By Chris O’Donnell, April 16, 2019.
With USAID’s launch of “Effective Partnering and Procurement Reform” including over 170 recommendations, USAID makes a priority—diversify implementing partners. Whether, commercial, non-governmental, small business, public international organization or local, USAID historically obligates a significant percentage of funding to a few organizations. While success begets success, can USAID take steps to increase the number of new, emerging and growing implementers, shifting the funding denominator? As a former USAID Contracting Officer, here are my top seven recommendations:
Make Smaller Awards: A USAID solicitation award at $15 million can generate interest even by the largest, most experienced organizations. As smaller solicitations may not be a good business decision for larger organization, a shift to smaller awards could give new organizations a greater opportunity to learn USAID’s business practices, while larger awards will continue to solicit intense competition with greater risk for the agency and new organizations.
Provide More Time to Develop Full Proposals: while USAID’s use of concept papers has increased and is a helpful trend, the time to prepare a full proposal remains limited. Technical offices still drive the urgency of the award; whereby, proposal quality can drop significantly for organizations with limited bidding experience and resources. Submission of proposals should be extended to 30 days following the amendment of answers to questions.
Ensure Solicitations Disclose Incumbent & Accomplishments: The most significant challenge to analyzing any USAID solicitation is the lack of incumbent information, who and what was accomplished the past four-to-five years–critical information to bid decision and submission strategy. USAID should start by ensuring the business forecast incumbent field is complete, while answering reasonable solicitation questions about the incumbent. Creating greater transparency about the incumbent can level the playing field, increase competition and diversify partners.
Ensure Incumbent Documents are Sent to the DEC: both acquisition and assistance awards require USAID to make publicly available all technical reports funded under the award. When posted at the Development Experience Clearinghouse (DEC) portal, they are a useful source of information on methodology, coordination, accomplishments, impacts and partners. A level playing field with access to information, increases competition and creates opportunities to diversify partners. Otherwise, an incumbent with exclusive access to US government documents, may have an organizational conflict of interest.
Ensure Incumbent Sub-awards are Entered at FSRS.gov: with the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, prime contractors are now required to enter sub-contracts above $30,000 at FSRS.gov. A similar requirement exists for prime grantees to enter sub-grants above $25,000. FSRS.gov linked to USAspending.gov makes funding decisions publicly available.
Disclose Incumbent Equipment & Supplies: in some cases, an incumbent has retained possession to hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment and supplies from the previous award. When cost is considered in the evaluation process–especially for highly competitive proposals—a modest price reduction can make the difference in award selection. Disclosing equipment and supplies at solicitation posting provides bidders the opportunity to develop more realistic cost proposals.
Limit Use of Exception to Competition: permitted by the Federal Acquisition Regulation, USAID FAR supplements (AIDAR) and Automated Directive System, exceptions to competition can be useful for rapid response to emergencies and prevent foreign impairment. To avoid appearances of a lack of advanced planning, USAID management should judiciously monitor award expiration dates, ensuring the new technical design is initiated in enough time to avoid implementation gaps. The lack of competition limits opportunities to diversify partners.