Best-in-class, or worst-in-class? Chino

Given the recurring problems with large multiple-award contract vehicles, the government needs to reevaluate how it bundles the purchasing of IT products and services.

What started out to be Best in Class acquisitions may be turning out to be more like worst in class procurements.

There is no denying that when the government says it is going to bundle up a major portion of the IT market and compete it through acquisition vehicles, companies will fight to the death to be one of the awardees. 

Bidders know all too well that if they are not a winner on these major acquisition vehicles, they will have to sit on the sidelines for the next five or more years watching their competitors participate in an exclusive club of companies who have been granted access to this market.

What started out to be a strategy to streamline IT acquisitions has turned out to be anything but that. 

CIOSP4, which was released in May 2021, has had to deal with 27 protests that necessitated bidders  revising and/or resubmitting their proposals. Now, awards are planned for November 2022, but it is probably better to say the next tranche of protests will begin in November, and those will delay awards while losers vet their disappointment at GAO and then in the Court of Federal Claims.

GSA has experienced similar problems. Alliant SB was released on June 24, 2016. There were so many protests on Alliant SB that they cancelled the procurement on July 2, 2020, after months of dealing with protests.

Polaris is planned to replace the cancelled Alliant procurement, but it has already endured a storm of more than 25 protests, and the final RFP has not even been released.

The Polaris protests all deal with the planned evaluation criteria and the vendor self-scoring approach. 

For Polaris, GSA plans to award points to vendors who can demonstrate experience across the entire IT landscape. In order to win, bidders have to be either one of the biggest players in the IT market or team up with enough other companies so their collective experience makes them score like they are one of the biggest players. 

Many potential bidders would argue that GSA got off course with the self-scoring procurements when they substituted Biggest in Class for Best in Class. The planned evaluation criteria is constructed to favor the largest firms or the firms that can bulk themselves up to appear large for evaluation purposes.

Perhaps GSA could lower the scoring threshold so bidders don’t have to look like the retail equivalent of a department store in order to win. After all, why not have hundreds of winners with access to the Federal IT market instead of a select few. Lowering the threshold could allow best in class companies that specialize in various aspects of the IT market to receive awards and compete with the larger awardees. Competition at the task order level with specialized firms competing for awards can bring real value to the government.

The Navy took a different approach with its SeaPort NXG multiple award vehicle. That RFP was released on June 1, 2018, and made awards to more than 1,800 companies without a single protest. Clearly making more awards and having open enrollments let the Navy put its vehicle to use rather than spend precious time dealing with protests.

Even better, GSA Schedules are an open enrollment vehicle, so any company who has something to sell to the government and is a credible bidder can compete for work.

Hopefully, GSA services MAC will overcome these issues and will have an evaluation scoring threshold that will let best in class bidders win, not just biggest in class. 

Let’s all move away from the idea of bundling up the IT market and awarding vehicles to just the biggest companies and, instead, give access to smaller firms without having them go through the charade of trying to bulk up their teams to enhance their evaluation scores.

Maybe we can actually get back to OMB’s original plan to award to best in class, not just biggest in class.