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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fools rush in where planners failed to go

Get a contracting plan in place early
For all the debate about the effectiveness of government contracting, the success or failure of programs involving government contracting is actually determined very early, often unfortunately before the contracting officer’s involvement—that is, during acquisition planning.

FAR’s Part 7 acquisition planning guidance provides a great roadmap to all the many considerations necessary before satisfying a government need via contract. The program office must take non-delegable responsibility to figure out what, why, when, where, and how they will obtain acquired resources to support their goals. This shouldn’t be another paperwork drill, completed by support contractors or the contracting officer and subsequently filed away.

Defending the FAR isn’t always popular, but it does provide clear, understandable guidance on what to consider in an AP, who to include, when key milestones should occur, and how to get there. Just about anything significant and reasonable should be considered and addressed during acquisition planning, along with any alternatives, well before requesting a contractor’s proposal. Later surprises should be few if the homework was completed beforehand. This homework includes open communication with industry to better understand the market, business trends, financing, and available technology; seeking out required expertise within the acquisition team; analyzing affected internal business processes or regulatory/policy mandates; collaborating closely with the requirements community; etc. The FAR even recommends periodically updating the AP to account for inevitable program changes.

So is acquisition planning one of those unnecessary, self-serving, bureaucratic, and burdensome requirements that slows the process and leads to poor outcomes?

The integrity, responsibility, quality, and length of acquisition planning must be part of any discussion to improve acquisition outcomes. Contracting solicitation and award processes (like most business) can go smoothly if planned well. But acquisition planning that only completes the file or occurs after the fact will result in less optimal program results. Good contracting managers are instrumental and must be included in this process, but ultimate responsibility lies with the agency, company executive, or program manager. Let’s develop the game plan before we take the field!
Far Part 7, Outline
7.000 Scope of part.
Subpart 7.1—Acquisition Plans
  7.101 Definitions.
  7.102 Policy.
  7.103 Agency-head responsibilities.
  7.104 General procedures.
  7.105 Contents of written acquisition plans.
  7.106 Additional requirements for major systems.
  7.107 Additional requirements for acquisitions involving bundling.
  7.108 Additional requirements for telecommuting.

Subpart 7.2—Planning for the Purchase of Supplies in Economic Quantities
  7.200 Scope of subpart.
  7.202 Policy.
  7.203 Solicitation provision.
  7.204 Responsibilities of contracting officers.

Subpart 7.3—Contractor Versus Government Performance
   7.301 Definitions.
  7.302 Policy.
  7.305 Solicitation provisions and contract clause.

Subpart 7.4—Equipment Lease or Purchase
  7.400 Scope of subpart.
  7.401 Acquisition considerations.
  7.402 Acquisition methods.
  7.403 General Services Administration assistance.
  7.404 Contract clause.

Subpart 7.5—Inherently Governmental Functions
  7.500 Scope of subpart.
  7.502 Applicability.
  7.503 Policy.

Excerpts:
  7.101 (a) Agencies shall perform acquisition planning and conduct market research (see Part 10) for all acquisitions in order to promote and provide for—
    (1) Acquisition of commercial items or, to the extent that commercial items suitable to meet the agency’s needs are not available, nondevelopmental items, to the maximum extent practicable ; and
    (2) Full and open competition or, when full and open competition is not required, to obtain competition to the maximum extent practicable, with due regard to the nature of the supplies or services to be acquired.

  7.103 The agency head or a designee shall prescribe procedures for—
  (b) Encouraging offerors to supply commercial items, or to the extent that commercial items suitable to meet the agency needs are not available, nondevelopmental items in response to agency solicitations; and
  (c) Ensuring that acquisition planners address the requirement to specify needs, develop specifications, and to solicit offers in such a manner to promote and provide for full and open competition with due regard to the nature of the supplies and services to be acquired.
  (d) Establishing criteria and thresholds at which increasingly greater detail and formality in the planning process is required as the acquisition becomes more complex and costly.
  (f) Ensuring that the principles of this subpart are used, as appropriate, for those acquisitions that do not require a written plan as well as for those that do.
  (l) Assuring that the contracting officer, prior to contracting, reviews:
    (1) The acquisition history of the supplies and services; and
    (2) A description of the supplies, including, when necessary for adequate description, a picture, drawing, diagram, or other graphic representation.
  (r) Ensuring that knowledge gained from prior acquisitions is used to further refine requirements and acquisition strategies. For services, greater use of performance-based acquisition methods should occur for follow-on acquisitions.
  (s) Ensuring that acquisition planners, to the maximum extent practicable—
    (1) Structure contract requirements to facilitate competition by and among small business concerns; and
    (2) Avoid unnecessary and unjustified bundling that precludes small business participation as contractors.

  7.104 (a) Acquisition planning should begin as soon as the agency need is identified, preferably well in advance of the fiscal year in which contract award or order placement is necessary. In developing the plan, the planner shall form a team consisting of all those who will be responsible for significant aspects of the acquisition, such as contracting, fiscal, legal, and technical personnel. If contract performance is to be in a designated operational area or supporting a diplomatic or consular mission, the planner shall also consider inclusion of the combatant commander or chief of mission, as appropriate. The planner should review previous plans for similar acquisitions and discuss them with the key personnel involved in those acquisitions. At key dates specified in the plan or whenever significant changes occur, and no less often than annually, the planner shall review the plan and, if appropriate, revise it.
   (b) Requirements and logistics personnel should avoid issuing requirements on an urgent basis or with unrealistic delivery or performance schedules, since it generally restricts competition and increases prices. Early in the planning process, the planner should consult with requirements and logistics personnel who determine type, quality, quantity, and delivery requirements.

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