Don’t get caught with your CPARS ratings down

Ken Susskind and Bob Draughon, of GovConRx, explain why the use of contractor self-assessments can help vendors rise above “satisfactory.”

Let’s talk about the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), and that means talking about relationships. So, how would you react if your partner rated your relationship as satisfactory? It’s hard to believe celebration would be in order. One of Webster’s primary definitions of satisfactory is “adequate.” My partner describes our relationship as “adequate?

Now it’s time for an internal check. When we mentioned partner, did you think business? Did you think romance? And in this instance, the answer is the same. No one wants to be adequate. If you’re not, at minimum, very good, you have some convincing to do.

So, what are we trying to convey? One simple idea that will change everything. Dialogue must begin and continue from the very first federal contract kick-off meeting, and the CPARS Contractor Self-Assessment is the most effective and proven technique to begin and keep the process in motion.

Consider that the government and the contractor went to extraordinary lengths to make the contract happen, and that neither side was hoping for a merely “satisfactory” result. And perhaps most important, a “satisfactory” can hurt you when competing for new business. More than half of companies score higher than “satisfactory.” That means that when you vie for new business, more than 50% of your competitors come to the table rated higher. Or, remember elementary school? “Satisfactory” is the “participation ribbon” of CPARS ratings. But how important are CPARS ratings in making contract awards?

Very important! We see an increased use of CPARS as the primary past performance tool when bidding on contracts (GSA OASIS II and DHS FirstSource III come to mind). Many RFPs now state “if you have a CPARS you must present it as part of your past performance reference.” Also consider the Government Accountability Office decision that in a two-phase procurement where price is not considered in phase one, and no competitive range is established, that offerors can be eliminated based upon CPARS evaluations without an opportunity to respond.

Wow! It is perfectly acceptable to “thin the herd” by eliminating any bidder with merely “satisfactory” CPARS ratings. Are you beginning to see the importance of your CPARS ratings?

It’s important to note that CPARS is evolving as the single most important tool in federal contract performance management. It provides a very structured relationship for performance feedback and drives the discussion that must occur if you want to guarantee success. Yet CPARS can also come back to bite you – unless you are smart enough to manage and control it before it controls you.

It would be a mistake to wait until the end of the year to see your CPARS ratings. Once the evaluation is in writing and in the system, it is very difficult to change ratings and/or the narratives. Leading executives tell us that self-assessments constitute a best practice that improves the government/contractor relationship and the resulting quality and value of goods and services. Jeff Koses, the senior procurement executive at the General Services Administration, issued an acquisition alert this year that outlines the many advantages of the self-assessment including saving time, and encouraging contractors to make their case about their performance. He added that getting the contractor’s point of view early in the process may reduce the back and forth during the 60-day response period and that a contractor actively tracking its performance may have fewer performance issues.

If you’re asking, “What can I do to improve my ratings?” – the answer is clear and why not see this for yourself? The first time you’ll sit down to discuss a self-assessment with your government partners, the difference will be startling. Suddenly, you are both talking about what is truly important to the mission and taking a position that your performance has been “very good” or “excellent” to achieve the mission objectives will certainly energize the discussion!

But don’t take our word for it. Pull up your CPARS Ratings Metrics Report and take a more critical look. Do you like what you see? Too many “satisfactory” ratings and not enough “very good/exceptional” ratings? Now how confident are you in your competitive posture?

The most important change you can make this year is to initiate CPARS self-assessments in your major contracts. So, review your ratings, select one of your key contracts, coordinate with your contracting officer and submit a CPARS contractor self-assessment. Get started! Help the government help you! Higher ratings will be on their way!

Ken Susskind is founder and CEO of GovConRx LLC, an advisory firm consisting of former acquisition executives focused on contract performance/CPARS management solutions.

Bob Draughon is a senior vice president with GovConRx LLC and was formerly an IT senior executive with the Department of the Treasury serving in the federal government for over 33 years.

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