New and Improved CPARS. When?

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy recently conducted a survey with a host of agencies regarding contractor performance assessment ratings (CPARs) and if they are completed at all, they are not on time.  (Federal News Network, October 5, 2020)

Working with GovConRx, OFPP found 95 percent of respondents would actually like to take part in contractor self-assessments at agreed-upon intervals throughout the contract performance period. A majority of respondents (84 percent) support a “CPARs Lite” perspective for certain fixed price and commercial item contracts as well as CPARS ratings demonstrating specific objectives and contract outcomes. It appears many agencies are doing their “own thing” right now; for instance, OFPP and DHS have launched pilot programs using artificial intelligence to gather data and complete the ratings. VA also has its own program to review key performance indicators.(ibid)

What does all this mean? Changes to CPARs is necessary and on the horizon. Unfortunately, there is still no timeframe for how soon we will see them.

Questions about CPARs and how they might work to help you with future procurement efforts? Give us a call.

DoD and Software

The Department of Defense is updating its purchasing policies for software acquisition, moving toward an  Adaptive Acquisition Framework. (fedscoop, October 7, 2020)

DoD’s new software purchasing policy includes some big changes: its focus will be on updating software on an “as needed” basis instead of custom coding. In the old model DoD purchased software in the same manner as it bought tanks, which often took years. The new policy, titled 5000.87, allows contracting officers to have the tools they need to buy code while giving them the flexibility to focus on the development and maintenance of programs. (ibid)

According to a DoD spokesperson, “as more parts of the military use similar technology-development stacks, achieving Authorities to Operate (ATOs) will happen much faster.” The goal is to improve cycle time which should now be achieved with the new framework in place.

Are you looking to work with DoD to provide software or code and have questions about how to get started under the new purchasing policy? Give us a call.

 

Bots Can be Your Friend

It’s been just about a year since Dr. Michael Wooten, the Policy Administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement, disclosed his plan to remove friction from the acquisition process. His intention is to rely on robotics process automation (RPA) as well as a few additional concepts to lessen the burden on contracting officers. (Federal News Network, October 12, 2020)

One way Wooten plans to do this is through the reduction of procurement administration lead time. Wooten recently spoke at the ACT-IAC Acquisition Excellence conference and said, “We look to accelerate the use of facilitated requirements development workshops, known as SAWS. We should enhance the requirements development process with the same technologies used to finish my sentences when I send texts or emails. This is no pie-in-the-sky vision. The technology exists today. In fact, the Department of Interior is piloting this approach. Under one of its contracts, a contractor supporting the Department of Interior applies natural language processing and machine learning tools to coach Interior’s acquisition community through the acquisition process. These artificial intelligence tools collect data to identify training needs. These data support management decisions to support better performance through training or process improvements.” (ibid)

When purchasing anything from help desk services to a fighter jet, AI and natural language processing tools pull clauses and requirements, which are applicable, by scanning previous contracts. The next step hopefully finds the manager performing minor tweaks to the language because most of the language has been used previously. GSA has been using these facilitated requirement development workshops (SAWS) since 2015 for BPAs and DoD has used SAWS since 2012 for service acquisitions over $1 billion. (ibid)

The acquisition community is taking a hard look at automation. RPA has been applied to the procurement process by the IRS, the Army, and GSA. Wooten feels RPA will improve compliance and ultimately become routine. He said, “these process automation tools can take on the ‘flow-chartable’ tasks. These tools will execute program decisions. In this fashion, automation can enable a compliance system that enables greater speed and accuracy. As process automation tools take on program decisions, they free people to make non-program decisions. They free people to exercise critical thinking and professional judgment. They empower people to create solutions.”

IRS has two programs under the Pilot IRS initiative:

  • Contract Clause Review:  a tool allowing a procurement document to be uploaded while answering questions about the document. Within seconds a compliance report is generated. Missing characters, text, and incompleteness is checked while at the same time syncing to the FAR, the Treasury Acquisition regulations, and the IRS acquisition policies. The tool is expected to have a large Return on Investment.
  • Contractor responsibility determination will automatically, prior to contract award, verify a company is eligible to do business with the government. Instead of a manual process, a bot will search databases, sending a report back to the employee within five minutes.

