Army AL&T;Magazine, April-June Issue

In 2004, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) received one of its greatest contracting challenges. As the Army's agent for military construction (MILCON), USACE needed to execute an unprecedented surge in construction requirements to meet the imminent demands of Army Transformation, the Global Posture Initiative, and Base Realignment and Closure.

Clearly, USACE could not achieve this mission using a business-as-usual approach to awarding contracts. The days of applying design, bid, build procedures to single facilities at installations had ended. The Army needed to transform its methods for executing MILCON, and it did so by transitioning to centrally managed designs under the Centers of Standardization (CoS) and by taking a new look at the way it solicited construction requirements. USACE also reached out to industry for input on how to best accomplish its goals on a local and regional basis and under a national acquisition strategy.

Industry Collaboration

In 2005, USACE conducted one nationwide and four regional industry and technical forums at key locations across the country, as well as one specialized forum with the permanent prefabricated/pre-engineered/modular construction industry.

Input from these forums, combined with Web-based market research, helped USACE gain a productive working understanding of industry's capabilities, experience, and interest. It also provided information on current construction techniques to help build 41 different facility types as varied as chapels, child care facilities, and command and barracks complexes, while ensuring better, faster, and cheaper execution.

The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, AL, maintains the standards for these facility types.

Phases and Award

In Phase 1 of the best-value source selection process, USACE experts perform a capability analysis and assessment of performance risk. To accomplish this, offerors are evaluated in three areas: corporate relevant experience, past performance and organization, and technical narrative.

Preparing a proposal for this phase is fairly simple and straightforward. Once an offeror becomes familiar with the process, it can tailor the response to each new requirement.

The government often receives many Phase 1 proposals. Proposals in numbers of 20 or more are received for stand-alone "C" type contracts, while as many as 40-60 proposals are typically submitted for single-award task order contracts (SATOCs) and multiple-award task order contracts (MATOCs). This streamlined initial evaluation allows for a much quicker decision as to which proposals will make the cut for the Phase 2 evaluation.

The two-phase selection process also can save industry money and time upfront. If eliminated in Phase 1, offerors can save an estimated $50,000-$100,000 and an average of 60 working days by not preparing the Phase 2 proposal. Offerors notselected to proceed to the next phase in the competitive process can request a debriefing to learn where their proposals could have used improvement, then quickly turn their attention to another business opportunity.

Generally, for a stand-alone Request for Proposal (RFP), the best three to four proposals will make the cut for Phase 2 evaluation. For a MATOC, eight to 10 proposals will make the cut for Phase 2, from which three to seven contract awards will be made.

In Phase 2 of the selection process, experts evaluate the design technical capability, remaining performance capability, and price. This evaluation takes a deeper look at what's offered against the expressed needs of the government and the price. The Phase 2 evaluation determines the best-value offeror(s), depending on whether the acquisition involves a stand-alone contract or MATOC.

Pioneers in Savannah

While the two-phase selection process is not new under Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 36, the Savannah District, GA, pioneered this approach for USACE, releasing a design-build construction solicitation employing its first two-phase selection in FY00, for a $70 million aviation brigade barracks complex at Fort Stewart, GA.

In the first two-phase solicitation, the contract for which took approximately 10 months to award with three offerors, Phase 2 contained 11 primary factors and 14 subfactors, compared with the current process involving up to five factors and no subfactors.

"Increasing transparency has been our primary goal, and a key lesson we have learned is that giving more information to industry about how we will evaluate offers is a good thing," said Rita Miles, Chief of the Execution Branch (Contracting) at Savannah District.

RFPs issued at Savannah District now include very specific information regarding the government's source selection plan, such as the adjectival rating descriptors, their definitions, and relative importance. More detail is also given about the evaluation process relative to the steps and how final ratings are determined by the source selection board.

Proven Benefits

Savannah District receives relatively few protests under the two-phase selection process. Offerors sometimes protest to obtain information; however, as a result of the openness of this process, generally they already have useful information on the results of their evaluation. They receive feedback about how they can improve future submissions and walk away confi dent that they are being treated fairly.

Current processes will be continually refined and streamlined to meet the challenge, as existing stand-alone "C" contracts, SATOCs, and MATOCs expire and are replaced, and a greater number of proposals from industry are received for evaluation.

The two-phase best-value selection process has proven itself a vital tool in fulfi lling the historically unparalleled USACE construction mission. It takes an average of eight months from release of solicitation to award base contracts and an average of 75 days from release of RFP letter to award task orders. Time frames will always be affected by the complexity of the projects.

Having standardized facility types is essential to meeting the construction demand. Child development centers (CDCs) are a top priority for the Army, USACE, and the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville. Recently, the first CDC completed under the CoS, a large facility for children 6-10 years old, opened at Fort Lewis, WA. The centers provide much-needed, affordable day care for Soldiers' children. In all, more than 20 CDCs are in various stages of construction at such installations as Fort Bliss, TX; Fort Hood, TX; Fort Lewis; and Fort Stewart. The majority of projects were awarded under the southern region 8(a) MATOC.

Funding of the CoS program has been unique. In addition to the yearly MILCON appropriation from Congress, a number of CoS projects have also been funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, the most recent being a small CDC at Fort Polk, LA, for which a contract was awarded in September 2010.

Virginia E. Mitchell was formerly the Principal Adviser for Policy and Compliance, Business Operations Division at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville. She currently is a Procurement Analyst in the Contracting Operations Division, U.S. Army Contracting Command Headquarters, Redstone Arsenal, AL. She holds a B.S. in social science from Bowling Green State University and is pursuing an M.A. in acquisition and contract management from the Florida Institute of Technology. Mitchell is Level III certified in contracting and is a member of the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps, Defense Acquisition University Alumni Association, and National Contract Management Association.

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