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Procurement: Meeting the PALT in Four Simple Steps (UPDATE)

deadlineImagine working in a high stress environment where contract support for a mission critical program may expire at the end of the month and there is no backup plan. Your organization had plans to re-compete the contract earlier in the fiscal year, but the procurement package or requisition was not developed on time. Several documents are missing or incomplete and no one knows who to contact to obtain the correct information.

Now, imagine a workplace where deadlines are met, contracts are awarded on time, lapses in service are non-existent, costly contract extensions are eliminated, and the Contracting Officer’s Representative (COR) does not have to create multiple procurement packages for the same acquisition. This type of work environment is entirely possible by adhering to one simple requirement – Procurement Administrative Lead Time (PALT). Applying acquisition best practices to deliver Procurement Request (PR) packages makes it possible to comply with PALT requirements.

While PALT ranges differ by procurement and agency, acquisition experts recognize that prioritizing the adherence to Lead Times, and even shortening them when possible, keeps procurements on track and even streamlines them to accomplish missions faster. Here are four steps to consider to help meet or beat PALT, and how not doing so can have a wide impact.

How do you define PALT?

The Veterans Affairs Office of Acquisition Operations Customer Guide defines PALT as “…the suitable length of time necessary to award a contract and should be used by the customer during their requirements planning. The PALT clock begins when a requirements package is deemed “actionable” by the Contracting Officer and ends with the distribution of the award documents and obligation of dollars. An actionable package contains all of the elements required to begin the solicitation process. This includes, but is not limited to: a description of the requirement; an independent government cost estimate; an approved funding document; market research; relevant security checklist(s); and any other appropriate information determined necessary for the acquisition.” (p.7)

Why are Lead Times important?

The PALT impacts a great number of people in the acquisition process. Here are examples of stakeholders that an ineffective or non-existent PALT can affect.

  • CORs can be impacted by having to recreate multiple PR packages for the same requirement. This is a timely and ineffective process that takes away from a COR’s other job duties.
  • Contracting Officers are responsible for entering the Government into contractual agreements. When the contracts to create the contractual agreements are delayed or missing vital information, the contracting officers are unable to perform their jobs and secure vital supplies and services for the Government. Time is wasted going back and forth with the COR requesting additional documentation.
  • Procurement Team (Procurement package processors, document drafting support) also faces a great deal of rework when PALT is missed. The procurement package processors have to process extensions, bridges, and modifications. The document drafting support has to perform compliance reviews of multiple packages and create additional and sometimes unnecessary documentation. Some agencies even have a waiver process in which actions that have not met the PALT must be subjected to additional reviews before the Contracting Office will even award a contract for the action.
  • Government Agencies. In the case of Inter and Intra – Agency Agreements, government agencies work together to provide supplies and services for a lower cost. If Inter and Intra – Agency Agreements are never created, the agencies will pay a higher premium for similar services on the commercial market.
  • Companies (Incumbents and bidders) spend a great deal of time preparing proposals for government work. Ineffective PALTs lead to an uncertain environment – when will the contract be awarded? How long will the incumbent need to continue providing supplies and services? When are quotes or proposals due?
  • United States Citizens face higher taxes due to the increased costs of securing supplies and services. The higher costs come from the increased personnel required for the rework of PR packages and costly incumbent contractors when a new contractor can perform the same work for a lower cost. Also, penalties and fees can be imposed if the service needs to be reactivated instead of maintained.

4 Ways to meet PALT

There is no “one size fits all” PALT schedule that will work for every organization/program office. The Veterans Affairs Office of Acquisition Operations Customer Guide lists PALT ranges as short as seven (7) days and as long as 240 days, for example. However, there are standard ways to ensure that the Contracting Officers and Contracting Specialists have everything they need to meet the PALT.

  1. Schedule and attend weekly meetings to discuss procurements that are upcoming and that have not yet been awarded. These meetings can include CORs, Contracting Officers, Contracting Specialists, and the Procurement Team. Staying aware of the upcoming procurements and recognizing any potential hindrances will provide the best chance to overcome obstacles early in the process. The weekly meetings also ensure that everyone is on the same page and can provide a progress report.
  2. Contact the COR if an upcoming procurement package has not been sent to the procurement package processing team at least a month before the PALT deadline. By keeping the line of communication open with the COR, she or he can provide procurement packages for processing in a timely manner. The procurement package processing team is aware of the deadlines and can contact the COR to discuss procurement package completion and ensure that all the necessary documentation is included in the package.
  3. Communicate with the document drafting team to determine if documents are being drafted for the upcoming procurement(s). The document drafting team works closely with the COR to create procurement packages and with the procurement package processing team to ensure the completed procurement package is provided to the Contracting Officer and Contracting Specialist. This collaboration keeps the team on schedule with their procurements. Having complete procurement packages allows for quicker processing and faster contract awards.
  4. Hold Procurement Planning Conferences. Schedule the first procurement planning conference early in the year to lay out a schedule and create a baseline for the next fiscal year. The stakeholders who deal directly with the PR packages will know approximately how far out they need to start preparing. Follow up with additional procurement planning conferences to encourage routine tracking of progress instead of guesstimating.

Awarding contracts in a timely manner does not have to be a strenuous or troublesome activity. Applying acquisition and project management best practices, especially in areas such as communication and progress checks, increases the odds of meeting Procurement Administrative Lead Times. This is turn can result in more efficient awards and on-time procurement of supplies and services in support of agency missions.