In the first iteration of our two-part blog series on point-scoring bids, we addressed how point-scoring is used, provided a run-down of current and upcoming point-scoring bids, and provided our assessment of their effectiveness. In this installment, we’ll get a bit more tactical and go over the components of typical point-scoring systems and strategies for improving your score and building a team to maximize your points.
Components of Point-Scoring Bids—Corporate Experience
The two most common categories of point-scoring criteria are corporate experience and certifications. For corporate experience, bidders are required to cite specific contract examples for which the work performed was directly relevant to the statement of work. The number of allowable contracts cited has ranged from 2 to 30.
In addition to earning points for having executed contracts with work similar to the SOW, some procurements provide additional points for contracts that show experience with similar “emerging” or “leading edge” technologies. Also, points may be claimed if the contracts you are citing have these criteria:
- Multiple unique/different technical areas covered, generally determined by NAICS or SIC codes or substantiated evidence
- Multiple separate and unique Federal customers
- Multiple Federal multiple-award contracts
- OCONUS experience
- Classified experience
While these procurements use “self-scoring,” in which you claim your points yourself instead of the Government calculating your points for you, there still is a requirement to provide evidence of the scoring elements you claim. Unlike Past Performance, where the Government contacts your customers and validates your claims themselves, you must provide written proof that the contracts you are citing meet the point-scoring criteria you are claiming.
This verification effort is generally the most labor-intensive component of a point-scoring proposal effort. The Government evaluator must be able to skim the contract SOW or description and other contract data you provide and quickly determine if the work you did is indeed relevant to the scope of the new contract’s SOW, or was performed outside the continental US, or included the claimed “leading edge” technology. The Government evaluators will be reviewing countless experience examples from a multitude of bidders, so if they can’t find proof right away of the points you claim, they may decrease you point score because in their view, you did not prove you had the experience for which you are claiming points.
To further complicate matters, GSA has previously used SIC codes to verify experience and is now using NAICS codes. This creates issues for references that are commercial, and for subcontracts which do not have these codes assigned by the Government. Contractors may also find that a referenced contract included relevant work but was assigned a different SIC or NAICS code. In these cases, if you start your work early enough you may be able to persuade your customer to modify the contract to change the SIC/NAICS code so you can use the contract in your point-scoring bid.
Instead of providing contract documentation to verify the points you are claiming, you may be able to provide a form signed by your customer that verifies that your contract experience is relevant. This process may not be as easy as it seems; for example, you may be citing a contract that was completed a couple of years ago and it may be hard to track down the Contracting Officer to fill out the form. Also, some Contracting Officers may be reluctant to verify that they had used the incorrect SIC/NAICS code by signing your form. Again, the secret to success is to get started early with the point verification process.
Over the past ten years, the corporate experience component of point-scoring bids has only increased in importance. When you combine the requirement to provide verification of experience with the various secondary-level point-scoring elements (number of multiple-award contracts, OCONUS experience, etc.), you end up with the need for the perfect “poker hand” of experience references to maximize points.
Components of Point-Scoring Bids—Certifications
The second major area of point-scoring elements is certifications. This typically includes:
- Quality certifications such as ISO and CMMI;
- Financial certifications such as approved Cost Accounting Systems and Purchasing Systems; and
- Facility clearance level
Federal certifications can be a barrier to entry for small businesses and primarily commercial bidders. Many small businesses have not yet earned the needed financial certifications, generally because the contracts they have executed do not require them. Since many of these companies are already working with systems that operate at the needed level of sophistication, it may just be a matter of having the systems audited. However, the government generally will not audit a company’s financial systems unless there is a live contract that requires it. The NIH CIO-SP4 bid allowed third-party audits for cost accounting systems but other recent solicitations have required federal certification. For purchasing systems and all facility clearances, the audit must be performed by the Federal Government.
The points available from certification-type criteria have diminished over the past ten years, such that current procurements only assign about 10% of the total possible points to certifications. We recommend that bidders have at least 60% of the points allotted to certifications to consider themselves viable. Nonetheless, the key again is to start early – you may have the time needed to get a CMMI or ISO certification, or to get your financial systems audited, if you start the process well in advance of the proposal phase.
Many companies pursuing point-scoring bids look at teaming as a way of filling gaps to maximize points. In most cases, subcontracted experience is allowed, with some common caveats:
- For GSA contracts, the subcontractors’ experience is not allowed to be used more than once in any competed pool
- Cross-teaming among teammates (multiple bids with different primes) will not result in award
- Subcontractors’ qualifications for certifications are usually not allowed
- SBA changes to first tier subcontractor requirements, made in the Fall of 2020, have impacted this issue
Many bidders are choosing to form Joint Ventures and SBA-approved Mentor Protégé Joint Ventures. As a separately formed entity, JVs take on all the experience and certifications of the individual members. For Small Business set-aside awards, this common strategy may create powerful bidding entities, as a small business can take credit for the experience and certifications of its large business MPJV partner.
GSA has put parameters around JVs and teaming with their “organizational risk” point scoring element. This element awards points for JVs who have previously worked together.
GSA and NIH have attempted to limit the number of references submitted by JV Mentors in SBA MPJVs. Most of these limits have resulted in protests and requirements have, for the most part, been relaxed.
Conclusion: Do point-scoring bids streamline acquisition?
In theory, point-scoring schemes for large, multiple-award GWACs were designed to simplify and expedite evaluation and remove subjectivity for the hundreds of bids submitted. In reality, subjectivity still exists in point-scoring bids. And some believe that the current approaches favor large businesses and limit the opportunities for primarily commercial companies to enter the Federal market. Small Business set-aside contracts attract a proliferation of Joint Ventures which frustrates stand-alone Small Business bidders and the Government. The perfect point-scoring RFP has yet to be created.
Protests—both pre- and post-award—have frustrated the Government’s efforts to execute a GWAC procurement quickly. CIO-SP4 had 20 pre-award protests which resulted in multiple changes to the RFP, which are still having effects on the evaluation nearly a year past submission. GSA Polaris was put on hold this Spring due to a substantial change to the final RFP, which was the result of a pre-award protest.
But we still have hope. GSA OASIS+ shows signs of providing a clean GWAC proposal evaluation approach. By providing for rolling submissions, GSA allows small businesses to grow into their capabilities naturally rather than rushing to team to meet a single bid deadline. By avoiding declaring a set number of awards and by providing the minimum qualification score, OASIS+ allows the Government to add the most qualified small and large businesses over time. Most of all, the procurement approach GSA is implementing for OASIS+ may reduce the potential for pre-award protests. Time will tell!