“We have a deep bench” and “We have great corporate reachback” are some of my favorite lies. While this is not always flawed, it can most definitely boomerang around to kill your bid. Let’s take a journey down the yellow brick reachback road to see examples of the good and the bad. In this blog we will feature a good use of reachback and a case in which reachback did not work out as intended.
Sin #14: Reachback is the answer!
U.S. Department of State, Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) II IDIQ contract task order
Protest Decision Date: February 4, 2021
Security services are certainly important and sensitive requirements that lean heavily on a specialized talent pool with clearances and training. These services need labor that is able and willing to travel OCONUS and there are plenty of assignments that are dangerous. It does not take much analysis to imagine labor market constraints make recruiting and staffing challenging. This protest features two well-known security services businesses in SOC (part of Day & Zimmerman) and GardaWorld. Note the summary of the evaluation of the win in table 1 below.
|Past Performance Relevancy||Marginal||Good|
|Past Performance Confidence||Limited Confidence||Substantial Confidence|
|Total Proposed Fixed Price||$54,654,587||$58,261,414|
The Source Selection Authority (SSA) shot down SOC’s bid as follows.
Based on the evaluation results, the SSA concluded that SOC was ineligible for award because its proposal was assigned an “unacceptable” rating for its technical approach.
The SSA also noted that SOC’s past performance evaluation portended poor performance.
Ouch. So what went wrong?
The technical approach received a resounding Unacceptable rating. Let’s take a look at the technical evaluation factor.
The technical approach factor was comprised of four subfactors: staffing plan; training management plan; mobilization and transition plan; and, logistics and property management and accountability plan.
Staffing also included the recruiting plan. This is where the proposal went awry.
The weakness in SOC’s proposal under the staffing plan subfactor was assigned because the agency expressed concern with the firm’s ability to retain a high percentage of its personnel, and whether it would be able to resolve staffing challenges.
Hold on. This is SOC. Don’t they do this type of work all the time? Here’s the explanation from the evaluation itself.
“[t]he proposed Staffing Plan lacks critical detail in regard to how the Offeror plans to achieve this incumbent retention rate and/or how they plan to overcome staffing challenges in case the incumbent retention rate is lower than [the stated high percentage].”
The protest continues.
Thus, the agency assigned this weakness because the proposal did not adequately articulate how the firm would retain incumbent personnel, or address staffing challenges in the event that it does not retain the high stated percentage.
In effect, the evaluators were VERY concerned SOC didn’t know what they were doing in terms of retaining incumbents and to address staffing challenges which leads to the dreaded equation of:
Poor detail on HOW + RISK to mission = GAME OVER
There were many concerns about how SOC would retain incumbent staff. That was a big part of the loss, but there is another aspect of this protest that garners our attention for a deadly sin. That’s it…corporate reachback! We herald the arrival of the almighty and all powerful corporate reachback! Specifically, we have the below from the protest:
The agency noted that SOC’s staffing plan had only two “bench” personnel (i.e., individual staff members available to replace unavailable staff members), and contemplated substituting personnel assigned to task order contracts, if needed.
Oh my. Evaluators were having none of this. The saga continues below.
The firm argues that the agency should have evaluated only its primary option to address emergency leave; specifically, that the firm could [DELETED] other personnel, rely on its rotational staff, or draw upon its staffing pool of qualified personnel.
The agency responds that SOC did not propose sufficient reserve personnel, and that therefore the firm will have to utilize personnel from other task order contracts.
More specifically, this reachback was constituted using personnel from the other WPS task orders which creates a situation of “rob Peter to pay Paul.” Whether nor not SOC would have really needed to do this or not and whether or not it would have really been harmful is not relevant here. It is absolutely possible SOC could have filled positions temporarily gapped with no detrimental impact to the WPS task order in question. Perception is reality and the U.S. Department of State perceived the potential risk as so great it made SOC’s proposal unawardable.
But wait. There’s more. Is there an example of reachback done right? There is!
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Federally Facilitated Exchange contract
Protest Decision Date: August 19, 2021
The re-compete for Accenture Federal Services’ (AFS) flagship CMS FFE contract was a very close competition. Note the evaluation below.
|Evaluation criteria||Accenture Federal||Deloitte Consulting|
|Relevant Experience||High Confidence||High Confidence|
|Technical Demonstration||High Confidence||High Confidence|
|Technical Approach / Understanding||High Confidence||Some Confidence|
|Staffing/Key Personnel||High Confidence||High Confidence|
|Small Business Utilization||High Confidence||High Confidence|
Deloitte received one minor weakness in Technical Approach / Understanding to get the loss, but that’s not related to reachback. Relevant to this blog, the evaluators gave a slight edge to Accenture in underlying staffing. Deloitte challenged the veracity of AFS’s claim to reach back to its corporate parent Accenture LLP which had state and commercial experienced personnel who could support the FFE. In this case, note the below assessment from the evaluators on this reachback concept.
The agency responds that, contrary to Deloitte’s assertion, AFS’s proposal contained multiple references to its intended reliance on the resources of its parent corporation.15 For example, in its proposal, AFS characterized its staffing plan as “flexible to . . . include reachback to a large group of resources . . . [including] more than [redacted] Health and Public Service professionals through Accenture LLP,” and stated that AFS’s “staffing approach . . . provid[es] CMS access to thousands of skilled professionals and leading SMEs [subject matter experts] across Accenture in areas of [redacted] and other relevant areas to the FFE.” MOL at 8-14; see AR, Tab 2e, AFS Proposal, Vol. III at 2-3; Tab 2x, AFS Proposal, Vol. III at 2-1. Accordingly, the agency maintains that AFS’s proposal amply reflected its intent to meaningfully involve its parent corporation in performing the FFE task order.
In this case, the evaluators found the reachback argument to be a strength
What is the lesson learned?
What was the difference between these two reachback examples?
In the first example, SOC opened the door to criticism when they did not convince U.S. Department of State that they had sufficient back-up capacity and they would not even need to reach into the WPS labor pool. It is unknown if SOC implied heavily they could reach into the WPS focused labor pool or not, but once the U.S. Department of State perceived they would have ANY risk of performance on this task order that would spread to other WPS task orders, that was the end for SOC’s pursuit.
By contrast, AFS illustrated reachback to the parent company using a pool of labor that is NOT going to impact any CMS work. Did CMS let that pass because it was a case of “other people’s problems?”
Is the moral of the story that reachback can be a good thing if it does not demonstrate risk to the customer at hand. We have seen other examples of reachback both good and bad. In the end, the devil is in the details.
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