April 2, 2013 by cs
On March 29, 2013, the Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech wrapped up a highly successful four-week course for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, La.
Entitled “FAR Fundamentals,” the course covers all 53 chapters and 2,000 pages of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). The FAR is the federal government’s contracting rule book.
The Corps of Engineers contracted with the Academy to train 12 of its project and office engineers who are in charge of managing construction contractors in the New Orleans district. The engineers engaged the Academy because they want to become more adept at correctly interpreting and applying federal contracting rules.
“Construction engineers play an important role by interfacing with both the contracting office and individual contractors,” explained Donna Bertrand, the Academy’s program manager. “In addition to making sure that the work is being performed correctly, they act as the contracting office’s eyes and ears in the field.” Bertrand managed the course implementation during the entire four weeks, including the administration of 12 quizzes and four exams.
The Academy, an official equivalency training provider for the Defense Acquisition University (DAU), adapted the FAR Fundamentals course to the Corps’ needs by developing training exercises and materials around real-life scenarios.
“The FAR is an extremely detailed and complicated subject matter,” said Chuck Schadl, group manager for government contracting services. “In presenting this course, we used every creative approach we could think of to hold the students’ interest and enable learning.”
Some of the teaching techniques utilized included:
- Creation of a deck of 53 playing cards, corresponding with each of the FAR’s 53 chapters, enabling students to use them as flash cards to learn the FAR’s structure and parts.
- Using games – adapted from the board game “Scattergories” and the TV show “Jeopardy”— to stimulate student participation in the classroom, encourage competition, and help students prepare for testing.
- Introduction of special web page of contracting resources – consisting of templates, case studies, and other electronic tools – created exclusively for the Corps’ students.
- Providing small prizes –Georgia Tech memorabilia — to reward student accomplishments at key points in the course.
- Daily review of contracting news items to illustrate the importance of the acquisition profession and why it’s necessary to stay current.
The Academy’s lead instructor for this course was Clarence Roberts, a retired DAU professor and former federal contracting officer. Clarence’s instructional style is lively and engaging, and students frequently stated their appreciation for his willingness to listen to different approaches to contracting. “We try to instill in students the fact that, while the FAR may have a rule for everything, there frequently is more than one correct way to handle contracting situations,” Roberts pointed out.
Students of the FAR Fundamentals course earn 13.3 Continuing Education Units, or 133 Continuous Learning Points, that can be used to satisfy federal training requirements.
“We hope that this will be only the first of many more on-site engagements where we bring the Academy’s coursework to government agencies,” Bertrand concluded. “In this time of budget austerity, agencies are looking for ways to trim travel budgets, especially.”
For more details on the Academy, including the courses and services offered, please see www.ContractingAcademy.gatech.edu.
Shown below: The Academy’s instructors and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ officials celebrate completion of the four-week FAR Fundamentals class.
February 13, 2013 by cs
Starting in May 2013, The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech will offer a new course focusing on the Fundamentals of Cost & Price Analysis in government contracting.
This comprehensive, two-week course begins with an in-depth review of the market research process, and provides instruction to help students understand and analyze contractor pricing strategies.
Attendees will learn to accomplish cost-volume-profit analysis, calculate contribution margin estimates, and develop cost estimating relationships in order to accomplish an effective price analysis pursuant to FAR Subpart 15.4.
After learning the basic elements of price and cost analysis, students will build and defend a pre-negotiation objective, including a minimum and maximum pricing objective with a weighted guidelines assessment. After successfully defending their pricing objectives, the students will practice face-to-face negotiations.
This course is targeted toward new hires to the contracting career field. For government contractors, this course also provides valuable insights into the government contracting decision-making process.
Student performance is assessed by graded exams on math fundamentals and applied course material as well as an exercise for student participation and completion of negotiations.
CON 170 – Fundamentals of Cost & Price Analyis is Defense Acquisition University-equivalent training that satisfies the FAC-C and DAWIA certification programs.
For more information or to register, please visit: http://www.pe.gatech.edu/courses/con-170-fundamentals-cost-and-price-analysis
January 23, 2013 by cs
Pursuant to a rule finalized by the the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council, effective January 18, 2013, contractors who win the right to take over a previous federal service contract now must make a first-right-of-refusal employment offer to workers on the earlier contract. The new rule applies only to contracts that are subject to the Service Contract Act (SCA).
