How GSA Is Addressing the Unrealistic Expectations of Small Businesses

The time-consuming pursuit of large multiple award contracts creates major obstacles for small firms.

Most government contractors and industry professionals are familiar with the lengthy cycle involved with pursuing large multiple award contracts. Often times, a large MAC nears the end of its period of performance and the respective contracting organization recycles the performance work statement from the current contract to release a draft request for proposal.

However, a long time has usually elapsed since the beginning of the original contract, which renders the recycled requirements outdated and unrealistic. The inevitable amendments and extensions that follow further complicate the process. For small businesses with limited resources, developing a quality proposal under such circumstances can be extremely difficult. As a result, a slew of lackluster proposals from the small business industry straddle the line between non-compliance and compliance. Their bids take months (sometimes even years) to evaluate. Once awards are finally made, government managers and executives often face protests.

For small businesses focused on IT services, the cycle sets unrealistic expectations. This poses a significant problem for both government and industry. We can likely agree that this is a problem, but how can we solve it?

The Solution: the GSA Model

In July 2013, the General Services Administration released a request for proposals for the One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Solutions (OASIS) contract vehicle. It was “designed to reduce duplication of contracting efforts across the government and provide federal agencies with comprehensive, integrated professional services contract options.” Despite low initial interest from agencies, OASIS’ recent sales figures reflect the undeniable success of the program. The successful outcome of OASIS and its evaluation model has led GSA to use similar models on GSA Veterans Technology Services and the upcoming GSA Alliant 2 contract vehicles.

Three characteristics define this successful model:

1. The evaluation method is an objective scorecard. Awardees are those respondents whose proposals fall within a certain point range (in relation to the total possible point value) or who achieve the highest scoring set that the government would like to award (for example, the 20 highest scoring proposals will be the awardees of a contract with 20 possible awards). Additionally, the government may reserve a certain number of awards for small businesses and an additional number as full and open.

2. Subjective information is monitored. For every claim that an offeror makes about its current work, a contracting officer or contracting officer’s representative must sign off on it.

3. Innovation has a reserved space on the scorecard. On the upcoming Alliant 2 procurement, for example, GSA selected 10 Leading Edge Technologies (LETs), such as Artificial Intelligence and Biometrics, which give truly innovative offerors the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths.

The GSA evaluation model is nearly drawback-free and reduces most issues within the long cycle of MAC pursuit, which makes it appealing to both government agencies and vendors. Depending on what is being scored, the scoring mechanism can favor businesses categorized as small by the federal government but larger in size than others. Requirements are often simpler, meaning capture teams can spend time gathering necessary information instead of trying to understand requirements that are likely to change.

Under the GSA evaluation model, the difference between winning and losing is clear cut, fairly established and difficult to protest. Eliminating the subjectivity within proposal evaluations will also drastically reduce the number of pre- and post-award protests.

The GSA model is easier for agencies and easier for contractors. With a little luck and the right guidance, government agencies outside of GSA will soon realize the vitality of this evaluation method and replicate it while shaping the requirements of their own acquisition efforts.

Lara Petry is federal account manager at Indigo IT.