Charles D. Solloway (Author)
Publication date: 05/01/2013
Manager’s Guide to
CHARLES D. SOLLOWAY, JR., CPCM
GETTING EVERYONE ON BOARD
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the source selection process for a government manager is dealing with the differing perspectives of the various stakeholders. This chapter briefly examines some of these stakeholder issues as well as approaches often used to get everyone on board in formulating a successful source selection strategy.
The Federal Acquisition Regulation (generally known as the FAR) describes a vision of the acquisition system in which everyone works together toward a successful outcome; at the same time, it implements myriad laws and policies that can make that goal challenging for the government manager.
Many of these “challenging” FAR requirements and other government acquisition policy mandates can have one or more assigned advocates or proponents within a contracting agency. And each of these advocates is likely to view the source selection process from his or her own unique perspective.
The primary stakeholders and their likely dominant concerns are as follows:
• The project or program office sponsoring an acquisition is committed to an established budget and program schedule. The overriding concern of this stakeholder is to complete the job, achieving satisfactory or better than satisfactory results, within the budget and time allotted. The project or program office is directly accountable to the head of the agency, and perhaps even higher levels of the federal government, to do so.
• The contracting officer must balance the priorities of all of the stakeholders and also seek to avoid contractor protests or other matters that may disrupt or abort the acquisition. The contracting officer and the agency contracting organization must consider a number of discrete goals placed on the agency, such as competition in contracting goals, goals to reduce the use of high cost-risk contract types, and various small business utilization goals. Depending on the current leadership in Congress and the executive department, the emphasis given to any particular goal may vary.
In addition to complying with regulations and policies, the contracting officer must comply with precedent established by the opinions of the comptroller general or the federal courts in responding to protests from contractors.
The contracting officer is also expected to perform his or her duties in a manner that is fair to contractors and advantageous to the public.
• The agency small business advisor is focused on achieving agency small business goals and on agency compliance with regulations pertaining to the constantly growing number of socioeconomic programs involving small disadvantaged (minority) businesses, veteran-owned businesses, woman-owned businesses, companies in historically underutilized business zones, American Indian-owned businesses, and more. At the least, this stakeholder will insist during the source selection process on compliance with the laws and policies governing socioeconomic programs. These socioeconomic goals, although worthwhile, can add to both the complexity and the cost of the source selection process.
• Each government agency may establish other special program advocates for various contract reform efforts such as increasing competition, limiting the use of high-risk contract types, maximizing the use of performance-based requirements documents, and other agency or governmentwide initiatives.
• Agency legal counsel seeks to make sure that the agency operates within the law and, in the event of contractor protest or dispute, has a solid, defensible position. Government lawyers tend to practice preventive law and in the main may seem more inclined toward risk avoidance rather than any other aspect of risk management.
• Representatives from various other agency functional areas are also involved in the source selection process. These may include safety, security, quality, or environmental specialists, each with their own set of priorities and concerns.
• Contractors are stakeholders, too. They seek business and the opportunity to earn a profit. They want to be treated fairly when they compete for government contracts.
To the extent that they are permitted do so within law and policy, contractors attempt to influence the decisions of government stakeholders. For example, they may endeavor during the presolicitation stage to impress the program office with their unique capabilities or attempt to influence the program office to favor a particular technical approach. Or they may seek to convince an agency that a socioeconomic set-aside for their particular segment of business is in order.
• The head of the agency expects everyone to work together to achieve all agency goals.
• The source selection authority (SSA) is the individual who chooses one or more of the competing contractors to receive a contract award. The SSA may rely heavily on the advice and expertise of other stakeholders. The SSA may be the contracting officer or any other designated agency official, such as the project manager or even the agency head.
The SSA also must approve any source selection strategy developed by the other stakeholders.
The need for stakeholders to work together in source selection is not just a business management cliché. Any individual stakeholder can be a showstopper in the effort to reach a timely consensus on how to proceed with an acquisition.
COMING TO CONSENSUS ON AN ACQUISITION STRATEGY
There are two basic methods by which agencies seek to bring stakeholders together to develop a consensus on an acquisition strategy. One is for the program or project office to independently develop a strategy and then begin to pass strategy papers back and forth for agreement or comments from a variety of other stakeholders. This process is known as throwing papers over the wall. This can be a time-consuming and far less than optimal process, where revised papers repeatedly are thrown back and forth over various functional area walls until the concerns of the various stakeholders are satisfied—or until stakeholders either compromise or surrender their positions.
Another strategy-development method is to hold one or more acquisition strategy meetings where all of the government stakeholders are present. Many agencies require such meetings, especially for big-ticket procurements. The program office, together with the contracting officer, proposes a strategy and gains input from the government stakeholders, all of whom get to both voice their concerns and listen to the concerns of other stakeholders. These strategy meetings should include consideration of any planning input previously provided in planning exchanges with interested contractors.
Typically, these strategy groups are able to reach a consensus. When they do not, agencies normally have a mechanism for obtaining a final strategy decision from higher levels within the agency. These higher-level decisions must also comply with law and regulation.
THE PEOPLE AND THE PROCESS
You cannot separate people from the acquisition process. The astute manager recognizes the legitimate concerns of everyone involved in the source selection process and seeks their assistance. A wagon can be pulled faster and farther when everyone pulls in the same direction.