy isn't really "substantial confidence" material at all, but it gets justified that way so that no one can argue against it in a post-award protest.  As Vern mentioned, someone could maybe argue it pre-award, but once we get to post-award we're apparently home free.

Agency heads look out for the agency mission and how it’s supported and accomplished.  If contracts are an important part, the agency heads rational for best value and technical importance is obvious. Too often contracting people want to do LPTA for other reasons - it’s quicker, it’s easier for them, they don’t have to teach program and technical people how to do evaluations and source selection, they don’t have to lead discussions, and they avoid challenging debriefs.  But this all lose sight that contracting is a support function to programs.  We are there to help the agency succeed. Selecting a lower price source may not be the best way to achieve mission.

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@formerfed

14 hours ago, formerfed said:

Agency heads look out for the agency mission and how it’s supported and accomplished.  If contracts are an important part, the agency heads rational for best value and technical importance is obvious. Too often contracting people want to do LPTA for other reasons - it’s quicker, it’s easier for them, they don’t have to teach program and technical people how to do evaluations and source selection, they don’t have to lead discussions, and they avoid challenging debriefs.  But this all lose sight that contracting is a support function to programs.  We are there to help the agency succeed. Selecting a lower price source may not be the best way to achieve mission.

I agree with everything you wrote. However...

The government at large has been entangled in "best value source selection," now called "tradeoff process," since the mid-1980s. That process has become excessively time-consuming and costly, not because it is inherently so, but because of the way it is done. It's done that way not because it is unavoidable under the FAR, but because of certain norms and rituals, the worst of which is the instruction to offerors to submit "narrative" "technical" and "management" proposals. Here's an excerpt of a classic example from a Marine Corps RFP for "program and risk management support services":

Quote

Offerors shall provide a Management Proposal that sets forth in the most comprehensive manner the offeror’s management principles and practices, as they would apply to the MCPP, which will adhere to prescribed timelines and achieve an acceptable level of quality. Volume II shall address the following: Management Structure, Organizational and Staffing Strategies (to include shiftwork, cross utilization, exercise/contingency staffing, and overtime mitigation), quality control (early detection of deficiencies, trend analysis, and management involvement), production planning via Microsoft Project (SOW Attachment C.1-3 MMC Notional POAM), mission essential contractor services, use of business intelligence technology (to include all business systems identified in the SOW), employee training plan, transition plan and schedule (Section H-21 of the contract). Offerors shall provide resumes and letters of commitment for key personnel. Offerors shall describe their hiring process to include a description of the timeline (number of days to hire) and milestones from vacancy of position to onboard. Offeror’s shall describe its proposed procedures associated with developing and reporting the Planned Value, Earned Value, Actual Cost and Estimate At Completion (EAC) Projections on a CPFF CLIN/SLIN basis. Offeror’s [sic] shall describe their process and ability to respond quickly to time sensitive updates and their ability to share information related to the ACWP and EAC with the Government on a near real-time basis.

That's just a part of one paragraph in about 14 pages of instructions. I've got an entire file drawer full of such excerpts.

The tradeoff process method was developed between 1926 and the late 1950s for weapon system design competitions; it is now used for almost everything, including janitorial services. The proliferated use of that process is a blight on our profession, a betrayal of the clients we support and the taxpayers. Its complexity and slowness are threats to national security. I'm neither joking nor exaggerating. Consider the JEDI source selection:

https://about.bgov.com/news/what-comes-next-if-the-pentagon-strikes-down-jedi-cloud/

https://www.fedscoop.com/microsoft-president-shorter-bid-protest-process-jedi-aws/

If asked to do so we could not demonstrate that the tradeoff process consistently produces better performance outcomes than less burdensome methods. Tradeoff process source selection produces a contract; it does not produce a performance outcome. It was the method used to select the source in just about every major contract catastrophe that has occurred over the past 40 years, you name it. If we had to justify our use of that method based on factual evidence to a stern and knowing panel of critics, how could we do it? How could we show that the value actually received under contract was better than what we could have gotten using a simpler method?

