Contractors soon will be able to rate transactions with agencies

Contractors will now be able to rate their transactions with federal agencies to help those agencies improve the procurement process, says OFPP Administrator Anne Rung in a March 18 memo.

Anne Rung
OFPP Administrator Anne Rung

OFPP will use a tool called Acquisition 360, which Rung says is the first ever transaction-based feedback tool that allows agencies to identify strengths and weaknesses in their acquisition processes, according to the memo.

The memo instructs agencies to use the Acquisition 360 platform to to seek feedback from vendors and internal stakeholders – such as contracting officers and program managers – on how well certain high-dollar acquisitions perform.

But the effort to rate the contracting experience isn’t about calling out individual federal employees, Rung says.

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Agency properly considered joint venture partners’ past performance, says GAO

A procuring agency properly considered the past performance of a joint venture’s two partners, even though the solicitation prohibited the consideration of subcontractors’ past performance.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO held that where a solicitation only allowed past performance references for the “prime offeror,” the agency was permitted to consider the past performance of two joint venture partners–the entities comprising a “prime offeror.”

The GAO’s decision in System Integration and Development, Inc., B-408865.2, B-408865.3 (July 10, 2014) involved a Department of Labor solicitation for information technology systems operation and maintenance.  The solicitation provided for award on a best value basis, including consideration of offerors’ past performance.

With respect to the past performance factor, the solicitation called for offerors to submit up to five references for contracts completed in the last five years.  The solicitation stated that DOL would evaluate past performance “for the prime offeror only” and that “past performance for any proposed subcontractor will not be evaluated.”

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Past performance: Agency reasonably considered quantity

An agency reasonably considered the quantity of offerors’ relevant past performance, even though the solicitation only stated that the relevance and quality of past performance would be considered.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO held that the quantity of an offeror’s past performance is logically encompassed within a review of the quality of past performance, and need not be separately identified as an area of evaluation.

The GAO’s decision in A&D General Contracting, Inc., B-409296 (Feb. 24, 2014) involved an Army Corps of Engineers solicitation for services to support military construction and repair projects.  The solicitation was issued as a small business set-aside.  Evaluation was to follow a two-phase process.  In the first phase, the Corps would consider past performance and technical approach.  The most highly rated proposals would be invited to participate in phase two.

The solicitation stated that offerors’ past performance would be evaluated for relevance and quality.  In this regard, offerors were instructed to provide up to five examples of their recent, relevant projects.  The solicitation stated that the Corps would assign an overall performance confidence assessment rating based on the overall relevance and quality of the offeror’s past performance.

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Rule would boost consideration of contractor past performance

A proposed rule published Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 would update the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to help agencies consider past performance of contractors in awarding new work while shortening the comment period available to affected firms. The industry appears receptive.

As required by the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) President Obama signed on Jan. 2, the Defense Department, the General Services Administration and NASA drafted a rule to allow data on contractor past performance to be added to two databases, the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) and the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS). The rule would also give contractors 14 days to submit comments, rebuttals or additional information in the database, rather than the current 30 days.

“It is important for past performance information to be shared with source selection officials immediately, so that award decisions can be better informed and made in a more timely manner,” the proposed rule states. “Expediting the time allotted to contractors to respond to performance evaluations should improve communication between the contractor and the government, enable current information to be shared quickly throughout the government, and ultimately ensure the government does business with high performing contractors.”

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DoD steps up contractor performance assessments

The Defense Department has completed significantly more contractor  performance assessments in recent years, in terms of both number and percentage,  a report from the Government Accountability Office says.

The department completed more than 33,000 performance assessments in fiscal  2012, compared to about 20,000 the previous year and 16,000 the year before  that.

As of April 2013, DoD had submitted 74 percent of required assessments, up  from 56 percent in October 2011. Required assessments have a period of  performance during the prior 3 years and meet the dollar threshold for  reporting.

The GAO report,  released June 27, credits the improvements to several efforts, including  expanded training. In 2012, DoD trained more than 7,000 officials to assess  contractor past performance, compared to about 3,600 in 2011 and 3,100 in 2010.

