Point 2: Rapidly award contracts
There is abundant evidence that processes used for awarding DoD IT contracts are not aligned with rapid delivery. While the DoD procurement regulations endorse rapid contracting methods and emphasize using risk to guide contracting efforts, contracting often becomes the pacing item for IT efforts. When I was a Program Executive Officer (PEO) in DoD, I pushed the envelope to make contracting more rapid and less costly to government and to contractors. I found that rapid contracting can be done, but it usually required the use of guidelines to the program office and contracting staff. These guidelines would focus on the mission/business benefits of a rapid contracting process. Several guidelines that can assist in implementing an agile contracting process for IT contracting are described in the following paragraphs. Again, these recommendations are focused only on what can be done quickly without changing policy or legislation.
Awarding contracts based on mission areas (e.g., command and control, logistics, IT network infrastructure, etc.) rather than based on specific programs or projects results in contracts being available when a specific project is to be undertaken within the mission area. Often this contract is an indefinite quantity indefinite delivery (IDIQ) type of contract. By focusing the contracts on mission areas, the contract holders have been prequalified in the mission area. When a specific project is to be undertaken, a contract (task) can quickly be awarded to a single contract holder or rapidly competed among multiple mission area contract holders.
There are many IDIQ contract vehicles within DoD and across the Federal government that can be used for development and delivery of IT capabilities. The primary limitation with most of these vehicles is that the time to award a specific contract task order is inconsistent with rapid delivery. Rather than a very streamlined contracting action that takes days or perhaps a week for a short duration (i.e., 12 months or less) project, many task orders take months to award, with attendant high costs to both the government and contractors and with negative impacts to user missions. There is no reason that this process needs to take months. The recommended guideline is that all task order awards be “time boxed” with established maximum timeframes and with no task order contracting process taking more than 21 calendar days from announcement of opportunity to task award. The goal for awarding a task order for a 12 month (or less) effort should be 14 days.
In cases where an IDIQ contract is not appropriate, or for the award of IDIQ vehicles, a similar time box approach should be employed. In this case the guideline is that the time from RFP release to award must be no longer than 120 days. Having implemented this process repeatedly as a PEO, I am confident that it can be done. The challenge is to force the awareness of time to meet user needs as a major factor in all contracting decisions. As a PEO, I negotiated with my program managers aggressive contract award dates prior to RFP release and required the program manager to prioritize tasks to meet the target award dates—it works! The key to a rapid source selection is that activities and tasks must be formally and ruthlessly prioritized in order to focus only on the discriminating items that will permit selection of the “best” contractor for the short-duration project or a series of short-duration projects. DoD budgets and DoD users cannot afford protracted contracting processes that do not focus only on what is most important within the established time constraints.
It is useful to note that once contracting actions can be done rapidly several positive benefits are achieved. It is possible to terminate a contractor for weak performance without causing significant delays in meeting the needs of the end user customers. It is possible to get high quality government personnel to participate in source selection evaluations. Most importantly, the collective resources, both financial and intellectual, of both government and industry become properly focused on quickly delivering the best capability to the end user rather than focusing these resources disproportionately on proposals and evaluations that yield no benefit to the end user and have become increasingly more costly to taxpayers who largely foot the bill.
As a final recommendation for Point 2, all program/project managers and contracting personnel should be required to demonstrate familiarity with the OMB “Myth Busters” Memorandum published in February, 2011 [Ref 11]. OMB’s guidance contains a number of clarifications to common myths that have increasingly resulted in lengthy, more costly, and less effective government contracting.