In Part 1 of this series we talked about the trend towards “Tera-Scope” competitions within the U.S. Government for comprehensive Information Technology (IT) services. Here in Part 2 we will take a peek under the tent at what the Government is going through.
Many groups that are often perceived as different business areas have collaborated on the PWS for this Tera-Scope contract. Contributions for task areas have to give enough information about that area to foster understanding of the possibilities without getting too specific about what work will or won’t be ordered, so there can be no perceived promises. Someone should be reviewing the whole package for consistency, duplication and conflict resolution. Often this is left to the contracting folks who are not technical experts. The evaluation criteria must give clear guidance to offerors and evaluators on what the Government needs to know to choose the right Teams. All of the RFP requirements are pulled into a very large package that undergoes a series of pre-solicitation reviews to make sure the RFP is coherent, compliant and will result in a contract that achieves the Government’s objectives. It depends on the organization and on the specific individuals involved as to how much conversation takes place between the requiring activities and the contracting activity before the RFP hits the street. More is better, but more takes longer and these days speedy contract awards are in high demand. There can be a tendency for a “you take care of your part and I’ll take care of my part” scenario to develop between the requiring activity (the IT Department) and the procurement activity. There are not too many more frustrating things than re-explaining your requirements to your contracts specialist after the RFP is issued with a CLIN structure that will cause serious problems. Ahoy, Amendment 01!
No matter how carefully the requirements for submission of an acceptable proposal are written each company reviewing those requirements is likely to interpret them differently. The evaluation teams are going to have the daunting task of evaluating each unique proposal on its own merits, against the evaluation criteria and, eventually, each proposal against all proposals considered to be in the competitive range. Under the Old Way the limited scope of an effort made this task much easier. The evaluation teams started off by asking themselves, “What is the Government going to buy?”, because understanding the desired outcome informs the path for evaluators. How do they respond when the answer is, “Everything.”?
Once a recommendation is given to the Source Selection Authority and a choice is made, it’s off to Reviewerland wherein the Government satisfies itself that the selections made meet legal, contractual and financial objectives that comply with the Tera-Scope RFP and all applicable laws, regulations, standards and specifications. This set of reviews if often conducted consecutively by contracts specialists, lawyers and pricing specialists who are seeing the Tera-Scope RFP for only the first or second time. These reviewers also begin by asking, “What is the Government going to buy?” and soon discover that the answer is, “Everything, but nothing specific yet.” The Source Selection Team has decided which Teams have the right combination of skills and experience to be able to meet any Task Order for IT products and services that might arise during the period of performance. The reviewers are going to validate that decision. That means they have to understand the RFP first, discern the winning characteristics of each selected proposal that make it worthy of award and agree with the documented rationale from the Source Selection Team. If any one of these review bodies calls something into question that results in a substantive change to the decision or even to how the decision is justified, then the other review bodies need to re-check their review in light of the new information or perspective. Think about this: the Government is going to commit itself to a limited group of companies for “Everything” for at least the next five years. They have to get it right, and that takes time. Even if there is not pressure from Management and the requiring activities to get the job done faster, the complexity of this Tera-Scope makes it easier to find fault with the selections (can you spell SEWP V?).
The level of effort that goes into making choices for teams on a Tera-Scope contract is large and fraught with danger of protests and potential for performance issues. In Part 3 of this series we will consider what comes next after awards are made.
END OF PART 2