JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Oct. 31, 2017) -- The award of a full food service contract in support of Soldiers at Fort Lee, Virginia, is fueling optimism for increased competition and government savings.

Officials from the Mission and Installation Contracting Command office at Fort Eustis in partnership with the customer and end users in industry awarded a full food service contract this summer to a small business after receiving multiple responses for its request for proposals that maximized the basis for a competitive range.

The execution of the food services contract at Fort Lee culminates a yearlong process to develop a standardized acquisition package in coordination with industry, build an effective cost model and pilot test the solicitation at Fort Lee.

Fort Lee is the home of advanced individual training for Army Sustainment. As many as 70,000 service members pass through classrooms of its four major schools each year. Those schools include quartermaster, ordnance, transportation and the Army Logistics University. The installation boasts one of the Army's largest dining facilities at 75,000 square feet and two stories with a capacity to feed 3,600 Soldiers in 90 minutes. Following a month to phase-in services in August, full performance of the contract by Cantu Services Inc. to provide meals began in September.

Debbie Frankovich, the director of contracting for MICC-Fort Lee, explained that the Randolph-Sheppard Act prioritizes contract opportunities to provide food services and vending facilities at federal and military locations for award to vocational rehabilitation programs employing individuals who are blind as a means of enhancing their economic well-being. This serves as a social program enacted by Congress in 1936 to promote self-sufficiency for the blind and visually impaired. In every state there is a state licensing agency that chooses the blind vendor who will compete for the food service contract. Once the state is found to be in the competitive range, contracts for full food services are negotiated with the agency.

"The competitive range is determined through an evaluation of initial proposals submitted and the independent government cost estimate," said Frankovich, adding that this was a rare instance in which the state licensing agency was found to be outside of that range.

Increasing competition
The director of MICC contracting operations at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said that historically competition by small businesses has been low in response to the Randolph-Sheppard Act.

"They have a chance now. It will only help enhance competition because a lot of them go into it thinking an award is an automatic for the state," Pat Hogston said.

Frankovich added that small businesses tend to believe that because a state licensing agency has been in the competitive range for food service contracts for so long, it almost impossible to award a contract to anyone other than the agency.

"That tendency discourages some small business from committing a large amount of resources to building and submitting a proposal," she said.

The MICC-Fort Lee director believes the contract award can also lead to even lower costs as small businesses are encouraged to be more competitive when it comes to price. MICC-Fort Eustis awarded a five-year contract valued at $71 million for food services, allowing the Fort Lee Garrison leadership to not only shift an estimated savings of $31 million to other installation priorities but also provide the best support to its Soldiers.

"It's not just about the money, but the motivation and innovation of a new contractor and a fresh perspective," she said. "Knowing that a contractor comes on board with an excellent past performance, they are pleased to see that services have improved based on initial feedback."

Standardizing requirements
Working from a draft request for proposal, officials from the contracting operations directorate, MICC-Fort Eustis and MICC-Fort Lee met with the customer at the end of 2016 at Fort Lee to finalize the proposal. In January and February, they engaged with representatives from the food service industry to tweak the proposal based on input.

"We built the acquisition package with industry and our team," Hogston said. "It was very streamlined in evaluation with very few ambiguities that could lead to questions. The whole package was so succinct that industry knew what they were getting. When you have a good package, they're going to bid on it."

As part of its process, the team was able to create a more definitive cost model to determine a fair and reasonable price per meal, with few exceptions such as locality, collective bargaining agreements and labor rates. Hogston said the cost model will also serve as an instrumental tool for negotiation purposes by contracting officers throughout the MICC.

Based on the successful pilot of the contract package, officials are making it the standard going forward with plans to use it for contracted food services at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. This includes the use of the same acquisition strategy, solicitation, contract line item number structure and source selection, with the exception of tailoring respective workloads.

Hogston pointed out that this standardized approach to food services also greatly reduced the procurement acquisition lead time. PALT is a critical measure of time between the initiation of an acquisition and delivery of goods or services. He said the contract "was on the street for 35 days" and reduced the PALT to about 100 days, which considerably beat all goals for a multimillion dollar contract of its size.

A similar approach for base operations requirements for the Installation Management Command and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is currently being pilot tested. The MICC team leading those efforts plans to engage with industry at Fort Belvoir in November.

"Once you start using standardized packages, it's going to save tremendous manpower for us and our customers, because we don't have to reinvent a contract," Hogston said. "We'll already have a 90-percent solution, and they'll just add their workload."

Headquartered at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, the MICC consists of about 1,500 military and civilian members who are responsible for contracting goods and services in support of Soldiers as well as readying trained contracting units for the operating force and contingency environment when called upon. MICC contracts are vital in feeding more than 200,000 Soldiers every day, providing many daily base operations support services at installations, preparing more than 100,000 conventional force members annually, training more than 500,000 students each year, and maintaining more than 14.4 million acres of land and 170,000 structures.