Government Procurement in The United States - Acquisition Process - Source Selection

Source Selection

The Procurement Integrity Act (PIA) is applicable to the personnel that engage in federal source selections to include prohibitions on gifts to source selection personnel, restrictions on dissemination of procurement sensitive information and post government employment restrictions.

Source selection refers to the process for evaluating contractor proposals or quotes submitted in response to a request for proposals (RFP) or request for quotes (RFQ) based on the contract solicitation. Source selection is driven by what instructions to offerors clause is included in the contract solicitation (e.g., FAR 52.212-2 with the tailored language spelling out what the source selection criteria is, weighting, etc.).

After the requiring activity has written their SOW/PWS, figured out source selection approach, then selected factors and subfactors, then figured out weighting of non cost/price factors, then understood consequences of the above, they write a source selection plan (SSP). A SSP gives instructions to a source selection committee on how to evaluate each proposal. Courts will defer to the source selection committee’s business judgment, so facts must be included to base a decision on; the source selection committee must not be arbitrary or lack facts in the record for their findings.

Ultimately, risk evaluation is where a source selection team wants to be. That is what is used to determine weakness, significant weakness and deficiencies, which are briefed to unsuccessful offerors. Making the connection between risk evaluation/source selection criteria/factors and offeror proposals is what source selection is all about

The process used for source selection can be selected from FAR Parts 13, Simplified Acquisition, 14, Sealed Bidding or 15, Contracting by Negotiation.

Contractors competing for a government requirement have an opportunity to request clarification or amendment of a work statement or solicitation. The request for clarification must be done relatively early in the acquisition process, preferably as close to the publication of a solicitation, RFQ, RFP or other publication. Frequently contracting officers will agree to such clarifications if a contractor's request is well reasoned.

Key principles for source selection:

  • Tell them what basis you are going to award it on (award criteria) (tell them)
  • Award it based on what you said you would award it based on (do what you said you would do)
  • Document what you did. (Tell them that you did what you said you would do in the first place) More is better as long as it makes sense.
  • If discussions are held, read the bid protests on discussions first to make sure you understand how to do it.
  • Competitive Range - Defined at FAR 15.305(c) – used “if discussions are to be conducted ….” Competitive Range is a tool that you use when you expect many proposals so only the most competitive proposals need to be evaluated. FAR 15.209: “If the government intends to make award AFTER DISCUSSIONS WITH THE OFFERORS IN THE COMPETITIVE RANGE … insert ”

Offers excluded from competitive range must follow notification procedures at 15.503(a) and debriefing procedures at FAR 15.305(c)(4). Do NOT use competitive ranges to exclude offers/proposals unless solicitation stated discussions were going to be used. FAR 15.306(c). If a competitive range is used, you MUST send pre-award notifications to offerors thus excluded. An agency entering into discussions must provide “meaningful discussions” (See GAO decisions on this issue).

If FAR Part 15 is used, there MUST be a proposal evaluation under FAR 15.305 to include a “fair and reasonable” price determination under FAR 15.305(a)(1), a past performance evaluation under FAR 15.305(a)(2) and a technical evaluation under FAR 15.305(a)(3).

For each factor rating, identify each offeror’s key strengths, uncertainties and deficiencies of the proposal and then explain how the strengths, uncertainties and deficiencies resulted in that rating. Focus specifically on the factors and subfactors specifically stated in the solicitation/instructions to offerors. Do not use unstated source selection criteria to select the winning offer.

Discuss those discriminators that make one offeror better than another based on the selection criteria. Be as detailed and focused upon discriminators as the source selection results allow. If something was not a discriminator then say so and also state why it was not. If the strength had no bearing on the offerors rating, state so.

Adequately address the impact of past performance on the decision; remember, no past performance is rated NEUTRAL!!

A drafter of the source selection decision document must show the source selection authorities thought process and reasons behind the comparative analysis. Use a declaration of thinking/intent on the part of the source selection authority (SSA). For example: I selected; I thought; I determined; I reviewed; etc.

Source selections cannot compare the offers against each other. Only against the award criteria.

Spend some time on the summary to make it correct as it is very important. It is meant to very quickly put in words the best of the key discriminators used by the SSA to reach their decision.

Don’t focus the discussion on only one offeror. The Source Selection Decision Document (SSDD) compares assessments of the successful offeror against the others. If there are a large number of offerors, the detailed discussion may be limited to the most highly rated offerors. Some light discussion of lower rated offerors is needed when a competitive range is not established.

Don’t use ratings with contradicting supporting language, such as a “not detailed” rated “excellent.” Examine ratings closely as they relate to your technical discussions. Ensure they are consistent (i.e., avoid having a weakness discussed in one proposal evaluation and not another proposal having the same weakness).

Don’t identify or list weaknesses without discussing them and their importance to the thought process.

Don’t treat a neutral performance confidence assessment favorably or unfavorably. (Don’t disqualify an offeror for having a neutral rating.) No past performance must be rated as neutral under FAR Part 13 and FAR Subpart 15.3.

Ensure that, when documenting an award decision in the SSDD, SSA’s are focusing on the underlying advantages and disadvantages of the proposals rather than merely the ratings themselves. HoveCo, B-298697: http://www.gao.gov/decisions/bidpro/298697.pdf

Agency regulations frequently provide guidance on source selections: See for example, AFARS 5115.308 Source selection decision - "A source selection decision document must be prepared for all source selections and reflect the SSA's integrated assessment and decision. The document must be the single summary document supporting selection of the best value proposal consistent with the stated evaluation criteria. It must clearly explain the decision and documents the reasoning used by the SSA to reach a decision. The document should be releasable to the General Accounting Office and others authorized to receive proprietary and source selection information. When releasing a copy to offerors or to anyone not authorized to receive proprietary and source selection information, redacted material should be limited to that which is proprietary and that which must continue to be protected as source selection information."

Consistency: what is bad for one proposal is bad for all; find an adverse comment, then look at of the proposals of the other bidders and see if the same problem exists in there and was not written up in the evaluation for those proposals. What is good for one proposal is good for all proposals (See above)

Take a hard look at definitions in instructions given to source selection committee – look at the words in them; start with the worst definition i.e. unacceptable, look at the words in it, then see if those words show up in evaluations that are rated higher than that definition in the rating worksheets.

If you have something bad in the proposal you want to win, then acknowledge it in your source decision document, and STATE THAT IT DID NOT AFFECT YOUR DECISION OF X REGARDING RATING OF THAT PROPOSAL!!! – if the same thing is bad in another proposal, then say the same thing in that one as well.

The word “non-responsive” IS ONLY USED IN SEALED BIDDING! It should NEVER be used in FAR Parts 13 or 15 evaluation processes. Packages missing things are just rated lower for example, poor, good, unacceptable or IAW FAR of weakness, significant weakness, etc.

Compare SOW and delivery schedules on solicitation (for example, RFP/RFQ) to what is in proposals word for word to see if everything was addressed. State if something is missing to justify lower ratings; talk about everything that applies for each award criteria to “pile on” good comments for proposals you like; then show that more good was said about the ones you liked, and less good was said about the ones you don’t.

Do the best you can with bad source selection or award criteria. Just make sure it is consistently applied

Read more about this topic:  Government Procurement In The United States, Acquisition Process

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