Keeping with the title and theme of the Coalition’s fall training conference, “What is Fair and Reasonable,” this week’s blog addresses what is fair and reasonable transparency. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines transparency as “the quality of being in an open way without secrets” and is defined in the Cambridge Business English Dictionary as a “situation in which business and financial activities are done in an open way without secrets, so that people can trust that they are fair and honest.” Transparency is the key to effective communication between and among stakeholders in the procurement process.
Communication is the connective tissue of federal procurement, bringing government and industry together on behalf of the American people. Effective communication leads to better understanding of requirements and regulations, enhanced competition, and increased access to the commercial market. The rulemaking process, with its notice and public comment requirements, the acquisition planning process, which includes industry days, draft solicitations, market research, the notice and publication requirements for solicitations and requests for quotes, the negotiation process, and the Office of Management and Budget/Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s Myth-Busters Campaign, all reflect a procurement system built on the foundation of transparent communication.
Transparency is in the government’s interests. It promotes stakeholder understanding of performance requirements, acquisition policies, and procedures. The better industry understands requirements, policies, and procedures, the more efficiently and effectively it can respond to the government’s needs. Transparent communication also promotes accountability and trust between the parties and with the public. Of course, industry must play a critical role in responding to transparent communication. Thoughtful feedback helps the government improve and refine requirements, increasing opportunities for sound business outcomes that meet mission needs.
There continue to be opportunities across government to further enhance transparency in acquisition policies and procedures. One example is the Federal Acquisition Service’s (FAS) Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program and the public posting of operational policy and process guidance. Currently, operational policy guidance is not posted for the public. In the past, FAS did, in fact, post operational policy documents, essentially providing the public, including its industry partners, with a virtual library of the guidance governing and shaping contract administration and management across the organization. FAS should return to the policy of posting all such guidance on its website, making it available to the public.
Additionally, FAS should provide the public with a notice and the opportunity to comment on proposed new operational guidance. Doing so is important especially when proposed guidance rises to the level of rulemaking and/or creates new paperwork requirements for private firms seeking to participate in FAS programs. One such example is FAS Policy and Procedure (PAP) 2021-05, Evaluation of FSS Program Pricing, which essentially establishes new guidance, standards, and criteria for the negotiation of FSS pricing, provides specific guidance on the selection and negotiation of the tracking customers for Price Reduction Clause compliance, creates de facto paperwork submission requirements for offerors, and essentially revises GSAR guidance on the negotiation of fair and reasonable pricing. Given the significant public impact of this PAP, stakeholders across the procurement system should have the opportunity to comment on this document. In the interim, the document should be rescinded, with contracting officers referring back to the GSAR and FAR for guidance on determining fair and reasonable pricing.
The opportunity to address this PAP will demonstrate FAS’s embrace of transparency. As FAS works to revise the PAP, providing the public with an opportunity to review and comment on it will improve the guidance and support the FAS commissioner’s goal of making it “dead easy” to do business with GSA. The Coalition welcomes the opportunity to submit comments and will do its part to share feedback in the spirit of “fair and reasonable” transparency.
Look for next week’s blog to continue the focus on “What is fair and reasonable transparency?”