Lisa Pafe

COMMENTARY

Do the latest CIO-SP4 amendments create inequities?

NITAAC's sudden shift might put small businesses without large partners at a disadvantage

The National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC)’s highly anticipated Chief Information Officer – Solutions and Partners 4 (CIO-SP4) RFP, released June 25, has already seen four amendments and a proposal due date extension to July 8. But the latest amendment, #4, has caught some bidders, especially small businesses, off-guard.

A Change to Self-Scoring

In the original solicitation, bidders with Contractor Teaming Arrangements (CTAs) or Joint Ventures (JVs) could use only prime contractor Corporate Experience, Leading Edge Technology, Federal Multiple Award contracts, and Executive Order 13779 experience examples as documented on the self-scoring worksheet. With the exception of the latter, the higher the dollar value of these experiences, the better the score.

In Amendment #4, NITAAC removed the prohibition on using first-tier subcontractor experience examples. The rationale for the change is that “it is not NITAACs intent to remove the ability of offerors to utilize first tier subcontractors that are part of a CTA as defined in FAR 9.601.” On the surface, the amendment would seem to remove impediments to teaming and give both small and large businesses greater flexibility.

Who Benefits?

NITAAC issued the draft RFP last year, and for over a year, contractors have assumed that they could not use the experiences of teaming partners in order to bolster their score. Therefore, many contractors probably put minimal effort into developing CTAs or JVs. Most large businesses pursuing this bid likely have enough experience to achieve a competitive score without teaming partners.

With the Amendment #4 changes, small businesses now benefit from CTAs with larger businesses that offer high dollar value experience examples to generate a higher score. What this means is that large businesses can prime and then also act as a first-tier subcontractor on a non-exclusive basis, giving them the ability to join multiple teams.

Small businesses that were planning to bid without CTA or JV arrangements will likely be non-competitive in this new playing field. They will either risk a relatively low score, or they will need to quickly find teaming partners to stay competitive.

The sudden change to self-scoring experience requirements may end up putting small businesses at a disadvantage, and certainly creates a less than level playing field.

About the Author

Lisa Pafe is a capture strategy and proposal development consultant and is vice president of Lohfeld Consulting. She can be reached at LPafe@LohfeldConsulting.com

Reader Comments

Thu, Jul 1, 2021

In another odd quirk of this competition, the cover letter to Amendment #3 states that NITAAC "created a document that does not contain a comprehensive list of questions, but is rather a compilation of questions that will provide clarity for offerors." Addressing only a selection of the questions submitted—however well intended and however objective the Government tried to be—cannot help but aid those prospective bidders whose questions were fully addressed and hinder those whose questions went unaddressed. This is a perplexing move that seems destined to lend substance to (the inevitable) protests.

Wed, Jun 30, 2021

The language in the letter cannot supersede SBA guidance/ruling.

Tue, Jun 29, 2021

Good points Lisa. I agree NITAAC issued the draft RFP last year, and for over a year, contractors have assumed that they could not use the experiences of teaming partners to bolster their score. This last minute change nearly two weeks before the proposal is due is not fair to small businesses who have been operating under a totally different assumption. I think NITAAC should extend the due date to allow small business time to absorb the new strategy and update their proposals.

Tue, Jun 29, 2021

In my view, amendments while trying to clarify certain areas are creating confusion in other areas. They should clarify that NITAAC will only evaluate small business first-tier subcontractor experience (not large business) for small business primes. Otherwise, many companies who can't bring large businesses as first-tier subcontractors in this short period will be at a disadvantage. Typically for IDIQ competition, subcontractor experiences are not evaluated. For the SBA-approved mentor protégé joint ventures (where mentors are required to meet stringent SBA requirements to help small business proteges), NITAAC is allowing only one project from a large business mentor. Whereas in prime sub relationship, there is no restriction on the number of projects from large businesses subcontractors. It doesn't make sense.

Tue, Jun 29, 2021 Virginia

In my view, amendments while trying to clarify certain areas are creating confusion in other areas. They should clarify that NITAAC will only evaluate small business first-tier subcontractor experience (not large business) for small business primes. Otherwise, many companies who can't bring large businesses as first-tier subcontractors in this short period will be at a disadvantage. Typically for IDIQ competition, subcontractor experiences are not evaluated. For the SBA-approved mentor protégé joint ventures (where mentors are required to meet stringent SBA requirements to help small business proteges), NITAAC is allowing only one project from a large business mentor. Whereas in prime sub relationship, there is no restriction on the number of projects from large businesses subcontractors. It doesn't make sense.

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