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By Steve Kelman

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OFPP administrator hones in on past performance

man graphs performance

The leadoff presentation at the National Contract Management Association today was Joe Jordan, the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. At the beginning of his remarks, he spoke about the use of past performance in government contracting. To put it mildly, his approach was an enormous breath of fresh air.

His first step, he told us, was to get past-performance report cards submitted more reliably. But he also clearly recognized that upping the quantity of these reports is only a start. The next step is to improve the quality of these report cards, so they can actually be used as differentiators in source selection decisions.

He illustrated the problem by talking about looking for a bed-and-breakfast place during a recent vacation. Like most people, he went onto Trip Advisor and Yelp to check customer reviews of B&B’s. He could see positive and negative reviews. When there were negative reviews, sometimes the B&B responded, explaining corrective actions they had taken or sometimes giving their own version of events. As a consumer, he could judge the balance of these reviews, and the plusses and minuses they showed, including which criteria for evaluating the B&B were most important to he and his wife.

How does this differ from government past-performance report cards, he asked? If there was a negative review of a B&B, the firm had no opportunity to sue the reviewer to try to get the review taken down. The review could be put up right away, not after a 30-day comment period. The B&B could give its own version of events if it chose to, and the customer evaluated the reports taken as a whole.

The simple fact is that what is inhibiting the ability of past-performance report cards to improve incentives for good vendor performance is a lack of variation. If all the report cards are plain vanilla, they won’t be source selection differentiators. When they are not differentiators, doing the report cards becomes a compliance drill. You get a downward spiral for the system. The most strategic step OFPP could take to turn past performance around is to eliminate the ability contractors currently have to complain about a report they don’t like to someone at a higher level in the system, a policy that strongly discourages contracting professionals from writing honest reports.

I complained in a recent blog post about a recent GAO report on past-performance report cards that emphasized only quantity, not quality, and that repeatedly used the word "compliance" to refer to the goal of the exercise. Jordan’s approach, by contrast, is a really hopeful signal that an improvement is on the way. He said that he intends to devote significant effort to reinventing past performance over the next year, making it more closely resemble how the idea works in corporate America and in individual consumer buying decisions. I would urge the community to work with Jordan to make this happen.

Posted on Jul 23, 2013 at 8:52 AM

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Reader comments

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 John Inman Williston, Vermont

Indeed, the idea that both sides must agree on a past performance evaluation is beyond realistic; it is absurd.

Tue, Aug 6, 2013 John Inman Williston, Vermont

Yes! I like the idea of letting each side (Government and contractor) tell its own story, and letting the future source selection teams interpret and apply what they're reading. The idea that both sides must agree on a past performance evaluation is unrealistic.

Mon, Jul 29, 2013 Al

These things cut both ways, though don't they? Hypothetically, if NOAA issues a very high number of negative contractor performance evaluations, does that not begin to reflect negatively upon NOAA and not their contractors? Do contractors consider this type of thing and raise prices? Or not propose? Do CO's at other agencies discount NOAA performance reviews? Perhaps we do not know the answers to these questions yet . . .

Sat, Jul 27, 2013 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

Steve - Effective contract management seems to be lost in the conversation, in addition to collaboration and the level of communications necessary to create a winning formula for positive outcomes and strategic partnerships lost in modern government contracting. Let's create an environment of working together, as opposed to exacerbating the pervasive adversarial environment of confrontation and mistrust.

Wed, Jul 24, 2013 Steve Kelman

Jaime, I appreciate your comment and undestand your position. I think it is just a fact that a lot of contracting officers and program people just say it's not worth it to file a negative report, because it will sign them up for endless meetings to defend. If a contractor has been the victim of an ill-willed civil servant, I still want to give them an pportunity to give their version. Also, presumably not all or most of a contractor's government counterparts will be ill-willed, so the occasional ill-willed response, if performance is generally good, should get outweighed by other reports. I just don't think past performance can work unless we take on the problem of lack of differentiation in report cards.

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