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How to handle today’s austere times

Austerity is here, it’s real and it will be the rule of the road for several years. The president’s fiscal 2013 budget request for defense will likely be about $260 billion less, over the next five years, than the top line projections of just one year ago. The civilian agencies, many of which have been facing fiscal quagmires for several years as a result of a non-stop diet of continuing resolutions, also face real pressures today and further reductions for fiscal 2013, likely in the 3 percent to 5 percent range.

And if sequestration happens, the challenges will be that much more significant. What is not yet clear is what all of this means for both the effective functioning of government and, of course, for the industry that plays such a critical role in supporting it.

Recently, the Professional Services Council, along with the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Defense Industrial Association, submitted to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top DOD leaders a report on the anticipated impacts of the defense spending reductions. They included job losses, reductions in company-funded research and development, investments in people, and the potential loss of key suppliers.

In addition, it is clear that, dosuring the next few years, an already highly competitive market will become even more competitive. With fewer contract opportunities, the number and range of competitors vying for those opportunities will be even greater than they are today.

While the fiscal environment is an unavoidable reality, there are a number of actions companies can and should take to help ameliorate at least some of those impacts. Indeed, these strategies and actions were prominent in discussions with the secretary of defense, the deputy secretary, and the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, following submission of our industrial base impacts report. These strategies also have applicability across the government.

Key among them is an intensified focus on performance—at all levels. This includes not only programmatic performance, which should always be the principal objective, but also a renewed focus on the financial side, such as fostering a proactive dialogue to help customers identify areas for cost savings—even if those savings might impact company revenue—and tightening company overhead as much as reasonably possible.

At the same time, the government customer must also think and act differently. Despite the budget reductions, the government will nonetheless be spending a huge amount of money through contracts for goods and services. To ensure that those expenditures deliver optimal benefits in both the short and long runs, it is crucial that the government, as the DOD and Office of Management and Budget leaders have said, focus on value and other meaningful value discriminators in the acquisition process. Indeed, DOD leadership has said that given the times, they will be focusing more intently than ever on those discriminators.

Unfortunately, the No. 1 issue identified by our member companies in our report was the government’s growing propensity to do just the opposite, even when buying complex services, including those that generate the kinds of innovation that lead to performance improvements and sustainable efficiencies.

Likewise, government teams must be open to eliminating non-value or limited-value contractual burdens. And the government must get away from its habit of using margins—too often arbitrarily set at unreasonably low levels—as a key cost savings tool. Margins should be linked to the complexity and risk associated with the work being done. Here too, a disconnect between the leadership’s objectives and the field’s implementation is clear and must be addressed.

For every company in the federal market, this must be a time of internal and external reassessment. The same is true for our government colleagues. There are some things that are well beyond either’s control. The key is to focus on those things that we can control and to turn an era of challenge into an era of innovation and opportunity.

About the Author: Stan Soloway is president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council.  This article was published on Feb. 27, 2012 by Washington Technology at

Bill strips contractor reviews from past-performance evaluations

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

3 tips to maximize past performance

Almost every proposal you write has a requirement for information on past performance. The government uses this information to evaluate how well your company has performed on similar programs and expects your past performance to be a predictor of how well you will perform on the program you’re currently bidding.

Because past performance can be an important discriminator in the evaluation and selection process, there are some things you should know about how to write your past performance response.

Past performance versus past experience

Past performance comprises a set of specific contracts that you select to demonstrate how well your company, or your team, has performed on contracts that are similar in size, scope, and complexity to your current bid.

Past experience, which is sometimes confused with past performance, is about the broader issue of what experience and expertise the bidding organization has gained from all of its contract work and the work of its teammates.

Select contracts to demonstrate past performance

Past performance is all about relevancy and how well you performed the work you’re referencing. The government will consider these two factors together when developing your past-performance score — and both are important. However, performance is more important than relevancy. It is better to showcase your best-performing contracts and argue that they are relevant than to select contracts that are highly relevant and had poor performance.

Expect the government evaluator to ask your customers how well you did performing each contract. Typically, this happens via a formal past-performance questionnaire submission process and/or direct communication from the government evaluators to your customers. The government keeps two databases—the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) and Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS)—to determine how well your company performs its contracts.

