Beware of change in buying rules that is too simple to be true
Today marks the end of the 43rd annual Federal Government Suggestathon. This year's
topic, the same as it is every year, was: Streamlining the acquisition process.
A big difference this year is the use of electronic communications to stimulate
participation and, given the subject matter, the participants.
The entries were judged by a panel with more blue ribbons than you'd see at a state
Contestants were asked to submit papers on the following four questions: If we made
solicitations really small, how many could we get on the head of a pin? Is an offer done
totally in mime effective without an electronic signature? Is a non-commercial product the
same as a commercial product that has not been certified? Should the government award one
great big indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract every 10 years and be done
As usual, the winning entry was entitled: How to Rewrite Part 15 of the Federal
Acquisition Regulation and Make It Really Good So People Will Like It.
The winner, Dr. M.T. Rambler, J.D., Ph.D., was interviewed by GCN's itinerant
correspondent and super sleuth, King Oxnard, procurement detective.
Oxnard: Golly, what a stimulating article on contract negotiations. I
really liked the part about making source selection easy and fun, too.
Dr. Rambler: It's something I've been working on for 43 years. As the
world's leading decisionologist, I felt it my duty to clean up this problem once and for
all. It's my humble, yet valuable, gift to a world that has given me so much in the way of
Oxnard: Well, speaking for the entire world, thank you. Could you
explain a little of your underlying theory?
Dr. Rambler: Obviously, it would be too difficult for you to
comprehend. But keep the recorder on, a few of your readers may enter a state of true
Oxnard: Gosh, I sure will.
Dr. Rambler: The science of decisionology deals with the way people in
groups make decisions for the people in charge. It involves reducing every potential event
in the universe to a series of Arabic numerals ranging from small ones, like one and two,
to really big ones like 1,492,648.
Dr. Rambler: Please don't interrupt except for unbridled adulation.
Naturally, there is no need to give numbers to every possible event, but then not every
event in the universe impinges upon a source-selection decision.
For example, hat band sizes rarely affect a source-selection decision, so shoppers are
only given numbers when selecting headgear. But gray paint is number 462,783.
I might add that in the early days, before we knew the federal worth of everything,
we'd assign numbers to elements of proposals on the basis of how well those proposal
elements met our requirements. That was pre-decisionology and, well, vastly inferior.
The next step in the process was to assign a monetary value to the numbered event. This
amount was arrived at by multiplying the event's assigned worth number by the square root
of the smallest odd integer beginning with the letter O and arriving at the factor factor,
which is then negatively applied against the price until price ceases to be relevant to
Oxnard: Why, that's brilliant!
Dr. Rambler: That's more like it.
With this system, an offeror merely identifies the salient factors in its proposal in
terms of numbered events, adds the numbers together, and sends the government, via e-mail,
the total number, the price for the effort and an express promise to do good work.
Evaluation consists of subtracting the total for the numbered events from the price. The
lowest evaluated price wins.
Oxnard: Simple .
Dr. Rambler: It does have a certain elegance.
Oxnard: I didn't mean the system
(Tape ends with sounds of scuffling.)
Bob Little, an attorney who has worked who has worked for the General Accounting
Office and a Washington law firm, now teaches federal contract law.