Fight the urge to sole source task orders

The growth of multipleaward taskorder contracting for services opened up by the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) in 1994 and by the growth of the General Services Administration services schedule is an important advance for government information technology customers. Indeed, doubt

The growth of multiple-award task-order contracting for services - opened up by the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) in 1994 and by the growth of the General Services Administration services schedule - is an important advance for government information technology customers. Indeed, doubters should try to imagine how the government would have coped with the Year 2000 problem prior to this reform.

But task-order contracting continues to be problematic - such as using these vehicles for de facto sole-source awards - as illustrated by a report released this month by the Defense Department inspector general concluding that DOD awards the majority of task orders through a sole source and did not give some vendors a fair opportunity to compete [FCW, April 19].

FASA created, in my view, an ideal situation for the government and for vendors. It enabled the government to conduct a full-blown competition to select a relatively limited number of outstanding vendors as contract holders. (Note that the law did not envision that everybody who sought a contract got one.)

With the underlying contract in place, the government then could organize very streamlined and rapid commercial-style competitions for individual task orders. While the old order placed speed and competition in conflict, this new arrangement allowed speedy and competitive awards.

Unfortunately, some vendors, following the slogan, "Eat what you kill," came up with the idea that they should not be subject even to streamlined, commercial competition. Some government folks, apparently unsatisfied with reducing cycle times from a year to a few weeks, wanted to reduce award time another week by making de facto sole-source awards of various sorts.

Recently, I had a conversation with Tom Hutchinson, a program manager at the Center for Health Plans and Providers at the Health Care Financing Administration, about an experience that taught him the value of competition under task-order contracts.

In the summer of 1997, Congress gave HCFA a large number of new responsibilities and a very short time frame to accomplish them. Hutchinson's job required him to hire a contractor to help with some analytic tasks, including work involving analysis of data regarding health maintenance organizations.

Hutchinson had somebody in mind for the job - a former HCFA colleague who had, while at the agency, done work similar to what HCFA needed and was now at a consulting firm. "I knew exactly who I wanted to do the work," Hutchinson recalled. "I didn't have time to teach somebody. I didn't have time to compete."

A persistent contracting officer, Mary Jones, told Hutchinson he could not just conduct a sole-source contract without a reason, and, in this case, a number of firms were capable of doing a good job. She told him about a HCFA multiple-award contract vehicle for financial analysis and auditing services that had five companies on it, including the company for whom Hutchinson's colleague worked. Reluctantly, Hutchinson agreed.

What happened? HCFA issued information on the requirement to the five firms on the contract over the World Wide Web. They asked the firms to present to HCFA the next day any questions to help with a bid/no bid decision. Three of the five firms indicated that they wanted to bid. They were given a week to prepare oral presentations.

What Hutchinson learned at the oral presentations surprised him. One of the three did not really understand the requirement well enough and could easily be eliminated. But more interesting was the comparison between the firm where the former HCFA employee worked and the third bidder. The third bidder stated in its proposal that it had an information database available from the company's commercial business that they would use to analyze the problem HCFA wanted to give them. The database gave this firm a better way to help the agency. The third firm also was less expensive than the firm where the former HCFA employee worked.

Source selection after the oral presentations took 20 minutes. The firm Hutchinson otherwise would never even have considered won the work. Hutchinson said the task order has been completed and the firm did a fine job - and at a lower cost.

Hutchinson liked the oral presentation format. "When you read a proposal, you think you understand what they're saying, but sometimes you don't really," he said. "With the oral presentation, we picked up right away that one contractor didn't get it. In a written proposal, all the buzzwords would have been there. Going through reams of paper, I'm not sure you would have picked up there was a problem."

Hutchinson also noted, "Having to compete the requirement made me think through the statement of work more carefully so bidders could understand our requirement. The result was that I planned the effort better than I would have, which proved to be a valuable exercise."

Jones notes that this situation is only one of several she personally has participated in in which the customer initially had a contractor in mind, only to find through streamlined commercial competition that there was a better-value solution somewhere else. "He sticks out in my mind because he had been the most resistant to what I had said about competing the task order," she said.

With the streamlined competitions possible in a procurement reform world, competition should never be seen by government IT folks as some sort of cod-liver oil you are forced to swallow. Instead, it should be seen for what it is: the way the free market obtains better value for the customer.

--Kelman was the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from 1993 to 1997. He is now Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.