On February 25, 2011, OAL held its second SRM webinar. During this webinar, VA reported summary findings from our feedback collection efforts and addressed what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will continue to do in the future to address this feedback.
During the webinar, participants were invited to submit questions. Responses to these questions have been collected below.
1. If "Competition is King," wouldn't it be better to allow all companies to bid on proposals, and not just Service Disabled Veteran companies? On some proposals, Veteran owned companies have gotten a leg up on the evaluation, and I think that's fairer then not allowing others to bid on the work. (Especially if the incumbent for 15 years is not Veteran Owned, even though they employ Veterans.)
VHA: Contracting officers are permitted to award sole source contracts in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and agency policies. Please see 38 U.S.C. 8127-8128 (Public Law 109-461) for the unique authorities that apply to the VA. There are many available procurement methods and other variables that must be considered during the acquisition planning phase. “One size fits all” approaches will not work due to the complexity of the VAs acquisition programs. Contracting officers are encouraged to select the most appropriate tools under the particular circumstances. Additional internal controls may be imposed through higher approval levels or agency reviews to address any systemic issues with respect to compliance or improper use of sole source acquisitions.
2. Freight terms of our General Services Administration (GSA) contract are Freight on Board (FOB) Origin (as negotiated by GSA). Whenever the freight estimate for a sale is over $249, we are asked to absorb the overage since the process in VA for getting approval for freight any higher than $249 is so difficult for the CO's. VA is the only government entity that has this policy. Why? It costs us business.
NAC: Most VA managed Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) programs are FOB Destination, so if your normal operations are FOB Origin you would need to be able to provide information about your average shipping charges. Usually we ask for sampling of invoices over the past several months. The Contract Officer (CO) would then work with you to determine a negotiated FSS price plus shipping. As part of the negotiation process, depending on other terms and conditions offered to your commercial customers, the government CO may seek waiving part or all of your shipping charges. This is a negotiation and is not something that the government CO can make you accept, so to speak. There is currently no FSS policy regarding a ceiling on shipping. If you had a different experience, you would need to provide specific details, so we could investigate.
3. Where is the policy against sole source awards written down? The VA Acquisition Regulation (VAAR) and PL 109-461 permit sole source and the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) say it is permitted, but compliance folks state there is a policy against sole source. Where is that policy written and whose policy is it?
Acquisition Policy: Contracting officers are permitted to award sole source contracts in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and agency policies. Compliance personnel are responsible for ensuring that contracts offer good value to the taxpayer/customer and are properly awarded. Additional internal controls may be imposed through agency reviews to address any systemic issues concerning compliance or improper use. With respect to 38 U.S.C. 8127-8128 (Public Law 109-461), there is no blanket policy for or against sole source procurement methods. Additional considerations can be found in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Competition among Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs) or VOSBs often results in the best overall value.
4. Under PL 109-461, the contracting officer is empowered to award sole source contracts to Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs). Why has the VA moved decision authority from the contracting officer to the Head of Contracting Activity (HCA)? We are told in the field that sole source can only be approved by the HCA and that it is virtually impossible. Why not follow the statute?
Acquisition Policy: Contracting officers are permitted to award sole source contracts in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and agency policies. Management personnel who delegate contracting authority still may exercise their discretion to require higher level review and approval of acquisition plans to address a wide range of issues. It is possible to both “follow the statute” and to impose additional internal controls. This may be necessary to ensure good value for the taxpayer/customer and compliance with all laws and regulations that apply.
5. What role does a contracting officer have in the determination that an SDVOSB is capable of meeting self performance criteria for the respective North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code? It appears in many cases that self performance of the SDVOSB set aside is never addressed in the selection of a contractor - which leads to many protests.
Acquisition Policy: The clauses at VA Acquisition Regulation (VAAR) 852.219-10 and 852.219-11 include an agreement in their paragraphs (c). The required percentages that must be performed by SDVOSBs or VOSBs range from 15% to 50% according to four separate acquisition categories:
(1) Services (except construction), at least 50 percent of the cost of personnel for contract performance will be spent for employees of the concern or employees of other eligible Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned small business concerns;
(2) Supplies (other than acquisition from a non-manufacturer of the supplies), at least 50 percent of the cost of manufacturing, excluding the cost of materials, will be performed by the concern or other eligible Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned small business concerns;
(3) General construction, at least 15 percent of the cost of the contract performance incurred for personnel will be spent on the concern’s employees or the employees of other eligible Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned small business concerns; or
(4) Construction by special trade contractors, at least 25 percent of the cost of the contract performance incurred for personnel will be spent on the concern’s employees or the employees of other eligible Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned small business concerns.
VA Acquisitions Academy: The VAAA offers a class on GSA Schedules and Task Order contracting. The number of offerings is based on the demand for the course from VA procurement offices.
Acquisition Policy: The VA welcomes suggestions that have the potential to make the acquisition process more efficient or to improve customer service. The potential role of vendors may vary depending on the particular method of acquisition. The vendor should request contact information for program officials through the contracting officer. This should be done as early as possible in the acquisition cycle to allow the exchange of information to have maximum effect.
Acquisition Policy: The contractor should review the specific solicitation language to determine the circumstances under which substitute products may be considered. Both before and after award, the contractor also may make recommendations to the contracting officer who will forward the information to the appropriate technical point of contact for review.
9. Will the VA consider moving to a two-step procurement process whereby vendors submit a 3-5 page capabilities statement for a given Request for Proposals (RFP) or Statement of Objectives (SOO), then have the VA select those that are considered credible bidders for the actual bid? There has been an incredible waste of time and resources on the part of industry chasing a "few seats" at the VA's table. The Environmental Protection Agency does this for their Business Information Strategic Support (BISS) II program and it is accepted/respected by industry.
Acquisition Policy: The Government trains its contracting officers in the full range of procurement methods. Contracting officers are encouraged to utilize the acquisition planning phase to perform fact-finding and to consider the best fit for the particular acquisition.
10. Is it possible to obtain "estimated" utilizations when suppliers are awarded business from the VA by using for example their previous 12 month utilization? I work for a pharmaceutical company and in our business it takes several weeks at times to build inventory for our customers.
Acquisition Policy: The VA welcomes all suggestions that have the potential to make the acquisition process more efficient or to improve customer service. The availability and reliability of estimated quantities varies by acquisition and commodity. The contractor is encouraged to request clarification or additional information as early as possible in the acquisition cycle.
11. There have been numerous comments regarding how Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) are developed and who is evaluating these for the VA. Who is responsible for evaluating these BPAs and how can suppliers send information on items that should be considered for BPAs.
VA Acquisitions Academy: Contracting officers are trained to follow the order of priority for acquiring services in Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 8.002(a)(2) and VA Acquisition Regulation (VAAR) 808.002. In general existing contracts are considered before open market acquisitions, but there are many variables that can impact the decision. The questioner is encouraged to visit the vendor section of www.gsa.gov/schedules for additional information.
12. Have you considered inviting industry members into your acquisition training program so that they are incorporated into your school seminar work groups? This is a practice within the Defense Acquisition University.
VA Acquisitions Academy: Currently we do allow contractors to attend VAAA courses at this time due to the nature of the student examples that can be discussed and the potential for a conflict of interest to occur. However, we will explore the possibility.