The Need for Acquisition Reform

Businessman need help under a lot of white paper, flat design

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It’s no secret that many of the procurements in federal contracting take a really long time. Collectively, we’ve built some very big and complex processes around the rules and so forth, and now we’re reaping the result of having to get through all these gates. At the end the contractors and the Government are not clear if we’re left with anything better (although the gates make sure certain elements of fairness are covered), but what we are sure of is that the process took an extra year or more.

Here is just one example: At TAPE, we had started to respond to an RFP. We had asked a bunch of questions and been through several RFP Q&A responses and RFP iterations. One of our questions had to do with RDT&E (Research, Development, Test and Evaluation) activities. Like other respondents, we were trying to get more information in order to successfully respond to that portion of the RFP.

Now, any official change to an RFP that goes out – including answers to questions – are reviewed by the Government’s lawyers. In this case, the lawyers said that since RDT&E money comes from a different part of the budgeting process (different “colors of money”) than operations and maintenance, these activities should not be mixed into the same RFP or contract.

And just like that, we were done. Two days before it was due, the Government pulled (cancelled) the RFP and estimated a six-month to one-year delay before it would be re-opened, while they worked on a way to split up these functions in some fashion.

As you can imagine, everybody went a little bit crazy. We had done all this work, talked to the customer, got our capture information, etc. When we talked to the agency’s small business people, all they could say was that they’d needed to reframe the RFP. True, but why couldn’t they have caught that in one of the iterations? This wouldn’t have necessarily saved us and our cohorts from the ultimate disappointment, but would have certainly saved some of our efforts.

For it to take six months to pull out section of an RFP, rejig it, and put it back on the street, seems an absurd length of time. We’re not talking about a complicated weapons system here, but something in the services realm.

Shortening the acquisition timeline is one goal of reform, and other is to address the “ginormous” amount of overruns – when the acquisition takes more time and money than planned or available.

In any RFP, the government tries to give you detailed specs to build what they want, ranging from a mousetrap to a huge missile. They try to gather a huge number of details – performance measures, trail of spares, logistics, necessities to maintain it, etc.

In one case with procurement of defenses against the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war effort was over before the outcomes and results of the acquisition process were finished.

The more detailed the specs need to be, the longer the process will take. And when things take longer they cost more. This is how a $10 screwdriver ends up costing $1,000 – because you’ve given somebody 100 pages about the exact screwdriver you want. That’s what we need to fix.

This is an ongoing movement, and the pendulum is swinging both ways.


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