Do the latest CIO-SP4 amendments create inequities?

NITAAC's latest CIO-SP4 amendments will allow small businesses to use the experience of large business partners in their proposals. The late change might put small businesses without large partners at a disadvantage.

The National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC)’s highly anticipated Chief Information Officer – Solutions and Partners 4 (CIO-SP4) RFP, released June 25, has already seen four amendments and a proposal due date extension to July 8. But the latest amendment, #4, has caught some bidders, especially small businesses, off-guard.

A Change to Self-Scoring

In the original solicitation, bidders with Contractor Teaming Arrangements (CTAs) or Joint Ventures (JVs) could use only prime contractor Corporate Experience, Leading Edge Technology, Federal Multiple Award contracts, and Executive Order 13779 experience examples as documented on the self-scoring worksheet. With the exception of the latter, the higher the dollar value of these experiences, the better the score.

In Amendment #4, NITAAC removed the prohibition on using first-tier subcontractor experience examples. The rationale for the change is that “it is not NITAACs intent to remove the ability of offerors to utilize first tier subcontractors that are part of a CTA as defined in FAR 9.601.” On the surface, the amendment would seem to remove impediments to teaming and give both small and large businesses greater flexibility.

Who Benefits?

NITAAC issued the draft RFP last year, and for over a year, contractors have assumed that they could not use the experiences of teaming partners in order to bolster their score. Therefore, many contractors probably put minimal effort into developing CTAs or JVs. Most large businesses pursuing this bid likely have enough experience to achieve a competitive score without teaming partners.

With the Amendment #4 changes, small businesses now benefit from CTAs with larger businesses that offer high dollar value experience examples to generate a higher score. What this means is that large businesses can prime and then also act as a first-tier subcontractor on a non-exclusive basis, giving them the ability to join multiple teams.

Small businesses that were planning to bid without CTA or JV arrangements will likely be non-competitive in this new playing field. They will either risk a relatively low score, or they will need to quickly find teaming partners to stay competitive.

The sudden change to self-scoring experience requirements may end up putting small businesses at a disadvantage, and certainly creates a less than level playing field.