It’s not a surprise that multiple sources indicate the Department of Homeland Security must improve the quality of post-award debriefings. A survey of Government Technology & Services Coalition members brought up challenges for both the government and contractors. For example, DHS’ divisions within a component frequently use disparate formats when debriefs are conducted and the quality of the information does not always match FAR Part 15 post-award debriefing guidance or industry expectations regarding the following areas:
- Clarity in the evaluation of significant weaknesses or deficiencies in the offeror’s proposal
- Overall evaluation of cost or price
- Overall ranking of all offerors, when any ranking was developed by the agency during the source selection
The industry community points out that, oftentimes, the rationale for the award is vague or provides little justification for the award decision. Additionally, there is no consistency in the delivery method used (e.g., face-to-face, phone, email) and the selection of the delivery method is sometimes unclear. Generally, the current debrief procedure does not instill confidence in the contracting process. The industry continues to raise concerns and objections regarding the debrief process, and while we don’t have recent official DHS reports the industry has observed an alarming increase in protests, cost claims, and requests for reconsideration.
We have recently seen an increased emphasis in industry reverse days mainly because many agencies understand that there is a direct relationship between the consistency and reliability of the source selection process and the quality of debriefings. There is a wide degree of variance between acquisition groups when it comes to the process they follow. While there are some groups who have established templates and protocols, oftentimes these are not properly updated or followed and personnel is not properly trained. Even more, there are no incentives for staff to follow the process because there is no change management plan behind these efforts.
In more mature organizations there are tools that remove the complexity and the guessing game from the source selection process. An example is DoD form Form 1574, Weighted Guidelines Format. Far from being overly sophisticated, this is a simple Excel form that takes into account numerous decision factors and generates a justifiable profit objective in a standardized manner. Acquisition personnel, including the unexperienced, can perform the analysis necessary to develop a profit objective, summarizing profit amounts, and serves as the principal source document for determining and justifying profit paid to contractors under federal contracts. The use of templates and a consistent process can add value to both technical and price evaluation criteria.
As practitioners of source selection facilitation, we find that oftentimes the source selection process fails because of simple reasons. Guidance and templates are not consistently used or explained to Technical Evaluation Panel members and the end result is a confused contracting specialist, at a loss in making sense out of the multiple strengths, weaknesses, significant weaknesses and deficiencies. Not only does this reduce confidence in the acquisition decision but also unnecessarily prolongs the timeline.
Imagine the possibilities of a defined source selection process, adapted to the acquisition strategy, one that follows a source selection plan with clear roles and responsibilities for those included in the selection process. Most importantly, a process that is explained in detail, a resource for contracting specialists and officers with positive reinforcement for use based on a clear change management plan. That is the type of process that would allow agencies to have a clear and justifiable decision record that then can be used to put together debriefings.
The second unknown in the debrief equation is that the amount of information shared with the unsuccessful offeror is insufficient compared to the time and effort applied by industry to participate in a competitive procurement. In particular, written debriefings generally do not provide the opportunity for offerors to receive reasonable responses to relevant questions, which is required under FAR 15.506(6).
For that reason, the industry must encourage DHS’ leadership to establish a policy that requires the method of communication with industry for post-award debriefings to be aligned to the value or characteristics of a DHS procurement. While all procurements, large or small, require the investment of bid and proposal resources, placing the value of the award as the basis for the level of interaction between government and industry is a logical benchmark that can easily be employed. This consistency can also remove the guessing factor when externally communicating.
Debriefings are an important and integral part of the acquisition process. Time constraints and other pressures can be alleviated by the use of standard procedures and tools. Lack of training or process should not prevent DHS from an opportunity to draw lessons from the preceding stage and provide positive feedback, where needed, as the long-term goal should be to help improve the process overall. There are many benefits to both DHS and the industry in improving clarity, credibility, and communications and encouraging better responses in the future. DHS must continue to establish a reputation as a fair, open, and ethical buyer with whom the industry will want to do business in the future, and effective debriefings are key in accomplishing this objective.
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