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By Steve Kelman

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GSA is saying what?

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Stan Soloway, head of the Professional Services Council and about the most-enlightened government contracting trade association executive out there, wrote a column recently in Washington Technology (subscription required) discussing the widely watched GSA OASIS procurement, which will be a crucial GSA multiple-award vehicle for IT-related professional services.
 
Soloway is effusive in his praise for the pre-solicitation communication with industry about the content of the RFP. As he notes, in an environment where many inside the government are not taking advantage of the opportunity for the government to improve an RFP based on industry comments, this is good news.
 
But as he also notes, there is also something very disturbing about the draft RFP:  it states that past-performance information from government projects will be counted more heavily than information from work that contractors have done for private-sector customers.
 
This is really not a good idea.
 
One of the problems with the government's procurement system is that government-unique regulations create a barrier to commercial, predominantly private-sector oriented companies doing more business in the government marketplace. This is a problem because -- like any tariff barrier -- it creates a hothouse environment where competition is lower and insiders can gain business based on mastery of procurement rules more than satisfying their customers. And the commercial environment is one where performance is strongly prioritized, and failure to perform is punished more swiftly than in a government environment. It's good for the government to hire firms that are used to such an environment.
 
Some government folks feel more comfortable with government-unique contractors who know the government's environment better. But if I were in the government and wanted to put a premium on performance, I would want to be sure I had access to predominantly commercial firms. At a minimum, such firms should be in a multiple-award mix, to increase the range of options available to government customers.
 
GSA is arguing that it's easier to evaluate past performance on government business. I don't buy this -- if anything, the opposite may be true. The RFP should require bidders wishing to give commercial references to list their last five jobs over a certain dollar amount, and government people should just call references and briefly interview them. The information -- unfortunately -- might actually be better than much of the material in the government's past-performance databases.
 
The good news is that, with the consultation they are doing, the OASIS program still has time to rectify this mistake.

P.S. I participated in the Walk for Hunger over the weekend. Through my blog, I would like to thank Fedbid and ASI Government for sponsoring me, also my colleagues Todd Rogers, Jack Donahue, Jennifer Lerner, and Linda Bilmes, my family Leora Kelman, Jody Kelman, Ellen Kelman, and Susan Hyatt; also Nick Economou, retired from GSA.

Posted on May 08, 2013 at 12:09 PM


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Reader comments

Tue, Jul 30, 2013 Al

Hello, Prof. Kelman, here is another decision in this vein you will intensely dislike: http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/656257.pdf

Fri, May 17, 2013 Steve Kelman

Don, thanks for your comment. I guess the issue is what is relevant -- I would argue, and I am not alone, that private-sector experience in dealing with tough IT problems is EXTREMELY relevant for the government.

Wed, May 15, 2013 Don Mansfield San Diego

FAR 15.305(a)(2)(i) states, in part, the following: "The currency and RELEVANCE of the information, source of the information, context of the data, and general trends in contractor’s performance shall be considered." What's wrong with GSA favoring offerors with more relevant past performance?

Wed, May 15, 2013 Guest

Industry Day did not bring much change... I think GSA is going to find it challenging to get enough qualified bidders. This will be interesting to watch...

Sat, May 11, 2013 Steve Kelman

Thanks for these thoughtful comments. The comments that CAS compliance will be required for bidders (offerors) is a good one, which would make it very difficult for predominantly commercial firms to bid. My understanding is that this requirement may be removed. It would make more sense to require this only for firms that want to bid on large cost-based task orders. Stan Soloway's remark that the past performance differentiation has become even more dramatic is depressing.

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