As for the heads of agencies, most of them are clueless when it comes to contracting methods, especially the political appointees. As for Congress... What is there to say about that failed institution that has not already been said? It has failed under the leadership of both parties by producing reactionary, rather than well-reasoned, acquisition legislation. And presidents are no better. Just about everything they are responsible for doing they must do with the help of contractors, even making war, yet most of them have no idea how the contracting system works and pay little attention to it. How far into his term, if ever, before President Biden nominates and empowers an OFPP administrator, gets that office out from under the thumb of OMB, and tells it to clean up the contracting system?

Oh, formerfed, you've gotten me started. How cruel of you.

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14 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

If asked to do so we could not demonstrate that the tradeoff process consistently produces better performance outcomes than less burdensome methods. Tradeoff process source selection produces a contract; it does not produce a performance outcome. It was the method used to select the source in just about every major contract catastrophe that has occurred over the past 40 years, you name it. If we had to justify our use of that method based on factual evidence to a stern and knowing panel of critics, how could we do it? How could we show that the value actually received under contract was better than what we could have gotten using a simpler method?

Vern,  I didn’t respond right away because I wanted to think about how the tradeoff process could be assessed.  As a practical manner, it really can’t.  So much as what people think is a good or bad contract is subjective.  But even if objective data could be used, it takes a lot of time to lapse before meaningful performance to occur.  Then once that occurs, what you you compare that data with?  What prior contract exists with similar data? 
 

Quote

As for the heads of agencies, most of them are clueless when it comes to contracting methods, especially the political appointees. 

In this particular instance, it seems the agency head is dictating the process.  It’s a shame that senior contract people don’t have access to the agency head.  They could advise on the best approaches based upon specific program needs.  Lots of reasons exist, I guess why this situation occurs.  Sometimes it’s due to the agency head not seeing value in contracting inputs from poor experiences.  I often say contracting needs to demonstrate their importance to the agency mission and not in terms of avoiding protests or enforcing regulations.  We can be a big help when we are involved at the initial planning and strategic levels.

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1 hour ago, formerfed said:

As a practical manner, it really can’t.

Right! Which is why people shouldn't be so adamant about the success and superiority of the "best value" tradeoff process. It's a tool, and it's only as good or as bad as the people using it. (Come back, Shane!) Same with LPTA.

1 hour ago, formerfed said:

In this particular instance, it seems the agency head is dictating the process.  It’s a shame that senior contract people don’t have access to the agency head.  They could advise on the best approaches based upon specific program needs.  Lots of reasons exist, I guess why this situation occurs. 

It's because, despite all the hoorah about contracting personnel being professionals, agency heads and senior management see them as, at best, administrators or high-level clerks. (They will deny it, but judge them on what they do, not on what they say.) In any case, too many of us act like administrators and clerks. WE in contracting are partly to blame for that, by handing out too many CO appointments and not putting enough emphasis on professional education.

Presidents had better wake up to the fact that they run a contracted-out government. Think back to the clown-show in February-March 2020 when nobody at the White House could figure out how to use the Defense Production Act. Someone should tell the next president that he or she had better take more personal interest in the contracting rules and bureaucracy.

Our country obligates more than one-half trillion dollars a year under contract. Almost everything our government does, including war-fighting, is dependent on contracts, on the people who award and administer them, and on the rules that bind them. Presidents seem to be clueless in that regard until a problem like the Healthcare.gov website contracting fiasco rears its ugly head, or they can't figure out how to buy face masks and respirators in a hurry.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/07/obamacare-website-has-cost-840-million/440478/

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Most Contracting professionals I've worked with in Government contracting, at least those trained through DAU, no longer work in Government contracting and refuse to go back to it.  Even if it pays better.  Their complaints, overall, are similar to everything you've been saying, Vern.  The sad part being that it's a bit like Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, as it leaves policy to be dictated and interpreted by the remnants.

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@Vern Edwards

Unfortunately this is so true 

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It's because, despite all the hoorah about contracting personnel being professionals, agency heads and senior management see them as, at best, administrators or high-level clerks. (They will deny it, but judge them on what they do, not on what they say.) In any case, too many of us act like administrators and clerks. WE in contracting are partly to blame for that, by handing out too many CO appointments and not putting enough emphasis on professional education.

@Acquirer, I’ve seen many contracting professionals advance and are very happy with their jobs.  Their success is mostly due to them finding what program offices and agency management want out of contracting and fulfill those needs.  Generally it’s collaborating with programs to see what the need is and crafting a strategy to deliver.  Usually it involves taking a leadership role and exercise sound contracting judgement and explanations that management understands and supports.  

