It’s a human condition to want to establish boundaries to concepts in order for us to make them measurable, reportable, and ultimately to hold accountable. In this great shift towards more transparent and accountable government, “best value” contracting is no different. After learning about the recent GAO ruling over Access Systems, as well as with many other government contract protests and debates, it begs the question: What does “best value” really look like? Moreover, how much should best value cost?
Granted, in the situation of Access Systems, GAO cited that there was merely a lack of documentation to support a best value decision. But beyond this example, how can you even begin to quantify the value in services contracting when many times it comes down to choosing a partner with whom you feel most comfortble working? For example, what would it be worth to the American taxpayer if the confidence level of government were 10 percentage points higher, but $2M more costly, if selecting an industry partner to help them deliver critical infrastructure support services? So much attention is on the dollars being spent (and rightfully so) that we need to exercise caution in weighting contract decision too far in favor of dollar amount. After all, the incremental returns on efficiency and effectiveness that are realized when working with a trusted partner are generally far greater than the dollars that would otherwise be saved by going with a less expensive contractor.
Naturally, there are significant strides being made in productizing services–by implementing contract reporting requirements (e.g. EVM), and other tools to help us quantify things like value, which could then be measured, forecasted, and reported. The more that can be measured, the more comfortable we are in justifying decisions. That which is sometimes unmeasurable (and perhaps at times unjustifiable)–trust–is sometimes the most costly.
It’s also human condition to overcompensate when we’re passionate about improvement. We may be overcompensating a bit with overly aggressive scrutiny around awarding best value. As with most things, the best value pendulum will eventually swing back into balance.
And in today’s environment, contractors need to do much more than reach out to government with their brand-building and trust-building efforts. They must reach directly through government and reach the unprecedented numbers of American people who have never before been so actively engaged in government–and government contracting.