Past performance: Good idea, but measurement system needs help

Elevating past performance to its often pre-eminent role as a selection factor unarguably is good for the system. But if past performance is to remain a major factor in contract decision-making the government must devise and uniformly apply a standard measuring system.

I would compare the present situation with one of "placing the cart before the horse" - the horse in this case being past performance which has been given a great deal of weight when it comes to source selection and proposal evaluation. The cart being the measuring process the mechanism used to measure a contractor's actual performance for the period of a designated contract. Regretfully the processes currently in place not only are inconsistent but inefficient at best.

To be able to rectify the situation and to have the "horse lead the cart " a measuring system must be developed that will create a level of comfort in the government information technology community where contractor performance can be measured evenly.

It has been my experience that past performance has not been an effective component of the evaluation criteria because the measuring process is neither standard nor objective. Although past performance has been in existence for quite a while developing an efficient method for measuring it has not been given the attention it deserves. A measuring system should have been established before past performance became a substantial part of the evaluation criteria.

Using the Air Force Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System as an example we can see the inherent difficulty of accurately measuring performance. For instance if in a given competition a contractor has been measured by the CPARS process and another has been measured through different means it is easy to see that this forces government selection officials to evaluate performance based on two different systems - a classic case of comparing apples with oranges.

In one case performance is being measured over a specified period of time and graded by a program manager. In the other case a program is being measured at a specific point in time based on an individual's point of view - not necessarily that of the program manager. In fact in many cases you'll find that it's the contracting officer's technical representative or someone even further down the line who is making the assessment which obviously is conditioned by his responsibilities.

If this person's responsibilities include overseeing a specific set of deliverables and those deliverables are on time then it is understandable that this would have an impact on that person's judgment as it relates to a contractor's performance. But if those deliverables were only part of the overall performance evaluation this easily could be accorded more weight than it deserves.

We not only need to arrive at a reasonably objective measuring process - standard or not - but there also should be a specified capability to render judgment on contractors in every organization. Furthermore this judgment should be formally structured and reviewed at the program-management level. In this scenario at least an attempt has been made to secure a level of objectivity that you typically don't have in the situation described above.The government is kidding itself when it assumes that because past performance is designated as a major portion of the evaluation criteria it automatically works.

In my opinion the current measuring system is in shambles. Until there is a level of comfort that contractor performance can be measured evenly and a standard measuring system is established I believe that the government should reduce the value it places on past performance.

-- James is executive vice president government operations at Robbins-Gioia Inc.

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