How does the government keep getting it so wrong? The pause on Polaris marks the second speed bump for a GWAC. Previously, the CIO-SP4 RFP presented a puzzle that made the Rubix cube seem simple. For any small business capable of navigating the labyrinth of process and layers of scoring, they came out on the other frustrated with an unbalanced approach NITAAC used that placed small businesses at a disadvantage. Not to be outdone, GSA advertised a wildly adventurous process for the looming BIC MAC competition and followed that up with an RFP that basically turned Polaris into Alliant 2, part 2.
The GSA didn’t merely give an advantage to JVs, they offered up the entire program to every Alliant 2 prime and large federal contractor who missed out on a seat. Had the competition gone through, small businesses who have played proxy for larger contractors, while actual small contractors would have struggled to score well or have any real chance to compete with larger ones, parading around as helpful mentors.
The GSA has since paused the procurement of Polaris and has begun testing the waters for the appropriate amount of advantage for JVs that won’t seem absurdly offensive to any knowledgeable observer. Based on their latest offering, the GSA seems to have failed to understand the frustration around their decision. Most small businesses will struggle to achieve many of the accelerators that are available within the scorecard for Polaris, but JVs are guaranteed to get homeruns on complexity and numerous other accelerators, even when reducing large member or mentor past performances down to three.
This concern speaks primarily about the competition, but then there is the substance of Polars, a GWAC intended to lean heavily into leading-edge technologies. A brief read-through of even the earliest drafts read like a scope of work limited to the top 5% of the entire market. Perhaps this could have been accomplished by collecting an army of hyper-specialized small businesses, but then one would argue, how would one of those companies even score well enough to get onto the GWAC.
Following the award, what chances do small businesses have when nearly every GWAC to date has seen severely lop-sided success, where a handful of contractors win the majority of business. More importantly, success is often determined by contractors capable of driving business into GWACs, commonly referred to as influencing or shaping. With billions on the line, is one to imagine that small mentors and JV proteges will still be in control or act as the figurehead for larges who rely on contract vehicles for revenue, and who have proven, mature post-award processes and resources? We’ve yet to mention the matter of user fees, even fractions of a percent add up when you’re talking about billions of dollars.
Add it all up, and it leaves one to wonder if the scope of work and GSA’s JV decision were perfectly planned to create a GWAC to solve the problems on the edge of technology while seemingly being inclusive to small businesses. All as a way to offer greater engagement for large contractors. In a world where revenues are at a premium and growth is becoming ever challenging for the largest contractors, this certainly would have been a welcomed turn of events for those contractors. Meanwhile, the GSA is afforded the opportunity to market out a small business GWAC without having to write a scope of work that small businesses could effectively satisfy.
By no means is this a conspiracy theory, the pause of Polaris demonstrates the flaws and the RFP and spending trends provide further evidence of the reasons why this is so bad for small contractors, yet beneficial for the large ones. Will GSA learn from this and perhaps correct course on BIC MAC to avoid yet another protest-driven delay that leaves the market questioning the government’s commitment to small businesses?