The new rule implements Executive Order 13495, Nondisplacement of Qualified Workers Under Service Contracts, dated January 30, 2009. The FAR has been amended to add subpart 22.12 and a new clause at FAR 52.222-17.
The new requirement applies when the successor contract is for same or similar services at the same location as the predecessor contract. 29 CFR 9.2 defines “same or similar service” to mean “a service that is either identical to or has one or more characteristics that are alike in substance to a service performed at the same location on a contract that is being replaced by the Federal Government or a contractor on a Federal service contract.”
An exception to the right-of-first-refusal requirement involves the successor contractor’s current employees, who would otherwise face termination themselves, are qualified for the new contract and subject to SCA. Another exception is for predecessor employees with documented past unsuitable performance. In addition, if the successor contractor will be working with a smaller workforce than the predecessor contractor to achieve greater efficiency, the successor is only required to offer employment to those eligible employees who would be qualified to fill the positions that will exist on the new contract.
If a successor wins a contract award due to a contract terminated for performance reasons, the successor contractor is not to assume it was the fault of the service employees; the assumption to be made is that the employees were performing suitable work in support of the contract and the fault lay with management. If the Government determines that the poor performance of the predecessor contract was due to the entire predecessor workforce, then the new SCA rules may be waived.
FAR 52.222-41(n) already requires the predecessor contractor to provide to the contracting officer a certified list not less than 10 days prior to completion of an existing contract of the names of all service employees on the contractor’s or subcontractor’s payroll during the last month of the contract performance. This list must contain the anniversary dates of employment on the contract. Under the new rule, this list will be required no less than 30 days prior to completion instead of 10. If the list is not provided, the Government will have the right to suspend contract payments until it is provided.
March 13, 2012 by cs
There’s some buzz around a provision in the newly introduced Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act that would eliminate the ability established in the Federal Acquisition Regulation for a contractor unhappy with their past-performance evaluation to enter their own version of events in the file and to appeal the original past-performance evaluation to one level higher in the organization from where the original evaluation was done.
Matthew Weigelt wrote about the provision recently on FCW.com, with a moderately incendiary headline saying the provision would “stifle” contractor responses to past-performance reports. Matthew’s article was a top-five read and emailed article on the FCW site, so the issue is attracting attention.
With a small tweak, this could actually be a really good change. But the tweak is necessary, and I hope the bill’s authors will make it.
The big problem with the current FAR language is that it allows a contractor to appeal a past-performance rating one level above where it was made. In my view, this appeal right has been devastating for the honesty of past-performance ratings, and therefore for the ability of past-performance to be a differentiator in contract awards. For past-performance to work in choosing contractors, the government needs to be able to observe differentiation between better performers, who should be rewarded with new contracts, and poorer ones, who shouldn’t.
The serious shortcomings in the government’s past-performance rating system in turn is really too bad, because judgments, formal and informal, of the past performance of those with whom we do business are an absolutely crucial part of the ability of a market system to work in improving results. If we like the haircut a barber gave us, we go back, and if we didn’t, we don’t – this really provides an incentive for barbers to do a good job.
I was the person, as OFPP administrator, who authorized the current FAR language when the past-performance evaluation system began in the ‘90s. I was concerned at the time that this appeal provision was a mistake, and I believe that subsequent results have confirmed my worries. Contracting officers believe that a bad rating is an invitation to spend countless hours having to defend their judgments, and the easy response, especially with staff shortages and not enough time, is simply to go light on bad comments.
So as the person responsible for the original language, I vote for its repeal.
However, the bill’s provisions go a bit too far. There is no reason to eliminate the ability of the contractor to give their version of events and have it put in the contract file. That just seems like elementary fairness, so others using the past-performance report get to see a different version of what happened, if there is one. I think that at least enlightened elements in the contractor community could support elimination of the dysfunctional appeal process, which undermines the ability of the past-performance system to work at all. But elimination of even the right to comment is sure to arouse the ire of all contractors, as Weigelt’s article seems to show.
Can the bill authors tweak their language so it can help create a real improvement in the government’s past-performance rating system?
– by Steve Kelman, Washington Technology, Mar, 5, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/blogs/lectern/2012/03/contractors-past-performance.aspx?s=wtdaily_060312.
