ICE officers at work in the Port of Los Angeles (Courtesy of ICE)

ICE Streamlining Source Selection for Faster Acquisition

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is experimenting with some new and innovative techniques in procurement — an effort to make the process quicker and easier to understand for vendors, especially smaller businesses.

The techniques aim at streamlining source selection, the stage of certain kinds of government procurement when possible vendors are assessed, ranked and sometimes whittled down, explained Sarah Todd, Deputy Head of Contracting Activity in ICE’s Office of Acquisition Management.

“All of these [innovations] are driving towards shorter lead times from the time we get a proposal or a quotation until we can make that award,” she told attendees at a recent GTSC event. The changes mean that “Things could move a lot faster than we have typically moved in the past,” on procurements, she said.

One change that the agency is experimenting with involves a two-stage procurement process, with “an advisory down select.”

The two stage approach will allow acquisition officials to inform vendors closer to the start of the process, that they’re unlikely to reach the finish line. After receiving and evaluating initial proposals, officials will rate them, Todd said.

“For the folks that are not among the highest rated, you will get a little note from us that says, ‘Hey, at this time you’re not among the highest rated for this procurement,’” she explained. Since officials will end up choosing between proposals from the highest rated vendors, those not in that top tier might want to think about cutting their losses before ploughing more resources into submitting a proposal in the second stage.

But it’s completely voluntary, hence not a true down select, but rather an advisory one.

“You can … decide whether or not you want to move into the second phase, and you’re welcome to do that, but if you don’t think that you’re going to be able to make significant improvements, to get yourself into that higher rating, you might want think about saving those proposal dollars” by not moving ahead, Todd said.

“I think that’s really helpful for industry and for us, because then vendors have more information about their chances for award and we’re likely evaluating fewer proposals in the second phase”, she explained to HS Today in an interview after her talk.

Secondly, she said the agency is experimenting with changing the way it classifies vendors technical proposals. Traditionally officials break them down into five categories: Excellent, good, acceptable, marginal and unacceptable.  The definitions of how a vendor gets into one of those categories can be convoluted.

For instance, to be rated “excellent” a proposal may just need to be free of any weaknesses, Todd noted. “Our adjectival ratings are not always differentiating in a really useful way to perform a transparent tradeoff,” she acknowledged.

Under the new system, officials would break down rated proposals into three categories: High confidence, confident or low confidence. Todd said this “simpler evaluation scheme” would better reflect the fact that a range of proposals end up in each category — and make it easier to explain to vendors why officials made the choices they did.

“This is all about making sure we know what it is we’re evaluating … but also being able to give better feedback to you,” she told the audience of GTSC members and other vendors.

“It gives us a little more flexibility and makes the process easier to understand for vendors,” she told HS Today afterwards, noting these innovations had been piloted by the DHS Chief Procurement Officer’s Procurement Innovation Lab.

Finally, she said, the agency was also experimenting with its internal procedures, to do more face to face and on the spot evaluation, in order to avoid the often drawn-out process of aligning different officials’ submissions.

“We’re streamlining our paperwork,” she said.

Shaun is an award-winning journalist who has worked for the BBC and United Press International. In the past five years, Shaun has launched two of the best-respected and most widely read DC daily cybersecurity newsletters — POLITICO Pro's Morning Cybersecurity and Scoop News Group's CyberScoop. Shaun became UPI's Homeland and National Security Editor shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, covering the Department of Homeland Security from its standup in 2003. His reporting on DHS and counter-terrorism policy earned him two (2005, 2011) "Dateline Washington" awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and a senior fellowship at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. In 2009-10 Shaun produced a major report on cybersecurity for critical infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading Washington think tank. From 2010-2013, he wrote about intelligence, foreign affairs and cybersecurity as a staff reporter for The Washington Times. Shaun, who is British, has a master’s degree in social and political sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He is married and lives in Washington, DC with his wife and three American sons, Miles, Harry and Peter.

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