VA SPRUCE: What does it take to win?

The Department of Veterans Affairs SPRUCE IDIQ is expected to be released any day now. SPRUCE stands for Secure, Performant, Reliable, and User-Centered Experiences.

The SPRUCE vehicle builds on the current VA CEDAR IDIQ, which was awarded to four companies in 2021 with a ceiling of $247 million. SPRUCE has bigger plans, with its main goal being to offer a vehicle for the VA to obtain top-notch digital products and services, with a ceiling value of $2.7 billion and eight awards, ultimately contributing to the VA’s ambitious modernization efforts.

With the solicitation expected soon, we wanted to highlight some important areas of the proposal response, teaming requirements, how SPRUCE will be evaluated, and what it ultimately will take to win this pursuit.

Proposal Response & Requirements

The SPRUCE proposal response consists of five Volumes:

  1. Volume I: Technical Factor 1 – Case Study and relevant supporting artifacts
  2. Volume II: Technical Factor 2 – Case Study and relevant supporting artifacts
  3. Volume III: Technical Factor 3 – Code Challenge and Written Technical Approach
  4. Volume IV: Price
  5. Volume V: Solicitation, Offer & Award Documents, Certifications & Representations

Volumes I and II are very similar in scope. While the draft RFP specified that the case study provided in Volume I must come from the prime, the Q&A issued on October 23rd clarified that the case studies in both Volumes I and II can come from either the prime or a sub.

Volume III consists of a code challenge and written technical approach. Once offerors have been given notification of advancement to Technical Factor 3, within 72 hours the government will provide a copy of the Challenge Scenario which will require a quick 7-day turnaround.

The Case Studies and the Code Challenge in Volumes I-III are not provided in the Draft RFP. Nonetheless, to be competitive, companies should already be anticipating what case studies and code challenges may be provided by the VA and should design the framework for a solution and prepare an approach to those anticipated case studies and code challenges.

Volume IV includes the pricing of various labor categories. These rates are ceiling rates, and the VA will expect discounts at the task order level. The VA will evaluate Volume IV to determine if the LCAT rates are “fair and reasonable,” but bidders should allow room for discounting at the task order level to maximize their use of the contract. Any missing rates or blanks on the spreadsheet will render the proposal non-compliant.

Teaming on VA SPRUCE

The VA is not limiting the use of JVs or CTAs, but they do have some other requirements that reduce the ability to team.

VA is limiting offerors to only submitting one proposal for consideration. This means no cross teaming, with one exception: companies can submit one offer as a prime, and another as a member of an SBA-approved Mentor-Protégé Joint Venture. A company can only submit one MPJV proposal as either a mentor or protégé. In the event that a company is acting as a mentor or protégé in multiple proposals, none of those proposals will be considered for award.

Additionally, case studies cannot be reused in multiple proposals. So, the solution that you develop for the two case studies for your prime bid must be different than your MPJV bid. Depending on your specific situation, it might be best to only submit a proposal for SPRUCE in one offer and put all your effort behind that bid.

Evaluation Approach

There will be eight awards resulting from this solicitation, so competition will be fierce. While the government is taking a phased evaluation approach, bidders are required to submit their entire proposal at once, with exception of Volume III.

Those who receive a “Pass” on Technical Factor 1 will be notified and then the government will begin the evaluation of Technical Factor 2 and the Price Volume. After this, the VA will establish who are the most highly rated offerors and which labor rates are considered fair and reasonable. For the Price Evaluation, the government will be using past labor rates from the CEDAR contract as a reference point to determine if the fully burdened, direct labor rates proposed are fair and reasonable.

Offerors who are within the competitive range will move on to Technical Factor 3, which is the Code Challenge and Written Technical Approach. Volume III will be evaluated based on understanding of the project and feasibility of the approach. The VA will then select the eight highest technically rated offerors with a fair and reasonable price to receive an award.

What does it take to win?

When the VA competed CEDAR, there were 86 bidders and only four awardees. The competition for SPRUCE is likely to be just as intense. While it’s not explicitly written in the RFP, the winning companies are going to be those bidders who have deep experience and intimacy with the VA. They’ll know what the VA is looking for in the case studies and will be sure to craft a solution that hits on all their pain points. Overall, SPRUCE holds great potential given the high ceiling and heavy use of the contract within the VA, which is why many companies will be doing everything it takes to win one of the eight treasured seats on the vehicle.

Written by Rachel Newman. Connect with Rachel on LinkedIn!