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Contracting can be a great job! I loved it. Unfortunately, management decided to eliminate the distinction between contracting and purchasing by eliminating purchasing agent jobs. From the GS-1105 purchasing series position classification standard, TS-122, March 1993:

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This series includes positions that involve supervising or performing work to acquire supplies, services, and construction by purchase, rental, or lease through (a) delivery orders and/or (b) small purchase procedures. The work requires knowledge of policies and procedures for delivery orders and small purchases. This work also requires knowledge of commercial supply sources and common business practices related to sales, prices, discounts, units of measurement, deliveries, stocks, and shipments....

Purchasing agents normally solicit quotes, rather than proposals, orally or through written requests for quotations (RFQ). Some purchasing agents use RFP's for small purchases when a firm offer is required or when technical factors, rather than price, are the primary consideration. Purchasing agents generally use unilateral instruments to establish contracts, i.e., purchase orders, calls against blanket purchase agreements, and credit card purchases. Some purchasing agents use bilateral purchase orders to make purchases within small purchase dollar limitations. Purchasing agents also issue delivery orders (that may exceed the small purchase threshold) against established contracts or with certain Government sources of supply.

Contracting work also differs from purchasing work in the nature and level of knowledge required. Contracting specialists typically must comply with or administer many detailed, complex statutory and regulatory requirements that apply rarely or never to small purchases and delivery orders. Contracting work usually involves nonrepetitive or more sophisticated requirements, more complex regulations and reviews, extensive cost/price analysis, complex negotiations over long contractual periods, and high level impact on industry.

 

I think that most "contracting" work today is really purchasing agent work, thanks to the increased simplified acquisition threshold, the commercial items movement, the GSA FSS program, BPAs, and GWACs. Most of the work does not require a college degree. People told they would be "business advisors" are often sorely disappointed with the work that they do. I know many promising young people who have left the field because they find too much of the work to be simple, tedious, repetitive, and boring. We need far fewer 1102s and many more 1105s. Meanwhile, people who would be happy to do purchasing agent work and would do a good job of it cannot qualify for an 1102 position.

Government managers did this to the contracting profession, by pursuing an ill-advised and short-sighted initiative to save money. It has left some agencies ill-equipped to handle complex acquisitions, and it has needlessly increased the costs and reduced the availability of first rate professional education for the people who are doing the complex work.

Really, I sometimes just don't know what to think of the way our government is managed.

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16 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

We need far fewer 1102s and many more 1105s.

In my agency, less than 5% of all contract actions are competitive using trade-offs. Less than 1% are competitive using FAR 15 procedures.  There may be GS-13 FAC-C III 1102s in my agency who have never done a FAR 15 action.  I'm speculating here, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were true.

 

On 4/10/2021 at 2:27 PM, Acquirer said:

don't have the time or patience to review a bunch of proposals (main reason) and also want the lowest price. 

OK, some tactical advice.  The main issue, as I understand it, is that the Program side doesn't want to spend a lot of time and effort on the low-value task of reviewing lots of proposals when the contract will most likely go to the LPTA offeror anyways.  This is a common issue, and there are some common methods to deal with it: 

1) Avoid complication: 

a) Do not use FAR 15.

b) Use one of the the many, many, many IT service acquisition vehicles out there, rather than going open-market.   GSA has a list of 43 of them.  Probably hundreds more that aren't tracked by GSA.

c) Do not use FAR 15, seriously, don't do it. 

2) A two-phase evaluation.  Phase one should be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy to evaluate and screen out all but a handful of most promising offers.  DHS's PIL has a clever version of this - advisory down-select.

3) Performance Price Trade-Off (PPT) Process is what you are proposing to do in one of your comments.  If you use this method, then for the sake of everyone involved, do what Vern has said many times, and do not have an elaborate "technical proposal."  Caveat: In my experience, I cannot and would not do a quasi-LPTA for IT Services, but that's me.  

4) Directly solicit from a few good sellers, rather than posting a public solicitation open to anyone.  Although, you gotta follow the (complicated) rules about how to do this.

5) I have nothing to say about Sealed Bidding.  Never done it.  Never seen it done.  No clue about it.

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