March 8, 2012 by cs
Companies would lose the opportunity to respond to performance reviews written by government officials under a new contracting bill. The reviews often play a major role in winning future contracts.
The Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act (S. 2139), which was introduced Feb. 29, would revise language in the Federal Acquisition Regulation that gives companies 30 days to comment, provide additional information or rebut a contracting official’s assessment of their work. The same FAR provision requires agencies to provide companies with a copy of the work performance evaluation.
Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for national security and procurement policy at TechAmerica, said this proposed FAR revision is huge change in procurement. It eliminates the ability for contractors point out mistakes or offer their perspective on circumstances when agency officials view them differently.
“This provision may lead to a bad situation or bad feelings, at least,” Hodgkins said.
A customer agency may be unhappy because it didn’t get what it wanted, although the contractor may have been bound by the firm-fixed price contract that the agency awarded. The result might be a lackluster performance review.
“That’s not unheard of,” Hodgkins said.
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) introduced the contracting reform bill, which is based on recommendations from the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCaskill and Webb created the independent commission in 2007, and the commission issued a final report in 2011.
Among its other provisions, the bill would expand what goes into the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System, a database of contractors’ past performance and other related information. It would have agencies include information on any of a contractor’s parent or subsidiary entities.
The legislation would elevate oversight responsibilities for procurement officials and enhance management structures for the agencies handling contingency contracting. McCaskill and Webb want procurement training added to education curricula for both professional military and contingency operations. The training would deal with defining requirements and the strategic impacts of contracts on the mission.
The legislation would require justifications for sole-source contracts to handle compelling demands.
The bill has been referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for further review.
The Wartime Contracting Commission spent three years investigating contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its final report to Congress, the panel estimated that the United States had lost as much as $60 billion through contract waste and fraud in those countries. The commission also identified major failures in contingency contracting planning, execution and oversight.
It concluded that such waste will increase if officials don’t toughen accountability as U.S. operations wind down, support for programs declines, and major reconstruction projects become unsustainable.
McCaskill, who introduced legislation with Webb to create the commission, has been focused on procurement and contracting reform. She’s chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee and also chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee.
“When Jim and I got here, nobody was paying attention to the billions of taxpayer dollars being wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” McCaskill said in a statement. “But with the roadmap provided by the commission report, we can change the way our government contracts during wartime, and make sure these failures are never repeated.”
About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week. This article was published on Mar. 1, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/03/01/no-review-past-performance-evaluation.aspx?s=wtdaily_020312.
January 2, 2012 by cs
Government contractors beware: 2012 may be the year of the government audit.
Financial scrutiny of contractors is expected to rise as the government expands its auditing workforce and the contracting pie shrinks. Agencies are
coming under greater congressional scrutiny, and public pressure is mounting to ensure the taxpayer is getting the best deal.
One indicator came in a Nov.15 directive from Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob J. Lew, who ordered federal agencies to put more resources and emphasis into their suspension and disbarment programs.
Lew referenced a recent Government Accountability Office study which, he said, found that “more than half of the 10 agencies it [GAO] reviewed lacked the characteristics common among active and effective suspension and debarment programs: dedicated staff resources, well-developed internal guidance and processes for referring cases to officials for action.”
Government contractors have always faced an abundance of potential audits. The Defense Contract Audit Agency alone conducts several dozen
different types of audits, including: pre-award reviews; incurred cost examinations; purchasing system reviews; billing system reviews; disclosure statement reviews; and provisional rate reviews.
Moreover, the number of rules and procedures to follow is mind-numbing. The Federal Acquisition Regulation, which is comprised of more than 1,700 pages of rules and regulations, is just one set of federal regulations pertaining to government contracts.
While no two audits are the same, government auditors are likely to place a greater emphasis on internal controls during 2012.
They will review your stated policies and procedures to determine the strength of your control environment, then typically make a random selection of
transactions (for example, vendor invoices, employee time cards, travel vouchers) and scrutinize supporting documentation.
The auditors are looking to determine if the contractor’s policies and procedures were followed, approvals documented and internal controls enforced.
In addition, there are now many prospective government contracts that will be awarded only after rigorous assessments of the adequacy of the contractor’s
business systems and internal controls. Contractors now will simply pass or fail, rather than possibly passing with certain deficiencies. All deficiencies must be addressed successfully before the contractor’s system is deemed adequate, and the contract awarded.
