MULTI-PART SERIES: Influencing the Acquisition process and LPTA solicitations – Up close and personal, Part 5

A COVID conversation with Jacob Bertram, former Director of Contract Operations at GSA

Just because COVID-19 is forcing us indoors doesn’t mean that we can’t get together and learn from one another. Recently, Lohfeld Principal Consultant and Capture expert Dr. Doug Himberger interviewed former GSA Contracts Director, Jacob Bertram. In this fifth installment, Doug asks Jacob about influencing the Acquisition process and LPTA solicitations as part of developing a strategy for winning business at an agency. For the previous installment, click here.

[Doug] Let’s turn to the Acquisition process. We are often asked about low price technically acceptable (LPTA) evaluations. I would say on a personal experience that they are less common perhaps than they used to be a few years ago, but they’re still being used. And in fact, they’re being used in some areas that could sort of surprise us, in IT, cybersecurity, things like that—sort of inherently innovative bidding areas. And yet we see LPTA being used. We would love to somehow influence the government to use them less, frankly, to use them where they’re appropriate for commodities, things like that, and less for these things like cyber. What would you suggest in the way of helping industry influence that shift away from LPTAs?

[Jacob] Yeah. I definitely feel your pain there. And I’d have to say, I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get all the work done getting rid of LPTAs from GSA programs. Because with any kind of professional services, LPTA is not the right approach. And it’s not the approach taught in government contracting classes. So, like you said, LPTA is great for commodities. If you want to buy a hundred Dell laptops, give us the best price. Whoever can get the best price from Dell gets the contract.

If you want to influence the contract strategy, I would get in early. And if you have any chance to comment on the acquisition strategy, get those comments in there right away making your case, “Hey, this LPTA is going to get you introductory engineers. It’s going to get you 10-year-old software. It’s going to get you all these other things. And then this might be the result…” They might come back and say, “Okay, we accept that risk. And we’ll still push forward with LPTA.” But then they might not. It might make them second guess their acquisition strategy.

And I think one of the things that’s going to be important is your marketing materials. When you go out and have your conversations with the government, stress that you might not be the lowest price, and explain why. Maybe you hire people from Ivy League colleges or have the best and brightest technological experts out there. Maybe you have a lot of people that are coming out of the government, that did work in that agency, and they can really help solve the agency’s problems. I think selling your approach and why is going to be very important. You need to explain why you’re not going to be at the lowest cost and why they might want to pay a little bit more for something that’s a little more secure or long lasting, or the overall cost of ownership is lower.

[Doug] Earlier we agreed that holding up the FAR wasn’t the right approach for some meetings, but in these early discussions about the acquisition strategy, would it be appropriate to ask, “Are you thinking about FAR 15.3, which is this strengths and weakness approach, as opposed to FAR 16.5 or 8.4?” Some of the other approaches are clearly not leveraging quality and strength, but instead are more LPTA in nature. Would that be a time to sort of ask for a discussion about the FAR clauses that they imagine might be used on these acquisitions?

[Jacob] Yeah. I think that would be a good time to bring up the different types of contracts, the risks, and the rewards with each one. But also show where the best value approach has worked before, where you were able to put together something that the customer really needed and valued in the end and was willing to pay a little bit more for those features where it really was a benefit. Or show how you were bringing more experienced people to the table. They definitely aren’t going to be the lowest price.

[Doug] At GSA and the other places you worked, when you were working on these best-in-class GWACs and IDIQs, were the meetings with industry pivotal? Did they affect your thinking? Did they change the directions of some of these acquisitions?

[Jacob] Maybe in the very beginning, I would say right when the contract vehicle was in the discovery stages, that was the time. So, if you’re thinking about the very beginning of OASIS or Alliant or something, that’s when you can really have an impact on the strategy. It’s harder to have an impact on the strategy once the vehicle’s already out there, once the cart has left the barn or whatever that expression is, right?

The thing with a lot of these contract vehicles is that they’re so stringent that they have to follow the same award process for an on-ramp that they did 5 years ago or something. While the way industry goes to market changes over time, the government locks things over time. And that’s unfortunate, especially when you have an acquisition strategy that might be 7 years old. GSA saw that on several of their vehicles when they were trying to expand the pools and going through various on-ramps to these vehicles. So, get in there early, and now might be the time to get in to start talking about the second generation of these or a major overhaul of the Multiple Award Schedule program. And that’s definitely in the works with the mass consolidation. Learn and understanding what is going to be coming next and how you can start to influence it.

Look for the next discussion on our Lohfeld Insights blog—Up close and personal, Part 6: The competitive range.

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