Contracting

Agencies seek betters ways to track past performance

user typing positive review (13_Phunkod/Shutterstock.com)

Federal agencies are exploring ways to more effectively review contractors' past performance, including harnessing bots, according to acquisition officials.

Vendor performance evaluations submitted by federal agencies to the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) are crucial to companies' survival in the federal marketplace, Professional Services Council President and CEO David Berteau said during a July 18 conference on the system.

Because CPARS reports are not on the "top 10" list of agency mission duties, they can, unfortunately, get sometimes-perfunctory attention, according to Debra Stidham, director of the division of program integrity and financial management contracts at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who spoke on a panel at the PSC event.

CPARS past performance reports are critical to agencies, as well as to contracting companies. They document vendors' performance on contracts previously awarded and completed, and federal agencies rely on the reports for market research for upcoming contracts. A mark below "exceptional" or "very good" on CPARS can mean the next agency passes on a vendor for its contract.

Unfortunately, given smaller contracting staffing, increasing duties at agencies and federal policy that now requires agencies to explain why they give contractors higher ratings, CPARS scores are puddling in the "satisfactory" pool, according to Berteau. A "satisfactory" rating is faint praise and can cost a vendor business, contractors at the event said.

Agencies are looking for ways to more effectively provide more accurate feedback.

Katrina Brisbon, assistant administrator at the Transportation Security Administration's office of contracting and procurement, said her agency measures how quickly and effectively contracting personnel complete reviews in CPARS as part of their job performance reviews. The agency also requires vendors to provide self-assessments of their performance.

The techniques, she said, have helped move the needle on CPARS reporting among contracting officers at her agency from 60% completion rates months ago to 90% now.

The IRS is looking to automation to bring some uniformity to the CPARS reporting. Shanna Webbers, chief procurement officer at the tax agency, said the IRS is thinking about how to apply some kind of automated technology to help the agency with CPARS reports.

Since CPARS reports are written by individual contracting officers, they can sometimes be subjective, lengthy and may not contain uniform information on contractor performance, Webbers said.

The IRS, she said, is thinking carefully about using a bot to help tease out relevant, common information and might begin a pilot to test the idea, possibly linking it with an existing robotic processing automation trial that gathers vendor information for the agency's contracting officers.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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