Many companies now are being proactive, seeking a third party to make an initial assessment as to whether their systems can meet Defense Contract Audit
Agency requirements before being notified of a pending agency review. Such a review prior to bidding on a contract can provide the confidence to bid for all
types of government contracts without business system constraints.
By implementing corrective measures that might be identified during the review, contractors can improve overall operations while staying ahead of the
competition and helping ensure they will not be behind the DCAA eight ball.
Having the black mark of a failed government audit is a difficult position from which to recover, and amounts to a “scarlet A” in the world of government
contracting. But the moniker can be avoided with prudent planning and taking proactive measures to shore up your systems in advance.
As we go into 2012 and face whatever budgetary cuts the government may implement, positioning your company to take advantage of every opportunity is
more important than ever.
– Commentary by Michael Tinsley, founder and chief executive of NeoSystems, for The Washington Post – Dec. 25, 2011 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/a-new-year-of-heightened-scrutiny-for-government-contractors/2011/12/14/gIQAq7IUHP_story.html
December 29, 2011 by cs
Beginning in February 2012, Georgia Tech is offering a series of professional education courses that allow you to better manage both your time and your budget.
Featured, for the first time anywhere, is CON 090-Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Fundamentals, packaged in four modules.
Georgia Tech’s Contracting Education Academy has split-up what is normally offered as a four-week Defense Acquisition University course into four, one-week classes. That means you now have multiple opportunities to complete the entire class throughout the year without the challenge of being away from your job for a month straight.
In CON 090, the Federal Acquisition Regulation – also known as “the Bible” of federal acquisition – is broken down into bite-sized pieces, making all the detail more digestible.
Plus, if you register for all four modules of CON 090 at one time, you’ll receive a discount of $300. (Please contact ude.hcetag.ymedacAgnitcartnoCnull@ofnI or call 855-812-5309 for details on this discount.)
Other courses featured in 2012 are the three-day CON 260B-Small Business Programs and CON 120-Mission Focused Contracting. See http://www.pe.gatech.edu/Subjects/Acquisition-Government-Contracting for details on all courses, including cost and registration.
During 2011, contracting officials and contractors alike attended these two courses. Both “sides of the table” gained new insights into the government acquisition process.
The 2012 course calendar can be viewed at http://contractingacademy.gatech.edu/training. Courses are expected to be added throughout the year. Coming soon, for instance, are COR 206-Contracting Officer Representatives in the Contingency Contracting Environment and COR 222-Contracting Officer’s Representative Course.
September 26, 2011 by cs
Make room on the bulletin board near contractor coffee makers and break rooms.
The Defense Department now requires its defense contractors to post the DOD inspector general’s fraud hotline posters in common work areas. The rule took affect Sept. 16, according to a notice in the Federal Register the same day.
The DOD IG didn’t think the old rules went far enough because the Federal Acquisition Regulation allowed a contractor to not post any other agency’s hotline numbers other than those of the Homeland Security Department if the company had its own business ethics program with a means of reporting fraud or waste.
However, the DOD IG believes the FAR might be limiting the use of its own hotline. Without a poster, an employee wouldn’t know the IG’s phone number.
“According to the DOD IG, some contractors’ posters may not be as effective as the DOD poster in advertising the hotline number, which is integral to the fraud program,” the notice explained. The DOD IG is also revising its poster to tell employees of federal whistleblower protections.
The rule amends the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement, or DFARS.
In response to the proposal in May, some experts were concerned that the new hotline posters could replace the contractor as the first line of defense against waste and fraud. It would also get the IG involved in what often turns out to be human resource issues or concerns about day-to-day activities that may need immediate attention.
But the IG said its staff knows the difference between an urgent matter about a defense contract and a routine personnel issue.
The rule applies to contracts and subcontracts that exceed $5 million. It does not apply to purchases of commercial items or for work that will be performed entirely outside the United States if the contract exceeds $5 million.
About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement at Washington Technology. This article appeared on Sept. 19, 2011 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2011/09/19/dod-ig-required-fraud-hotline-posters.aspx?s=wtdaily_200911.
May 2, 2011 by cs
Defense Department officials have told acquisition employees to fight for lower prices on contracts, even when there’s only one bidder.
