The contracting pendulum has swung from complex to streamlined contracts to provide efficient and rapid acquisition in support of the Soldier.
by Veronica Alexander and Dr. Linda R. Herbert
Contracting methods have evolved over time, from three-page, performance-based contracts to specification-based contracts hundreds of pages in length, and now appear set to shift back to shorter contracts. The implementation of statutes, regulations and policies designed to ensure fair and equitable treatment for industry became burdensome and increased the time and complexity of the acquisition process. This resulted in an ineffective procurement process that influenced mission readiness. Since that time, the contracting pendulum has swung to agile, streamlined initiatives.
These initiatives have been spearheaded by several important regulations, including the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016, which was implemented by the Section 809 Panel, secretary of the Army initiatives and strategic reforms from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement. One streamlining initiative embraced by Stuart Hazlett, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement, is “data-driven contracting.” Data-driven contracting will facilitate analytics on raw data that can influence factors such as requirements, money spent, talent management, and procurement acquisition lead time.
SIGNIFICANT CONTRACTING CHANGES
Historically, there have been significant regulatory changes that have influenced DOD contracting processes. These regulatory changes are the springboard to many contracting initiatives used today. In 1962, Congress passed Public Law 87-653, the Truth in Negotiations Act. That law specifies that when dealing in a sole-source environment, each procurement-contracting officer must certify cost as accurate, completed and current for all cost and pricing data. The Truth in Negotiations Act has been a cornerstone for ensuring that prices paid by the government are considered “fair and reasonable.”
In 1974, Congress passed legislation to establish the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) within the Office of Management and Budget. OFPP provides direction for government-wide procurement policies, regulations and procedures; it also promotes economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the acquisition process. One way in which OFPP provides this direction is through the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
The FAR, implemented in 1984, provides uniform policies and procedures for governing federal government contracts. Accompanied by the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), these regulatory policies inundate contracting professionals and industry partners. In 1984, Congress also passed the Competition in Contracting Act. That act requires competition for award of all government contracts. The theory is that more competition for procurements would reduce costs and allow more small businesses to win federal government contracts. It also established that if there is a protest submitted to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) before contract award, the awarding of the contract will be suspended until GAO rules on the protest.
In 1994, Congress passed the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act. That legislation established a preference for the use of commercial products and exempted commercial products from various statutory and regulatory requirements. It raised the ceiling for the use of “simplified purchase procedures” and raised the threshold for issuance synopsis. It exempted the micro-purchase from virtually all statutory requirements, and it required that paper-based contracting systems be replaced with an electronic contracting system within five years.
CONTRACTING REFORM INITIATIVES
Acquisition reform is important and provides a check and a balance between regulatory accountability and agile acquisition. Because of recent reform initiatives, the contracting pendulum has swung from complex to streamlined contracting processes providing for efficient and rapid acquisition in support of the warfighter.
In 2005, OMB asked the OFPP to identify goods and services the government can purchase more effectively and efficiently through strategic sourcing. Strategic sourcing is an approach to supply chain management that formalizes the way information is gathered and used so that an organization can leverage its consolidated purchasing power to find the best possible values in the marketplace. As a result, the General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of the Treasury established the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative to address government-wide opportunities to strategically source commonly purchased goods and services and eliminate duplication of efforts across agencies. An example of strategic sourcing for the Army is in the procurement of commercial hardware and software purchases under the CHESS (Computer Hardware, Enterprise Software and Solutions) program.
Then, in December 2014, OFPP issued a memorandum that directed agencies to take specific actions to implement category management, an approach based on industry leading practices, to further streamline and manage entire categories of spending across government more like a single enterprise. (See “The Power of the Purchase,” Page XX.) This approach includes strategic sourcing along with a broader set of strategies, such as developing common standards in practices and contracts, and improving data analysis and information sharing to better leverage the government’s buying power and reduce unnecessary contract duplication.
The NDAA passed in 2016 streamlined the acquisition process and eliminated redundant and duplicative requirements. Section 809 of the NDAA required that the secretary of defense establish a nine-member advisory panel consisting of experts in acquisition and procurement policy. The objective of the panel is to review DOD’s acquisition regulations and provide recommendations for streamlining procurement.
Some of the significant recommendations made by the panel include expanding and clarifying the use of other-transaction authority for production. Other-transaction authority is the term commonly used to refer to DOD’s authority to carry out “certain prototype, research and production projects” other than contracts. Such authority gives DOD the flexibility necessary to adopt and incorporate business practices that reflect commercial industry standards into its award instruments. DOD currently has permanent authority to award other-transaction agreements for research, prototype and production purposes. This kind of agreement allows nontraditional vendors a pathway for doing business with the government and introducing new and innovative ideas. In fiscal year 2019, the Army awarded 854 other-transaction agreements valued at roughly $4.9 billion.
