WINCHESTER, Va. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District hosted a post award conference for contractors Jan. 25.
When the $3.8 billion capacity U.S. Central Command Multiple Award Task Order Contract was awarded in June 2011, the Middle East District planned to host a post award conference six months later. Those plans were realized on Jan. 25, when 49 representatives from 13 of the 14 MATOC-holding firms attended the conference.
"The project delivery team wanted to wait the six months to give contractors a chance to propose on the first few task orders so they could let us know what was working and what we could do to improve the process," said Michelle Pearman, contract specialist.
MED Commander Col. Jon Christensen thanked the contractors for attending and encouraged interaction. "We could not perform our missions overseas without great partners like you. Thank you for helping us meet our engineering and construction needs overseas on behalf of our nation. Give us your feedback so that we can become even better partners throughout the life of these MATOCs."
Following a brief history of the District's use of MATOCs and an overview of the CENTCOM MATOC, Pearman told the audience that approximately three percent of the MATOC's maximum ceiling of $3.8 billion has been used to date.
She went on to discuss the source selection evaluation criteria being used for contractor submittals. "There are two types of evaluations -- the LPTA or lowest price technically acceptable and BVTO or best value using the trade-off process," she said. "For the majority of the task orders, you will see in the RFP (request for proposal) that the evaluation will be LPTA since all 14 MATOC holders are capable of performing the majority of the projects. But, since the project delivery team will determine the source selection criteria on each task order, some may be evaluated using the best value process."
Before the conference, MED asked the contractors to submit up to three comments, concerns or issues involving the MATOC process, and 12 of the 14 contractors responded. The Deputy for Programs and Project Management Deborah Duncan, Contracting Officer Jo-Ann Bray, Support for Other Branch Chief Bill Ryals, Project Manager Romel Punsalan, and Assistant Counsel Jeremy Becker-Welts served on a panel to discuss items submitted by contractors.
Timelier award of task orders: "Our goal is to award within 30 days of receiving the proposals," said Pearman, "although some of the more complex task orders could take longer."
Contractor questions: "There's a system in place for bidder inquiries," said Chief of Contracting Division Darralyn Williams. "We will answer your questions through the ProjNet System.
ProjNet is a secure, web-based management tool for information exchange. It facilitates interaction among the government team and contractors.
"When we issue a solicitation, we include a ProjNet key," said Pearman. "When contractors have bid inquiries, they go to the ProjNet secure site to ask questions. The government answers those questions in ProjNet. All MATOC holders can see all the questions and answers."
A follow-up inquiry about contractor questions led to further discussion, inspiring Becker-Welts to share his direct telephone number. He assured contractors that they could talk with him directly if they did not feel their questions were adequately addressed.
"Sometimes you may see answers you don't like," said Becker-Welts. "There are elements that we do not control, such as security, and conditions may very well change. The government tries to be fair, but changed conditions may cause us to make other changes. We are partners in this."
Changing dates for various reasons: "Sometimes there are outside factors that drive the actions of the government," said Duncan. "It may be that we have some very hard dates from customers and cannot give more time."
Project cancellations: "When we post our list of upcoming contracts, we are 99 percent sure we are getting that funding," Duncan said. "We are not on a fishing expedition. But there are many things beyond our control that may cause a cancellation. Prices, customer requirements, volatility of the region, directives from the Defense Department – all that can cause a change beyond our control. Your frustration is our frustration."
"We had the same issues in Iraq a couple years ago," said Ryals. "We too didn't want to put significant effort into a project only to have our higher headquarters send a 'project cancelled' notice. We understand your concerns with applying critical resources only to see the project cancelled. If we don't think a project is actually going to happen, we would not put it out there. Most cancellations are due to military re-evaluations and requirements that have changed, meaning certain facilities are no longer needed."
"There's a ton of work out there, and we appreciate everyone's interest in it," said Becker-Welts. "We publish a list of upcoming projects so that all of you will have an opportunity to take a look at those and decide what work is in your area, what's good for you to do. We are hoping this gives you the opportunity to plan what you want to bid on.
"This is a teaming arrangement," Becker-Welts continued. "We want to work with you and get our projects completed for our customers. We are partners in this endeavor, and we are invested in your success."
After the panel answered all the pre-submitted questions, the topic shifted to procurement of materials in the region. Lt. Col. John Hudson, Defense Logistics Agency's Joint Contingency Acquisition Support Office, addressed leveraging procurement activities to provide opportunities for economic expansion within the CENTCOM theater of operations.
"Our mission is to support contingency commands worldwide to develop and execute their contingency operational contracting strategy," said Hudson. "Specifically I work on helping CENTCOM increase procurement in Central Asia."
Hudson presented several opportunities for contractors to consider as they put their proposals together for projects executed in Central Asia or Afghanistan.
In 2010, the U.S. Congress in Section 801 of the National Defense Authorization Act established a preference for buying products and services, including construction, in Afghanistan from Central and South Asian States when supporting military and stability operations in Afghanistan. CENTCOM commander at the time Gen. David Petraeus issued Policy Letter Number 40, and current Commander Gen. James Mattis reissued it in September 2011, providing further guidance.
"Our objective is to for you to consider looking within that region for your construction materials," Hudson said. "Through six separate procurement team trips to Central Asia, we found significant capacity within the region to produce a wide variety of quality construction materials and equipment.
"There are some potential benefits of procuring materials in the region," Hudson said. "Because it's close, transportation costs could be reduced or roughly one-quarter to one-third vs. shipping something from the U.S. Time could be saved, depending on border crossings. Materials made in the region are pretty well priced compared to the U.S. and European pricing for similar materials and they are made to regional standards."
Although not a requirement, the expectation is that materials will be procured locally within operational, legal, regulatory and security constraints, and realizing that there are risks associated with it, contractors should give priority to those companies within the region, according to Punsalan. "And in their proposals, contractors commit to giving a certain percentage of their work to local small business."
The District also used this conference as an opportunity to discuss the acquisition of components of the Southeast Electrical Power System in Afghanistan with the MATOC holders. Col. Benjamin Wham, Afghanistan Engineer District-South commander, and his staff highlighted changes made to requirements aimed at reducing some of the risks for the contractors.