In an April 27 memo, DOD officials gave more guidance to their acquisition offices on bargain for lower prices, as the department aims for more competition and lower spending in general. One area to find that savings is by negotiating lower prices from a contractor.
The initiative started last November, when defense officials told contracting officers to cancel a solicitation if it’s been in the market for less than 30 days and only one bid has come in. After the cancellation, they have to send out another solicitation for an additional month. If there’s still only one bidder, the contracting officer has to work to get a lower price than proposed.
Shay Assad, director for defense procurement and acquisition policy, wrote in the new memo that officers should not pay the contractor’s proposed price, even if the cost seems reasonable based on market research and having hosted a fair competition.
Instead, Assad wants officers to make sure the final price, which both sides agree to, is fair and reasonable in and of itself. He tells them to do careful analysis of the price and cost. Then the government needs to bring their analyses to the negotiating table to discuss pricing. Read the Federal Acquisition Regulation on contract pricing.
However, the new order means finalizing contracts will take more time, despite overly busy acquisition offices.
“I recognize that implementation of this policy may have the unintended consequence of increasing the contracting community’s workload, but given today’s scarcity of resources we need to ensure effective competition to the maximum extent possible,” Assad wrote at the end of the memo.
DOD officials have been under heavy pressure to make spending cuts. In 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics, and technology, issued a 23-point memo on acquisition reforms.
Competition for contracts is one of the key points of Gates and Carter’s reforms, along with controlling growth in costs, improving acquisition workforce’s know-how of buying services, and launching affordable projects.
– About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is acquisition editor for Federal Computer Week – posted at http://fcw.com/Articles/2011/04/28/Defense-Department-contract-competition.aspx?p=1 on Apr. 28, 2011.
March 17, 2011 by cs
The General Services Administration’s new acquisition chief is calling for greater cooperation and communication between the government and its industry contractors, echoing a familiar refrain from members of the Obama administration’s procurement team in recent months.
In an interview last week with Government Executive, new GSA Chief Acquisition Officer Mindy Connolly said the two sides should have better dialogue in the lead-up to contract awards and during the process of implementing Federal Acquisition Regulations. GSA, like all contracting agencies, is required to develop a vendor communication plan for its workforce and the public by June 30.
“If we want to have a government that is leaner and more transparent and ready for the 21st century, anything we can do to reduce that burden on industry is really to our advantage,” said Connolly, whose first day on the job at GSA was Feb. 28.
The administration has made it a priority of late to myth-bust the perception that contracting officers should not meet with vendors for fear of causing contract delays, or committing potential ethical violations.
Last month, Dan Gordon, administrator of federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget issued a 13-page memorandum that addresses 10 of the most widely held misconceptions, including communicating with a bidder could result in a competing firm filing a protest.
Connolly has experienced the often arcane world of federal contracting from two perspectives, administering awards in both the public and private sectors. She has awarded contracts at NASA, Customs and Borders Protection, and the Treasury Department and was the Transportation Security Agency’s first contracting officer. She previously served as chief of contracting for Bureau of Land Management’s Western Region and held similar roles in industry, most notably as a contracting manager for Honeywell Defense and Space Electronics.
At GSA, Connolly plans to work with industry to clarify the impact of FAR rules so that industry is not left struggling for answers.
“Because of my experience both in government acquisition and in industry acquisition as the government customer, my interest is that it works better,” she said. “It works pretty well, but there are opportunities for it to work better through communications and doing a little different planning in our rule-making.”
Most recently, Connolly served as a senior procurement policy analyst at OFPP, where she led the office’s natural resources’ division on contracting policy matters, including implementing White House requirements for sustainable procurements and green building design.
She helped draft Obama’s October 2009 executive order requiring agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, increase energy efficiency, reduce fleet petroleum consumption, and “leverage federal purchasing power to promote environmentally responsible products and technologies.”
The order states 95 percent of all new nonweapons contracts meet sustainability requirements, including being water and energy-efficient and safe for the environment, and containing recycled materials.
Connolly’s job is to take the broad-ranging policy for environmentally preferable products and services and sustainable technologies and make it executable through regulations in the FAR.
“Each agency would be able to look at how they can put [directives] into their specifications, or requirements for products,” she explained. “Some things are easy, like office paper. Other things are more challenging like a building, or a lease.”
– By Robert Brodsky – GovExec.com – March 14, 2011