On October 1st, the Commission on War Time Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan (CWC) issued a Special Report. Entitled “Lowest-priced security not good enough for war-zone embassies,” the report places most of the blame for the recent fiasco involving the work of ArmorGroup North America at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on the use of a negotiated procurement source selection technique known as “lowest-price technically acceptable offer” (LPTAO).
POGO has generally been impressed with the work of the CWC, and particularly the hearing on the Kabul Embassy security contract (at which POGO testified). However, in this case, we believe the CWC’s conclusion is misplaced. While there are legitimate differences concerning use of LPTAO in contrast with so-called “best value” source selection techniques in negotiated procurement award decisions, blaming the failure of the contract on use of the statutorily required LPTAO source selection technique seems to us to be nothing more than blame shifting by the State Department to Congress.
In fact, what is left out of the report is more instructive than what is included. For example, under LPTAO the State Department may specify “minimum technical acceptability” requirements. Apparently, State claims that it was required to go to the lowest-priced offer, but conveniently omits that the Department could have required a higher level of minimum acceptability criteria. Use of LPTAO places the burden on the agency to specify minimum technical acceptability. In turn, this requires the contracting agency to develop and use thoughtful and reasoned source selection criteria and high quality specifications. Apparently, the State Department did not do this.
For example, if limiting guard shifts to 8-hours was a criteria for doing the work, then those limitations should have been listed as a requirement. Similarly, if only guards with previous U.S. Special Forces or Marine Corps experience were required, that too could have been specified. The main point is that use of LPTAO requires the contracting agency to carefully consider its specifications and requirements. In contrast, so-called “best value” source selection techniques often leave it to the contractor(s) to specify the necessary skills and requirements.
CWC’s blaming of the LPTAO source selection methodology for the Kabul embassy failure reminds us of the Federal Aviation Administration’s attempt in the mid-1990s to blame its air traffic control problems on the “procurement process.” Yes, we agree that procurement process frequently requires contracting agencies to do their homework before awarding contracts. Blaming this obvious State Department failure on use of LPTAO is a smoke screen.
POGO urges Congress to go back to the State Department and tell them to use the LPTAO negotiated source selection technique for embassy security in a more thoughtful and considered manner.
-- Danielle Brian