Source Selection Preparation and Evaluation


Definition: Source Selection is a critical phase of the pre-award procurement process. It has been thoroughly discussed in regulations and procurement literature. One definition would not give it justice. Here are just a few of the widely used definitions:

  • According to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 15.3, Source Selection is the "...selection of a source or sources in competitive negotiated acquisitions...The objective of source selection is to select the proposal that represents the best value [1]."
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Guide to Source Selection defines source selection as "...the process used in competitive, negotiated contracting to select the proposal expected to result in the best value to the Government. By definition, negotiation is contracting without using sealed bidding procedures. It is accomplished through solicitation and receipt of proposals from offerors; it permits discussions, persuasion, alteration of initial positions, may afford offerors an opportunity to review their offers before award, and results in award to the proposal representing the best value to the Government."
  • Source selection is often thought of as making trade-offs among offerors' proposals to determine the best value offer.

Keywords: advisory multi-step process, best value determination, down-select, evaluation, proposal evaluation, source selection, technical evaluation

Background

Source selection is not an isolated aspect of the acquisition life cycle; instead, it is a key phase of the life cycle shown below in Figure 1. In order for source selection to be successful, the precursor phases of the life cycle (need identification, market research, requirements definition, strong acquisition planning, solicitation development, and proposal solicitation) must be completed effectively.

The source selection approach should be captured in a source selection plan. The plan should include the proposal evaluation criteria. Selecting appropriate evaluation factors is one of the most important steps in the entire source selection process. The source selection plan explains how proposals are to be solicited and evaluated to make selection decisions. It defines the roles of the source selection team members. A realistic schedule also should be included in the plan.

The article Picking the Right Contractor describes best practices and lessons learned in the pre-proposal and selection process, including ways to involve Industry to improve the likelihood of a better source selection outcome. The article, RFP Preparation and Source Selection will walk you through the RFP process, typical MITRE systems engineering roles, and the important points of the selection process. Both articles contain best practices and lessons learned for the preparation and evaluation processes.

Figure 1. Key Phases of the Acquisition Life Cycle
Figure 1. Key Phases of the Acquisition Life Cycle

MITRE SE Roles & Expectations: MITRE systems engineers are expected to create technical and engineering portions of request for proposal (RFP) documentation (requirements documents, statement of work, evaluation criteria), assist in developing the technical portions of source selection plans, and assist in the technical evaluation of bidders. MITRE systems engineers also are expected to encourage agency program and acquisition managers to build effective processes into their acquisition strategies. Increasing the program office's likelihood of success often requires acting as an intermediary between the government and contractors to objectively and independently assess the degree to which proposed solutions or courses of action will provide the capabilities needed to meet the government's needs. This includes conducting assessments of the risk inherent in proposed solutions—including strategies for acquiring (or implementing) them—and identifying actionable options for mitigating those risks.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

Advocate the right definition of success: Some organizations define "acquisition success" as the awarding of the contract. Once the contract is awarded (without a protest), victory is declared. Although contract award is one of several important milestones, this limited view of acquisition tends to overlook the need to adequately consider what it will take to successfully execute the acquisition effort in a way that achieves the desired outcomes. It leads to a "ready, fire, aim" approach to acquisition planning. Advocate for a broader view of acquisition success, one that balances the desire to award a contract quickly with adequate planning, program management, and systems engineering across the entire system or capability life cycle.

The importance of planning: The importance of conducting adequate acquisition planning before release of the RFP cannot be overstated. This includes encouraging clients to take the time to conduct market research and have dialog with industry so the government becomes a smart buyer that recognizes what is available in the market place, including the risks and opportunities associated with being able acquire solutions that meet their needs. This insight allows the government to develop a more effective source selection strategy, which includes choosing more meaningful evaluation factors (or criteria) that focus on key discriminators, linked to outcome metrics. Concentrating on a few key differentiating factors can also translate into a need for less proposal information instead of asking for "everything," which tends to occur when not certain what is important.  Adequate acquisition planning helps ensure that the source selection process will go smoothly, increases the probability of selecting the best solution, and reduces the risk of protest.

Maintain the right focus: Focusing on mission/business outcomes instead of detailed technical specifications broadens the trade-space of potential innovative solutions that industry (potential contractors) may offer. It can increase industry's ability to use commercial items and/or non-developmental items to fulfill government needs.

Follow your process: The evaluation documentation must provide a strong rationale for the selection decision. During the proposal evaluation phase, a critical lesson is to ensure that the evaluation team does not deviate from the stated RFP evaluation factors. General Accounting Office decisions clearly indicate that use of factors other than those published in the RFP almost guarantees that a bid protest will be sustained. At a minimum, the source selection documentation must identify weaknesses, significant weaknesses, and deficiencies as defined by FAR 15.001 Definitions [1]. Good documentation also identifies strengths and risks.

The importance of industry exchanges: Increased communication with industry through presolicitation notices, information exchanges, and draft RFPs makes the acquisition process more transparent and may lower the likelihood of a protest. These techniques can be an effective way to increase competition, especially when there is a strong incumbent. Exchanges with industry are especially important when the procurement requirements are complex.

Handling sensitive proposal information—a critical requirement: To maintain the integrity of procurement, sensitive source selection information must be handled with discretion to avoid compromise. All government team participants share the critical responsibility to ensure that source selection and proprietary information is not disclosed. There is no room for error. Any lapses by MITRE individuals not only could compromise the integrity of a federal procurement but also could damage MITRE's relationship with the government.

Clarity of evaluation factors: It is not unusual for the government to ask MITRE systems engineers to help draft proposal evaluation factors (Section M) for a solicitation. The focus should be on the key discriminators that will help distinguish one proposal from another. Cost must always be one of the factors, along with such factors as mission capability, similar experience, past performance, and key personnel. Many solicitations are often vague about the relative weights among such evaluation factors as cost. These ambiguities often lead to successful protests. It is important to do everything possible to ensure that the relative weights of the factors are as clear as possible in the minds of the potential offerors and the government evaluation team.

References & Resources

  1. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR)
    • FAR 15.001 Definitions
    • FAR 15.1 Source Selection Processes and Techniques
    • FAR 15.202 Advisory Multi-step Process
    • FAR 15.3 Source Selection

Additional References & Resources

Asset Reuse (Procurement): The Use of Industry Exchange To Increase Competition.

MITRE P&P CR 3.2 Support to Sponsors' Source Selection Proceedings.

MITRE's Input to the Data Access & Dissemination Systems (DADS) Cost Evaluation Lessons Learned, September 25, 2009.

Source Selection: Best Practices in Streamlining the Process," April 22-25, 2007, NCMA World Congress.

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