The Army launched another form of automation, a bot to retrieve information from SAM.gov and FAPIS.gov and summarize the information in a formatted template. Air Force and Navy should be utilizing the bot in fiscal 2021. Liz Chirico, the acquisition innovation lead in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for procurement said, “our team is looking into a couple of other interesting intelligent automation ideas. We are looking at automating some of the manual lookup processes for pricing so going to some of the public-facing pricing sites like GSA’s CALC and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics are two examples. We are also looking into streamlining the acquisition requirements process. That process often takes a lot of time and requires duplicative information, so if there is any way for us to streamline that and have all of the requirements stated upfront and have those templates and forms prepopulated.” Bots will probably also be used to ensure compliance with Section 889, prohibition of Chinese made telecommunications products. (ibid)

The IRS and the Army are using automation tools to move quickly through the procurement process and it’s likely the rest of the federal agencies are not far behind.

Questions concerning an upcoming bid and your company approvals through RPA or other automation processes? Give us a call.

Civilian Agencies: Showing You the $$$

Fiscal year 2020 was actually good for something — Civilian agency spending. Civilian agencies spent a record $228 billion in fiscal 2020, up 17 percent from fiscal 2019. The increase can be directly attributed to the Coronavirus pandemic. (Government Executive, October 8, 2020)

According to this report, published by Bloomberg Government, Health and Human Services (HHS), Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Energy drove the increased spending. Small businesses saw a 26 percent increase, or $59.4 million spent. The Department of Defense numbers, due to security purposes, see a 90 day lag in reporting; we likely won’t see those totals before the end of the calendar year.

Here’s a quick look at the spending breakdown:

  • Health and Human Services accounted for $41.2 billion or 44  percent of the overall $33.5 billion. The bulk of the spending came from vaccines, research, ventilators, and efforts related to the pandemic.
  • Veterans Affairs came in at $33.1 billion in fiscal 2020. The spending is likely attributed to community care.
  • The Department of Energy spent upwards of $35 billion on two nuclear research labs. Of note is the fact that each lab houses “supercomputers” performing coronavirus research.
  • Small Business Administration spending went from $177 million in fiscal 2019 to over $1.5 billion in fiscal 2020. Part of this is due to an RER Solutions Inc. contract being approved for a $500 million increase without competitive bidding, as disaster recovery loan applications inundated the SBA. (ibid)

Other transaction authority contracts, which are allowed a great deal of flexibility outside of the traditional procurement limitations, are increasing year after year as well. We expect to see this continue well into the future. (ibid)

Questions about the “other transaction authority contracts” and how to take advantage of their flexibility? Give us a call.

Alliant 2 is Out/Polaris is In

After a year of protests and federal court hearings, the Government Accountability Office has canceled its $15 billion Alliant 2 Small Business contract. GAO is calling the replacement contract “Polaris.” A GSA spokesperson said, “Polaris will not only guide small businesses through the federal market, it will also help GSA customer agencies through the acquisition of IT service-based solutions, and give GSA a chance to improve our offerings and set the agency on a solid course for the future.” (GSAblogs.gsa.gov, October 1, 2020)

Administration sees the industrial base broadening by:

  • Pricing Strategy: GSA plans to increase its pool of qualified small businesses that serve federal agencies. GSA will employ Section 876 of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, allowing contract awards to qualifying contractors without consideration of prices for hourly services. Focus on price competition ultimately takes place at the task order level.
  • On-ramps: Allows for an expanded industrial base as technology changes and for vendors to be considered on the GWAC following an initial award period.
  • Opportunity Expansion: An increased opportunity for HUBZone and woman-owned businesses.
  • Embracing Technology to Maximize Efficiency: Polaris will provide agencies with access to emerging technology providers, especially those offering artificial intelligence, automated technologies, blockchain, 5G implementation, cybersecurity, and cloud. (ibid)

The vendor evaluation strategy will be similar to that used in the Veterans Technology Services 2 and Alliant 2 contracts. Both were guided by industry comments. FAS may utilize an online proposal submission tool to speed up Polaris contract awards, as well as a modified evaluation strategy. (Federal Computer Week, October 5, 2020)

Questions about the Polaris evaluation strategy and how your company might do business on the platform? Give us a call.