FAR and DFARS contract clauses that are required to “flow down” from prime contractors to subcontractors, especially commercial subcontractors, are excessive and create additional burdens on DOD’s supply chain. In response, the Section 809 panel updated the FAR and DFARS to reduce burdens on DOD’s commercial supply chain, to decrease cost, prevent delays, remove barriers and encourage innovation in the military services.
The panel recommended minimizing the number of government-unique terms in commercial buying. The panel noted that when the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act was established in 1994, there were only 57 FAR and DFARS clauses applicable to commercial buying. Today there are 165, according to the panel. The proliferation of clauses applicable to commercial buying at the prime contract level directly affects the number of government-unique clauses to subcontractors offering commercial products and services.
The 2018 NDAA amended the Truth in Negotiations Act to increase the threshold for contractors submitting certified cost and pricing data from $750,000 to $2 million. Contracting officers may still require cost or pricing data without certification as they are tasked with ensuring the cost or pricing data is fair and reasonable. However, this change is widely embraced by contractors doing business with the government.
Finally, the 2018 NDAA made changes to the bid and protest procedures relative to the Competition in Contracting Act and allows for enhanced post-award debriefing rights for DOD. What that means for DOD acquisitions is that, when a protest is filed, the “five-day period” to file a bid protest to trigger an automatic stay of award does not start until after the government delivers a written response to the offeror. Per the NDAA, “within two business days after receiving a post-award debriefing, additional questions related to the debriefing … [t]he agency shall respond in writing to any additional question … within five business days” and “the agency shall not consider the debriefing is to be concluded until the agency delivers its written responses.”
ARMY CONTRACTING REFORM
The Army awards thousands of contracts yearly to support military forces worldwide. In FY19, the Army awarded 212,094 contract actions estimated at $94.59 billion. This does not include grants, government purchase-card buys, cooperative agreements or other authorized transactions that increased the estimate to $104.89 billion.
In 2017, the secretary of the Army directed initiatives to reform Army contracting, issuing Army Directive 2017-32 (Acquisition Reform Initiative #6) that mandated streamlining practices within Army contracting to reduce the time it takes to develop and award a contract.
In accordance with this reform initiative, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Procurement (DASA(P)) embarked on extensive reformation initiatives. They include:
- Developed a centralized policy to standardize contracting policy across the Army.
- Created a range of policies and procedures that will facilitate the efficient implementation of category management. One policy, currently in coordination, aligns contracting activities to categories. This policy will promote habitual relationships between the contracting centers, category managers, and customers. The draft policy stipulates that customers shall only submit their requirement to the designated contracting office. Aligning contracting activities with categories will assist in enforcing standard levels of services (SLS), limit SLS end run actions, and limit contract action shopping between contracting centers.
- Of 312 authorities identified in the FAR and DFARS, the Army delegated 159 authorities to a level lower than the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)). This increased efficiency and eliminated the requirement to staff packages to ASA(ALT) for signature and approval, thereby saving time, money and resources.
- Established “reform managers” to lead changes to contracting process and develop new streamlined procedures, e.g., source selection, pricing cell, etc.
DASA(P) is also embracing “data-driven decision making in contracting.” This type of contracting involves making decisions based on actual raw data derived from the automated contract systems. Data-driven decision-making positivity affects how requirements are communicated between major stakeholders such as financial managers, program managers, requirements activities, and industry partners. The bottom line is everybody wins through increased productivity in procuring goods and services for the warfighter.
On Sept. 30, 2019, in a message to the Army force, Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy said, “We must maintain a sustainable level of readiness to meet current demands while executing an aggressive modernization strategy to ensure the total Army remains the most lethal ground combat force in the world.”
To achieve that end, the contracting pendulum must swing towards less restrictive acquisition policies and procedures.
For more information, go to https://spcs3.kc.army.mil/asaalt/procurement/SitePages/PAMHome.aspx#&panel1-3.
VERONICA ALEXANDER is the director of the Procurement Support Pillar in the office of the DASA(P). She holds a master’s degree from Clark Atlanta University and a B.A. from Southern University. She is Level III certified in contracting and manufacturing.
DR. LINDA R. HERBERT is a procurement analyst in the Procurement Support Pillar in the office of the DASA(P). She has a Ph.D. from Regent University and holds four master’s degrees, including in acquisition materiel management from the Naval Postgraduate School, and in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. She is Level III certified in contracting and in program management.
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