National Institutes of Health Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) released the long anticipated final Request for Proposal for Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP4) on Tuesday, May 25. Proposals are currently due on June 28 at Noon. G2Xchange will be hosting a 2-day webinar with Red Team Consulting on June 2 and 3 to do a deep dive on the RFP and all of its intricacies, but a deadline for questions looms on June 1.

We’ve asked Jeff Shen and Joe Salgado from Red Team Consulting to provide us with their thoughts on some of the questions they are getting to clarify some important areas of the Final RFP. Please note that these comments are specifically designed to clear up the initial confusion and are only Jeff’s and Joe’s current interpretation of the Final RFP in its current state. Until NITAAC clarifies their requirements through Q&A, they recommend using this feedback as preliminary guidance.

Teaming

In Section L.5 each of the scoring elements related to experience includes the following statement:

“The examples may come from affiliates or members of an offeror’s CTA/JV provided the examples establish a clear relationship between the offeror, their affiliates/CTA/JV members, the project, and resources that were expended by each in accomplishing the project.”

In the 24 hours since RFP release, this statement has been a focus of industry trying to decipher the true meaning of each word in this sentence. For example, how do offerors “prove” that there is a clear relationship between the parties and how do the updated small business regulations impact this provision?

Red Team believes that Offerors will “prove” that there is a clear relationship through contract documentation to include signed teaming agreements and even the contract and SOW that was associated with the contract. The Government has only included examples of documentation that may be submitted in the Final RFP. They have not disallowed any types of documentation, to date. We assume this will be further clarified in upcoming Q&A.

Next, how does this statement impact offerors looking to bring on CTA/JV partners that they have not worked with before? Red Team believes that NITAAC is allowing projects from affiliates or CTA/JV members, but only if the affiliates or CTA/JV members can prove that the resources from the collective group worked together.

But there is a catch for Small Business Primes that has been left unaddressed in the RFP. Based on the updated SBA regulations implemented in November 2020, the requirement for working together might not apply for small businesses bidding as a Prime through a joint venture or with first tier subcontractors. The updated small business regulations allow for an All Small Mentor-Protégé Joint Venture and Small Business Joint Venture to use any project from any JV member as that of the Prime. This regulation negates the requirement of “resources that were expended by each in accomplishing the project” since all projects will have come from the unpopulated joint venture as a Prime. Further, the small business regulations also allow small business primes to use the “capabilities, past performance, and experience” of identified first tier subcontractors in FAR 9.601(2) as that of the small business prime contractor. In other words, a small business prime could use the experience of a first-tier small business subcontractor as their own even if the prime did not work with the subcontractor on that project. But again, since these options related to the new SBA regulations are not addressed in the CIO-SP4 RFP, we believe that this will need to be clarified through Questions and Answers.

Certifications and Systems

In the final RFP, any CTA or JV Prime can use the certifications and systems for any CTA or JV member (FAR 9.601(1) and FAR 9.601(2)). Our belief is that some of the requirements for the systems or certifications may need to come from the Prime Offeror. For example, for the Verification of an Adequate Accounting System, the RFP states: “Only one member of an offeror’s CTA/JV or an affiliate need to have this verification, provided the offeror identify which member or affiliate has it…” However, if you are bidding as a FAR 9.601(2) Prime/Sub arrangement, and your company as the prime does not have an approved accounting system, we do not think you would be able to use the verification of a Subcontractor’s approved accounting system. Since prime contractors competing on cost plus work are required to have an approved accounting system, being able to use a subcontractor’s approved cost accounting system does not appear plausible.

The exception for any of these potential changes for certifications and systems would be for the All Small Mentor Protégé Joint Ventures and Small Business Joint Ventures since the updated SBA regulations allow for the joint venture to inherit the certifications and systems from any member of the JV.

Note: Emerging Large Businesses (“ELB”) and OTSB Offerors are required to have Level 2 CMMI, ISO 9001, and ISO 20000 certifications. Despite what is written in the Final RFP (“Only one member of an offeror’s CTA / JV or an affiliate need have this certification”), we believe NITAAC intends for these certifications to be held by the ELB or OTSB Prime and not the JV or CTA members. We hope to see this clarified and verified in future Q&A.

Self Scoring Sheet

Documentation: The Government has not provided specific instructions on how documentation is to be submitted and how the documentation will be evaluated by the government in the instructions or evaluation. The Government has only provided examples that could be used. Until NITAAC clarifies, we would advise companies to follow GSA’s prior examples for Alliant, OASIS, and even the current draft of Polaris. This includes providing any available contract documentation through FPDS (i.e., SFs, GSA Forms, etc.), signed contracts, and SOWs with highlighted references.

Score Weighting: As expected from earlier iterations of the scoring sheet, the weighting is heavily favored towards the Corporate Experience, Leading Edge Technology, and Federal Multiple Award Experience – accounting for 70% of the points. The focus for most companies should be on finding as many relevant, large Corporate Experience projects as they can since this score criteria offers the most points and is weighted at 45% of the total. Despite the high point allocation for Leading Edge Technology and Federal Multiple Award Experience, we do not currently see these criteria as influencing the highest awarded offerors in Phase 1 — we envision most companies maximizing points here. Since only three examples are allowed, offerors should have multiple options to consider for these two score criteria. We are also assuming many companies will have CMMI Level 2, ISO 9001, ISO 20000, and the Facility Clearance Level through any combination of teaming through a CTA or JV (unless otherwise clarified).

The most challenging score criteria, outside of the Corporate Experience section, are Executive Order 13779, ISO 27000, and an Approved Purchasing System (no third-party audits permitted). If you maximized your score across every other score criterion except for these three sections, you would be at 9,200 points. That is why we are recommending that bidders focus on Corporate Experience to maximize the initial 4500 points allowed.

If you are curious to hear where we think companies will end up across each of the awarded Pools and socio-economic categories, tune in to our two-part webinar on June 2nd and 3rd next week, where we will give our detailed assessment and our assumed point thresholds. 

Final Takeaways
  1. Start re-mapping all projects against the scoring sheet criteria. With the updated criteria and an updated Statement of Work with revised Task Area descriptions and confirmed point totals, you may decide to substitute new projects into the mix to maximize your score.
  2. Relook at your overall teaming approach. Teaming is now more open than what was communicated over the last year. As a small business prime, you may be in a more advantageous position if you bid as a prime with identified first tier small business subcontractors (via FAR 9.601(2)). If you are already in an All Small Mentor Protégé Joint Venture or a Small Business Joint Venture, you are in a good position since the JV inherits the experience, past performance, certifications, and systems from any JV member.
  3. Start refining your Task Area 1, Management, and Past Performance writing. This is where the final selections will be made – NITAAC will be looking for ways to remove companies as opposed to awarding to companies. This means addressing all of the requirements, emphasizing your strengths through internal capabilities and past experience, and emphasizing your healthcare knowledge/experience and ability to manage and grow a contract of this size.
  4. Attend Red Team/G2Xchange’s upcoming webinars on June 2nd and 3rd, where we will do a deep dive into the solicitation and give specific tips and strategies on how to win the contract!