By Abigail Smith, FedHealthIT.com

With 81 companies having just been awarded the 10-year $25B Strategic Partners Acquisition Readiness Contract (SPARC) by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), prime awardees and their key partners are gearing up for what promises to be one very successful and lucrative multiple award contract. Many of these firms maintain extensive knowledge, past performance and relationships with CMS Executives that can only be developed over time, while CMS was careful to add a set of relative new faces to SPARC who should be able to offer fresh ideas and perspective that CMS desires. No matter the past experience working with CMS, this article highlights a new acquisition dynamic that threatens to level the playing field and provide an advantage to those firms who adapt faster.

Lately CMS has been showcasing what the future of procurement might look like for the agency.  Two recent significant RFQs, Pecos 2.0 and the Data Exchange System (DEX), have not been released in the typical requirement/answer format. CMS has instead issued both of these RFQs with a Statement of Objectives (SOO) and a “ConOps” Appendix, describing initial concepts and vision for these systems, and has asked respondents for an initial 10-page concept paper—with diagrams encouraged as attachments—to facilitate a down-select of vendors. Past performance and a business volume are also required—all within a three- to four-week timeframe. A small set of firms are then down-selected, where the remaining firms must walk through their solution in an oral presentation format, elaborate on their relevant experience, write their own Performance Work Statements, Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans, Management Plan, and—with CMS’s new emphasis on Agile—they must also present an Agile Development Management Plan.

CMS states in the proposals that the purpose of the two-stage approach is “to streamline the process for Offerors and minimize traditional burdens placed on them associated with lengthy paper-based proposal submissions.” As part of a recent event hosted by the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) and HHS/CMS, Daniel Levenson, a Contracting Officer with CMS who maintains oversight of the acquisition for both of these opportunities, addressed the new procurement method by stressing that  CMS wants contractors to “show us rather than write about it” through the use of quick and inexpensive prototypes and they are seeking feedback from vendors on the FFM or T&M contract types for solutions using modern flexible technology and methodologies. Much of this new approach came as a result of a recently completed Agile Procurements training that Daniel took part in with the U.S. Digital Services (USDS) and CMS is believed to be working closely with USDS as the test out these new procurement processes.

A healthy level of skepticism remains, but it is hard not to applaud the CMS for trying new approaches. These type of RFQs takes potential contractors out of their “boilerplate response” comfort zone and forces them to carefully and succinctly describe exactly the solution they are proposing, while helping to ensure there is no “fooling” CMS with crafty responses to a list of requirements.  By requiring the contractor to write their own, presumably contractual, performance documents, CMS is really locking down the outcomes expected as a result of choosing a particular contractor solution. What also seems to be clear within these RFQs is that CMS is moving away from CMMI processes and is now requiring an agile methodology. The success of this new approach will be measured over time, but, for now, both established and new players at CMS can expect this “show us” tactic to only increase.

G2X TAKE: Agile has been a big buzz word for the past couple of years with most firms listing this as part of their core set of capabilities, though some are more mirage than reality. Those firms who have truly taken the steps to adopt theses new approaches as their way of doing business stand to benefit the most at CMS.

Of equal interest is that we are seeing established firms such as Grant Thornton, HPE, and GDIT take very aggressive marketing approaches that highlight their abilities to support these agile approaches, while smaller players such as Nuna Health, Halfaker, and Visual Connections, take more unique and direct approaches as part of their marketing effort to CMS – look no further than this recent video by a new CMS SPARC prime entitled  “Agile Done Right” that specifically calls out PECOS.

What do you think about CMS’s new procurement processes? Are they moving away from CMMI processes to more of an agile methodology? Is this a short term fad or do you think this is here to stay? Share with us below.

 

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