Another View: Match competition strategy to requirements

Bob Welch

Procurement is getting too personal. Lately, I've seen displays of surprising emotion in the business of federal acquisition policy in not-so-public forums and in the trade press about usually mundane topics such as the merits of the competition. What strikes me most about the emotions I'm witnessing is the nostalgia'for procurement's old days. Nostalgia, says Merriam-Webster, is a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to some past period and irrecoverable condition.

Why do I say this? Because the world and the work force that existed when the Competition in Contracting Act held absolute sway no longer exist'no longer can exist. It's as though some are trying to regress to a 20-year-old solution'a good one at the time'and expect it to work in today's acquisition environment. The world has changed.

We seem to have forgotten that full-and-open competition brought to us costly acquisition lifecycles that exceeded the market life of the goods and services we were buying. We've lost the work force that knew how to do such extraordinarily complicated and time-consuming procurements. We seem to have forgotten that the vendors supported reform, most especially of that quintessential competitive process: Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 15 negotiated procurement. And we seem to have forgotten that Congress gave us more than a single standard of competition for government contracts.

CICA, implemented in FAR Part 6, establishes three standards of competition:
  • Full-and-open competition

  • Full-and-open competition after exclusion of sources

  • Other than full-and-open competition

In practice, full-and-open competition can be very costly to both government and industry. When CICA and full-and-open competition were the rule, agencies broadly advertised competitions to elicit responses from all responsible sources'and got them. Contracting officers seemed to assume that if receipt of three proposals was good, 300 proposals would be better.

Congress, in the Federal Acquisition Reform Act, moderated the full-and-open competition mandate by stating the FAR would ensure full-and-open competition be implemented 'in a manner that is consistent with the need to efficiently fulfill the government's requirements.' Congress enacted this law after extensive research into competitive best practices.

The FAR now provides additional exceptions to CICA competitive mandates and implements techniques that aid negotiated procurements and efficient competition. Full-and-open competition is neither the only competitive mandate nor the best one for every requirement.

Agencies must carefully choose the degree and method of competition for a given project. Full-and-open competition for its own sake is certainly poor business practice and poor policy. Factors such as urgency, mission criticality of the requirement, efficiency, effectiveness and cost are important when developing a competitive strategy.

Does all this mean the world we've wrought through reform is without problems? Of course not. But I would argue that painting full-and-open competition with rosy nostalgic colors is failing to recognize the real problem: that the ability to craft and implement competitive acquisition strategies using appropriate acquisition vehicles is in danger of becoming a lost art.

Let's leave nostalgia and emotion behind. The community should join in collegial efforts to seek solutions to solve the problems of today, not those of 20 years ago.

Bob Welch is a partner with Acquisition Solutions Inc.,, and a former federal procurement executive.


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