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FCW : May 15, 2014
STEVE KELMAN is professor of public management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Commentary | STEVE KELMAN Jaime Gracia, CEO of Seville Gov- ernment Consulting, is one of the most thoughtful commenters on government contracting issues as seen from a progressive contrac- tor perspective — i.e., one that is also mindful of the interests of the government and the taxpayer. I don’t always agree with what he writes, but I always take his views very seriously. Jaime and I share an interest in making past-performance evalua- tions a more meaningful part of the government contracting process. I remain convinced that there is no single step the government could take to improve the contracting system than to make past perfor- mance an effective differentiator between excellent, acceptable and poor performance. We should penalize poor performers but also reward the good ones. Customer decisions about whom to do busi- ness with based on a supplier’s past performance are absolutely essential to making the free market work to satisfy customers in the commercial world. Jaime has written an interest- ing op-ed for FCW called “Govern- ment needs to protect contractors’ rights,” and I would like to take a closer look at his arguments. Let me start with the parts of Jaime’s column with which I agree. He stresses that to the extent pos- sible, past-performance evalua- tions should be based on objec- tive data about cost, schedule and performance rather than the subjective judgments of govern- ment officials. I strongly support that notion, though I assume Jaime would agree that there are limits. In some situations, it is difficult to develop good objective measures (particularly of performance), and in others, changes in the original baseline would make the evalua- tion of even objective performance information more subjective. At a minimum, we should recog- nize the validity of the subjective judgments of a larger number of people — for example, customer satisfaction surveys — in judging past performance. Jaime also made a very interest- ing suggestion about greater public disclosure of the project manage- ment information the government already provides. I would love to hear the reactions of both govern- ment employees and contractors to that suggestion. Perhaps it could at least be done on a voluntary basis by the government, with an agency disclosing its intention to do so in its request for proposals, as long as such information is not considered proprietary. However, Jaime and I continue to differ somewhat on the justifica- tion for the current level of “due process” protections for con- tractors in the past-performance system. He is concerned about subjective or ill-willed negative judgments by government officials, particularly in the current “low- est price, technically acceptable” contracting environment. My own reaction is that the bigger danger in the system is not unjustified dinging of contractors but grade inflation. To some extent, it is an objec- tively testable proposition: Have we seen an increase in negative past-performance ratings in recent years? Of course, even if the answer is yes, it might be because performance has gotten worse, although Jaime would counter, probably correctly, that this is the government’s fault. But if negative ratings are not going up, it would support the argument that the sys- tem suffers from grade inflation. At any rate, I continue to believe that the ability of contractors to contest ratings drives grade infla- tion and that a sufficient due- process protection is to allow contractors to put their version of events in the past-performance file. Jaime and others: Let’s continue this dialogue. I would love to see our community make improving the past-performance system a high priority. ■ Due-process protections are sufficient Letting contractors add their comments to a review file allows their voices to be heard while guarding against “grade inflation” If negative ratings are not going up, it would support the argument that the system suffers from grade inflation. May 15, 2014 FCW.COM 13 COUNTERPOINT:
April 30, 2014
May 30, 2014