Government access is restricted to those individuals who are working on source selections, to include contractor responsibility determinations.

With the CPARS, companies can regularly review their own ratings for each evaluated contract, but cannot check ratings for other companies. In order to access PPIRS information, a contractor must be registered in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) system and must have created a Marketing Partner Identification Number (MPIN) in the CCR profile. Because past-performance ratings are such an important factor in proposal evaluations, every company should regularly review its CPARS ratings and challenge any evaluations they consider unfair.

Write your past performance summary

Each RFP will be very prescriptive about the information you need to provide when you describe each past-performance contract. While it may seem obvious, you really do need to provide all the requested information in order to submit a “compliant” proposal (see my Washington Technology article, “6 reasons your proposals fail,” October 2011).

You’ll be asked to provide information to show contract relevance, so keep this in mind when you write your response. Measures of relevance include contract size, scope and complexity, as well as the technical scope of work performed.

The description of the work is where you can stand out. Write your response to not only show that you performed relevant work — which every bidder does — but that you also had specific accomplishments that were meaningful to the government. Don’t just parrot back the statement of work from the contract you are citing. Focus on accomplishments because it’s these achievements that can make your contract past performance stand out from the crowd.

Most importantly, make sure you have outstanding past performance on the contracts you present. Confirm this information with your customers and with your teammates’ customers before you submit your proposal.

The government will read what you write, and they will validate the content. A good writer can present your past performance in a credible, compelling way, but if the underlying performance is less than desirable, it’s hard to overcome the truth.

About the Author: Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. This article was published by Washington Technology on Feb. 10, 2012 at

Public release of contractor data delayed

Contractors can still challenge information tjat goes into the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity System, but they have just a two-week window before the information becomes public.

The new provision takes affect Jan. 17, 2012. The start date was missing when the final rule was published Jan. 3.

Any information that agencies enter into database from Jan. 17 onward will be subject to a two-week delay before it is transferred to the publicly available part of FAPIIS. Past performance information won’t be published at all. Contractors will receive notice when new information about their company goes into FAPIIS, and they will have 7 days to point out information that should be exempt under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the new Federal Register notice, officials wrote that the delay until Jan. 17 will give agencies time to complete necessary system changes to support the two-week waiting period before contractors’ information goes live.

The current system is designed to automatically transfer information to the publicly available part of FAPIIS. Until officials make the change, companies would not have an opportunity to request withholding the information, the notice states.

FAPIIS is a one-stop website for contracting officers and federal employees to look at the history of companies’ work with the federal government. It includes data from the Performance Information Retrieval System, as well as information from other databases, including the Excluded Parties List System, which cites companies that are suspended or debarred from federal contracting.

The final rule gives companies seven days to find any information that should not be disclosed because it should be considered exempt. In such a case, officials will remove the information from FAPIIS to resolve the issue.

If the government official does not remove the item, it will be automatically released to the public website within 14 days after beginning entered into FAPIIS, according to the notice.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week. This article appeared Jan. 11, 2012 at

Jan. 10 deadline set for fighting disclosure of contractor work history

The Obama administration solidified an interim rule that requires agency officials to post a government contractor’s work history in a publicly accessible website.

The Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) is a one-stop web site for contracting officers and federal employees to look at the history of companies’ work with the federal government.

FAPIIS includes data from the Performance Information Retrieval System, as well as information from other databases, including the Excluded Parties List System, which lists companies that are suspended or debarred from federal contracting. The overall purpose of FAPIIS is to make it easier for contracting officers to get an overall assessment of a company before awarding a contract by not having to search numerous databases.

A year ago, acquisition officials issued an interim rule making all the information public, except for past performance reviews by agencies.

The final rule took effect Jan. 3.

In the Federal Register notice about the rule, officials recognized the risks about the information going public though.

The final rule gives companies seven days to find any information that should not be disclosed because it should be considered exempt from disclosure. In such a case, officials will remove the information from FAPIIS to resolve the issue.

If the government official does not remove the item, it will be automatically released to the public site within two weeks after the review period began, according to the notice.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week.  This article was published Jan. 4, 2012 at