Sunday, January 22, 2012

Can Communications Prevent Protests?

I was interested in hearing from both the vendor and 1102 community on the "triggers" of a protest, and if any best practices could be conducted to avoid a protest or avoid a protest from being upheld.
The post on GovLoop and LinkedIn elicited some great feedback, although it was interesting to see the source of the comments (e.g. industry or government). Although the comments from industry focused on debriefs, government commentors focused on process. Nonetheless, a few best practices that government should exercise were understood by all:
  1. Keep the evaluation as simple as possible;
  2. Tell the offerors exactly what you are going to evaluate;
  3. Evaluate exactly what you told the offerors you were going to evaluate; and when the source selection is over,
  4. Tell the offerors exactly what you did evaluate (and ensure it's what you said you were going to do---no more, no less). 
If the playing field is kept level for all players and the government has a reasonable rationale for source selection decisions, a protest may not be avoided, but the government will "win" by having the protest denied.
Nonetheless, in today's budget constrained environment, more companies are vying for fewer available government dollars, resulting in more protests. In the past, companies may have been hesitant to file a protest because there was another opportunity coming up or concerned about the relationship with the agency, but now the mentality is "throw something against the wall and see if it sticks." 
Here is the where the divergence exists, in regards to debriefs. Industry continues to complain about the seemingly lack of transparent and quality debriefs, or being told no debriefs because they are not required.
  • Would you say your agency conducts transparent debriefs that encourage relationships and communications?
  • Are your agency's debriefs described as hostile and difficult by industry?
  • Are protests at your agency going up, and if so, why do you think that is?
  • If protests are going down or have been steady at your agency, what can you attribute to this decline or rate?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Contract Management not Sexy, but Necessary

A recent Defense Department inspector general report found that contracting officers and their representatives (COR) at the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity need to step up their game when it comes to improving contract performance and acquisition outcomes.
The report shins a light on a reality hitting many procurement offices, where the intense workload, combined with a lack of enough skilled and trained 1102s, is creating an environment where quality is being sacrificed at the expense of performance.
Just taking a look at the topic headers is an eye-opening example of a procurement organization that is in need of serious improvements:
  • Sole-Source Awards Not Adequately Justified
  • Price Reasonableness Not Adequately Determined
  • Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans Not Prepared
  • Inadequate Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans
  • Contracting Officer’s Representative Acceptance of Deliverables Not Documented
  • Language in Contracting Officer’s Representative Letters Too General
  • Invoice Review Needs Improvement
The recommendations are also somewhat disturbing, in that they basically outline what needs to happen to realize improvements and work to improve this organization. Mainly, the recommendations state that contracting officers and CORs need to do their jobs, since some of the responses the IGs received where common in this environment: lack of time, resources, and a focus on production.
Simple tools, such as checklists, can be created to ensure that ALL the requirements of a contract action are achieved. This may seem simplistic, but following the checklists, and having them executed through automated contract systems and solutions, will ensure that the proper steps have been conducted. Basically, contract actions can not bee executed until these issues have been eliminated by ensuring the proper steps an actions by procurement personnel have been followed and verified. This is ultimately creating an environment of accountability, and hopefully improved quality.
I don't have time is not a legitimate excuse, not under any circumstance. However, leadership needs to understand the needs of the organization, provide the proper level of oversight, resources, and training to the procurement staff, and ensure that things are being done properly. 
Best practices are plentiful, and they need to be acted on.